Federal Labor heavyweights fight for the Right to party
Senior Labor Right MPs are pushing for a widespread overhaul of policies so the party can appeal to aspirational working-class voters and “entrepreneurial migrants”, amid warnings that voters in traditional ALP strongholds were alienated by Bill Shorten’s politics of envy.
Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland, who represents the multicultural western Sydney seat of Greenway, said migrants were turned off by Labor’s anti-business rhetoric and tax policies.
“I get the sense there were many aspirational individuals in western Sydney who felt Labor wasn’t supporting them,” Ms Rowland told The Australian.
“Part of that is because the nature of work has changed so much, with small businesses and microbusinesses. You have got tradies who have an ABN. Aspiration is not a dirty word — it is what my life has been. It is what my neighbour’s life has been.”
With Anthony Albanese in the US, deputy leader Richard Marles used a speech on Thursday night to urge Labor to “stake out the political centre” and offer workingclass people who contributed to society the prospect of a better life rather than focusing on welfare and subsidies.
Mr Marles said Labor’s working-class base was discouraged at the last election because Mr Shorten was offering “handouts rather than hope”.
South Australian senator Alex Gallacher told The Australian he wrote letters to Mr Shorten and then Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen before the election, warning them that the negative gearing and franking credits policies were going down badly with working and middle-class people. The right-wing senator said Labor was not talking enough about issues that connected with middle Australia and lashed the “saving the planet” language used on climate change.
“Negative gearing and capital gains tax changes in opposition was foolishly brave,” Senator Gallacher said. “Aspirational voters are on the move. They don’t want anything shut down that might be a chance for them to get up the ladder and make a quid.”
Ms Rowland, a member of the NSW Right and Labor’s communications spokeswoman, said many people in western Sydney were “entrepreneurial migrants” who aspired to a wealthy future.
“They didn’t come to Australia to lose money or to have a worse life; they came so they could have a better life for themselves and their families,” she said.
“By the time the election came around, the government was able to make an argument that Labor wasn’t in it for them … the number of people who came up to me saying ‘I normally vote Labor but I’m not this time because I am a small-business owner’.
Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon, also from the NSW Right, used a speech on Wednesday night to call on the party to adopt the government’s 2030 emissions reduction target.
At the May 18 election, several Labor frontbenchers suffered big
swings against them in heartland western Sydney seats with high migrant populations.
There was a 7.4 per cent primary vote swing against Labor in Mr Bowen’s western Sydney seat of McMahon, a 6.8 per cent swing in Ed Husic’s seat of Chifley in the northwest and a 5.5 per cent swing in Jason Clare’s seat of Blaxland further south.
Analysis of AEC data by The Australian revealed that Labor’s biggest primary-vote swings towards it were in wealthy, progressive electorates, despite Mr Shorten’s class-war rhetoric, which saw the former leader label business owners “fat cats”.
The party enjoyed a 11.7 per cent swing to it in the inner-Melbourne seat of Cooper (formerly Batman) and an 8.85 per cent swing in the blueribbon seat of Higgins, which has been held by Peter Costello and former prime ministers John Gorton and Harold Holt.
Labor’s third biggest primary vote swing was in the Liberal heartland seat of North Sydney, held by Trent Zimmerman.
Veteran Victorian Right MP Anthony Byrne, who represents the outer Melbourne seat of Holt, endorsed Ms Rowland’s comments and said the party needed to engage better with multicultural communities.
“The Labor Party engagement with our migrant communities is not good. It is substandard,” he said.
“As a consequence of that, I don’t think we picked up the level of dissatisfaction that people who were traditionally Labor-supporting communities had with us and our polices. They felt they weren’t listened to and they weren’t included in the conversation. And they weren’t.”
Mr Byrne said the same ethnic groups that voted for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in the state election were turned off by the federal party.
“When I asked them why, they told me they felt federal Labor didn’t understand them and didn’t support them and their aspirations,” he said.
In his Thursday night speech, Mr Marles said voters “simply didn’t feel we went to the election offering them the tools to move forward” and that Labor “wanted them to settle for a range of subsidies”.
“We must always be the party of people who work hard, who contribute, whose efforts and sacrifice drive our economic success,” he said.
Ms Rowland’s NSW Right faction colleague Kristina Keneally used questions about Labor’s direction to attack News Corp Australia, her former employer when she was a co-host of Sky News.
“The last person with whom I would share my thoughts with is a News Corp journalist. And you can quote me on that,” Senator Keneally told The Australian in a text message.
‘The Labor Party engagement with our migrant communities is not good. It is substandard’ ANTHONY BYRNE VICTORIAN LABOR MP