In Gough we trust: Labor novices living in the ’70s

Posted on 27/04/2020 by

AUSTRALIA’S new generation of Labor MPs may answer to Kevin Rudd, but their dreams are of Gough Whitlam, a study suggests.And while Mr Rudd’s election campaign made much of his intention to govern with remorseless economic conservatism, it appears this enthusiasm was not shared by many of the men and women he helped into the House of Representatives.Trevor Cook, a doctoral student in politics at the University of Sydney, has undertaken an analysis of the “Class of 2007” – the 32 new Labor MPs who took their seats in Parliament’s lower house after the 2007 Labor election victory.Based on their first speeches, biographies and declarations on the register of interests, Mr Cook compares the 2007 inductees with the only other large class of Labor “newbies” in the past 30 years – the Class of 1983, which escorted Bob Hawke into power.”In their first speeches there is the occasional, and fairly desultory, acknowledgment of the importance of good economic management, but what really motivates the new MPs in terms of ideology and policy is a continuing passion for the agenda that Whitlam largely created for the national parliament: health, education, community building and social justice,” writes Cook in his draft paper, Whitlam’s Grandchildren; What the Class of 2007 Tells Us about the ALP.The paper is a response to a similar study, undertaken by Paul A. Pickering of the Australian National University, in 1998, which looked at the Coalition MPs who arrived in the Howard landslide of 1996.In the 25 years since the Hawke newcomers first took their places, Labor MPs have learned to share more intimate details of their own lives upon arrival in Parliament, a phenomenon which leads Cook to refer to the Class of 2007 as “The Oprah Generation”.First speeches now are a platform for outlining difficult childhoods, struggles with poverty and alcoholism, fear of flying or – in the case of Belinda Neal (Robertson) – being taught by her grandmother “how to kill a chicken using only my hands”.Compared with 1983, when denunciations of the capitalist system as “immoral” and corrupt” were not unusual, the Class of 2007 has largely abandoned formal class warfare; socialism did not score a mention in their first speeches.But the union movement did, much more so than in 1983, even though the Class of 1983 was led by a famous former ACTU leader and the Class of 2007 by a man who claimed not to remember the name of the union of which he was a member.Cook reports that of the 32 new Labor MPs of 2007, 12 were former union officials, nine former Labor staffers, eight local councillors, four had served before as parliamentarians, and two had been full-time party officials.
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