Cut-off from overseas travel, Australians still have a wide choice of options for the Post-Covid future. Labor’s Special Platform Conference has opted for a cautious reform agenda in both domestic and foreign policies. Of crucial importance are the conventional resolutions on economic and foreign policies.
The positive traction from this national virtual policy conference will probably come from commitments made from the empowerment of women and environmental sustainability in the challenges posed by global climate change.
Conference made some minor amendments to the draft policy platform. These changes will soon work their way into the final document. I have relied on the draft policy document for my comments.
Building Australia’s Future Prosperity
Commitment to balanced private and public sector investment receives over sixty mentions in the draft platform offered to the national policy conference. There is emphasis on socially just government intervention to advance productivity and skills training.
The specifics of Labor’s tax responses will be determined after the federal LNP’s budget on 11 May 2021.
While an election in the second half of 2021 is not out of the question, most political pundits have opted for the possibility of another budget in 2022 before the election date is announced.
This makes it logical for the policy conference to be long on rhetorical commitments and short on details as the Australian and global economies are still in a volatile state.
Australia’s Place in the World
The conference has reaffirmed the fundamental importance of strategic relationships with the USA through the ANZUS Treaty. There is a concession to rebooting our economic ties with China despite significant areas of disagreement over human rights. A more moderate stand on relations with Taiwan, Hong Kong and the minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region would soon cool the current tensions. The National Policy Conference supported such initiatives.
Labor shares the LNP government’s commitment to greater self-reliance in defence. Defence expenditure is to be close to two per cent of GDP.
There are concessions to visits by military aircrafts and vessels from friendly countries including nuclear powered vessels through ports with adequate safety facilities. The document is silent on whether vessels in transit can carry nuclear weapons.
Commitment to Sustainability
Action on climate change has a strong focus to make Australia an alternative energy superpower through Carbon Capture and Storage Programmes (CCSs). The draft policy document noted a cut-back by the federal LNP in CCS commitments approaching half a billion dollars. In contemporary politics, this commitment to sustainability is at all times in the interests of improved economic productivity and employment generation.
Funding commitments to reduce the costs of electric cars worth less than $77,565 are positive initiatives. There are also policy compromises on support for new gas projects and protection of metallurgical coal exports with support from the AWU and CFMEU. Investment in 400 community batteries to will also support the uptake of electric cars.
Gender Equality and Women’s Rights
Empowerment of women is a fundamental principle of Labor values which permeates commitment to the descendants of first nation Australians and to people of more recent multicultural values.
The crisis in Australian politics over the gender divide is already evident in trendlines in Essential Polling Research. Scott Morrison is still the preferred prime minister across the board gender divides in the sample (Poll Bludger, 31 March 2021).
Labor’s reform agenda is underwritten by pragmatic and responsible tax policies which end an over-commitment by the federal LNP to its own support base from so-called Mum and Dad investors:
“Labor will deliver a progressive and sustainable tax system. This will provide incentives for all Australians to work and undertake productive enterprise, while guaranteeing adequate revenue to fund quality public services, bring about a more equal distribution of income and wealth, and achieve the nation’s social, economic and environmental objectives.
Australia’s taxation system should be efficient, simple, transparent and equitable. There is no place for tax evasion. Meeting Australia’s economic and fiscal challenges requires everyone, including Australian and multinational corporations, to pay their fair share of tax…
… As a social-democratic party, Labor will pursue inclusive growth. We reject the false choice between growth that is strong and growth that is fair. Labor believes our economy is strengthened when more people can contribute to it and have a stake in its success. We note that around the world rising levels of inequality have left countries more vulnerable to sudden economic shocks. Labor’s growth strategies will therefore maximise opportunities for full employment, equality of opportunity, fair wages growth, increasing social mobility and economic redistribution.
I would have liked more emphasis on peace co-existence and development assistance for first nation communities, funding for urban sustainability and commitment to preventative health measures. These big ticket items could have been supported by national and state level investment funds which are open to investment from the local and overseas corporate sectors but without the fixed interest commitment of traditional treasury loans.
Labor’s union affiliations have ensured commitment to fairer industrial relations at a time when JobKeeper programmes are going into recess under the federal LNP. PCC Employment Lawyers offer the following take on IR changes:
Achieve a national minimum standard for long service leave that will form part of the National Employment Standards;
- Ensure consistent treatment of public holidays between states and territories;
- Retain penalty rates for excessive or unsociable hours, and for weekends and public holidays;
- Provide an objective test for determining when a worker is a casual;
- Improve working conditions for fly-in, fly-out workers;
- Establish an independent umpire to adjudicate and resolve bargaining disputes.”
The Motivational Challenge in the Wider Electorate
It is difficult to excite the electorate in formal political debate with both major parties close on primary votes in the 37-39 per cent range. Even with Green preferences, Labor’s primary vote needs to be 40 per cent to secure a strong mandate from the electorate. Even on Labor’s current 38 per cent in primary votes, Labor has a favourable 52-48 per cent margin after the distribution of Green preferences.
The current Green vote comes at a cost in those inner-city electorates and senate spots which are highly contested with Labor.
Much will depend on the effects of the removal of JobKeeper in an economy which is only in partial recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020.
Any further losses to the LNP government’s working majority in both houses rekindles the prospect of an early election before economic conditions deteriorate.
However, the National Policy Conference has not been overwhelmed by critical media coverage from high profile ABC commentators like Anthony Green and Annabel Crabb.
Meanwhile, Australians could be facing another khaki election as in the mid-1960s. This macabre trend distanced the electorate from that close election result in 1961 when an LNP victory in the Brisbane electorate of Moreton offset the possibility of a hung parliament.
Federal Labor is staying on the Straight and Narrow Path with the Biden Administration when wisdom calls for a spark of national independence in our economic and strategic relationships with China as the world’s emergent global power. This is a trend which no amount of LNP election rhetoric can erase.
It is for Labor to improve our relations with our Asian superpower first and foremost before the deterioration in relations becomes a permanent strategic reality to the cheers of the global corporate military and industrial complexes with their generous financial support to think-tanks like the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:
Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.
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