Last night’s True Believers' dinner at the Brisbane Convention Centre to unofficially launch the Queensland State Election for the ALP, represented both the best and the worst aspects of the party that I joined, and now the one I have left behind. The guest of honour was Former Prime Minister Paul Keating, whose appearance marked the only reason for my attendance. As with much of the 1600 attendees, he remains my political role model, even if the party he belongs to no longer does.
As with many functions of this kind, the dinner served to energise the rank and file (who could afford a $55 a head ticket, a contradiction in itself, really for a supposed 'working class party') ahead of the largely hopeless campaign ahead. So, it was rather fitting that for an event designed to ensure the ALP’s future standing, most of the night was spent harking back to past successes. Members of the Goss, Beattie and Bligh governments were honoured guests, with the achievements of each highlighted at every opportunity: but what of the future? It was a damning indictment that a man who has not been in Parliament for 16 years, nor one who even lives in Queensland was the only one with a clear vision last night.
The first speaker Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan demonstrated that far from being a ‘home brand Keating’, that he is an inferior product in every sense. Noting that he and Keating were the only Australian Treasurers to win ‘Treasurer of the Year’ he invited such unwelcome comparisons. He spent most of his laborious, poorly delivered speech noting that both the Federal and State Oppositions did not have an alternative economic plan, but as his custom failed to articulate one himself. As he outlined the achievements of the Gillard Government, the big screen would occasionally show Kevin Rudd’s stony face fake smiling looking like he wished he was playing with his dog at home instead.
The Queensland Premier then strode out to standing ovation (notable for who didn’t stand up, rather than those that did) again highlighting past achievements. Given that she was a mere 36 hours from visiting Government House to officially commence the State campaign proper, it was interesting to note that she spent more time attacking the LNP than testing out campaign themes, again trying to tie her record to her impressive predecessors and falling far short of their standards.
It was then left to Keating to salvage the wreckage. Although the reportage will no doubt be dominated by parroting his trademark one liners, Keating did more to state the economic credentials of Queensland than Swan, Bligh or State Treasurer Andrew Fraser have done in 3 years. Deftly navigating through economic statistics with a thorough examination of the political climate, Keating told the story of how Queensland had ‘transformed under two decades of Labor’ whilst warning of the dangers of allowing ‘the Little Man’ (Newman) and ‘the Hayseeds’ (The National Party) from taking power at the March 24 poll.
Keating’s speech was one of big ideas, which could have been examined by voters whether they agreed with him or not. Increasingly this type of speech seems to be a relic of Labor’s past, just like the Governments that the True Believers’ dinner sought to celebrate. That was the party I loved. As with the speeches of Swan and Bligh, the ALP just seems now to be the party of stale Machiavellian ideas. These True Believers’ have turned into robots, sadly bereft of ideas and vision.