Contributed by Joe Montero
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has finally announced dome keynote policies for the coming May election. The most important is the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund. A billion of this has been slated to go to rebuild manufacturing. A fund of this sort is long overdue, and although the allocation is a far cry from what is needed to make a real change, it is a move in the right direction.
Relying on private direct investment only has been a demonstrated failure and got us where we are now. including the destruction of Australia’s manufacturing base. Besides anything else might be, Labor’s new policy is a recognition of this.
The need for caution lies in the fine print, and what will be implemented if Labor gets to sit on the government benches. This is why the weight of public opinion is critical. Little is going to materialise, without the demand for change coming form society.
Even the application the National Reconstruction Fund, will not rescue Australia from the existing economic problems on its own. There are more fundamental forces at work. Taking them on requires attention to problems like the conditions that have generated a falling rate of return in the economy, the decline of manufacturing, and the reality of the rise of predatory finance.
The falling rate of return emerged from the fall in the rate of creation of new value, leading to non-productive investment, speculative bubbles, a debt crisis, and the massive scale of the tax evasion industry. This has prevented investment from being applied to genuine economic growth.
All these wrongs are not going to be fixed at once. The problem is that they are not even being talked about.
Despite the shortcomings, this policy remains far better than what the Coalition is offering.
Establishing a $500 million “driving the nation” fund will help in a small way. Part of it ($29.3 million) will allow the federal government to co-invest in an Australia wide EV charging network for electric vehicles. The main investor, however, is to be the corporate private sector. This is not necessarily wrong. It depends on the detail, and whether the funds handed over are used properly . How is this going to be guaranteed?
An EV charging station
A shift to electric cars will contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, if electric vehicles are made in Australia and are affordable to enough people, will the aims of boosting manufacturing and carbon reduction be met. Labor needs a policy to make this a reality. And electric cars can never be the complete answer to the urgent need to move towards net zero carbon emissions. More investment in alternative energy generation and production systems are essential.
Action to increase wages in low paid female dominated industries is important, and any move in this direction must be supported. But it would be much better for this not to happen under the Fair Work Commission, established for the purpose of disadvantaging workers and the unions trying to represent them.
There is nothing to arrest the falling share of wages and growth of insecure work. Both are important to turning the economy around and building a fairer society; for a more productive workforce, increase participation, and expanding the market for goods and services.
The plan to establish a $392 million housing equity scheme for individuals with income up to $90,000 per year and couples up to $120,000 is not quite as good as it looks. Albanese said it will fund 40 percent of a new home and 30 percent of an existing one. The problem is that here is not enough to help more than a few. Even if there are only 2,500 beneficiaries, and each received an equal allocation, the government contribution would be only $62.600. This is much less than the promise 40 or 50 percent of the price. It is obvious that those in a better financial position will have the advantage.
Cutting the price of medicines Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) by 29 percent is good. High medicine costs are a burden on the sick, which can’t be justified. To be in good health is a fundamental right for everyone, and it should not depend on the size of your wallet.
Even if you are unsatisfied with the above policies and feel there could have been much more, it remains, it’s still better than what the Coalition is offering. The rest is up to Australia to fight for, and we need to build broad unity and the capacity to achieve it.
The most important immediate need is for the Morrison government to go, and there is no alternative to Labor in the coming election, even with a good vote to the Greens and independents. whether one favours Labor, Greens, or independents, there are solid grounds for suggesting a coalition of forces to push Australia past the Morrison era.