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Are Labor gains sustainable in the post-election period?

Denis Bright invites discussion on the prospects for a full-term for Malcolm Turnbull’s new government. The new circumstances invite comparisons with the federal LNP’s management of last close-call election result in 1998.

Due largely to electoral irritation relating to the hasty introduction of the GST, Labor made unexpected gains at the 1998 election.

John Howard retained government with 80 seats in the House of Representatives plus an assured vote from the Independent National in Calare on most issues. The federal LNP’s 80/1 to 67 seat margin in 1998 was less tight than the recent election result on 2 July 2016.

Kim Beazley performed well in Opposition but this did not translate into net gains at the general election on 10 November 2001. One false dawn was Labor’s unexpected victory at the Ryan by-election.

As election day approached in 2001, Prime Minister Howard had softened his earlier budget cut-backs. The federal LNP narrowly retained the Melbourne seat of Aston at a by-election on 14 July with a 3.66 per cent swing after preferences.

International events, however, were favourable for the federal LNP with its great expertise in manipulating xenophobia.

The 9/11 Attacks in the US had made the electorate more cautious. President Bush electrified international relations with plans for an attack on Iraq and Prime Minister Howard had coincidently been in the US during these events.

John Howard was also able to play a key border protection cards against asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Prime Minister Howard in Election Mode 2001: “We decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Asylum-seekers could be stereotyped as queue jumpers by the federal LNP and promptly transported to Nauru or drowned at sea in the case of the sinking of the Siev X with a loss of 353 people diverted away from safety in Australia.

Surprisingly, Labor suffered a net loss of only two seats in 1998. One election casualty occurred in Brisbane seat of Dickson. Labor’s Cheryl Kernot defeated by the Hon Peter Dutton who is currently Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Another five seats would fall to the federal LNP at the 2004 election.

By then, economic conditions had improved during the resources boom. Troop commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan were deemed to be an acceptable price in the global war on terror.

What are the prospects of a similar revival by the federal LNP after an even close electoral outcome in 2016?

Post-election economic surge in 2016?

An Australian economy once portrayed by the federal LNP as a basket case just a year ago has survived without the austerity measures demanded by Treasurer Scott Morrison. Business Insider Online offered a balanced assessment of the national accounts data.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also noted the unexpected fiscal stimulus from public expenditure initiatives with positive short-term effects.

The fiscal stimulus was associated with deferral of federal expenditure until the election season, pork-barrelling from pre-election spending as well as the combined opposition’s failure in the senate to implement the budget cuts proposed by the Prime Minister and his Treasurer.

Some negatives in the June Quarter of 2016 included reduced private sector non-dwelling investment (-0.8 per cent) and a containment of imports (-0.5 per cent).

Under these circumstances, Labor should fiercely oppose the federal LNP’s commitments to tighter workplace legislation and to the proposed $6.1 billion in budget repair strategies with consequent effects on currently fragile household expenditure (+0.2 per cent).

Labor should wait for a more genuine commitment by Prime Minister Turnbull to control tax evasion strategies by some corporations and wealthy families before it negotiates budget cuts of this magnitude. Cut-backs of $2 billion in the social security portfolio as foreshadowed by Treasurer Scott Morrison cannot be accepted.

Such Deflationary strategies by conservative governments internationally are a major threat to global economic recovery in the post GFC-era. It will take a lot of goodwill at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou to change this situation in the near future.

The trend-lines for GDP after consumer spending has been excluded contain a real warning against the dangers of deflation which was the reflex response of conservative governments after the Great Depression.


Impact of Foreign Affairs Issues 2016-19

Regardless of the outcome of the US Presidential Election in a few weeks, the profile of the US in international affairs is challenged by its own weak economy and excessive income inequality in its market economy.

In his proposed $2 billion cut-back in social security in the name of budget repair, Treasurer Scott Morrison is keen to follow the worst global income inequality models.

Increasing the momentum of social injustice beyond 2013 levels?

Increasing the momentum of social injustice beyond 2013 levels?

As Prime Minister Turnbull strives to talk-up our destiny as a greater military power with the assistance of the Murdoch Press Australia, great possibilities for disarmament and peace in the Indo-Pacific Region are being over-looked by Australia in the last weeks of the Obama Presidency before the US moves in uncharted new directions.

The recent return of Paul Keating to the foreign policy debate is welcome news:

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has warned the nation does not have a foreign policy to accommodate the rise of China, claiming Australia’s international influence is waning.

Mr Keating made the comments during a discussion on Australia-China relations and said the Federal Government must take account of the rising Asian power.

“The fact is Australia needs a foreign policy and it needs it urgently and Australia does not have a foreign policy, that’s the biggest problem,” he said.

Mr Keating also called on the United States to share strategic power in Asia with China, saying the US must change its foreign policy outlook when it comes to Asia.

“The United States is still fundamentally pursuing the policy for the maintenance of primacy against the obvious rise of China and therefore resisting the whole idea of sharing strategic power in Asia, which I believe the United States should do with the Chinese,” he said.

ABC Online 31 August 2016

It is a tragedy that the federal LNP allows a responsible middle-ranking power like Australia to retain an All the Way with the USA Paradigm in international relations.

It was South East Asian nations themselves who replaced the old Cold War Alliances with the formation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 and its subsequent enlargement to include every country from Myanmar to Indonesia.

As the US talks up its military involvement in our Indo-Asian Region, it is not in Australia’s long-term strategic interests to welcome any drift of Vietnam and Indonesia away from their recent non-aligned status within ASEAN.

The arms build-up across the wider Indo-Pacific Region should be cause for concern as Saudi Arabia, UAE, India and Pakistan make huge arms and missile purchases. Such measures invite retaliatory responses from China.

