Sunday, November 20, 2011

ALP National Conference 2011 needs to Clear the Way for Genuine Reform

above:  The 2011 ALP National Conference is swiftly approaching.  Below are a series of motions/proposals that could be crucial in reviving Labor's heart and soul: reaching out to voters, and giving Labor a chance in 2013.

By Tristan Ewins

Dear friends;

The following below are a series of motions that I am trying to have adopted in substance at the 2011 Australian Labor Party (ALP) National Conference this December.  While not exhaustively addressing the issues I am concerned with, the most important change Labor must make is to drop its commitment not to increase the tax intake as a proportion of GDP.  Even a small increase in the Federal tax take of 1.5% of GDP would bring in new funds in the vicinity of $20 billion a year.  This could be a modest progressive tax rise which nonetheless could deliver very significant reform of this country's welfare state, social wage and public sector. 

Without change here Labor will lack the flexibility it needs to implement the kind of genuine and robust reform that alone can win back voters' confidence.  The prevailing policy straight-jacket means Labor cannot initatiate substantial new initiatives (eg: the National Disability Insurance Scheme) without defunding other important programs.  (for instance, there are much tougher eligibility rules for the Disability Support Pension - even affecting people whose job prospects are very significantly reduced by their disability.)

For a reforming, progressive Labor government we need to do more than 'tread water' when it comes to the welfare state and the social wage.  There is desperate need for more funding for Aged Care - where our most vulnerable are facing degradation, loneliness and untold suffering.  And the National Disability Insurance Scheme will cost many billions if it is genuinely to serve its purpose.

Bill Shorten, in particular, was at the forefront of the push for the NDIS.  Now he needs to take the lead publicly to ensure Labor raises new funds to implement the program as soon as is possible.  And also to fund stop-gap measures in the mean-time - so Labor is seen 'to deliver the goods' well before the next election.

The Greens, meanwhile, are talking about incorporating dental into Medicare. And Labor's best chance of achieving re-election will be to meaningfully and extensively address the Cost-of-Living crisis where it comes to energy, water and housing stress. 'Cost-of-Living' is the mainstream issue that will 'make or break' Labor at the next Federal election. 

The plight of the unemployed must also be addressed with reform of the punitively-meagre "Newstart Allowance".  And all this must also involve billions in new funds if Labor is to achieve its object - and win over voters.  Labor needs to show substance in the face of an electorate sceptical about half-measures and spin.

Finally Labor needs to reconsider its policy of privatisation, looking to the market forces which see privatised energy, water and infrastructure costing consumers more than would have been the case had these remained in public hands.  This is as a consequence of higher borrowing costs, the need to internalise profits into cost-structures, and the lack of market power of small consumers.  A long-term re-orientation to the mixed economy, with strategic re-socialisation - is where Labor must therefore position itself.  Efficiencies, meanwhile, can be retained as a consequence of co-operation with unions - sharing the benefits of increasing productivity where possible. Increasing public housing supply to create downwards pressure on housing affordability could also be crucial.

I will be working through the Left to try and have the substance of the motions represented below  adopted, even though there may need to be re-wording. (without change of substance)  Whether or not these proposals actually get to Conference is uncertain, though.  I am hoping figures such as Shorten - in Labor Unity and Doug Cameron on the Left  - will take these kind of proposals seriously, and indeed take the lead publcily in advocating the cause.  Again: Shorten needs to apply the same principles of decency and compassion he has applied to the NDIS more broadly - and especially into Aged Care where the need as especially dire.  And Cameron's high-profile and leadership could bring these concerns 'into the public eye' ahead of Conference.  My hope again is that they and other relatively progressive figures will see the need to adopt the substance of these proposals on a cross-factional basis.

For other Labor activists, MPs, officials who are interested in running with these proposals please let me know.  I probably will not be at Conference (I am not a delegate) - but I am passionate about these causes.

The draft motions are below.


Tristan Ewins  (Left Focus)

Motion: Enabling an expansion of progressive taxation as a proportion of GDP to fund crucial social programs

The Australian Labor Party 2011 National Conference adopts the following position.

The ALP National Conferences adopts changes to the ALP National Platform enabling an increase in progressive taxation as a proportion of GDP by the Labor Federal Government. 

While not binding the Labor federal government to increase the overall rate of taxation as a proportion of GDP,  the ALP National Conference  supports changes in the National Platform to make this possible at the government’s discretion. 

 The 2011 ALP National Conference supports this position so that the government will have the flexibility to make the necessary decisions to fund crucial policies and social programs.

 To pay for a wide variety of initiatives the 2011 ALP National Conference is open to the prospect that Federal progressive taxation be expanded during the current term of government by as much as 1.5% of GDP. 

