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Thursday, September 12, 2013

To Revive Labor's Fortunes we Need to put 'Small Government' Behind us




In the commentary that follows Tristan Ewins emphasises a disciplined united front; And a rethink on the ALP's effective policy of 'small government'.

 

In the election aftermath there are many on the broad Left who will be overcome by despair with the prospect of Abbott-led attacks on welfare; on refugees and foreign aid; and his neglect of the environment.  There will be many who suppose Labor will be relegated to Opposition for six years at least.  And there will be many who rightly feel Labor has ‘dropped the baton’ on these issues as well.  And therefore many others on the broad Australian Left will also say we are wasting our time fighting for change within the ALP and within the Socialist Left....

From my personal perspective as a decades-long ALP member, the challenge is to be honest with ourselves without imploding in a series of recriminations.
 
I still think there is scope to achieve change within the ALP. But first we have to be honest with ourselves.  For instance - the National Disability Insurance Scheme is great. But where is the money going to come from?  (ie: about $22 billion/year)  Abbott will also have to confront this down the track - and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

In Labor, I believe we often kid ourselves that we can maintain a frankly opportunist position on 'small government' without severe repercussions for ourselves and for the country in the end. But as I always insist: the reality is that an ag...eing population and a growing population mean we cannot maintain or improve health and aged care - or provide sufficient services and infrastructure in emerging suburbs - without increasing the tax take as a proportion of GDP.  (that is unless we want to resort to regressive measures such as privatisation and user pays)  The NDIS itself will ultimately demand a significant increase in tax in order to service. And in the meantime we have cut higher education, attacked sole parents, and narrowed disability pension criteria.  Abbott seems set to carry on further in this direction.
 
These are not the answers. "Making do with less" is no longer a viable option - lest we support cuts ourselves - of ‘Abbott'esque’ proportions....

And again: relying on privatisation or user pays should not be seen as the answer either - As both those strategies have regressive distributional effects....
We need to ask ourselves realistically how far and how rapidly we could aspire to increase progressive taxation and social wage expenditure. I think an expansion of social expenditure in the vicinity of 1.5% of GDP or about $22 billion a term in the context of a $1.6 trillion economy is 'do-able' - provided we target the wealthy and return to a more highly targeted welfare state at the same time...
 
When disadvantaged and average working class families work out they are subsidising high income earners' paid parental leave and private health insurance rebates to the tune of many billions a year I dare say there may be a rethink on the desirability of Abbott.  And it may be possible to revisit the NBN later down the track as well – to ‘finish what we started’.  So long as we get our own house in order and provide a disciplined and united front. And while at the same time accommodating real and inclusive debate on the future direction of Labor - and of the Socialist Left...

By facing up to these issues we can reply confidently to our critics that we grasp the problems facing our nation and our party.

So how can Labor mobilise its grassroots for such an agenda? Well, including us in electing the leader is a start.  But it is barely sufficient in light of the 'elephant in the room' - which is the impotence of National Conference.  And the fact that there is no direct election of National Conference delegates... We need a credible, powerful National Conference - with a mandate to establish the Party Platform based on truly democratic procedure - and robust, inclusive, wide-ranging debate.... Hence Chris Bowen's ideas of a more inclusive Conference - while encouraging - are nowhere near enough - because the cost of 'inclusiveness' according to Bowen's plan is reducing the Conference to a 'toothless tiger'....

IN short Labor needs to aim for a victory in 2016. While we lost the election we managed to 'save enough of the furniture' to suppose that passionate, energetic campaigning can make a real difference... Of course we were also up against the Murdoch monopoly mass media - but over the next ten years I think their grip on the Australian public sphere will weaken somewhat.... As more and more people turn to online media we need to position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities of web-based media which begin to 'level the playing field' - as the new media is so much cheaper to maintain and publish....

But dropping 'small government' is the most fundamental precondition - without which we will not have grasped the historic moment - the challenges we are facing if we are at all serious when we talk of Social Democracy...

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