Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rudd's election a chance for progress

The night before the election I was out to dinner with my family at an inner-city pub in the seat of Melbourne. On the next table, the conversation mixed popular culture and, of course, the election. 'Instead of changing their own lives, they'll change the government,' a young man said.

Last night's emphatic defeat of the Howard Government was also a defeat of the kind of distorted aspirational thinking captured by this comment. At its heart was an arrogance that suggests that everything affecting our lives is within our grasp to change. For the inner-city professional classes, that may largely be the case. But tell that to Australia's Indigenous people, to refugees in mandatory detention, and to workers suffering under Howard's industrial laws.

Despite my disagreement with some key ALP policies - the mining of uranium and the pulp mill among others - there was enough in last night's victory speech by Kevin Rudd to hope for a more progressive Australia. I'm looking forward to a new vision for education, for cooperation on health, an improvement in the plight of Indigenous people, action on climate change, and fairer workplace laws.

In particular, I saw Australians unite in last night's vote to defeat together efforts under WorkChoices to fracture their collective power in the workplace.

I was heartened that, at the possible dawn of a new progressive era, Kevin Rudd chose to acknowledge the approaching end of Bernie Banton's brave life.

I was heartened that Greg Combet, who has stood with Mr Banton in his fight, was acknowledged in his victory as a man who has consistently worked for the rights of Australian workers - recognised as a champion of workers' bargaining equality in spite of a scare campaign demonising unions for opposing the one-sided power of business.

Yet last night's victory is also a challenge to Mr Rudd to acknowledge the debt owed to the Greens in ousting the Howard Government. As Bob Brown noted, it was Greens preferences that substantially helped the ALP over the line. Even in safe Labor seats, the growth in the Greens vote sends a clear signal to the new Rudd Government to reconsider the drift of the party to the right.

In Batman, won convincingly by Martin Ferguson, the Greens' Priya Carey continued the rapid growth in the party's support. In Melbourne, Adam Bandt signalled the Greens' eclipse of the Liberals as the second political force.

With the new Senate still emerging, it is to be hoped that the progressive note sounded by the vote in the House of Representatives will be echoed in the house of review. It is a sadder note of this election that we will likely lose the proven qualities of Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett and Victorian Senator Lyn Allison. With the retirement of Andrew Murray and Natasha Stott-Despoja, that would signal the end of the Democrats' contribution in the Senate.

A strong Senate – with the Greens possibly holding the balance of power – would test the new Government, in particular where Kevin Rudd's victory speech signalled cause for concern in its call to move past 'old battles' such as the one between 'public and private'. We should remember that Rudd's election is a chance for progress, not its fulfilment.

This article is cross-posted at

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