Phil Quin compares Labour and Labor

Phil Quin looks at the comparison between Labour in NZ and Labor in Australia, and finds the difference isn’t just a ‘u’.

The Australian experience suggests the answer for Labour in New Zealand is not “change the leader”, the knee-jerk response most often preferred. The ALP is within reach, if not exactly favoured, in the coming election despite having a leader with frankly atrocious numbers. Traumatized by the Rudd-Gillard wars, MPs and activists have by and large rallied behind Shorten (albeit a loveless loyalty in many cases), who has in turn worked hard to restore the party to viability.

Compared to Shorten, Phil Goff had it easy in 2008. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen had left Labour in decent shape. And yet, despairingly, Labour’s share of the vote has declined in each subsequent election as the party turned inwards, interpreting each defeat as anything but a repudiation; blaming instead the electorate’s inability to “see through” the diabolical Key, the spectre of “dirty politics” (known in Australia and elsewhere as “politics”), one million dogmatically left-wing voters who habitually forget to vote, David Cunliffe, the mythic ‘Anyone But Cunliffes’, or, at barrel’s bottom, residual fury at the party’s embrace of neoliberalism in the Eighties. That voters might have got it right in their intuition that Labour fails to demonstrate readiness for government is never countenanced.

Labour’s refusenik posture was never more graphically on display than in the review of Cunliffe’s defeat by former UK Labour MP Bryan Gould: the key to Labour’s rejuvenation, Gould insisted, is pretending to get along at all costs – perpetuating the self-serving myth that internal bickering, real and imagined, is all the only thing standing between the party and its destiny. Proponents of this position would point to the Rudd/Gillard experience, but they are confusing an ingredient for the whole recipe: not tearing one another apart is a necessary prerequisite to electoral success, but it is not, on its own, sufficient.

A good summary of the cognitive dissonance inside Labour.

Across the Tasman, rejuvenation has sparked Labor’s revival.

Along with the principals themselves, many veterans of the Rudd-Gillard years have made room for new talent on the frontbench, including, critically, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke who have proven more than a match for Abbott’s, and now Turnbull’s, economic A-Team. Meanwhile, the ALP’s backbench is fizzing: a coterie of up and comers like Andrew Leigh, Tim Watts and Clare O’Neil are busy writing books, floating policy ideas and energising the political left.

In the past few weeks alone, the ALP has rendered dead-on-arrival Turnbull’s tax plans, as well as a proposed rollback of education reforms. Shorten’s calls for a Royal Commission into Australia’s banking and financial services sector has struck a nerve, especially after the leak of the so-called Panama Papers. According to the Australian Financial Review, two-thirds of voters support such an inquiry – and pressure mounts daily on Turnbull to acquiesce.

Turnbull is putting at risk the unlosable election. But he only has himself to blame for that, while Labor has focused on the issues that matter to voters. Back in NZ, Labour is still playing gotcha politics…badly.

By contrast, on the same issue, Andrew Little opted to go after Key personally, as well as John Shewan, the expert anointed by the government to review tax haven rules. Such an approach is petty and ineffective. National won’t be worried until Labour shows signs of expanding their appeal beyond those voters who already can’t stand the sight of John Key.

Wise words; shame Labour no longer listen to Phil Quin, instead preferring to demonise him for being both a poof and a drunk…such is the broad church, caring, sharing modern Labour party.

Labour have lost an awful lot of capable people over the years. Sensible, capable people who care a great deal about politics and know up from down. They have set about isolating them and moving them on. Most are now happily employed in the private sector and Labour are the poorer for it.


– Phil Quin


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  • Simo

    Aussies – an easily lead lot will stray at the whiff of a Barbie and cold XXXX

  • Simo

    The Aussie brand of socialism is sugar coated for them where as New Zealand’s brand has the wind swept steppes of Siberia and squawking crows embedded in it, I am sure its unintentional!

  • rua kenana

    Along with the other desperation measures Labour (NZ) could always try changing its name to the Australian version (Labor), and try hoping a bit more.
    Funny thing, as an NZer I once asked an OZ university class if they really spelled labour the English way (they do) and Labor the American way (they do). But seems there was no good explanation why.

  • Richard McGrath

    I’ve been working in Aussie most of this year and watching the state-owned ABC network on TV most nights. It features a lot of politics, and we regularly see Labor pollies such as Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, et al. Almost without exception, the Labor gang come across as nasty and vindictive individuals. Shorten, Plibersek and Wong are consistently the worst. Bowen and Burke are smarmy, arrogant Cunliffe types. Unfortunately Turnbull, having backstabbed Abbott, has pandered to the left and wasted the opportunity to make his mark, and I’m picking he will probably lose the upcoming election. Fortunately, the Liberals have two potentially good leaders-in-waiting, treasurer Scott Morrison and immigration minister Peter Dutton.