July 27th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Fixing Australia: Can we trust the Morrison Government?

ENERGY Yallourn early closure more than a mere challenge, Mr Premier

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Labor learn a lesson or is it unredeemable?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS High power prices lead to more deaths of elderly

GENDER POLITICS Catholic Ed's document strong on doctrine, weak on protocols

ENERGY Renewables do push up power price: Chicago economists

OBITUARY The eminence of Dr Joe Santamaria

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 6: Medieval Christendom sparks a revolution

ENVIRONMENT As many Pacific islands are rising as are sinking

ASIAN AFFAIRS Uyghurs lose in ethnic power play

POETRY AND HISTORY The epic of the White Horse

HUMOUR On patrol with Father Bruce

MUSIC Joao Gilberto: Carrier of melodies

CINEMA Crawl: Toothful entertainment

BOOK REVIEW America's postwar boom and its end

BOOK REVIEW The story of the drafting of a great document

BOOK REVIEW The facts behind an undying distortion

LETTERS

POETRY

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris Johnson and the EU: Crash through or just crash

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CANBERRA OBSERVED
Can Labor learn a lesson or is it unredeemable?


by NW Contributor

News Weekly, July 27, 2019

Federal Labor, post the 2019 election result, has had to deal with a policy malaise the likes of which it has not experienced since the Mark Latham experiment in 2004.

Recall that Latham went to that election with a bold agenda, the centrepiece of which was Julia Gillard’s Medicare Gold for the nation’s elderly.

On the surface, it was a popular policy, described by Latham at the time as the “greatest extension in federal responsibility for hospital care in this country since the introduction of Medibank 30 years ago”.

But Latham’s bold election bid fell short, prompting Labor to return to the hustings three years later with a leader who promised to be John Howard-lite. Kevin Rudd was a social conservative, fiscally responsible and reassuring in all his policy promises.

The fact that he turned out to be none of those things and went on an extravagant spending spree to save the country from the GFC is irrelevant.

The point is that Labor tried for a refor­mist leader in Latham, but the experi­ment did not work.

The parallels with the recent election are similar, but not exact.

Sensing a movement to the left in Australian society, Bill Shorten was so confident of winning that he embarked on arguably the biggest tax and spend campaign in the country’s history.

Expecting a big win, Shorten went for broke. Labor pledged to introduce huge imposts on housing investment, on self-funded retirees, on share investors, while spending big on all manner of things including subsidising the wages of child-care workers.

A shell-shocked frontbench immediately after the election did not know what to say. Senate leader Penny Wong said Labor had no choice but to continue to offer a “progressive” left agenda to the people, that turning away from that was turning from its basis as a party.

But turn away it has had to do. One by one, it seems, Labor is dropping policies: its opposition to negative gearing, the removal of franking credits, even its opposition to coal mining.

But it gets worse for Labor.

The passage of the recent tax cuts through Parliament means Labor has a stark choice: wind back its big spending programs in health and education or repudiate the tax cuts at the next election.

So, not only have the juicy revenue gains gone, Labor now has to be fiscally responsible as well.

And at the same time, by the time the next election rolls around, the Opposition will have to cost any climate-change policy it puts forward because promising to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and having a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030 will impose a massive cost on the economy.

Shorten was so confident of winning this time that he dismissed calls to explain how this was going to be achieved.

So, what does Labor do now? Does it become a more responsible Opposition? Does it go back to basics? Does it repudiate its inner-city latte set base? Does it try to re-connect with aspirational Australians? Does it try to connect with Australians who practise their faith?

If it tries to reach out to everyday Australians living in the outer suburbs and the regions, it risks alienating its heartland in the inner capital cities, who will go to the Greens.

Labor is fortunate at least to have Anthony Albanese as its leader. While he is from the left, he knows how to relate to everyday Australians in a way Shorten never managed to do.

But the proof will be in the policies.

It is interesting to note that one policy Latham wanted to introduce at the 2004 election was to prohibit vilification on the basis of religious beliefs. So, at least Latham, a humanist but now a supporter of the rights of Israel Folau to express his beliefs, is consistent in his thinking.

But where would Federal Labor sit on this the issue, which many believe to have been a sleeper factor in the unlikely Coalition election win? Many of Labor’s frontbench, including leading figures like Tanya Plibersek, will fight to the death to retain Labor’s radical left agenda.

In short, Labor’s period in the wilderness is an uncomfortable and difficult one with no clear way forward.

Having gained just 33.3 per cent of the primary vote, Labor’s base vote is the lowest it has been in many decades and on some calculations the lowest it has been for a century.

Politics can turn suddenly, but Labor’s march back to power suddenly seems to be a long way away.




























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