Why I quit the Labor Party

After 24 years a member of the ALP, standing for public
office in a marginal seat, holding many branch office and policy positions,
Andrew MacLeod quit the Labor Party. He proposes a new ‘bi-partisan liberalism’.
Here is why. Radio interview here. Published in the Fairfax Press May 27, 2013 here.

NB: Many have asked what I would do if I were setting policy. Here is my view.
My father had been an active member of the Labor Party.  In November 1975 I rode my bicycle around the
streets with a ‘We Want Gough’ and a ‘Shame Frazer Shame’ badge pinned to my
chest. I remember meeting Whitlam as a kid and being presented a Tonka toy for
coming second in a sack race at the ALP family day at Bernley Oval in the mid
Even though my family had a strong Labor background, my
joining was not automatic. I took the time and made my own decision on which
party to join. The choice came after deep thought.
In the end I summed up my reasoning thus: One can not look
at the moderates of either political party for guidance on which to join, for
they are too similar. One has to look at the radicals of the parties and decide
which is least disconcerting.
Back in 1988 when I looked at the outliers of both parties I
came to this conclusion: The Labor Party believed in having a social safety net
a bit too high. There was some waste, but few genuine people missed out. The
Liberal Party had the social safety net too low. Less waste, but some genuine
people missed out.

For me, it was ‘less bad’ to have a little waste and no-one
missing out, compared to less waste and genuine suffering. This was the generalisation I used all through my time as a member of the Party.
Having had a long career working for the UN and for the Red
Cross in hell zones like Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan and
others, Australia’s place in the world and how we treated those less well-off, became more important to me.
Issues around asylum and refugees are the main yard-sticks I use in judging Australian society and politics.
I was disgusted by the events around the Tampa and the 2001
election. I was deeply involved as a candidate in a marginal Victorian seat
only just missing out on election. No matter how much John Howard seeks to
re-write history and say the Tampa had little to do with the result, it did.
Labor tied itself in knots after 2001, losing focus on its
position on asylum, and missing an opportunity to put alternative policies to
the Australian people. It is an extremely complicated issue. To simple it
is to say ‘Stop the Boats’, but also to simple it is to say ‘Let Them Land’.
The issue does not lend itself to slogans if one is to lead a well thought national debate.
After election in 2007 and again after Gillard took over, Labor had the chance to reset the debate and lead the Australian people in a genuine, well thought
out dialogue around alternative policy, based on positivity not negativity.
Labor could have ‘re-set’ the national mood to one of ‘how do we safely and
securely control entry to genuine asylum seekers’ instead of continuing a
negative dialogue around ‘how we stop illegal entry and excise territory from
our migration zone’.

Labor failed to take this chance.

Hence, when my membership renewal form arrived in the post
in 2011, I could not see the principled leadership I searched for. I could not see a new challenging of the Australian
people on the issues that matter to me. I could not find a
meaningful difference between Labor and Liberal. How therefore, in all conscience, could I remain in the party? I decided to quietly let my
membership lapse.
So why speak out now? If the camel’s back were not already
broken, excising the mainland from the migration zone would have done it for me.
This additional slap in the face to core beliefs of mine means that I no longer
wish to leave the Party quietly.
The issue of asylum is now an issue that defines our
national character. It sets the tone of how we wish to be perceived by
ourselves and by others. I don’t like the tone we as a nation are now setting.
I have had friends say that I have been disloyal to the
party for leaving. But to me, loyalty is to principles first, Party second and
leadership third, not the other way around. Many in the Labor Party appear to
have forgotten this.
Liberal Party apparatchiks can not rejoice in another member
leaving Labor. Labor’s current dysfunction hides very similar issues going on
inside the Liberal Party, not to mention the devious nature of Liberal’s deception on asylum as well.
justice doesn’t belong just to the labor movement and some in the Liberal Party know this.

philosophical liberalist tradition is about freedom for people to attain
their potential within a community, while recognizing the need to look after
those in genuine need. This is why some in the Liberal Party also speak out
about the current asylum debate.

When you have those in both parties who share a progressive view on asylum, and others in both parties who don’t, you begin to see that the old ‘worker
v boss’ divide that historically characterized the two parties, no longer seems
to be the relevant differentiator on the social issues of today.

It is not
just asylum where this divide is seen. Take gay marriage. Under a liberalist
philosophical tradition there would be sympathy for gay marriage. Under a
conservative political tradition there would not. So what of the Liberal Party?

The current
conservative leaning leadership has the Liberal Party objecting to gay
marriage, even though many so called ‘wets’ from a liberal philosophical
tradition would like to support the change. The Liberal Party is split along a
conservative versus progressive divide.

Same in the
Labor Party.

Many in the
religious right of the Labor Party – especially from the catholic union base of
the SDA union – oppose the gay marriage changes.

On the
other hand many from a social justice but non-union background in the Labor
Party support gay marriage.

therefore have two unusual alliances forming within parliament: The pro-gay
marriage camp from both the social justice (non-catholic Labor Party) and
liberalist (Wet Liberal Party) on one hand and the anti-gay marriage from the
catholic Labor and Conservative Liberal sides.

Anti gay-marriage
is made up of some Labor and some Liberal. Pro gay-marriage is made up of some
Labor and some Liberal also. There is a similar divide on asylum and a whole
raft of other issues. In a way Australia has elements of bi-partisan liberalism and bi-partisan conservatism opposing each other on social issues. Yet this progressive versus conservative divide is not represented in the parties and therefore not represented in political debate.

What does
this mean for party politics?

There are
many in the Labor Party who come from a non-unionist background but who joined
the party on the basis of a belief in social justice. They are not so
interested in the worker versus employer divide of the cold war days, but they
are interested in social justice. 
There are
those in the Liberal Party who are philosophically also interested in social
justice and not the employer verses employee divide.

But this is not where our public political debate is. Parties no longer debate different belief, they just debate power. Neither
major leader inspires us to follow them, they try and scare us about the other

No wonder
people are confused. The truth is we don’t need just new leaders of the two
political parties. It is not about changing Abbott or Gillard. Perhaps what we need
is two new parties?

How about a
conservative party to represent the conservative side on gay marriage, asylum,
or even the monarchy? Likewise a liberalist, progressive party to represent the
other would be good.

If we do
not have parties that represent the real ideological divide in our community,
then where is our democracy? Where is our choice?  Australians should get to choose on belief,
not personality. Perhaps then we might get better government.
Andrew Macleod was the
ALP Candidate for McEwen in 2001 and is the former CEO of Committee for
Melbourne. He is the author of ‘A Life Half Lived’ by New Holland Press.
 Radio interview here. Published in the Fairfax Press May 27, 2013 here.

NB: Many have asked what I would do if I were setting policy. Here is my view.

More discussion like this is in: 


One Reply to “Why I quit the Labor Party”

  1. Hi Andrew – the concept of new parties is enticing. I suspect your decision to leave the Labor Party has well and truly been vindicated with this latest PNG policy.

    There are issues too important to sit by and wait for solutions from Government, particularly the way immigrants are received, accepted and incorporated within our communities.

    That is why a group of us have got together to establish Impact100Melbourne (www.impact100melbourne.org) which aims to provide high-impact grants that reach under-served populations, raise the profile of deserving but lesser-know not-for-profit organisations, highlight unmet needs in our region and increase involvement in philanthropy across Melbourne.

    Our 2013 theme is Made it to Melbourne: supporting our immigrant community.

    I thought this might be of some interest to you and your readers. Happy to engage more on this.


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