The Australian Labor Party is one of the central political forces in the state which impacts its policymaking. It is also one of the oldest parties as it originates from Labor parties founded in the 1980s in Australian Colonies (Rolfe 2014). Since that time, the given political actor has always been associated with workers and their interests. It used the support of this population group to guarantee its powerful positions in the government and impact decision-making in the country. However, drastic alterations in the structure of population, society, capitals, and political environment preconditioned the evolution of the party, the shift of priorities, and disregard of traditional values. Additionally, the altered mechanisms of influence peculiar to modern society demanded new approaches. For this reason, the contemporary Australian Labor Party (ALP) is no longer a workers party.
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It can be explained by the fact that the ALP has been going through an identity crisis that emerged because of the critical divergence between the traditional labor values that has been topical during the bigger part of the partys activity and new conditions of evolving Australia (Bramble & Kuhn 2009). The given controversy promoted an adverse impact on the ALPs functioning. First, its voters noted the alterations that happened to the party. Correctly realizing the necessity of change, they, however, did not accept the existing course and disregard traditional values (Berg 2016). Second, the weak strategic planning and inability to outline the final course impacted ALPs development and deprived it of chances to preserve its powerful positions (Berg 2016). For this reason, the paper delves into the existing features of the ALP and reveals why it is no longer a workers party it used to be in previous decades.
Loss of Connection with People
As it has already been stated, the Australian Labor Party was founded by workers with the primary aim to protect their interests and promote welfare. For decades, its functioning had been impacted by this very goal. It ensured powerful support and the partys ability to interfere with policymaking by appealing to the interests of numerous workers. The given pattern was efficient because of the leading role this category played in Australia in the 20th century and the topicality of ideas cultivated by the party (Rolfe 2014). However, due to the radical changes of society at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, the party was forced to take the middle ground and step aside from its radical program aimed at the restructuring of economy and improvement of workers position. It also lost the capacity of interest of pushing the government to ensure public good for all.
Another central concern that is considered disputable is the ALPs focus on the development of free markets and their beneficial character for the economy of the state. For instance, Labor ministers Hawke and Keating introduced economic reforms that opened Australias economy to the world market and finished the practice of protectionism and stagflation (Berg 2016). The given solution reoriented the state and the ALPs policy. At the moment, the party is interested in the rise of free markets, which is considered a promising perspective that can ensure further economic and industrial development. However, it will also mean an increase in the level of rivalry, which contradicts workers interests (Dyrenfurth 2013). In such a way, the modern Labor Party cannot meet all workers requirements regarding its course and further development.
The given assumption is evidenced by the relevant statistics. According to Battin (2017), the majority of Australians feel that the party has lost touch with the ordinary people whom it is supposed to be representing. In other words, the population of the state who have traditionally supported the given political force has altered their perspectives on it because of the unacceptable shifts of priorities from the development and cultivation of workers welfare to the facilitation of free markets and market economy. At the same time, the party has not introduced any new and unique course aimed at the enhancement of workers current position and generation of extra benefit for them. In such a way, the party gradually loses support from voters due to the disregard of traditional values and its inability to adapt to new conditions.
Workers and Middle Class
The facts mentioned above also evidence that the Australian Labor party tries to explore the outdated legacy by saying that the central aim of its functioning is the attempts to champion the welfare of workers. However, it should be considered a burden of the past as new conditions introduce new challenges and difficulties faced by workers. For this reason, they need new policies and regulations to ensure their stable development and functioning. Unfortunately, the ALP has failed to suggest alternatives to neoliberalism which became the central factor triggering numerous changes in the Australian industry, society, and working environment (Berg 2016). To a greater degree, this failure preconditioned the decline of ALP’s popularity and its 2013 electoral defeat (Jacotine 2017). The party became unable to promote its voters interests and protect them from new phenomena impacting the evolution of the state.
Another problem peculiar to the modern ALP is numerous difficulties concerning the term “worker” and its definition regarding the contemporary environment. The fact is that the party was founded to address socialist issues, including poverty and exploitation of the working class due to the underrepresentation in the government (Wear 2014). However, due to the critical alterations in relations between different social classes, blurring of boundaries between these very classes, and numerous attempts to eliminate discrimination and exploitation performed by the world community, the party has lost its ideological meaning (Chrenkoff 2017). The majority of citizens consider themselves a middle class which means that the target audience represented by the ALP reduces and the given political force experiences significant problems. The elimination of the traditional issues such as poverty and exploitation of the working class became a serious challenge for the party.
