The socialist objective: should it go?

George Campbell, Paul Smith & Gonzalo Villalta Puig

A challenge for 21st century Labor

George Campbell

Since my comments to the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 March, many have questioned why Labor should update its 'socialist objective' - the statement that appears on our party cards. The answer is simple. Labor needs to state its core values clearly, as a first step in recapturing the imagination and confidence of the community. Australians are entitled to know what motivates our policy agenda. Does anyone seriously believe that our policy agenda since 1983 was governed by the socialist objective?

The socialist objective should serve a purpose like that of a constitutional preamble. It should provide the framework within which our detailed policy is formed and reflect the type of society we as Labor activists aspire to create. While Labor's current 'socialist objective' may symbolise to us as party members what we have fought to achieve over 100 years of activism, it does not reflect the outcomes of recent Labor governments. The socialist objective does not reach out to those who feel betrayed by Labor's failures in government, and does little to attract the votes of those who have not had the opportunity or reason to support our movement. It is the responsibility of Labor activists to examine this legacy and constantly improve on it.

In a time of self-examination, Labor cannot afford to simply tinker with its structure. Nor can Labor complete a comprehensive policy review without debating what the core values anchoring our policy agenda are. If supporting or belonging to Labor is to become a badge of pride, progressive party members need a a rallying point. We need a new light on the hill that can build a support base into the 21st century.

In summary, the socialist objective refers only to "democratic socialisation to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation". Frankly, Labor supporters and members deserve more than this important but limited statement. In a complex world dominated by corporate globalisation, there are many specific sectors of society whose rights and needs deserve a voice in our statement of fundamental values. A Labor party that does not publicly proclaim its support for groups who face systemic discrimination, such as women and indigenous Australians, is not a Labor party to be proud of. Ditto accessible education, the environment and public broadcasting. It's also worth remembering the sanctity of the free market can be challenged in a pro-active way, rather than through defending the status quo.

Elements of the right are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of a Blair-style makeover of the ALP's image. Well, bad news guys. Image makeovers will not fix our problems. Any changes to the socialist objective must be based on principle and in the spirit of reaching out to our core constituencies. The Australian public is sick of slick marketing and US buzzwords like "relationship campaigning". Such shallow analysis of Labor's problems will achieve nothing but to make us second rate versions of the Liberal's John Brogden.