Monday, September 23, 2013

Candidate Questions for the ALP Leadership Contest

above: the contenders for the ALP Leadership - Albo and Shorten
Dear friends and comrades;
I am posting these questions here at 'Left Focus' because I believe that this election for the ALP Leadership should be largely about the policy direction the winner will provide for the party. And also it should involve further projected reform of the Party to make it more democratic. 

The following questions address those issues of leadership on organisational and policy reform. 

At the 'Left Focus' Facebook group we now have over 1,000 members - and we have about 600 members at our 'ALP Socialist Left Forum' sister-blog. 
So I’m hoping the ALP Leadership Candidates will see it as being in their interest to answer the following questions for us! 
Already I have sent the following questions to the Albanese and Shorten campaigns and I am hoping to hear back from the candidates by the end of this week.

Over the coming week I will attempt to contact the candidates again. 

There is the argument that the candidates might not want to pre-empt the Conference on Policy - but I believe everyone can appreciate that the party leader - whoever that might be - also provides policy leadership within the scope of the Platform.  The opinions of the Leader will no doubt have weight at Conference as well.  Hence it is important for us to know the policy leadership the candidates will provide, even though officially it is for Conference to determine the broad policy framework via the National Platform.  And in my opinion the grassroots need to be empowered via a more democratic process in determining that Platform.

The candidates may have reasons for not wanting to answer all the questions; But I am still hoping we receive a response of some depth.  And if the answers are not comprehensive, I'm hoping we'll be advised of the rationale behind that decision.

If this process is to have the greatest credibility and depth ALP members must know what and who they are voting for.  These questions seek to serve that purpose.
Tristan Ewins (publisher - 'Left Focus' and 'ALP Socialist Left Forum')

The Questions:

i)                   Australia does not have a presidential system of government. But nonetheless the Party leadership is a position from which a progressive policy agenda can by promoted.  What concrete policy agenda would you pursue if you have the opportunity to promote it as Federal ALP leader? 


ii)                 More specifically - to demonstrate your vision for Australia, what concrete agenda would you like to promote as leader in the following policy fields?:  


·        tax reform for equity and social wage expansion


·        superannuation concessions – should they be wound back further for the rich?  (say, the top 10%?)


·        welfare reform  (including disability pensions, the aged pension, Sole Parents, Newstart, and the student allowance)


·        public infrastructure (including transport, communications, social housing)


·        industrial relations – what kind of industrial liberties; and what kind of protections?


·        Industry policy – what role for government?


·        Health Services reform: including mental health, and disability services – and how to fund the NDIS over the long term?;  And how to expand public dental – especially for the disadvantaged?


·        Aged Care reform  (specifically including the conditions and career paths for aged care workers; what kind of staff to resident ratios – if any?; what role – if any – for user charges?; how to improve the quality of service?; What about national aged care insurance?) 


·        Education (of all levels; and including participation rates; the nature and form of student financial contributions – including equity considerations; and reform of curriculum to promote political literacy and active citizenship)


·        The Environment: what kind of policy to reduce emissions?; how ambitious?; and how to incorporate equity concerns?


·        Refugees policy and Foreign Aid


·        Promoting media diversification and the cause of robust pluralism more generally


·        The public sector: What role should the public sector play?; and what specific changes would you like to see made in the Australian mixed economy?


·        Economic Democracy – Is there any role for a policy for economic democracy from the ALP today – and what specific measures could we take in government to pursue that principle?


iii)               Ideology and Values: What we don’t hear much of in the ALP today is debate about ideology.  What kind of political ideology would you bring to the leadership; and what kind of ideology – or mix of ideologies – do you think should hold sway in the ALP?


iv)               Party Reform and Enhancing Internal Party Democracy: What further internal Party reforms would you like to see in order to enhance internal Party democracy – and why?  How can we use Party Reform to mobilise the grassroots?  What about direct election of National Conference delegates and an increase in the size of the National Conference?


v)                 What is your plan for re-taking federal government for Labor in 2016; and how would you hold Tony Abbott and the Liberals accountable – and limiting the damage -  in the interim?   What kind of role do the different elements of the Party have to play in this process?  (shadow cabinet, caucus, Conference, branches, affiliates, individual members)


vi)               What personal qualities would you bring to the leadership that you think would be of benefit in striving to re-take government in 2016?


vii)             What role do you see Australia as having in world affairs; including the nature of our engagement with our region, and with important powers such as the United States and China?

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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