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Labor is good for the economy, stupid.

Fair. As soon as Turnbull started peppering every statement about his 2017 Budget with the word fair, it was obvious he was responding to focus group results which said the main problem with the previous three Liberal budgets were that they were not fair. And, like an ideology that has sprung a leak, the Liberals were suddenly framed as ‘Labor-lite’, as if saying ‘we are fair’ and actually being fair were exactly the same thing. They aren’t.

I argue that the fact that the word ‘fair’ conjures a Labor frame is a bad thing for Labor and for this reason, Labor should stop using it. There are two reasons the word ‘fair’ needs to go. The first is that ‘fair’ means a completely different thing to each individual. Its subjectivity makes it a nice idea in theory, but a hopeless adjective in practice. The other reason is that the idea that a vote for Labor is a vote for fairness is actually working against Labor’s broader popularity by giving them a wishy-washy ‘vote for Labor because you’re a nice person’ vibe, when really, a vote for Labor is not just in the interests of being nice; it’s a good idea for self-interest too. Let me explain.

Back to the first reason; fair means different things to different people. We are taught as small children that to be ‘fair’, you must, usually begrudgingly, give up something you would have had otherwise. If you tell a four year old to ‘be fair and share that piece of cake with your sister’, the four year old automatically understands they’re giving something up in order to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘share’. The viewpoint that the four year old has on this situation (whether it be a resentment towards his sister eating her half of his cake, or a happy feeling inside that he gets to see his sister enjoy the cake he is also enjoying) is relative, dependent on circumstances, individual, cultural, value based, influenced by personality, ideological and all the messy things that are hard to measure about a person. Times this messiness by 22 million in the Australian electorate and then see why ‘fair’ is a stupid word because we all see ‘fair’ from a different angle.

I’m fairly sure that Turnbull, and most people rusted onto the Liberal Party, think any form of taxation is unfair. You hear them often talk about how much work the poor little souls have to do ‘for the tax man’. So, where you might see it as fair that a portion of a Liberal voter’s usually very substantial paycheque is sequestered each month in order to pay for government services which that voter may or may not benefit from directly themselves, the same person sees the same taxation contribution as theft – taking something they’ve earned from them and giving to someone undeserving. A ‘bludger’ who should be drug-tested at the Centrelink office, no less.

The whole idea of what is ‘fair’ is so complex, so misunderstood, so subjective, that any politician using the word who thinks they’re transferring a perfect meaning to everyone who hears it, is mad. I’m sure if you asked someone if they agree that ‘the budget should be fair’, they would, in the vast majority agree. But then when it comes to the nitty gritty of individual budget measures, that’s when their individual perspectives view the policy less so by the motherhood idea of what is fair, and more so by the human measure of ‘what’s in it for me’. Ask someone who is currently negatively gearing a property, or plans to in the future, if they think it’s a fair policy. Now ask someone who can’t afford to buy their own home. And this is just one obvious example. In summary, fair is great in theory, not so useful in practice.

The second reason is an even more compelling argument for Labor to give up using the word fair. As reported by Peter Lewis, no matter what Turnbull says in theory about his budget, or even what people think of the individual measures, there is an ongoing belief held by Australian voters that the Liberals represent the interests of the well off and businesses, and that Labor represents those less well off, including social, health, education and environmental policies.

Now, I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing for Labor, and obviously it’s why they do reinforce this frame constantly by reminding people that they’re for ‘fairness’ – such as not giving away $65 billion in a un-needed gift to big business when there are plenty of deserving people and projects in the community who need this government funding more. BUT, and that ‘but’ is in capitals for a reason: if Labor are going to appeal to a wider range of voters than those who already vote Labor, they need to, well, obviously, broaden their appeal.

If I were to simplistically generalise, I could venn-diagram categorise two groups of Labor voters: those whose self-interest align with Labor policies (because they are less well off, unemployed, young and needing education, sick etc) and/or are bleeding-hearts who were brought up to get a warm and fuzzy feeling from watching their sister eat half their cake and genuinely think it is government’s role to help those in need, and therefore Labor policies are the right thing to do, if you’re a good person who wants to see the world as a better place.

