There was an irony in two episodes of Australian Labor Party history yesterday.
In one part of Sydney some of the party faithful had gathered to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s 1972 election campaign launch speech, a proud moment in its history, when they were reminded of some of its core elements.
In that speech, according to former prime minister Bob Hawke, who was in the audience that night in the small hall in Blacktown, Mr Whitlam outlined a set of “gold standards” for the party, emphasising the “foundational role for government in assisting the worse off in society”.
These core Labor values appeared to be long assigned to the scrap heap for at least one former Labor minister. In the city centre at the Independent Commission Against Corruption allegations were aired of how former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid is alleged to have gathered extensive inside information about an upcoming government coal tender which in the end would earn his family tens of millions of dollars.
The evidence before the commission is that Mr Obeid was making serious amounts of money due to decisions made in his favour by another former minister and that inside information provided him and his family companies with a head start to extract millions from property and mining deals.
The allegations have sent shock waves through the Australian Labor Party, and particularly among those members of the Labor governments, including premiers, in which Mr Obeid served along with the other former minister at the centre of the inquiry, Ian Macdonald.
Corruption of this magnitude, if it is proven, will rock the party of true believers, the working class, and the socially vulnerable and impoverished.
How could such honourable ideals be abandoned, they will ask?
Australian politics has a popularity problem.
It appears the electorate does not like either the Prime Minister Julia Gillard or the alternative in Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Mr Abbott’s satisfaction rating has now hit a personal low, down to 27 per cent, while his dissatisfaction rating is at 63 per cent.
Bob Hawke, who knows a thing or two about popular politics, rocked to power courtesy of his communication skills and charisma.
Even John Howard, who was classified as stiff and reserved, enjoyed a greater degree of popularity in the electorate than our two existing political leaders.
The other problem also, is that there is no one else in either of the major parties who is likely to be considered more favourable.