 The 2011 ALP National Conference supports this position underscored by a desire that significant new funds (overall and proportionately) be dedicated towards a mix of initiatives in the fields of aged care, mental health and the incorporation of dental care into Medicare.

In addition to this, the 2011 ALP National Conference states its desire that such new funds be dedicated towards ‘stop-gap’ improvements in disability support and services, including Carer’s pensions – well ahead of the actual full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  (which the government anticipates will take many years)

The Conference states its desire that such new funds also be dedicated towards very significant Cost of Living measures to tackle housing stress, increased energy and water costs, and other stresses upon average and lower income individuals and families.  The Conference supports this position on the understanding it is essential to reconnect with mainstream working class Australia which is struggling under these Cost-of-Living pressures.

The Conference supports this position on the understanding that Labor needs to ‘deliver the goods’ by implementing very significant new policy initiatives in order to secure the confidence of the electorate, and re-inspire its own organisational and core support base.

Moved: Tristan Ewins

Motion:  National Aged Care Guarantee

The 2011 ALP National Conference supports a change in the ALP’s National Platform to mandate the implementation of a Universal Aged Care scheme along similar lines as the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme. (NDIS)   

 The Conference supports this position on the understanding that our aged citizens’ rights and humanity should be respected fully at the time when they are most vulnerable.

The Conference will specifically support a scheme which provides for the following, financed by a progressive ‘insurance levy’ along similar lines to that considered for the NDIS.

a)      That all aged Australians, including those in high intensity care have provided for them heating, air conditioning, dental and broader health care, and nutritious and varied food . 

b)      That staff numbers and the skills mix be improved in Aged Care facilities with mandated standards for all facilities, including ratios for registered Aged Care nurses, and other aged care workers.  Apart from anything else this is necessary to ensure all residents eat properly, are regularly turned when necessary to prevent bed sores, are promptly assisted in instances such as incontinence, and are engaged socially by staff.

c)      That Aged Care workers receive decent and better wages, subsidised training, recognised career paths, all of which are necessary to attract the best quality carers to the sector.  And in accordance with this, that Aged Care Nurses receive pay rises so that their remuneration is closer to nurses working in other sectors.

d)      That new mandated standards be phased in to ensure genuine opportunity for privacy for aged Australians in care, including private rooms.

e)      That the costs of Aged Care be gradually and increasingly socialised, with initial emphasis on ensuring distributive justice for poor and working class families – that they are not forced to pay a devastating effective ‘flat tax’ through the sale of their homes, or by being forced to take out equity against their homes. 

f)       That as part of this approach the costs of low-intensity care also be socialised for poor and working class families – so that residents are not forced into high intensity care because of financial pressures when not appropriate.

g)      That additional funding be provided for community and family advocacy groups to ensure greater accountability and provide protection for vulnerable residents who may not be able to stand for their own rights because of dementia and other debilitating conditions.

h)      That the elderly be treated with dignity and respect in the broader public health system and not be forced into nursing homes at short notice and without consultation simply to free up beds. 

i)        The other initiatives be implemented to ensure meaningful quality of life for aged care residents.  This to include: pastoral care, facilitated interaction between residents, opportunity to enjoy television, radio, internet access (for those interested), outings, and other forms of recreation; as well as enjoying a variety of surroundings, including access to gardens.

j)        That much greater financial and other support be provided for Carers, to make it viable for the frail and aged to remain at home and in familiar surrounds as long as possible if that is their desire.

Moved:  Tristan Ewins

A Mixed Economy to Contain Cost-of-Living Pressures

The 2011 ALP National Conference notes that Cost-of-Living pressures are impacting severely upon average and lower income Australians.  In particular the Conference recognises pressures in the areas of  energy, water, user-pays mechanisms for transport and other infrastructure, and housing stress. 

While supporting broader initiatives to tackle this Cost-of-Living crisis, the Conference notes that the problem has arisen in part as a consequence of past privatisations. 

The Conference notes the following:

Private enterprise for energy, water and infrastructure passes on a higher cost of borrowing to consumers, while also having to internalise the cost structures involved in paying dividends to private investors in the sectors concerned.   

Investment in new infrastructure also has to be sourced by the enterprises concerned, with the consequence that again costs are passed on to consumers. 

Competition is also sporadic as many feel uncomfortable ‘shopping around’ for energy and water.

And finally, small consumers do not have the market power of large enterprises, with the consequence that where they do not bargain collectively, they are discriminated against on price.

The Conference also notes arguments that privatisation can drive productivity, but asserts that productivity gains can instead be made with the co-operation of unions – on the understanding that workers share in the benefits of increased productivity.

