Contributed by Jim Hayes
As Australia goes to the dogs under the Morrison government, the Australian Labor Party had its national conference in Adelaide this last weekend.
Many were looking forward to this marking, not only a decisive break from the policies of the Coalition, but the bipartisanship of the past that has brought to Australia neoliberal economics and crueler government.
Some welcome policies were announced. Among them promises to take on more refugees, impose greater penalties on employers who steal super from their employees, talk with first Nation Australians about constitutional recognition and build 250,000 new affordable homes over ten years and something was said about reducing negative gearing. The conference adopted a policy that will stop selling arms to Israel.
But on many big ticket items, little or nothing was said. This conference had the air of a stage managed affair, with unity built on saying as little as possible. It held onto a strategy of keeping low and allowing Scott Morrison to hang himself.
Critics have pointed out that this strategy risks failing to inspire people. The risk is real. Although the polls suggest Labor will rock in next year, they also show that Labor leader Bill Shorten is not particularly trusted.
Australia shares the worldwide phenomenon of a growing part of the population not trusting politicians of the major parties. It has its own particular causes here. The Coalition is suffering the most, and it also is affecting Labor. Unless it can show that it is sufficiently different, Labor stands to suffer extensively when it government. We have seen this happen to social democratic governments in Europe. It will happen here too.
We are no longer in times where business as usual is good enough. There must be an acknowledgement that most are becoming worse off, our rights are going, the First Nations are moving towards Treaty as the road to equality and self-determination. Public opinion has shifted is calling calling for decisive action on tackling carbon emissions and an end to offshore detention. Australia wants greed of the banks taken on in earnest, corruption seriously tackled.
This is what is being called for. We saw groups make a noise about certain issues that we important to them at the Conference. They are not alone.
These are the issues where a clear stance is needed, to mobilise popular enthusiasm and ensure a solid base of support for changing Australia’s direction. Getting people on side depends on building trust and not merely slanging off at the other side.
No commitment was given to basic matters such as, raising reversing the fall in the wages share of national income, the minimum wage, putting into place a new and fair industrial relations system, lifting scandalously low Newstart and other insufficient pensions, putting a stop to the Adani mine and supporting a shift towards renewables, and closing offshore detention centres.
Even those who are disappointed or disgruntled, have every reason to still want the broadest possible unity against the Morrison government. Labor is an important part of this. The eye should not be taken off the ball by, attacking Labor instead of focusing on the Coalition and those who stand behind it.
But it does not mean that there should not be vigorous discussion over the direction we want Australia to move in and the specific policies needed to help us get there. The discussion incorporates how to mobilise large numbers of ordinary Australians, into a movement that goes beyond the election date next year.
Truth is, having the reigns of office in hand does not mean being able to bring about major change. A political will is important. It also needs to be backed by an Australia motivated and ready to act and turn aside efforts of vested interest to prevent change. Without this, the next Labor government may not be around for long.