Friday, April 05, 2013

Lessons from Hawke for Abbott

In August when Tony Abbott launches the Coalition's campaign for the September 14 federal election, he could start as follows:  ''And the first pledge I now make, a commitment which embraces every other undertaking, is that everything we do as a government will have the one great goal — to reunite this great community of ours, to bring out the best we are truly capable of, together as a nation, and bring Australia together to win our way through the crisis into which the policies of the past and the men of the past have plunged our country.''

He could go on and say it is ''the politics of division'', and ''the politics of confrontation, which threaten to poison the very wellsprings of the national life, the true, decent, Australian way of life''.

If Abbott did in fact use these lines, he would of course be quoting Bob Hawke, word for word, when 30 years ago Hawke as the new Labor leader launched the ALP's 1983 federal election campaign.

If he said this, Abbott could bury class warfare once and for all.  He could declare an end to the battle against self-funded retirees with more than $1 million in their superannuation accounts.  He could cease hostilities against key industries.  And he could promise never to use any person's gender for or against them.


It's a measure of how much the Labor Party has changed to compare how Hawke conceived of politics to how Prime Minister Julia Gillard does.  Confidence sums up the difference between the two.

Hawke was confident enough in his own abilities and his own policies to go after 50-plus-1 per cent of the vote.  There wasn't a vote Hawke did not believe he couldn't get.  There wasn't a person, a trade union delegate, or a business boss that Hawke didn't think he could persuade of the merits of his argument.

So confident was Hawke in his ability to get people to agree with him that the last thing he would have wanted was to permanently alienate key segments of the community.

In contrast, the modern-day Labor Party has no qualms about declaring its opponents to be, for example, anyone it classes as a carbon ''polluter'', a successful mining entrepreneur, or as a ''cossetted silvertail'' on Sydney's North Shore who is not in touch with ''real families''.

The Prime Minister and her Treasurer appear to have given up trying to persuade anyone of anything.  They are shoring up the ALP's core vote of 30 per cent of the electorate by distributing favours and privileges to their trade union base.  In fairness to the Treasurer, even he would recognise it's difficult to talk about the economy or the budget with any confidence when basically every prediction he has made is wrong.


It takes confidence to be inclusive.  Likewise magnanimity is a product of confidence.  When someone goes looking for enemies (real or imagined), it's usually because they're scared, or paranoid, or both.  The federal party appears to believe a person is judged by the quality of his or her enemies — not his or her friends.  This might apply in some circumstances, but it isn't helpful when your enemies get a vote.

None of this should overstate the consensus that Hawke practised once he was in power.

He didn't have much time for reconciliation with the airline pilots or the HR Nicholls Society when it called for the deregulation of the labour market.  Hawke labelled the society ''political troglodytes and economic lunatics''.  Nonetheless, Hawke didn't go out of his way to make enemies.

It's interesting to note that the key Labor figures in recent weeks urging the Gillard government to stop making enemies are all, like Hawke was, former leaders of the trade union movement — Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and Bill Kelty.

Trade union bosses might understand that the employer you're striking against today you're going to have to work with tomorrow.

For his campaign launch, Abbott might update slightly what Hawke said.  Abbott might talk about ''men and women'' of the past.  And he might not start a sentence with an ''and''.  But they would be the only changes he would need to make.

Abbott might even reprise Hawke's 1983 campaign slogan — ''Bringing Australia Together''.

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