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Sunday, June 03, 2007

It’s not the wife. It’s the Party, stupid by Humphrey McQueen

Kevin Rudd and his wife Therese Rein

The underpayment scandal around Ms Rein is not so much a gender issue as a class question. And because it is a class issue, Gillard skates over the mistreatment of Rein’s female employees. The femocrats on Rudd’s front bench define equity as their right to expect a seat on the board of McBank alongside Carr. They could not care less whether Rein encourages her employees to join a union.

The focusing on the rights of a woman to grind the faces of her female labour is one more sign of what has gone wrong both with the ALP and with the women’s movement.

That the ALP’s leader’s wife runs a $180m. a year business should upset labour stalwarts less than the nature of her business at WorkDirections. Not so long ago, the ALP criticised the Coalition’s handing of employment services to the Job Network. Did that trifle ever come up around the Rudd meal table?

The IR police will have plenty of questions to pursue for their political masters. Into what workplace conditions do Rein’s underpaid staff place the unemployed? For instance, does her firm stitch job-seekers up with AWAs? Has her partner checked out how Christian are the criteria on which she decides which employers are fit to service?

What the Rein matter highlights is that to draft Rudd’s policy speech you apply through McBank, not your nearest ALP branch. That situation is the end product of policy purges and administrative debasement that have fed each other to deliver an ex-Labor ex-Party. Before the 1980s, Labor leaders sold out on a case-by-case basis. The Hawke-Keating governments conducted a closing-down sale. Their changes have made it impossible for Rudd to join the venerable tradition of Labor rats. There is nothing left for him to rat from and nowhere different to rat to.

Meanwhile, the organisational wing became an ex-Party, its branches stacked with ethnic gangs, its structures dominated by weathervane factions, and local hopefuls over-ridden for celebrities as policy-free as the machine that picks them. At least, the ALP’s refusal to restore compulsory student unionism will choke off the sewer that flushed know-nothing apparatchiks out of student politics and through trade union and ministerial offices.

The past six months have witnessed a further mutation. The 21st century IR policy of no strike-pay and one-strike-and-you’re-inside revealed that the initials ALP now stand for Anti-labour Party.

O brave ex-party that has such spouses lead it.

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