Where There Is No Vision…

At the suggestion of commenter Alex on an earlier thread about the electoral and policy ways forward for the ALP, this is a thread thrown open for any readers who’d like to give the ALP an early Christmas present and suggest a philosophical/political strategy to re-invigorate its chances as a viable Opposition and alternative Government. Consider it an exercise in citizenship and participatory democracy!

UPDATE: Despite Senator Conroy’s act of contrition, peace it seems has not broken out in the ALP. Doesn’t sound like too much policy was discussed by Shadow Cabinet. Also looks a tad like it was the minutes secretary leaking this time from the level of detail!

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Nic White
2022 years ago

“depending on which source one believes” from the articles implies that more than one person present at the meeting leaked!

peggy sue
peggy sue
2022 years ago

Are you assuming that all your readers will know the other half of that quote?

Proverbs 29:18
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
(King James version)

Or are you thinking of the Jerusalem Bible version which has:
“Where there is no vision, the people get out of hand.”?

Don
Don
2022 years ago

I don’t think the ALP could cope with any more advice on philosophy and political strategy.

Nobody welcomes this kind of advice. Most people find it insulting.

What the ALP might be able to use is practical advice on affordable, effective, and do-able programs and policies. Solutions to practical problems. Not the kind of thing Whitlam might go for, but something a Latham, Swan, Smith, or Rudd (etc) government might do.

Lots of people on the front bench can do philosophy for themselves. What they can’t do are things like randomized control trials on social programs.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Don, the difficulty I have with your comment that you “don’t think the ALP can cope with any more advice on philosophy and political strategy” is that there are plenty of people in the party who are still in 1970’s mode, dreaming of a nanny state that will solve all our problems. They don’t realize that the world (or most of it – exceptions granted in Scandinavia)has moved on from the utopian dream of the “cradle to grave” welfare state. Australia was never particularly keen on it in the first place.

I agree with you that there is a great need for them to develop “affordable, effective, and do-able programs and policies”. However, these programs and policies also have to be appealing to a significant proportion of Australians, if the ALP is to be reelected. And that means that they need to drop the dreams and focus on what Australians want. I don’t think the formula is that difficult. Most of us want a reasonable level of government services without the government impinging too greatly on our freedom. Nothing original about that. Perhaps they should read this excellent (albeit from an American neocon perspective) on the liberal political framework http://www.policyreview.org/oct04/lindberg.html

The amazing thing about their current predicament is that they obviously know how to appeal to the electorate at State level. Maybe Latho should be taking remedial classes with the State Premiers, instead of slagging them off and blaming them for his election loss. However, in the words of Louise Dodson in this article
http://www.smh.com.au/news/Opinion/Whiff-of-carcass-wafts-through-Labor-caucus/2004/11/29/1101577418022.html?from=storylhs
I suspect he is like “dead meat” hanging in the breeze just waiting to be cut down.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

BTW, Mark, re your update above, I think you meant “timekeeper” rather than “minute taker”.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I can’t craft a political strategy but there are a few things that the ALP should be be asking the people of Australia.

1. We as a nation are borrowing A BILLION DOLLARS a week. How can we continue to sustain this borrowing binge? How can we pay for it?

2. We invest (probably*) the vast majority of wealth in this country on housing. We have convinced ourselves that this is the best personal investment people can make, and have made the laws to support this. Is this a wise use of our resources? Could we improve the standard of living of all australians if we diverted some of these resources into (say) building new industries that would reduce our trade deficit?

3. The science is stacking to against the Climate Sceptics**. Its time for us to do our part. Are we Australians prepared to accept our part in fixing this? What are we prepared to do?

* – If you an economist, a pedant, or Tim Blair you can look it up on Google and prove me wrong. I don’t care. It’s still a legitimate issue.

** – There are lunatics who will dispute this. It’s important not to let these people drag the agenda back.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

OK Rex, I’m not an economist or Tim Blair, so I must be a pedant. Outstanding housing loans in Australia total a bit over $15 billion.

From a NineMSN article (full article at http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=4357).
“An Australian Bureau of Statistics report on Wednesday showed housing finance commitments for owner occupied housing by volume fell by 0.6 per cent in September to 49,338, seasonally adjusted, close to the median market forecast of a one per cent decrease.

By value, total housing finance rose by 1.8 per cent to $15.793 billion, the ABS said.”

So if we’re borrowing $1b a week, it certainly isn’t for housing.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

It’s probably to buy SUVs, Alex!

Don, the ALP certainly could have done with some advice on how to construct a social programme during the election campaign – I don’t know too much about that bloke who’s the head of Catholic Health, but a health economist or two might have come in handy when Medicare Gold was designed.

