Labor national conference commits to do almost nothing about the big issues

Contributed by Joe Montero

Two and a half days of the Labor Party conference that ended on Saturday (19 August 2023) produced no surprises. The outcome was such that it made little difference. There may have been a little tinkering around the edges, but the rea decisions had already been made through backroom deals and block votes. Such is the nature of these events.

The outcome was to sit on the fence on controversial issues and allow the government plenty of wiggle room to do whatever it likes and look like it’s not breaking the party consensus.  

Party conferences set the party platform on paper. This is supposed to be binding on the parliamentary wing, and by extension on a Labor government. In practice it is only advisory. But breaking the platform carries political risks, and attention is often paid to massaging the results to ensure wiggle room and means of escape from commitment. This conference was no exception.

What is said here shouldn’t be taken as an attack on Labor. It covers matters that must be raised openly, and which are in line with what the party and its base want. The argument that one should keep one’s head down and be quite to protect Labor in government is dangerous and self-defeating. This is what will sow disillusionment and provides the parliamentary opposition with the best conditions to return to government.

A big-ticket issue was the AUKUS alliance. It’s deeply unpopular with in the party and Labor’s pollical base. Defence minister Richard Marles and defence industry minister Pat Conroy came up with a circuit breaker, by introducing a clause that reaffirms the policy of signing the current nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The escape hatch is that there is deliberately no timeline, which means it doesn’t have to be done.  

The delegates had hardly left and gone home when it was announced that Australia will buy $1.7 billion worth of Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles from the United States. This runs contrary to the spirit of what was just agrees to.

A push to introduce a super profits tax was hosed down with a vague pledge to “increase government investment in social and affordable housing with funding from a progressive and sustainable tax system, including corporate tax reform.” Although it soothed some ruffled feathers in the short-term, the reality is that there is no detail on what this means. Meanwhile the intention to go ahead with the generous tax cuts for those on the top tier of income, and which runs counter to the concept of a progressive tax system, is still going ahead.

It is a similar promise with no commitment approach to dealing with the rising personal debt crisis, reducing logging of native forests, and the bringing in of human rights laws.

When it came to stepping up on action against climate change and reducing carbon emissions there was nothing.

A host of other issues swept under the carpet, like solid support for the freed of Julian Assange; lifting people on Jobseeker, pensions, and other social security payments above the poverty level; the introduction of a rent ceiling; de-privatising employment services; protecting workers in the gig economy; legislating the right of entry of union into workplaces to represent their members.

It’s evident that there is a refusal to face the reality Australia is facing the triple whammy of a dysfunctional economy, a falling trust in the political leadership, and that the impact on climate change I already with us.  It’s business as usual maintaining the reliance on neoliberalism and a subservient relationship to Washington as the only legitimate option. These are the drivers of government policy.

This runs contrary to the aspirations of the party membership and base. There will be consequences if there is no turn around. The political base will continue to decline. The prospects are that many will continue to face a falling standard of living, resentment against the failure of leadership that won’t listen will grow, and this will be magnified as the impacts of global warming start to hit harder.

2 Comments on "Labor national conference commits to do almost nothing about the big issues"

  1. Harry oriander | 22 August 2023 at 3:36 pm | Reply

    I agree with all that it’s a failure to exhibit courage to do what is best for most Australians and the country it may add the the numbers of voters getting behind the independents to get better results as the party system binds people into things they know aren’t right or worthy

  2. Lee Capocchi | 22 August 2023 at 6:13 pm | Reply

    I believe the Submarines are a waste of money. But if we have them there are a couple of issues to be thrashed out:
    1) They Must be nuclear (our coastline is so big, diesel subs cannot circumnavigate this country)
    2) They Must be built here. Use existing shipyards, not create new ones and dump the skilled staff we already have.
    As for Centrelink, all Dole payments need to rise to the same as the age pension, which, itself, needs to increase about $60/fnight. We also need to stop pushing those with health issues onto the Dole and, for once, the AMA needs to boycott the government for using social workers and therapists to over-ride the recommendations of medical specialists.

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