If Labor could just rely on these two groups to win elections, Labor would never have lost an election. In fact, if Labor are to broaden their appeal, it doesn’t do Labor any favours to frame their policies, particularly economic policies as ‘taking from the rich to give to the poor’. It doesn’t do any favours for Labor to frame themselves as ‘against the interests of business, and for the interests of the poor’ as there are lots of poor people who can’t see how being against business is good for their job prospects.

The truth is, Labor’s economic policies are good for the economy. As Wayne Swan points out, Hawke and Keating’s Laborism has been responsible for ‘26 years of uninterrupted economic growth’. The whole idea of Labor’s inclusive growth economic ideology (if you don’t know what I mean by this, read about it here), is that when more people are better off, we’re all better off. That is, when you share your cake with your sister, it’s not just because you’re a nice person, it’s because next time there is cake being shared around, you’re personally more likely to get a bigger slice from being smart about it last time. By sharing cake, there is more cake. You really can have your cake and eat it too. Ok. I’ll stop.

The point is, we all know that neoliberalism is dead, that trickle-down doesn’t work, that a tax cut doesn’t create jobs and that cutting wages is economic suicide. But, for some reason, the Liberals get away with doing all these things, whilst still holding onto the mantle of being ‘better economic managers than Labor’ – a paradox it is time Labor forcefully challenged. A big step in this direction will be resisting the argument that supporting ‘fairness’ is just about being a good person, and instead arguing that you should be a good person AND do the right thing for yourself at the same time. If Labor gets this message through, they can’t lose.

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  1. Michael Taylor

    Only one OECD country escaped the GFC: Australia. And Labor was in power. And Kevin Rudd was the PM.

    Only once in the last 45 years has there been a time when the unemployment rate, the rate of inflation, and the interest rate were all under 5% at the same time. And Labor was in power. And Julia Gillard was the PM.

  2. bobrafto

    I’m fairly confident that if a policy was put out to nationalize the electricity industry it would be a vote winner. It would be interesting if that nationalization question was asked in a poll.

  3. jamesss

    Could we begin a list of nationalization? My suggestion is the banks.

  4. 245179

    Just in case i’m away fishing, and the poll is called, would you mind entering my name on the affirmative list. ( thankyou in advance )

  5. Diane Larsen

    Perhaps if Labor put into simple language that even those not interested in politics a plan to recover the revenue from multinationals that is being lost through not paying the correct tax and our resources being stripped and the majority of profits being siphoned off to overseas and what can be done with that revenue, most would agree it’s not an anti business stance but a pro Australia receiving a reasonable share of the profits from our own resources

  6. Wayne Turner

    Great article. Sadly Labor are too GUTLESS to challenge “ignorant and lying beliefs” promoted by the Libs,Nats and MSM.Then believed by the majority of the gullible ignorant public.

    Labor never do, from “the carbon price” they never defended properly,being better economic managers, to the asylum seeker issue,and many more….

  7. Kaye Lee

    Labor are smarter than the Coalition is allowed to be.

    A price on carbon is the cheapest and best way to take action on climate change.

    Foreign aid is much cheaper, more effective and more productive than bombs, fighter jets and obsolete submarines.

    FttN NBN is a f***ing expensive aggravating waste of time.

    Health and education are investments, not “bad debt”.

    If you want to “lift all boats”, you don’t give a few people ocean liners while chucking the crew off the life raft.

  8. Matters Not

    fair means different things to different people

    Only if you proceed on the (mis)understanding that people are the receivers of meaning and not the givers of same. By way of example, use ‘haircut’ around barbers and it’s reasonable to assume they will give a completely different meaning to ‘haircut’ if the exact same word is used at a bankers’ conference.