But I don’t think the two are incompatible – it’s quite possible to have an overarching philosophy or vision and then work out how to achieve the goals set. In fact, I’d argue it’s necessary.

While we’re quoting neo-cons, there’s a piece in the US thinktank rag ‘Policy Review’ by Tod Lindberg called “Neoconservatism’s Liberal Legacy’.

Online here:

http://www.policyreview.org/oct04/lindberg.html

While I think the author’s take on both liberalism as a political philosophy and neoconservatism is a touch eccentric, he made the point that neoconservative critiques of social programmes during the 60s (ie the Great Society) was initially a critique based on the principle of “what works”. However, he makes the point – with which I agree – that it’s impossible to evaluate or design social policy without ideological assumptions creeping in. It’s better, he suggests, to have these explicit at the outset.

At the state level, a lot of policy can be pragmatic or “evidence-based” as many of the areas that state governments deal with are technical issues. Having said that, the Beattie government does have a consistent strategy for Queensland based on a particular approach to economic and industry policy as well as a particular philosophy of consultative policy making (often honoured in the breach). But at least Beattie and Qld Labor know where they want to take the state.

At the national level, when big picture questions about the composition of employment, tax policy, redistribution and the level of social support are at stake, it’s essential to have a coherent framework and direction – and being able to sell this is a much more effective electoral appeal than “If you fit into family size x and income bracket y, we’ll give you 30 bucks a week”.

Howard, whatever I think of him, has that sort of ability to construct a story about what sort of Australia he wants.

Labor’s problem is that the tradition of labourist social democracy and the “Australian Settlement” are no longer viable. The erosion of the labour tradition was evident in the Hawke government, but Keating took some steps towards formulating another strategic direction during his time as PM.

The problem was that people didn’t buy it – and I still think Keating’s disillusionment/exhaustion was a major issue.

Latham at least did some serious thinking about whether a Third Way approach was better tuned to the current realities. His two problems were that the policy positions that he came up with in his early writing were scattergun and often silly, and that his actual election strategy was informed more by an insiders/outsiders vision.

It seems to me that Lindsay Tanner comes closest to having done some serious thinking about where we are as a society and where we should go, and also appears capable of articulating this, and working out what policy directions will get us there.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Peggy Sue, yes, I was thinking of the King James version.

The Hebrew must be very ambiguous – the Jerusalem Bible translation seems odd…

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rex and Alex, John Quiggin has a good analysis of Australia’s debt levels at his place:

http://www.johnquiggin.com/archives/002122.html

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

I suppose I’d better start the ball rolling to “give the ALP an early Christmas present and suggest a philosophical/political strategy”.
1) Basic philosophy: forget about the solidarity crap. We live in an individualist age. Also forget about the pc nonsense such as the Vic religious vilification debacle. It’s been captured by minorities driving their own agendas.
2) Environment: sell a clean, green Australia on the basis of its impact on people’s daily lives, eg the appalling heat/air pollution problems in western Sydney. Give people incentives to make their lives greener. Clean and green will take a lot of determination and a lot of bucks up front. Sell Telstra to pay for it, if the Libs haven’t beaten you to it. Buy out the cotton and rice farmers bleeding the Murray/Darling dry for a start. Then start planting trees like our lives depend on it (maybe they do ;)) Whip the State govts to fix the ramshackle urban transport systems. When they’re fixed (but not before) encourage their use by jacking up the petrol price (if the market hasn’t already done this for us). Grasp the global warming nettle by committing to alternative power in a big way. No new fossil-fuel power stations should be the aim. This may require rethinking the left’s traditional antipathy to the nuclear option. A total rethink on housing is also required. Our current housing is an environmental disaster. Commonly used materials require high energy inputs. Local government control of design and siting issues results in ongoing high energy costs for heating/cooling. Water conservation is not encouraged. The visual landscape in most of the ‘burbs is a nightmare.
3) Foreign policy: Whether we like it or not, for the medium term we are substantially locked in with the US. This is because of the large, and increasing, interdependency of the Aust and US military forces, both hardware and software. This doesn’t mean we always have to say yes when the US asks us, nor does it mean we can’t act without them if necessary. But it does mean maintaining a close relationship. And a note to Latho. If Aust commits to something, we finish the job. We don’t do half the job then pull out the troops by Christmas.
4) Education: needs a total rethink, from the ground up. Why is the state involved in education? What are the objectives? Are they being met? Are they capable of being met by state intervention? On higher education: how about some lateral thinking to get companies more involved in the education of their future employees? The Germans have some ideas we could borrow. Get universities (particularly the old established ones) to specialize more, as centres of excellence in particular research areas. On schools: parents are voting with their pockets. Private schools are winning. Why? Why not encourage them – it usually pays to back a winner.
5) Health & aging: probably the most difficult policy area, given the demographics. Either take over the public hospital system from the states, or give them the whole box and dice (in the unlikely event they can be pursuaded to take it), to get out of the current mess of cost-shifting and blaming. Take a whole of life, quality of life perspective. Try to cut down on the current huge expenditure on people in their last six months of life. Move to a more community-focused, prevention-focused health system in place of the current reactive, cure-focused, hospital-based system.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, I’d already posted a link to the Lindberg article. One of the useful points I took from the article is that in a liberal democracy, politics is ultimately about the balance between freedom and equality. Obviously we all have different opinions about where that balance should be struck. However, what Labor needs to do is work on a balance in all the policy areas that is attractive to (a majority of) the Australian people. Their difficulty at the moment is that they haven’t quite got the balance right. (The attack dog salesman didn’t help either, imho.) Of course, if they are patient the wheels will eventually fall off the Liberal bandwagon. They just have to hope it doesn’t take 23 years.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Oh, sorry, Alex – my occupational disease is reading too quickly!

