the light on the hill

A relaxed, informal Ben Chifleyhttp://john.cur...
A relaxed, informal Ben Chifley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think every Labor Leader since Ben Chifley, including Julia Gillard, has made some reference to the justly famous Chifley oration, ‘the light on the hill‘ and I have reproduced it here.

“I have had the privilege of leading the Labor Party for nearly four years. They have not been easy times and it has not been an easy job. It is a man-killing job and would be impossible if it were not for the help of my colleagues and members of the movement.

No Labor Minister or leader ever has an easy job. The urgency that rests behind the Labor movement, pushing it on to do things, to create new conditions, to reorganise the economy of the country, always means that the people who work within the Labor movement, people who lead, can never have an easy job. The job of the evangelist is never easy.

Because of the turn of fortune’s wheel your Premier (Mr McGirr) and I have gained some prominence in the Labor movement. But the strength of the movement cannot come from us. We may make plans and pass legislation to help and direct the economy of the country. But the job of getting the things the people of the country want comes from the roots of the Labor movement – the people who support it.

When I sat at a Labor meeting in the country with only ten or fifteen men there, I found a man sitting beside me who had been working in the Labor movement for 54 years. I have no doubt that many of you have been doing the same, not hoping for any advantage from the movement, not hoping for any personal gain, but because you believe in a movement that has been built up to bring better conditions to the people. Therefore, the success of the Labor Party at the next elections depends entirely, as it always has done, on the people who work.

I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.

It does not matter about persons like me who have our limitations. I only hope that the generosity, kindliness and friendliness shown to me by thousands of my colleagues in the Labor movement will continue to be given to the movement and add zest to its work.”

Many of us today would conclude that the light on the hill is flickering, or faltering badly. What is it that causes this to be the case?

Firstly there is a measure of self interest that seems to have plagued much of the Party in recent history. A seemingly endless steam of suggestions of Labor Politicians gaining some financial or other advantage and rumours of doubtful deals or deeds has done the party no favours, and the persons responsible need to know that they have been prepared to do damage the the organisation for personal gain which seems absolutely contrary to the Spirit of the light on the hill.

Secondly there is the sheer lack of transparency when it comes to many decisions or why those decisions were taken, and this seems to arise when various elements of the Party – generally the factions – make dodgy deals and decisions in the back room. The kinds of things that lead to the first deposition of Kevin Rudd. These are decisions which are taken in a way where neither the light of day, nor the light on the hill are allowed.

Thirdly there is the addiction to spin. The belief that seems widely held by those in power that words speak louder than actions, that the rhetoric of the light on the hill is more important than the approach that it would suggest. We grow tired to the media circus that surrounds everything, and of a media that thinks or rather does not think for itself, and the general notion that we can fix everything with an announcement. Announcements fix nothing. Announcing the same thing four times still does not fix it. It is like the margin note on the sermon ‘louder – argument weak here’.

Fourthly is the lust for power. Power is a moral neutral, it depends what you do with it. Power is not an end in itself. Power is not the goal of the Labor Party, or at least it ought not be. Effectively the number of deal that were done to bring the the Gillard / Brown Swan Government to fruition ultimately showed the flawed nature or the matter and the loss of the ideal. This unfortunately has been a hallmark of the current administration and it is not a good thing. Internally and externally it seems that power – not human betterment is the goal.

The green moss that is thought to be growing over the light on the hill is there because no-one has been watching the light on the hill. If the attention of the Labor Party does not return to the light on the hill it will be subsumed, they will dwindle into minority and the Greens will rise to be the second party in Australia. And yes, it can happen. That does not make the Greens the enemy. The Labor Party needs to learn that their greatest problems are their own failure to be true to who they ought to be and what they ought to believe in.

This week would not be too soon for this to happen.


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