Thursday, 21 June 2012

Labor is failing its progressive base on key issues

Where does 'true' lie for Labor?
Perfectly level or obviously Left?
Julian Assange has made the Australian government look pretty silly by applying to Ecuador for asylum. While Australian foreign minister Bob Carr has gone out of his way to proffer support for an Australian lawyer, Melinda Taylor, imprisoned by Libyan authorities recently, similar advocacy on behalf of Assange has been consistently lacking. Most recently, a letter received from Australia's attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, was characterised by Assange supporters as  a ''declaration of abandonment".
Ms Roxon wrote: ''Australia would not expect to be a party to any extradition discussions that may take place between the United States and the United Kingdom or the United States and Sweden, as extradition is a matter of bilateral law enforcement co-operation.''

She also took the opportunity to advise Ms Robinson that ''should Mr Assange be convicted of any offence in the United States and a sentence of imprisonment imposed, he may apply for an international prisoner transfer to Australia''.
The Labor government here is falling over itself in its desire to alienate its progressive supporters. The Assange thing is just the latest in a string of signal policy failures, including Gillard's reactionary stance on marriage equality and also Carr's department's silence on the troubles in West Papua.

Julia Gillard told the Labor Party earlier this year that a conscience vote would be permitted on gay marriage. But because the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has not reciprocated with the same offer to his MPs any division in Parliament on tabled laws covering the matter would certainly fail. It is time for Gillard to reverse her policy and cause Labor to take a definitive position on marriage equality.

As for West Papua, notable in the public sphere in Australia was a recent segment broadcast by Sky News in which Professor Peter King, an academic from Sydney University, Greens senator Richard Di Natale, and a West Papuan activist resident in Melbourne, Ronny Kareni, participated. It's the longest segment on West Papua that has been aired in Australia to date, and Helen Dalley, the Sky News presenter, evinced a noticeable level of scepticism about the nature of the conflict in the two Indonesian provinces in question, where ethnic Melanesians have been oppressed by the Indonesian army for decades.

Indonesia's media ban in West Papua is working. Unlike for Syria, unlike previously for Libya, there is no public consensus here on the failure of Indonesia's rule and so the onus rests on people who object to it to make their case in the international arena. An Australian government position on West Papua would quickly reverse this dynamic, but that looks unlikely at this point in time. More people will have to die, and activists will have to manage to smuggle out more video footage showing criminal behaviour by the Indonesian army, in order to convince middle Australia of the justice of their cause.

Truly, Labor is caught between two worlds. As the manufacturing sector diminishes in Australia, Labor's traditional heartland shrinks. By trying to shift to the Right to capture sufficient votes within Australia's political Centre, Labor is giving up ground to the Greens on a daily basis. The more errors they make in the eyes of progressives, the less sincere they appear, and so they risk sparking a total collapse in their support base.

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