I used to be proud of being born and raised in Balmain, the spiritual home of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The area has produced and attracted some of the greatest names in Australian history, people of politics like Sir Henry Parkes, Tom Uren, Neville Wran and Herbert Vere ‘H.V.’ Evatt (aka Doc Evatt), and sporting heroes like Dawn Fraser and Wayne Pearce.
Pearce went to the same primary school as me but was a few years older. He played rugby league for Balmain Police Boys as a child. By the time he was about 12 or 13 years old, no-one who knew him had any doubt he would one day captain Balmain and play for Australia.
Pearce was never a naturally talented footballer, but even as a child he had immense drive and displayed a sense of fair play rarely seen on a rugby league field at the time. What he lacked in natural ability he made up for with a level of fitness dwarfing all players before him. Through sheer determination to succeed and onfield decency, he changed the game of rugby league and dragged it into the professional era. Pearce’s football career typified the suburb and the great people it collected and produced.
The Balmain I was born into was proudly working class, fiercely union and loyally ALP. It was rough, but people looked out for each other. The political heritage of the area meant something to everybody.
I grew up watching the area change as property values increased and the working class moved away. The Unity Hall Hotel slowly became more famous for drunken brawls than for being the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party.
The ALP didn’t lose its way because Balmain changed – but it is symbolic of what the once proud party has now lost.
Labor politicians and commentators can ramble all day about party reform, but it means nothing unless the party learns again how to fight for a decent Australia and keep fighting until it wins.
The single biggest issue of decency facing Australia is how we treat asylum seekers. Since Tampa and children overboard, apart from a short period under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the ALP has vacated the battlefield, and Australia has become cruel and indifferent to the suffering of refugees.
Standing up for the weakest is, in my book, a core ALP value. The party I grew up surrounded by would never have given up the battle to see people treated humanely and with dignity.
On Wednesday night a young Tamil refugee self-immolated after being informed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection he was to be forcibly returned to Sri Lanka. Faced with torture in his home country his choice was death. He is in a critical condition in hospital and unlikely to survive.
The scene of this tragic event caused by our barbaric refugee policies, was Balmain.
Australian Labor Party: where the bloody hell are you?