PeterF
PeterF
2022 years ago

Don, Your case for less philosohical reflection, more practical programs (I hope that isn’t an unfairly inaccurate paraphrase) has its attractions. However, I think that a Party like Labor must come from a coherent philosophical position. Whatever contemporary Labor believes, it’s certainly not (nor should it be) the 1921 socialist objective, or amended versions thereof. The Party does need a (brief) consideration of what it stands for, otherwise the policy proposals are likely to be what the most recent focus group suggested. The past few years is a salutary warning about the ineffectiveness of that modus operandi.
Once a consensus objective(s) is established, then coherent policies can go through the debate/discussion process. So, the process as I see it is:
i. what do we believe/stand for (i.e. in what way do we believe Australian society – and the world, to the limited extent the Australian polity influences it – can be improved)?
ii. what are the broad policy positions which flow from that?
iii. what are the specific programs which will give effect to the policy ideals?
iv. how is this to be marketed?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, it’s right to say that the fundamental balancing act is striking a balance between liberty and equality. It seems to me though, that Lindberg has an impoverished notion of equality and that his notion of “special rights” also slips in a particularly American and polemical point of view into the discussion.

The three Englightenment values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (I prefer “solidarity” or “intersubjectivity”) have been the bases of most political thought – and practice – since. Social democracy and Communism are also descendants of Liberalism in that they privilege Equality over Liberty (far too much in Communism – though the notion is still there in a distorted sense – conversely anarcho-capitalists tend to distort Equality). Lindberg seems to have forgotten Fraternity.

Peter, I agree. There was a big debate over the “socialist objective” in early 80s Labor – Gareth Evans (I think) edited a book on it. I take Lindsay Tanner to be saying that Labor needs to work out its first principles before it proceeds to policy approaches and details. This is politically frightening for the ALP, but Blair showed it can be done, and result in political success down the road.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

How about “Sorority”?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Not gender-neutral!

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Only joking! “Solidarity” is clearly the right word, but it has unfortunate overtones that make it difficult for the word to be taken at its face value. I agree it needs to be part of the analysis, but we do need to consider whether it has intrinsic value, or only as it contributes to equality/liberty and getting the balance between them right. “Communitarianism” is another word that comes to mind, although again it has other connotations.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Somewhat as an aside, it has just been revealed that Karl Marx was, in fact, a capitalist. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4042187.stm

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Interesting article. Marx of course survived on subventions from Engels (as well as his earnings from American journalism) – derived from his family factory in Manchester. So we already knew that he was a capitalist! Marx famously had very positive things to say about capitalism in the “Communist Manifesto”.

I was intrigued to see that Marx listed his occupation as “doctor of philosophy”.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Mark, the difference between the two versions is because of what they do when they translate.

KJV uses a formal equivalence method which is essentially a word for word translation.
The Jerusalem bible uses a dynamic equivalence which is essentially a phrase for phrase translation.
I prefer the KJV!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m with you on that, Homer.

TimT
2022 years ago

Once I picked up a modern translation of the bible and flicked to one of my favourite passages:

“‘Vanity, Vanity – all is Vanity!’ saith the preacher”. (OKJV)

The translation was:

“Meaningless, Meaningless, all is Meaningless!”

Ewgh. Give me the OKJV any day.