How the defence of Julia Gillard is hurting the left

So, this last weekend was fun.

I mean, I’ve been getting tired of the Labor Government for months (or really years) now. The approval of coal mines, the re-starting of the Pacific solution, the cuts to single parents welfare, the cuts to federal aid, the awful policy, after awful policy, after awful policy. But then, there was the weekend. Firstly we had the announcement of billions of dollars worth of cuts to universities; cuts that universities around the country are already saying will hurt. And then the announcement of the school funding policy; one that will do nothing to deal with inequality in our school system, but will actually make it worse.

But that’s not why I’m pissed this time. I’ve learnt to deal with the shitty policies. It’s what I’ve come to expect from this Government.

What is really pissing me off this time is the apologism. This week it was really quite spectacular. We had the insistence that the Government was ‘only slowing the growth’ of University funding, and then the distribution of ridiculous graphs that made no sense to anyone at all. What was worse though was that this defence was not just happening from the right, but from the left as well; a left that is now championing cuts to universities.

But this apologism has actually gotten much more sinister than that. Because it’s not just about defending the Government, it’s about attacking those who criticise them as well. According to so many on the ‘left’ we can’t criticise the Government because all we will be doing is ‘helping Tony Abbott’. We have to stay silent, focus on Abbott, and forget about the Government’s right-wing agenda.

Well, do you know what? I’ve had enough. I’m sick of being told that I have to stay silent on this awful Government. I am sick people telling me that I am hurting left-wing politics in this country, when it is in fact those who refuse to criticise Gillard who are doing so.

I think maybe it’s about time that we sat back and thought long and hard about the point of a left-wing movement in this country. I reckon many of us have gotten it the wrong way round.

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure progressive politics in Australia is about shifting us to becoming a left-wing country (and through that a left-wing world). It’s about (amongst others) challenging neo-liberalism at its heart, getting real protection of the environment, fighting for a progressive economic system, and ensuring that everyone has access to high quality essential services, from health and education to a strong social welfare system. It is not about a party. It is about the positions that political parties, and our community, embrace and implement.

But for some in the ‘left-wing’ of the ALP that doesn’t seem to be what we’re about any more. Somewhere along the line it has become about party first, and doing anything to ensure the ALP stays in power. Now, I see the logic. The ALP is the lesser of two evils (apparently) and therefore we should do whatever we can to help them stay in power. As we’ve been told ‘Abbott is much worse’.

But where we’ve gotten to now is a situation where the defense of the ALP has come directly at the cost of any real left-wing progress.

The uncritical approach to the ALP has meant that the party no longer has to worry about any real left backlash to its policies. When we don’t criticise, when we line up behind them, we give them cover, meaning they don’t have to answer to us any more and can just pander to the right. And in doing so we create a new standard for progressivism in this country. Suddenly cutting education becomes a political norm, the Pacific Solution becomes a bipartisan approach that doesn’t look like it will be reversed for years, and cutting welfare is a policy that becomes the standard approach. Instead of pushing the ALP from the left, we’re letting them get away with a strategy that takes them to the right.

And hey, call me crazy again, but I reckon that’s a pretty stupid strategy.

But’s it’s even worse than that. When we get up and defend the ALP’s right-wing policies, we let the Coalition go even further to the right. In creating a new definition of what is ‘left’, we’re letting the Coalition find a new definition of what is ‘right’. Just look at the big policies of today. The ALP’s adoption of the Pacific Solution has allowed the Coalition to go even further and focus on TPVs and ‘behaviour protocols’. In defending the CPRS, we gave the Coalition the perfect space to carve out opposition to any form of a price on carbon at all. In defending these education cuts, and the awful method of school financing, we are going to let the Coalition frame a new version of opposition that involves more cuts and even more unequal system. As we defend the ALP we’re letting the Coalition head even further to the right, making it even more difficult for us to carve out a true left-wing when they’re elected (not to mention that it will be very difficult to go back on all these ‘compromised positions’ after the ALP falls into opposition.)

I don’t think I should have to defend a Labor Government just because they are ‘slightly better’ than the Coalition. Shit right-wing policies are shit right-wing policies, whether they come from the ALP or the Coalition. And as long as they are shit right-wing policies I am going to stand up and criticise them. The truth is that that is the only way we’re going to actually achieve any real left-wing progress in Australia.

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