December 14

Power Crisis

Rodney Cavalier is a prominent political historian, Labor Party member and Minister for Education in the New South Wales Wran and Unsworth Labor governments in NSW. The author of a much-talked about new book on politics, he is not in favour of removing the Australian Crown from the Constitution.

He and other thoughtful Labor politicians may well constitute an advanced  vanguard who will eventually reverse this part of relatively recent ALP policy, policy which was unenthusiastically adopted.

After all, how long did it take to remove White Australia, socialism and direct democracy from the ALP Platform? 

…Minister of the Crown…

As Minister, he gave a memorable Occasional Address at a graduation at the then NSW Institute of Technology. He announced it would be rigorously assessed by other university Vice Chancellors as to whether it should be accorded University status. The Sydney Morning Herald published  photographs of the academic staff sitting behind the Minister before and after the announcement.  One showed the massed grave demeanour of the serious scholar. The second showed elation unusual in the academy. 

The Institute -actually the Faculties of Law , Architecture and Engineering  – passed with flying colours and became the University of Technology, Sydney.

It was the last to be so assessed. The Federal Minister, John Dawkins then decided that all institutes and colleges should be absorbed into the university sector.

This was curious. The Constitution, it should be recalled, gives no power whatsoever over universities to the federal authorities. Federal Ministers get precisely what they want by promising to give or to withhold money.

One of Mr. Cavalier’s predecessors had been similarly invited to give the Occasional Address. He asked what he might talk about. As an example, the Registrar sent a copy of the speech the Chancellor proposed to give.

The Minister spoke after the Chancellor. He delivered word-for–word, exactly the same speech. He did not appear to notice.

But the students were happy.  By that time graduations were robed. The staff had voted strongly against them, but the students had voted just as overwhelmingly for a traditional graduation. Most academic staff, especially in the humanities, are republican.  Not, I suspect the students.

…no case to remove the Crown…

 Mr. Cavalier is now chairman of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust.  His recent book, Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party (Cambridge University Press) is controversial. His  theme is Australia's only surviving class, the political professionals, have taken over the Labor Party. (Click on the book and you can buy it post and GST free)

These of course are the same elites who are obsessed with turning Australia into a politicians’ republic. Although dominant in the ALP they are to be found across the political spectrum. In all cases they have turned their backs on the principles on which the parties were founded.

Until this takeover, the Labor Party was attached to our constitutional system. Most of the great leaders of the Labor Party have been  constitutional monarchists.  This is certainly true of all of th eother major parties. 

And if not a royalist, Mr. Cavalier has been described elsewhere as someone who "has not been persuaded there is any case for a change in our constitutional relationship with the Queen of Australia".

…the elites take over…

Mr.Cavalier says that throughout the past decade, more than 100 Labor Party branches have folded in NSW.

Branches are allowed to go under only when inactivity has become unconcealable. A formal branch quorum is an unambitious seven; in country NSW the quorum is just five.

Many branches are phantoms or paper frauds.Attendance at branch meetings has been sliding for two decades. Those few attending are all that remain of the commitment the Labor movement used to proclaim.The raw numbers of membership reveal a similarly shocking state of affairs.

Financial membership of the NSW branch last year was 15,385 people and falling. To claim concessions on membership fees, 60 per cent of members profess to be retired, unemployed or full-time students.

Fewer than 7000 members work for a living, a remarkable statement about the so-called party of the workers. Fewer than 1000 play any sort of active role in the party.

He warns that inside one generation, the catchment for parliamentary preferment is increasingly restricted to those who work on the staff of a minister, in the ALP office or an affiliated union.

The Liberal Party, slower to adapt, has similarly been showing preferment to its own staff.Life's experiences become limited. After graduation from university (or after dropping out), those aspiring to be Labor MPs reckon their best chance is employment in a union [which will have voting power at ALP conferences] or on the staff of a minister.The result is an adaptation of life's arc to meet rigid factional expectations about mobility, mating, tribal loyalty, ideological carapace and camouflage.

“Future preferment” he says has become “more and more dependent on the bed in which you were born and-or the bed you shared”

The political class has captured the Labor Party in parliament and the machine. Its knowledge of Labor history and respect for Labor's traditions is zero; sub-zero really, as contempt for branches and the old ways is a staple of conversation.

The Labor Party is a career path, one stage in life. When the parliamentary phase is over, so very often is the Labor Party phase of their lives.

But the Labor Party in NSW cannot rely on its membership in safe seats to provide candidates of even fair-to-average quality. A preselection in a vacant safe Labor seat in NSW is certain to occasion allegations of dirty tricks, defunct branches reactivated, material rich in possibility for investigative journalism and police inquiries.

The probable winner will be a dud, tainted by what was required to put together a winning vote. At the end of the pain, the prospect of quality emerging is remote.

If the leaderships get selection wrong, addressing those shortcomings of character and ability is not possible through the ancient processes of party democracy.

Once inside the parliamentary tent, an incumbent is safe except for offences against the leadership and the faction. Quota rules about women were the perfect smokescreen to justify smashing localism and participatory democracy.

Novices became ministers because their patrons insisted on their selection.

Leaders have achieved their wishes by force majeure. Parliamentary parties have become self-perpetuating oligarchies. Advancement has come and will continue to come exclusively from looking inwards to the powers that be.


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