The federal LNP is returning Australia towards a tolerance of militarism as a solution to international problems. It has a manipulative record in using xenophobia in the Australian electorate to its political advantage during periods of international tension.

Post-election perspectives in 2016

As in the lead-up to the 2001 election, there are dangers for Labor in too much bipartisanship.

Labor lost the momentum of its splendid results in 1998 by being too kind to Prime Minister Howard over his acceptance of a modified GST regime, bipartisan tolerance of some Border Protection measures and weak opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which had the support of now discredited Khaki Leaders in the US and Britain.

The Turnbull Government is in a precarious position and should not be allowed to last the distance while the spirit of 2 July 2016 is not compromised by more economic hype and more sabre rattling as in 2001.

denis-brightDenis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing pragmatic public policies for a contemporary social market that is highly compatible with current trends in contemporary globalization.




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  1. stephentardrew

    Unless there is accounting of left/right supply side neoliberalism bipartisanship will remain Labor’s Achilles heal. They have no real alternative economic policy.

  2. Matters Not

    there are dangers for Labor in too much bipartisanship

    Indeed! And that applies to trade agreements as well.

    The geopolitical benefits of the TPP, like its economic benefits, are pure fantasy.

    All this talk about “confronting China” and “preserving American hegemony” is doublespeak aimed at keeping the American people in the dark about the corporate grab bag the TPP really is.

    When it comes down to it, the TPP is just another neoliberal corporate plan to reduce national sovereignty and strengthen the role corporations play in running the world.

    It’s as simple as that.

    No wonder the ‘minors’ are growing in strength. Time for much more nuance. Good government isn’t about aiding and abetting multinationals to get and retain even more wealth and power.

  3. paulwalter

    The article and both above in response.

    Many will quietly remember for a long time, Labor’s near-support of the unemployment benefit cuts proposals as the latest example of ideological neoliberalism and the mulishness to which it is adhered to by sections of the ALP, as with FTA’s , “security”, Privatisations etc.

  4. Freethinker

    Paul Keating done a lot to cementing neoliberal policies and the current shadow treasurer believe on that kind of policies.

    Note: before some come with a childish comment that this is Labor bashing, it is not, it is neoliberalism criticism.

  5. SGB

    Labor have been neoliberal since the Hawke Keating governments.

    They were the start of the “me too” neoliberal policy band wagon, started by Thatcher and Reagan.

  6. BBB (Beyond Boring Bi -partnership)

    Good Labor leadership requires continued risk taking.

    Bill Shorten took these risks during the election campaign to explain the challenges facing Labor in understandable language. Only half of the Labor Heartland has been reclaimed and this is being challenged by support for minor parties in electorates like Page.

    The Turnbull team is still vulnerable because its policies are so ideological at a time when middle powers need to be more pragmatic in both economic and foreign policies. The election of President Trump would throw the Turnbull team into a quandary as both sides of politics really want the certainty offered by Hillary Clinton.

  7. jimhaz

    [Labor have been neoliberal since the Hawke Keating governments]

    That is true, but it needs to be discounted somewhat. The issue is one of moderate or excessive business liberalisation. What Keating did was moderate and I am 80% convinced was necessary in relation to international competiveness. What has been done since with Howard in control for so long, in many areas is not moderate – it has given excessive benefits to owners, while at the same time taken away from employees. Most of this stems from the utterly corrupt US system of politics that smaller democracies tend to follow.

    It is hypothetical as to whether Keating would have taken correct actions to say put limits on the bank power that he created by the Four pillars policy. I’m not convinced he would have – too wealthy himself and labor value systems would still have declined due to the decline in unions as a balancing power base.

  8. Freethinker

    The economists numbers:
    Australia GDP Annual Growth Rate Forecast 2016-2020
    GDP Annual Growth Rate in Australia is expected to be 3.20 percent by the end of this quarter, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts expectations. Looking forward, we estimate GDP Annual Growth Rate in Australia to stand at 2.50 in 12 months time. In the long-term, the Australia GDP Annual Growth Rate is projected to trend around 2.90 percent in 2020, according to our econometric models.

    The reality numbers:
    More than 640,000 people a month now access food relief from the not-for-profit organisation Foodbank.
    They assist around 80,000 people a week, and more than half of them are children.
    Foodbank business services manager Nicci Scearle said they are facing more demand for food now than ever before in their 20 years of operation.

  9. Maria

    Highly topical article Denis, based on the latest national accounts and the East Asia Summit in Laos.

  10. Theresa

    None of the countries at the Laos summit has called for military assistance over maritime boundaries with China. Let’s not disrupt the peace of our region with talk of war out of the respect for the Laotian who are still dying from old US cluster bombs in their fields and forest.

  11. Catherine

    After promising rhetoric to justify his challenge to Tony Abbott , Malcolm Turnbull and the LNP have drifted back to conventional non solutions to the problems facing Australia. Following the USA should not be the main game in economic , foreign and defense policies .

  12. Lalnama

    Good article Denis, Labour will do well with Bill Shorten as long as they stay a united force

  13. Paul

    Thanks for the article Denis!

    Very important for the ALP to remain unitied and not to be afraid to propose alternative policies to the LNP particularly in economics, the environment, defence and social security.

    Have faith in the electorate and explore and explain alternative futures. That’s my hope for the Shorten lead opposition.

  14. Rubio@Coast

    Your right, Freethinker. The welfare of ordinary Australians should be the absolute priority. of the Prime Minister. GDP data which Malcolm Turnbull rattles off to celebrate his first disastrous year includes the spin offs from the current property boom. As this article tells us, the failure of the senate to pass budget cuts has also assisted with increases in both government expenditure. Government investment for pork-barrelling in marginal regional electorates like New England (under challenge from Tony Windsor) also helped to massage the GDP data which is expected to level off in later quarters.

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