in brief: bill shorten hints at ‘equality ministry’
Bill Shorten, potential Labor leader, has said he would consider establishing a shadow ministry for equality if he is successful against fellow candidate, Anthony Albanese. His statement, in response to a query put to both men by Labor’s LGBTI lobby group Rainbow Labor, flags the possibility of a significant and positive shift in Labor party policy. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised his MPs a conscience vote on any future marriage equality bill, but his resignation leaves the issue unresolved for the moment.
Although Anthony Albanese did not say whether he would consider creating an equality portfolio within his shadow ministry if elected, he told Rainbow Labor that he had consistently supported gay rights and wished to achieve marriage equality. With a shadow ministry dedicated to LGBTI rights on the cards, it might be that Labor is finally getting its act together.
Maybe, just maybe, following an election wipe-out, and under new leadership, Labor will decide that it’s time to actually stand up for the progressive, compassionate ideals that it supposedly represents. Kevin Rudd’s famous change of heart on the issue of marriage equality was encouraging to see, and to hear him explain and defend his position on that issue was impressive. But in the context of the recent election campaign, during which Labor’s approach seemed to be one of negating Liberal attacks by aping their policies, Rudd’s support for marriage equality seemed more like tacky populism than genuine compassion.
Whilst in opposition, the Liberal Party were unrelentingly negative, combative, and uncooperative. They were very good at it. That wouldn’t have been such a problem had Labor not made such a concerted effort to allow this negativity to dominate the political debate. At every turn Labor chose to shift itself closer and closer to the Liberal Party, abandoning any pretence of a strong, coherent, philosophical basis for its policy decisions. Neutralising the opposition’s jabs by following their lead may have scored Labor an early point or two, but in the long run it became clear that the Coalition was in charge of the debate and Labor’s heart wasn’t really in it.
Now out of government, Labor needs to re-establish its progressive values and develop policies that reflect them. A good first step would be demonstrating the importance of issues like gay rights (or science, or women, or refugees) by creating shadow ministries that are dedicated to holding the government to account.*
* An even better second step would be promoting brilliant, talented and passionate MPs like Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, and Kate Ellis over the same old (usually male) party hacks who keep popping up.