    It seems to me, there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘fair’. For the Labor Party the problem is that the LNP are attempting to appropriate it for their own purpose(s). They are doing exactly the same with the word ‘Gonski’. (And so far, they are being somewhat successful.)

    Anyone who is familiar with the concept of ‘branding’ understands that ‘brands’ are all about (pre)determining the ‘meaning’ to be given.

    Rather than abandon word(s) or concepts, Labor would do well to outline and flesh out the ‘word’ so that it goes beyond the ‘slogan’. For example, they should have defined Gonski so that it was more than a set of principles (good ones) but also a detailed plan of action.

    Giving a Gonski should have been defined in such a way, the LNP would have run a mile. Instead, Labor preferred an empty slogan and let others expropriate the word. And they did.

    Time for the ALP to becomes strategic – to think ahead – and at so many levels.

    It’s not just about the next election!

  9. Matters Not

    A price on carbon is the cheapest and best way to take action on climate change

    Disagree! The best (most effective) way to limit emissions is to impose same from above.

    Even in our ‘democratic’ society we take such ’emergency’ action all the time.

    ‘Market forces’ take time. A luxury we don’t have.

  10. wam

    I have been aware of elections since 49 and voted in 7 decades. For labor to govern a vociferous dominant bigtime leader is essential little billy was great on beaconsfield but shorton charisma find it or retire.
    spot on wayne if labor had shown the difference between their PRICE and the rabbott’s TAX the rabbott would have done a hewon’s cake and who knows???

  11. Zathras

    The alternative to a Carbon Price is rationing, where individuals and businesses are allocated a periodic maximum amount of available energy.
    Surpluses and shortages could be traded internally but a cap on the total output could be controlled.

    It’s unlikely to happen now but may become inevitable if we get economically penalised via international trade for inaction.

  12. Keitha Granville

    The PM proudly said just now that the vast bulk of the corporate tax cuts will go to emplyees.

    I nearly choked on my cereal.

    Neither side looks past the next election, pathetic but true.

    I wish I had your confidence in people – fair ? Sadly I feel that the majority of electors consider their own situation to test fairness, and what’s good for the country or the unemployed or poverty stricken pensioners or even starving children in Africa is hugely irrelevant. If they WERE thinking about all of the above, the Labor party would never lose government.

  13. win jeavons

    I would re -nationalise a lot of enterprises, as it is obvious now that privatising was one enormous con job, designed to advantage capital at the expense of the general public. Consider prisons, power, water in some states, ports…. None appear to work as well as when state owned.

  14. Trish Corry

    Great article as usual Victoria. The Libs can hang onto the better economic managers mantra because the MSM allows them to. Labor needs to work smarter and not harder and using technology to bypass the media and get a lot more personal on social media instead of using it as a statement platform. It reminds me of when video cameras came out the grandmas would stand there and pose for the video or me every time the kids use those funny filters on the phone taking pictures of me! The Labor platform is the best by far. They are always committed to improving on their platform and have democratic mechanisms to do so. It is about working smarter to get that message out and actually engaging on social media instead of “telling” as well as continuing the town halls.

  15. Trish Corry

    Oh and if people want to contribute their voice to the Labor platform such as nationalisation and anything else they want to see Labor do, it’s only $25 to join and I’ll help you find your local branch.

  16. Michael Taylor

    Before the 2010 election – in response to Abbott’s promise (to Rupert Murdoch) that he would rip up Labor’s NBN – Julia Gillard said; “Imagine missing out on all the possibilities of the future”.

    We’ve been missing out since November 2013.

  17. Mark Needham

    Self Interest.
    A common topic, little spoken about….directly.
    “you should be a good person AND do the right thing for yourself at the same time.”
    In for me chop,
    Mark Needham

  18. Harquebus

    “A price on carbon is the cheapest and best way to take action on climate change.”
    I disagree. It hurts the poor while the big polluters carry on as usual. The best way is to issue quotas and the cheapest way is to reduce our populations.

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