Denis Bright invites discussion on the longer-term outcomes of the 2016 federal election after the narrowest victory for the LNP since 1961. The LNP has the capacity to repeat Sir Robert Menzies successes at an early federal election by renewing its domestic policy agenda and tilting to the right in its foreign and anti-terrorist agendas. So what political assets are available to Bill Shorten to prevent a similar LNP resurgence in 2016?
1 The Appeal of Centre-Left Populism
Bill Shorten’s 2016 campaign brought a return to the centre-left populism. The campaign has continued after 2 July with enthusiastic visits by Bill Shorten to reclaimed Labor electorates.
Reclaiming Labor’s heartland particularly in regional areas across Australia is still a work in progress. Even the apparent victory by Labor’s Cathy O’Toole’s in Herbert might invoke a fresh election on the basis of excluded postal votes from army personnel. Bill Shorten could indeed be back on the campaign trail in Townsville in a few weeks.
As in 1961, Bill Shorten’s successful campaign took advantage of the income divide which had been widened by the erosion of Australia’s social wage model. Commitment to full-employment, challenges to industrial awards and curtailment of essential support in health, housing and social welfare are even more strident LNP objectives in 2016.
Many regional voters reserved their judgment by supporting minor parties and the Xenophon Party in South Australia. This hesitation ignored the obvious.
The purchasing power of take-home wages has been eroded by the casualization of employment in a largely non-unionized workforce. Pockets of severe poverty exit in both outer suburban and regional electorates has not kept pace with rising rents and housing costs.
Billion dollar cuts to genuine social security are in the pipeline to deliver a proposed balanced federal budget by 2019-20.
The Federal Government will again crack down on the Disability Support Pension and cut off carbon tax compensation for all new welfare recipients to help fund the $22-billion National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The Government has found $2.1 billion in savings from the welfare budget which it will move into the new NDIS savings fund.
Nearly $1.4 billion will be saved by stopping all new recipients of Government welfare payments from receiving carbon tax compensation which, for a pensioner, was worth up to $14 a fortnight. (ABC News Online 3 May 2016).
Treating disadvantage as a statistical problem has been a hallmark of the Abbott-Turnbull Eras since 2013. In the current budget papers Current budget strategies invite more left-populist responses.
This centre-left populism can extend to a post-election commitment to a full inquiry into the banking system which can be run as a senate inquiry to test the commitment from minor parties.
2 The Appeal of the Inquiry into the Banking System
The appeal of Bill Shorten’s Royal Commission into anomalies within the banking system will continue to have support from across the political divide.
The terms of reference for a senate inquiry could be broadened to question the failure of the Australian financial system to generate sufficient equity for investment in essential innovation and infrastructure programmes.
Far from offering Australia new investment possibilities through the diversification of our financial system and the expansion of essential investment, the old ideological model of the federal LNP is simply widening multinational control of the Australian economy and hindering the diversification of our financial outreach into the Asia and Pacific Region.
The policy mirage offered by LNP infrastructure projects such as the Inland Railway and the Very Fast Train Project all involve the transfer of public assets to the private sector.
Welcome support for an anti-privatization agenda has come from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims:
In a blistering attack on decades of common government practice, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation.
A better balance between public and private sector infrastructure solutions is more appropriate for Australia as an innovative middle-sized first world economy with a GDP that is around half that of either France or the UK.
The success of the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) and the Australian Government’s Future Fund demonstrate the advantage of greater public sector involvement in major financial investment.
Alternative forms of financing for infrastructure and community development programmes can be taken up by a future senate inquiry into the limitations of the current banking system.
As the world’s twelfth largest global economy, Australia should be in a prime position to become a player in delivering the infrastructure investment at home and abroad in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The possibilities are demonstrated by the latest projections from the McKinsey Global Institute.
Bill Shorten can claim a mandate for a return to centre-left populism in Australian politics which can address our yearning for affordable infrastructure and community services to address the challenges raised in the recent McKinsey Global Institute’s article.
A victory for Hillary Clinton with the support of Bernie Sander’s supporters will be a reminder of the commitment to renewal in global politics as the political pendulum swings back from an over commitment to market globalization. Even the federal LNP will note the signs of the times after over 25 years of experimentation with the market ideology that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Election 2016 showed that the need for change widely resonated across Australia but it is still a challenge in progress.
Denis 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 quite compatible with existing globalization trends.