Is “A Fair Go” Enough?

A fair go is a big part of the Labor Party – even Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan agree.  But what does a “fair go” mean, and is the idea of a “fair go” broad and deep enough to take pride of place as Labor’s value-in-chief?  I have no doubt it is one of our core values, at least.

Labor’s history, beliefs and aspirations have always been about, at least in large part, a commitment to make sure everyone gets a fair go.  This core value is uniquely Australian and, expressed in this way, uniquely Labor’s.  It guided us before Australia was a nation and has guided us ever since; it has united us in our diversity, and it has been our consistent strength and source of inspiration in Opposition and in Government.

Our commitment to a fair go has driven voters and members to Labor since the Party was formed, as it has driven support to other parties of the centre and left; it has been the idea that has sparked a commitment to politics for many, and support for Labor in particular.

The “fair go” is the underpinning value that attracts many (most?) people to progressive Australian political parties and groups – that can’t really be disputed.

It’s because this core value resonates with nearly every Australian that Labor has been entrusted with Government, and can look to earn that trust again.

Some want to test this concept of the “fair go” against other aspirations and ideologies in Labor’s past and present, and suggest it is a watered down version of socialism, unionism, collectivism, or others, but that’s not right – it was constructed as a home-grown political program.  How Labor delivers its version of a fair go might from time to time be worthy of scorn from Left and Right, but the fair go itself isn’t.  Whether Labor’s version of a fair go is sufficiently fair to everyone, with differing emphases and definitions under different leaders, is also worthy of argument.

The “fair go” is unimpeachable – but is it enough?  It is flexible and broad enough to reflect a big part of Labor’s non-doctrinaire political agenda, but is it a sufficient substitute or cypher for “democratic socialist” or “social democrat”, or any of the other labels that have been attached to Labor?

I think that “fair go” can lead progressives to a pretty detailed political program: placiours he commitment to a “fair go” at or near the centre of your values carries powerful implications:

  • Labor’s commitment to a fair go must comprehensively underpin an active approach to Government and governing
  • People can never be a means to an end – they (with their fair go) are the end – which means, for example, that the economy exists to serve people, and not the other way around
  • The fairness (“fair-go-ed-ness”?) of a society is measured by the rights enjoyed by society’s members – the right to a fair go is delivered through access to a wide range of other rights
  • Those who challenge those rights that add up to a fair go, who seek to reduce these rights to privileges, who want to set aside these rights to pursue other objectives, or who seek to undermine these rights’ universality, are always, everywhere, attacking the right to a fair go.

Ensuring everyone gets a fair go means Labor must work to turn the aspirations and possibilities of Australians into modern and relevant rights and realities, for all Australians regardless of their origins or location:

  • The right to full participation in education, work, community, and society, consistent with your aspirations and abilities
  • Decent and affordable housing
  • Work where you are safe, fairly paid, fairly treated, and respected
  • Access to health care based on need, not wealth
  • A decent standard of living
  • National, community and personal security and safety
  • Fair access to work, promotion, and Government and community infrastructure and services
  • A say in decisions that affect you – government decisions, workplace decisions, decisions in your community – and your views being treated respectfully
  • Equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination
  • Freedom of speech and political activity
  • A diverse and tolerant society, respecting and celebrating differences
  • A vibrant democracy
  • Right to choose where and how and with whom you live, work, and play
  • Right to organise collectively in the community and at work, recognising that this is the best way to rebalance the power between individuals and organisations
  • Access to a legal system that delivers justice and fairness
  • Confidence in, and optimism for, your future, your family’s future, and our nation’s future
  • Human rights, as described in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a proud signatory
  • Social justice and social inclusion – making sure these rights are available to disadvantaged and those in special need, particularly those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent
  • Procedural and allocative fairness
  • Safety nets that catch, support and build up those in danger of being left behind
  • An activist Government that fosters these rights, hears you, respects you, actively promotes your participation, consults with you, and responds to you
  • Treating future generations fairly by bequeathing them a sustainable environment that we’ve respected and nurtured, a sustainable economy, and constantly renewed and revitalised infrastructure, both social and capital
  • Effective and accessible means for individuals and groups to secure and ensure these rights and freedoms

A fair go happens only when people recognise their responsibilities as well as rights

  • Respecting others and their rights, and treating them with honesty, civility and decency – (the real spirit of mateship, vs. the chauvinism and xenophobia that some label as mateship)
  • Participating in choosing Governments
  • Obeying the law, and supporting the rule of law (though I have to say I’m a big fan of civil disobedience in somecircumstances, and I have to work out how that fits in here!)
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, as far as possible
  • No free riding!

In common with everyone else, Australia is experiencing great change: globalisation, regional power shifts, economic development and realignment, environmental crises, economic crises, and many others.  These challenges demand different ways to deliver a fair go, than did the challenges of a decade or a generation ago.  And the focus will change again in the future, while the need for a fair go does not.

There are gaps in this discussion – for example:

  • How does Labor’s concept of a fair go distinguish them from conservative parties?
  • What, if anything, makes a fair go distinctively democratic socialist / social democrat?
  • What if anything, has to be added to the fair go, to define the whole of the soul and values of the Australian Labor Party?

… but this blog post is long enough already, and I would like your ideas on those things.

Note: Some of this was inspired by Chapter 1 of Labor’s new National Platform, but most was inspired by the gaps in that document.

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services:; Ethical strategies and programs which get you where you need to go ... * Exceptional government & stakeholder relations, * Thriving governance systems, * Specialised project facilitation, * Inbound investment assistance, * Successful marketing, communications and PR campaigns ... and customised training in each of these areas.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in australian labor party, campaigning, change, culture, ethics, governance, Politics, values and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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