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Labor lurches to the right and loses touch

Opening the Labor Party conference, Julia Gillard told her party faithful she wanted the ALP to be the party that says "yes to the future".

Yet the Prime Minister spent the next three days advocating for the resurrection of the old, tired conservative policies of John Howard. On policies covering asylum seekers, uranium and same-sex marriage, Labor's leader backed the stance of the former ultra-conservative Liberal prime minister.

As a result, the ALP "platform" now consists of Liberal party policies at which most progressive voters will be horrified. Labor now has an officially enshrined policy of offshore assessments of asylum seekers' claims and will sell uranium to India. On the one progressive shift - marriage equality - the conscience vote for MPs is a get-out clause that means it won't even be supported by the Labor leader or delivered by her government. Julia Gillard has proven herself to be more about the past than anything to do with the future.

The successful push from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen for offshore vetting of asylum seekers' claims and South Australian Labor Left Premier Jay Weatherill's co-sponsorship of the motion to sell uranium to India - despite the country's staunch opposition to signing the non-proliferation treaty - are both examples of Labor's lurch to the right.

On Tasmanian forests and returning enough environmental flows to the Murray-Darling, Labor struggles to take a long-term view that will secure environmental sustainability and local community prosperity. Instead, it resorts to the old-century thinking that the debate is between jobs and the environment. The Greens reject this worn-out, politically easy dichotomy, knowing that securing a healthy environment and sustainable management of our resources is the best way of securing long-term job investment.

For progressive voters, the ALP has proven once again it is more like a fake Fendi handbag than anything that holds significant value when it comes to advancing a progressive agenda.

Most Australians want our political leaders to believe in and give us marriage equality. They want our native forests protected for future generations. They want our troops brought home from Afghanistan. They want a better return from a mining tax. They want to give asylum seekers a fair-go and assess their claims in Australia. They do not want our uranium sold to India.

These aren't just progressive views; they represent mainstream Australia. The only leader who believes in all of these is Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens. Our party remains the only one that has these as core policies, with bills in Parliament to deliver them all. Tony Abbott has bleated all year that Bob Brown is the real prime minister. I wish Bob was, as he would make a bloody good one.

First published in The National Times on Tuesday, 6 December 2011.


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