The NSW State Labor Conference (1): The Arithmetic, Again

The despair is palpable now and I, at last, am beginning to share it. The talented young people spoke well and passionately and poignantly from the floor as always, and good points were made and the applause was real, and the hard-nosed romantic radical energy unabated in this, Labor’s most glorious and most frustrated year since the mid-eighties.

But the joyless, upstanding and unrelenting acclamation as Gillard arrived looking gorgeous and smiling like a lighthouse, which followed a montage of Whitlam, Keating, Hawke and Curtin up on the screen doing good things and saying great things, and her speech from the Sydney Town Hall stage, which is unfurling as I write this, a speech which boasts of equally good and equally purposeful and equally worthwhile things long promised and lately delivered, a speech well spoken and really well written, occurred nonetheless at a sort of dwindling distance from present reality, as if the sound was turned off. Not even Labor is listening any more, and it’s a worry.

And the joyless standing ovation that followed showed this too. No-one registers anything much anymore. At lunch with Nathan Rees I was told he was refused entrance by a young woman who didn’t know who he was (‘Name?’ ‘Rees.’ ‘And your surname?’ ‘That is my surname.’ ‘Can I see some identification?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘This isn’t signed. You have to sign this.’ ‘Okay, I’m signing it.’ ‘No, you’ll have to get someone to identify you.’ ‘Are you actually IN the Labor Party?’ ‘Of course I am. How dare you.’) and seemed free in her mind of all modern history, and it’s a worry.

We are sleepwalking towards a cliff, and we needn’t be. We should know more than we do, and we refuse to learn it.

And it’s a worry.

One of the things we should know is the pas de deux with capitalism has ended in catastrophe and is no longer of any electoral use to Labor, or Labour, or the US Democrats or the Social Democrats of Europe, and ‘austerity’ is as popular everywhere as leprosy. So to say we should avoid ‘class war’ with Gina Rinehart, the nation’s most disliked female, is lunacy. The wickedness of the rich is as vivid now as it was in Dickens’ day, in even Hogarth’s day, and we should go after them with fire and sword and buckets of mud and tar and feathers. Rinehart gets two million dollars an hour, and if we took, each half hour, a million of that away from her and spent it on cancer research and high school orchestras the nation would cheer us to the echo.

But Labor seems fatally paralysed by good manners, and cannot say anything bad about anybody but Julian Assange.

Another thing they should know is the conference should be three days long and twice a year. As it is each significant delegate (Albo, Verity Firth, Nathan Rees) gets maybe only two minutes to speak and spends the rest of the year feeling stifled and frustrated. The purpose of gatherings like this is to give its component young people an opportunity to ‘vent’, to say their say for ten minutes and test their public speaking skills against a big, aggressive audience and see what, at the end of it, their status is, if any.

As always, the most impressive people on their feet were the unionists. Mixing experience with eloquence and a rage for justice, they commanded the space and awed the congregation as they always do.

For me this conference in this great Town Hall is like Brigadoon: the good village of legendary friends who do not age, and century after century are there singing the good old songs of justice for all.

I hope I see at least fifteen more of them.

And so it goes.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Perhaps it loses a little in translation :

    “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

    The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.”

    Better than Shakespeare? Hmmm.

  2. The work on the whole lacked the consistent merits of Shakespeare, but the passage was quite good.

    I’m for starting the theory that the King James version was penned by an anonymous contemporary aristocrat.

    Any takers?

  3. They are indeed sleeping walking toward a cliff.

    But there’s been no shortage of people yelling “For Christ’s sake, WAKE UP!!”

    Why can’t this beast hear? Or why won’t it?

      • It’s not humpty dumpty.

        Even the shattered remains of the party can be pieced back together in an almighty rush, at least theoretically. I can’t see a great fall on account of Paul Howes to be worth the trouble though.

        @Polybius Technological Somnambulism “The third and most important idea is the way in which technology seems to create new worlds in which we live. These worlds are created by the restructuring of the common and seemingly everyday things around us. In most situations the changes take place with little attention or care from us because we are more focused on the menial aspects of the technology”. (cut and paste from wiki- By Henry Pill

        ” Their message, that Labor will wage war on the Greens, throw away progressive social policy and break bread with the lunar Right of Family First and the DLP, is not aimed at wavering Greens voters who happen to read the Daily Telegraph. It is aimed at alienating those from the progressive end of the spectrum who might otherwise have considered joining the ALP.

        After all, the greatest threat to the power of the NSW Right is not that Labor will lose primary votes which will then come back in preferences, or that Labor will lose inner-city progressive seats to a party who will almost certainly cut deals with it in government, but rather that those same progressives will actually support the party, join it and threaten the even now not entirely iron grip of the NSW Right.”

        “Manufactured consent”.

  4. No cliff, no panic and certainly no lemmings.

    Hold your fucking nerve, Labor!

  5. From the few excerpts I heard this morning from Gillard’s speech, it sounded Ellisesque, did you have a hand in it Bob?

    And the good life isn’t a commute where you leave for work before the kids have breakfast and get home when they’re in bed.

    Other parties come and go – often promising more, always delivering less.

    But we endure – not a brand, a cause.

    Not captured by the privileged few, but sworn to serve the many.

    Not a party for the moment, a party for the ages and, twelve decades on from Barcaldine and Balmain, not done yet.

  6. Apart from “The purpose of gatherings like this…” really being those idealistic ‘young people’ getting the message that the talking shop- indulgence they are allowed means nothing to those with the votes, the Nathan Rees story is key. ‘Are you actually IN the Labor Party’ rather sums it all up don’t you think? I suppose that was some up and coming Young Labor type? Future MP perhaps? If she had the proper mentor that is?

    • More likely some one in the right faction told her she’ll be future PM. As long as she looks the part, does what she is told, says the right things & pleases the American embassy! Preventing a hard working member with talent & integrity from entering the conference is a great start for a candidate with such potential.

  7. Hold your nerve. You have to be joking. They lost there nerve with Rudd who lost his nerve with much encouragement from our two foremost ministers. and then compounded it by backflip after backflip. God help us . Armeggedon Is coming.Bring it on so we can rebuild from the ashes a better party with the bright eyed youth having the say aided by the remains of the wisened old

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