Expansion of Interests
The assemblage of problems mentioned above resulted in the emergence of the need for critical reorganization and the creation of a new ideology to restore the partys influence and ability to impact policymaking. For this reason, the party had to expand its interests beyond the core consistency of workers to include the middle class. It preconditioned significant shifts of priorities and focused on other problems, including free markets (Wear 2014). This approach is untraditional for the ALP and triggers numerous debates about its ability to save the previous legacy and consider itself a party of workers (Dunlop 2016). Correctly realizing the consequences of this step, the party and its leader were not able to act in another way (Dunlop 2016). The existing situation is critical for the further development of the party and preservation of its political potency, along with the ability to impact decisions and policy-making in the state.
The above-mentioned shift of priorities is explained by the fact that without the middle class, the APL cannot achieve the desired levels of success during elections. The statistics evidence that the 2013 electoral defeat was preconditioned by unprecedentedly low levels of support from the workers class (Rolfe 2014). It comes both from the gradual decrease in the number of this class’s representatives who start to associate themselves with the middle class and the lack of trust among traditional voters. In such a way, these elections demonstrated the need for new supporters to achieve success and remain a powerful political force. The involvement of a middle class that is expected to have interests similar to workers ones was considered the only possible solution to the problem. However, at the same time, it meant the partys inability to appeal to the past legacy and its transformation from a workers to another party.
The APL as a Cartel Party
There is another factor that preconditioned alteration of the ALPs nature. Only 18 percent of the workforce is nowadays from the union members (Rolfe 2014). Traditionally, unions have been one of the pillars supporting the power of diverse labor parties and providing them with the ideological grounding of their actions and demands (Rolfe 2014). However, today the significance of this institution gradually decreases. By the latest research, unions and union members are not considered a potent political power anymore as their ability to impact policymaking is limited (Dunlop 2016). For this reason, the ALP was not able to utilize its traditional lever of influence and impact decision-making in the state. The given factor facilitated the partys involvement in processes and activities traditionally associated with other political forces (Pearce 2011). At the same time, it accelerated ALPs transformation and becoming the middle class party.
The processes happening within the ALP and impacting its current transformation gave rise to numerous debates concerning its strategy and functioning. Thus, Bramble and Kuhn (2009) assert that the ALP is a cartel party that uses the premise of representing the workers to appease its traditional values while, in essence, trying to remain relevant in a changing environment. In other words, instead of opposing the existing authorities and protecting the interests of a particular group of people, the party is focused on the preservation of its power and cultivation of the existing policymaking as it guarantees the ALPs future ability to impact decision-making and precondition the further evolution of the state. In such a way, the party has moved from its original goals and is a conformist actor supporting the existing government.
The Opposite View: The Necessity to Change
However, the given idea is opposed by Wear (2014), who states the ALP is still a workers’ party as its main agenda is to fight for the public good, and it has to change and adapt to evolving Australian society. From this perspective, the evolution of priorities is inevitable as to survive, a political party has to be ready to transform to meet new requirements that emerge under the impact of peculiarities of global intercourse and the countrys evolution. The inability to change results in stagnation and gradual decline. That is why the ALPs focus on the middle class and efforts to promote the reconsideration of its traditional system of values should be considered an attempt to preserve its leading positions and enlarge the target audience, which is critical for the future fight for the public good.
Moreover, in accordance with this assumption, the evolving society introduces a set of specific demands that should be fulfilled to remain topical and preserve the ability to act regarding the existing environment. Thus, according to Wear (2014), the drop of union membership and influence in the ALP has been occasioned by globalization and the adoption of neoliberal policies within the ALP. However, the party’s core agenda is to represent workers. The given goal preconditions its actions aimed at the preservation of potency and ability to participate in the states political discourse. To be able to represent workers interests, the ALP has to win an election, which will guarantee the ability to introduce appropriate regulations and protect peoples needs. This goal can be achieved only with the help of the middle class’s support as it will provide new voters and ensure the majority in the government.
Altogether, the Australian Labor Party is one of the oldest political actors that has traditionally been associated with workers and their interests. Using this social class’s support, the party managed to impact policymaking and introduce specific regulations needed to promote their welfare. However, the drastic alterations in modern society and policy, along with the dominance of neoliberalism and its ideas, cultivated a new environment characterized by the prevalence of the middle class. For this reason, the party decided to reconsider its fundamental values system and focus on free markets along with the representation of the middle class’s interests. In such a way, it is possible to conclude that the ALP is not a workers’ party as it abandoned its core constituency, which has been the working class.
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