Broadly speaking, the coming federal election seems to be coalescing around three main issues.
Young people particularly see climate change as the defining issue. They are being joined by angry grandparents concerned about the world we are leaving to our descendants, as well as many of the business and farming community who are realising the economic threat posed by inaction.
It has come to the point where Liberals are openly admitting that certain elements in the party room will not allow any policy progress in this area and apparently the leadership is too weak to override this noisy minority. They are basically telling us that we have to vote the deniers out if we want to protect the environment.
Power prices and reliability are used as excuses to avoid the responsibility to act on emissions reduction but the argument is not honest regarding price comparisons for renewables vs new coal-fired power, the reliability of old thermal generators particularly in the heat, the need for improved transmission and interconnectors, the storage possibilities provided by small-scale pumped hydro, the improvements in energy efficiency and building design, the employment opportunities from emerging new industries compared to the future of the coal industry, the very real environmental, health and social costs of the mining and burning of fossil fuels and the economic cost of increasingly severe weather events exacerbated by global warming.
The one question I would ask of every candidate is do you support the construction of new coal-fired power stations – yes or no?
The Coalition wants the election to be run on the economy, taxation and jobs in particular, and seems to think there are enough wealthy retirees wanting to protect their excess franking credit refunds to make a difference.
Scare campaigns about changes to negative gearing have been somewhat blunted by the recent drop in house prices. Provided credit is available to first home buyers, this is a positive for those who were being squeezed out of the market by property investors. We are already witnessing a drop in construction so Labor’s policy to restrict property tax concessions to new dwellings could give a boost to the building industry.
The skiting and promises about job creation mean little to the millions of people who cannot find enough work, who have seen job security and entitlements whittled away, and whose wages have not kept up with the increasing cost of living.
The promise to rein in government spending has negative implications for growth within itself as it has been public spending that has boosted GDP and public wage rises have been higher than in the private sector (except of course for CEOs). Tax cuts for the wealthy will not boost an economy where many are surviving by eating into their savings or increasing their debt.
The third issue is immigration which, for some on the far right, inexplicably gets muddled in with asylum seekers and refugees.
There is no question that we need to have a sensible discussion about immigration and population levels for many reasons but too often the conversation is hijacked by talk of terrorism, stopping the boats, ‘assimilation’, African gangs, dress codes for citizenship ceremonies, refugees clogging up our roads and hospitals, or the demands of business for cheap, maleable labour.
We must consider the environmental impacts, the demands on infrastructure, the support services available to help with integration, the availability of housing and employment, worker exploitation, and so many other real issues – not the endless debate about the burqa which Latham has revived announcing a new candidate for One Nation in NSW – a very attractive young female Muslim tradie who, aside from wanting to ban the burqa except at home (ummm—I don’t think they wear it at home?), has not given an opinion on anything but helpfully provided several lovely photos of herself.
Aside from any discussion on immigration, a solution must be found for the refugees stuck on Manus and Nauru. At least Labor seems to be willing to accept New Zealand’s offer which is a start, but hopefully they have another plan that they may wait until after the election to enact. Once again, these people are stuck in limbo as we await the outcome of the political posturing. The crossbench could be crucial in negotiating a way for these people to restart their lives.
Watching the Independents on Q&A last night was refreshing in that they talked about policy rather than parties.
Labor would do well to stick to selling their policies with simple factual evidence so the comparison with a government who can only speak in slogans and run scare campaigns about the Opposition, and particularly Bill Shorten, is underlined.
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