What does the ALP stand for?
Gillard says she is sick of hearing this existential nonsense.
Yet, she used her speech last night to state her view of Labor's mission.
The answer is: a nation a of social climbers.
Social climbers with a non-pretentious Aussie style, but make no mistake, the ALP worships the god of social mobility.
Gillard's speech is redolent of Mark Latham's vision of aspirational voters. Of semi-skilled workers in Sydney's west with an eye on the stock market. Of mums working three jobs to send the young Julias of tomorrow to a good private school.
And like Marko she intones those meaningless sentiments: the Labor way, the Australian way.
Equally, she makes a point of repeating Kenneally's great piece of denial and self-delusion: They didn't leave us, we left them.
It sounds like Billy Sneddon's analysis of the 1974 election: we didn't lose, we came second.
A real leader would just say we stuffed up, here's where ...
Nice sugar-coatings are Ok as long as you don't believe them yourself.
Gillard uses opportunity 12 times in her speech, and never mentions equality or inequality.
Concerns about inequality have been air-brushed out of the rhetoric of today's ALP.
But it's not that easy, as a recent study found:
While it is often assumed that social problems bear little relationship to average incomes, the evidence suggests that income differentials within populations matter a great deal, and this is as true of American states as it is of countries around the world.
In the most unequal countries and states, there is more gender inequality, too, and these places are less generous. A higher proportion of people suffer from mental illness, and more use drugs.
Less egalitarian countries have six times as much obesity. Educational attainment is poorer, with higher dropout rates, shorter periods of paid maternity leave and less early childhood education. Teenage birth rates are higher, and it is young men from disadvantaged neighbourhoods who are most likely to be the victims and perpetrators of violence.
In more unequal countries, children experience more bullying, fights and conflict, and rates of imprisonment are five times higher. Although it is possible that heath and social problems cause bigger income differentials, inequalities are the common denominator.
You can't separate equality and oppportunity in the glib way Gillard implies. Opportunity doesn't solve economic and social problems, only policies to address the worst aspects of inequality can do that. Policies that bring down the cost of housing, policies that provide cheap, reliable public transport for people in outlying suburbs. A progressive taxation system. Means-tested welfare payments. More of that please.
The Gillard government stresses about obesity but not inequality; the media highlights the bullying problem, but not inequality. We talk about the symptoms of inequality as if they were all separate problems that can be addressed with an education campaign or something similarly inexpensive.
Focusing on opportunities is simply code for abandoning the goal of keeping inequality to a minimum. Wealth and income disparaties don't matter to Gillard, just a better prospect for the next generation. Not fairness today, but fairness tomorrow (and then only for the academically bright). Labor's political ambition has been diminished.
Worse still, Gillard uses another dishonest sleight of hand to suggest that dismantling the welfare state is central to her project of creating more opportunities:
Creating opportunity and enabling social mobility has required different policies in every age. We have moved beyond the days of big government and big welfare, to opportunity through education and inclusion through participation.
Government is bigger now than under Whitlam: more spending and more regulation. And it has accelerated under the Rudd / Gillard governments. For instance:
The federal government spending share of gross domestic product will increase by 2.6 percentage points this financial year, with a further increase of two percentage points forecast for next financial year, the biggest increases since the early 1970s. Government spending will reach 28.6per cent of GDP in 2009-10, a figure unprecedented in peacetime. Government spending has increased 13.5per cent this financial year, an increase unprecedented since the Whitlam era, and it will increase by a further 3.9 per cent in 2009-10.
It's all about what the money gets spent on. And how it is distributed. And what impact that has on inequality.
Gillard, like Abbott, wants to get tough on the unemployed and the disabled, while leaving in place the whole edifice of middle-class welfare that the Howard Government did so much to increase.
Unions get one mention in Gillard's speech. Australia's 2 million union members will be doubtless pleased to know that Labor still supports the role of unions. Hardly a fulsome vision for unions in the modern Labor way.
The Greens, by comparision, get six mentions. As the ALP continues its stupid obsession with a minor party on its left.
Forget the Greens, Julia, and focus on inequality. That's the way to win back the heartland. Some warmed over version of John Howard's political ideology won't do it.