On Penny Wong and today’s Australian Labor Party

The decision at today’s South Australian Labor Party state convention to list Senator Don Farrell ahead of Senator Penny Wong on the party’s senate ticket represents everything that is wrong with the ALP today.

Well, maybe not everything. But most of the things.

It seems that Labor has learnt nothing from its mistakes. Despite the disastrous consequences of Gillard’s ascension to the Prime Ministership, despite the opportunity for change that John Faulkner presented in the Wran oration last year, Labor has shown yet again that it still prizes success within the party over success as a party, and that it is therefore willing to neglect both principle and talent. It’s like sailors on a wayward ship choosing a new captain by seeing who can piss further.

Being a climate activist, I often disagreed with Senator Penny Wong while she was Minister for Climate Change. I first met her in at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, when I was a member of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s Australian Youth Delegation. I wasn’t a big fan of the inadequate policies she was advocating. But, even then, I could admire her integrity and undeniable talent.

A meeting in Copenhagen between Minister Penny Wong and members of the AYCC's Youth Delegation.

A meeting in Copenhagen between Minister Penny Wong and members of the AYCC’s Youth Delegation.

Since that first encounter, any time I briefly consider voting for the ALP for the firste time in my life, I’m largely influenced by my positive impression of Senator Wong. When she rebutted Joe Hockey on Q&A, “I know what my family is worth”, I was awed by her poise, the ability to demonstrate power while still being altogether grounded and self-aware. She makes me believe it’s possible for the ALP to govern based upon principles and to do it well.

So, to an outsider like me, the decision to give Senator Farrell Wong’s place on the ticket makes almost no sense. Jessica Wright puts it mildly in the article linked at the top of this piece: “Ms Wong is widely considered as one of the government’s stand-out performers.” Not only that, Senator Wong is credible and engaging. Senator Penny Wong makes people more likely to vote for the ALP.

To regain the electorate’s respect, the ALP needs a new narrative. Not the narrative of faceless men and backroom deals that Senator Farrell represents, but a narrative of a principled, progressive party, that is very good at what it does. And how is it to do this if it takes most successful principled, progressive, skilled members and snubs them?

Labor is the party that brought us the NDIS, that made things better for gay and lesbian couples, that put a price on pollution, that got us through the global financial crisis largely unscathed. It may be the party that will continue to improve economic conditions, to invest in our schools and healthcare, to provide nation-building infrastructure. But it’s hard to believe that when you see the fate suffered by Sen. Penny Wong.


One Response to “On Penny Wong and today’s Australian Labor Party”

  1. Labor has no principles. No philosophies. They make it up as they go. Combined with union corruption, I don’t think I could ever vote for them.

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