Politics Opinion

Labor needs to stand up

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Labor leader Anthony Albanese is determined to right the Liberal Party's failures if elected in 2022 (Screenshot via YouTube)

With the Liberal Party's popularity slipping, now is the time for Labor to formulate strong policies to take into the next election and win government, writes Dechlan Brennan.

VERY FEW TIMES in recent history has the current political party in power required as much scrutiny as the Coalition. With an election coming in March 2022, the Morrison Government faces a myriad of internal issues, polling problems and policy agenda items that fly in the face of public opinion.

The current farce that is the Coalition has come to a head in the last fortnight with the Nationals dithering on a net-zero target, against all reasonable scientific consensus.

Speaking on the ABC, Senator Matt Canavan spruiked his credentials, apparently in reference to climate change and net-zero:

“It seems quite fantastical that we would completely change the whole Australian economy and there would be no impact, effectively.

 

[That] goes against all modelling that has ever been done on net zero emissions including those done in the UK and New Zealand, so I do think it is important that the Government releases it [so] we can see the detail.”

The absurdity of this is obvious. It is increasingly clear that the net-zero target by 2050 is weak and reductions must be exacerbated well before that. Various studies have been undertaken on this.

The current Australian Government target is a 26-28% emissions reduction by 2030, but a published report by Climate Analytics stated that emissions would need to be reduced between 30-38%, well past Australia’s current figures. All of this would make you think that Labor would name an ambitious target and pounce on a Government that is reeling from having to suck up to its junior Coalition partner, the National Party.

Not so.

The Labor Party has struggled in recent times to gain traction with the voters. For various reasons, it has failed to cut through the Liberals’ spin and there is a real worry it will maintain its place in Opposition. 

In his op-ed in The Australian on 15 October, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen attacked the Coalition’s pithy and horrendous action on climate change, which included attacking the climate change targets at the 2019 Election. He didn’t, however, name a target that Labor will aim to legislate if they win.

The lack of a target in this election cycle is not surprising. Going into the 2019 Election, then-Opposition Leader Bill Shorten named a target of 45% emissions reduction — an ambitious policy that was commended by many in the scientific community. He was castigated by the Coalition and by the mainstream media — many of whom ironically now wax lyrically about the positives of a net-zero target.

It is therefore understandable that Labor has avoided naming a target this early in the run-up to the next election. After all, they want to be in power come 2022 and their previous experience with targets would be nothing if not a warning.

In August, The Guardian reported that veteran Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon wanted Labor to adopt the same climate policies as the L-NP in order for it to better compete after the 2019 Election loss.

The fear of being wedged by the L-NP is real in Labor ranks. In issues such as China, national security, refugees and mass surveillance, Labor’s policy is not vastly different to that of the sitting Government.

In February, Labor attacked the Coalition for their meagre raise of the JobSeeker payment. Labor Leader Anthony Albanese was forthright and firm, making several media statements announcing that the rate was too low.

 But they still voted for it in Parliament.

The Shadow Minister for Families and Community Services, Linda Burney told The Guardian:

‘...Labor would work to alleviate poverty “in every budget” and may need several budgets to undo persistent underspending on JobSeeker and other welfare measures.’

The Party, however, refused to name a figure. In essence, this captures exactly the issue that the ALP faces. If it is beholden to the Right side of the Party, any form of progressive movement is seen as “socialist”.

One only needs to read faux Labor fan Joe Hildebrand’s weekly column on news.com.au to know that any form of progressive movement in the Labor Party will be attacked. Whether it is caring for the climate, issues such as gender and race, or even welfare reforms, Labor is often wedged. Seemingly beholden to a side of the party that is stuck in the dark ages, a media that doesn’t tolerate progressive views and a Government that acts like an opposition.  

Members of the Labor Party consistently try to move it further to the centre, in line with Tony Blair’s New Labour, or Bill Clinton’s Democrats.

There are various reasons why Labor is stuck in an identity crisis. It has bled voters from their progressive wing to the Greens and conservative voters to the Liberal Party.

Perhaps for the latter, that is a good thing. Caring for workers should not come at the expense of caring about progressive issues.

A party that supports all people, not just blue-collar workers, is very important. It may annoy some former Labor voters who have already moved on to conservative politics anyway, but the likelihood is they always would have moved on.

If Australia has two major parties, one must be firmly on the Left. We currently have a Coalition that has slid so far to the Right, that it has to gag its own members in the Senate. It has refused to sack members who have abused people online, not reported its political donors and broken its election promise to set up a Federal ICAC.

It is a dream position for an opposition party to be in. Except of course, if you are Australian Labor.

The Morrison Government has abused the rights of people, parliamentary process and democracy for the best part of eight years. It will continue to do so if a strong opposition cannot be found.

Dechlan Brennan is a freelance writer advocating for mental health and welfare reforms in Australia.

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