The Greens wanted an apology to the Stolen Generations (just like Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd and the overwhelming majority of the Australian people did); One Nation thought the Stolen Generations should apologise to us.
Is this equivalence? Certainly not a moral equivalence. It is worth pondering whether Labor's new strategists can actually remember the bigotry and division One Nation injected into our democracy in 1996. To compare One Nation with the Greens is a weak and low shot that gives too much respectability to the utter moral disgrace that One Nation represented.
Surely Labor's wannabe future powerbrokers are guided by a more powerful moral compass than this?
The people who peddle this sort of morally shallow nonsense would have you believe that they represent the Labor mainstream, and that Labor people who share key policy beliefs with the Greens are part of a radical, unrepresentative, "elite", just like the Right's new bogywoman Lee Rhiannon. Undergraduate stuff indeed.
The reality is of course quite different. I suspect that on many issues, the vast majority of Labor true believers would be closer to the Greens than to Sussex Street, and I say this as someone who has supported and worked for the Labor cause for all of my adult life.
It's pretty obvious who the unrepresentative, ideological extremists in the ALP really are: they are the backward-looking, morally challenged, opinion-poll-obsessed, closet conservatives who propose silly motions such as Dastyari's.
In fact, so ideologically committed are such people, that to make their point they are prepared to humiliate a Labor Prime Minister, put at risk a parliamentary alliance that keeps a Labor government in power, and deliver the Senate to Tony Abbott's aggressively conservative Coalition. That tells you a lot.
Let's be clear what Dastyari's motion is really about.
It is not about electoral tactics or even about preference deals. As the leaders of the NSW Right well know, there is no need for a motion to instruct Labor to "no longer provide the Greens party automatic preferential treatment in any future preference negotiations", because there is no such thing as automatic preferential treatment for the Greens.
It is a very fishy red herring indeed. Every preference negotiation is a tactical and, one would hope, ethical decision made to suit each particular electoral circumstance. But it must be just that - a mix of ethics and realism.
Just ask Victorian Labor members, who watched in horror a few elections back as their office bearers handed a Senate seat to Steven Fielding, what happens when electoral calculation totally trumps political philosophy. There has to be some balance.
Clearly, Dastyari's motion isn't about tactics; it's a statement about what sort of party he thinks Labor should become in the decade ahead: a socially and economically conservative party of the centre or even the centre-right.
Make no mistake, this is the first shot in the ideological war to determine the post-election direction of the Australian Labor Party. And the Left of the ALP should think long and hard before accepting a lift on this particular scorpion's back.
The young Turks in the NSW Right would have you believe that they represent the future of the ALP. Looking in the mirror, they see younger incarnations of the greats of the Hawke and Keating eras, working hard to recapture those glory days in less certain times. But what really reflects back at them is something far different: younger incarnations of the bare-knuckle fighters of the Evatt years. The hats and pipes and Bakelite telephones are gone, but everything else remains. This illiberal, conservative-populist Labor is Labor before Whitlam, before Dunstan, before Hawke and Keating, none of whom who would ever have so casually dismissed the moral wilderness of One Nation politics.
This is Labor without a purpose or a future. By following the logic of Dastyari's motion and defining itself as the anti-Green, anti-Left party of Australian politics, Labor would in effect give up any pretence of being a party of change. Instead, it would live out its days, happily exchanging control of the Treasury benches with the Coalition, trying to trump them with new gimmicks picked up from American campaign magazines.
The issues that are attracting young idealistic people to the Greens are not going away. Labor is not losing inner-city seats and branch members to the Greens because it is not right wing enough, and it is certainly not going to win them back by this orgy of angry abuse.
If Labor is going to have a future it is going to have to put together a new agenda that can appeal simultaneously to its inner-city and outer-city bases; it can't afford to ditch one for the other, as Dastyari and others appear to want to do.
Visionary Labor figures have managed this challenge in the past, and if we can find a few new visionaries below the age of 40 somewhere, just somewhere in the Labor Party, perhaps they can do it again.
Dennis Glover is a Labor speechwriter and author.
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