 This being the case the Conference supports a position of altering the ALP National Platform to reflect these facts, and to mandate the following action.

a)   In-principle commitment to the future re-socialisation of energy and water concerns, as well as public finance and provision of essential infrastructure.  (this is important in containing Cost-of-Living pressures for Australian families, including user-pays mechanisms that act effectively like ‘flat’ - ie: regressive - taxation.) 

b)  Also to tackle Cost-of-Living pressures, the Conference will support and advocate a change to the ALP Platform to mandate a very significant increase in public housing stock.  This is important to increase supply, hence making housing more affordable – especially for those in need.

Moved:  Tristan Ewins


  1. Privatisation has been the demon of society. The idea that privatisation would lower costs through competition didn't take into account the greed of private companies running essential services. These services should be Government owned, as they once were. People are hurting badly, unable to pay bills, feed their families and record numbers losing their homes

  2. You have raised some important issues here. I think that lifting the rate Newstart should be a priority. It would be relatively inexpensive way to reduce poverty for a large number of people. In real terms the level of benefits to the unemployed has been declining.

    I also think that some of the recommendations of the Henry Tax Review should be re-examined.

  3. The point about increasing taxation is political suicide. The horse needs to go before the cart: social programs is the goal, increased taxation is (one of the possible) means. Having a proposal that specifies increased taxation first makes it sound like you want to increase taxation for the sake of it.

  4. The point is that we cannot afford the National Disability Insurance Scheme or a similar program in Aged Care, or really significant initiatives on Cost of Living unless we raise tax - or cut elsewhere. The point is not 'tax for its own sake'. The point is that an increased tax take IS THE PRECONDITION of expanding the welfare state and social wage this way. And the point is that if we don't do this we will not deliver to voters in the really significant way which is necessary to win back their support and confidence. Tax reform is the precondition as without resources we can do nothing. IF you look to the alternative of funding programs from elsewhere in the Budget you will se where this tends to lead. Hence my example of the Disability Support Pension - where we are tightening eligibility. There will be a lot of people out there - who can conceiveably work in some form - but who are still very significantly disadvantaged by their disability. That such people will be forced on to Newstart is appalling. These are the very human reasons why we need to expand the welfare state and social wage. It is not 'raising tax for its own sake.' In the ALP we're supposed to care about distributive justice. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

  5. To clarify further - the point about tax comes first PRECISELY BECAUSE it is the PRECONDITION of social wage and welfare state expansion. Hence it is the priority - as without it we don't have the flexibility to implement major new social programs. ALSO note the proposal does not bind Labor to expand tax - It simply gives Labor the option of doing so if there is sufficient support.

  6. This is all a bit tokenistic and too late.

    Where these positions pursued within the various structures leading up to the various faction and union meetings in the lead-up to December conference? What result?

    Which paragraphs of the Platform do these relate to? What amendments are wanted? What resolutions are thirsted for?

    Why not 6 months ago?

  7. Chris, If it's too late it's not because it's tokenism - but because there's only so much one isolated and poorly organised individual can do. That's not to say, though, that I don't think it's a problem that we weren't having these debates openly in the Left and the broader Party well before now. There is an SL meeting coming up to 'give direction' to Conference delegates. My aim is to have these positions adopted by the next SL General Meeting - that the SL be bound to work for the *substance* of the motions to be adopted at Conference. So if there's anyone from Vic SL who supports this pls turn up to the General Meeting. And if anyone here knows people interstate who could be convinced to work for this it would be great too.

  8. Tristan,

    I can't comment on the timing of this but I think these are excellent platforms and I hope you get some debate around these ideas.

    I agree that removing a cap on taxes would be an important step towards revitalising the party and hence the national political scene. By trying to compete with the Liberals as a "low tax, small government" party ALP has just become Pepsi to their Coke.

    ALP needs to dig deep and become proud of their social reform history and not be afraid to spend some money making the country better.

  9. Just to let readers know - The ALP Victorian Socialist Left adopted most of the second motion as its position, and one crucial paragraph from the first motion committing it to work for an expansion of progressive taxation. Unfortunately, though, these are long term positions not likely to be put to the Conference this time around. I will be working to have a variant of the 3rd motion adopted in the future. Whatever happens at the ALP National Conference this can be the beginning of a campaign that goes places in the future. My intention is to mobilise much sooner ahead of time next time - as Chris suggests. Other states may decide to take stronger positions to take to Conference this time, though. I don't really know what's happening interstate. Expanding progressive tax is what is the 'lynch pin' as the capacity to implement these social wage policies depends upon that - or upon austerity elsewhere.


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