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Policies & Commentary
On the whole, the Australian Progressives (hereafter referred to as AP) are coming out of the block this election with a bold agenda, aimed at reaching high and tackling the difficult issues. It’s disappointing that the number of candidates they’ve put up is so low – and even more disappointing that nowhere on its site does it name those candidates, nor the seats they’re contesting. For that, I had to go to the Australian Electoral Commission. The oversight really does the party a huge disservice.
AP has a huge policy suite. And I mean, huge. There are 15 policies for tax reform alone, and the section on ”Democratic and Constitutional Reform” covers everything from Digital Government to a Bill of Rights. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see a minor party pay such close attention to so many different areas of Australian life. On the other, there are just so many policies that it’s impossible to examine them all without writing an entire book about it. Okay, maybe a novella, but still.
So let’s grab some of the big ones, shall we? The issues that appear to be most talked about by Australians this time around.
Let’s start with climate change and the environment. AP is committed to net zero by 2030, with the aim to move to negative net carbon emissions by 2040. There are a variety of initiatives to make this happen, including retrofitting housing for energy efficiency and renewables, and supporting a mass rollout of electric vehicles.
The big ideas, though, are really big. Firstly, AP wants to ban all new fossil fuel mining licences, and repeal all existing subsidies for fossil fuel mining. While in principle this appears to be a bold move, in reality it’s likely to lead to massive job losses, as well as enormous trade losses, and a huge energy gap. We’re simply not prepared to jump to complete renewable energy, and AP’s policy could see Australia lose billions of dollars in export income without a suitable replacement.
AP does have an undated goal to reach generation of 300% of our energy needs, so we can export the surplus through international trade. It’s not clear just how AP intends to do this; trade in hydrogen-based fuels, direct transfer through undersea cables (which would involve a massive infrastructure spend), and export of knowledge and services are all potentially in the mix, (Source: https://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/climate/renewables) but without details, this policy appears to be more aspirational than anything else.
The second big idea is to “re-nationalise” the electricity sector.
Okay, so first? Calling it re-nationalising is a bit misleading. Until 1990, electricity was a state and territory responsibility. Since the National Electricity Market broke the sector down into production, distribution, and retail, those governments have systematically divested themselves of ownership, and many states are now fully privatised. We’ve never had a national electricity sector.
What AP proposes is, basically, to seize every aspect of electricity generation and bring it under federal control. This would have to be done through a number of pieces of legislation, and require co-operation from those states who have not yet fully privatised. It’s fair to say those companies that would be affected by this would not be on board with the idea of giving up their investments without compensation, so there’s a huge hit on the budget. And, while voters tend to really like the idea of nationalisation, it’s by no means clear that anyone actually in a position to accomplish this has the political will to do so.
Both of these big environmental policies are great ideas. Unfortunately, both are also light on detail and basically unworkable.
Moving on, AP is firmly committed to stamping out corruption in government. Their proposed federal anti-corruption commission has big, pointy, sharp teeth – it would have wider powers than anything so far put forward by the major parties, including the ability to take legal action. Funding would be guaranteed. Its major point of difference with existing proposed models, however, is its retrospectivity. AP’s federal ICAC would be able to investigate allegations of corruption dating back to 2008, and have the power to review – and potentially cancel – both post-political appointments and career entitlements (with the exception of superannuation).
I imagine that notion would make a lot of politicians, current and former, extremely alarmed. It’s difficult to see the retrospectivity, in particular, gaining support from major parties, but AP has identified a major source of discontent among Australians, and is proposing to bring that squarely under the microscope. The policy is likely to be popular, but whether it could survive contact with other parties is debatable. Nonetheless, it is an excellent model.
While we’re on the subject of how politicians behave, AP has a few more policies that go further than the outgoing government’s mealy-mouthed announcements about how we should all just be nicer to each other in Canberra. AP wants nothing less than a binding and enforceable Code of Conduct along the lines of the Australian Public Service Framework. The APS framework, under the Public Service Act 1999, includes penalties for non-compliance that include termination, reduction in classification or salary, fine, reassignment, and reprimand. It would be interesting to see more detail in how the AP plans to translate this to the Parliament, but even the promise of a code of conduct that could be enforced with potential penalties goes much further than what the Liberal/National coalition has suggested they might, possibly, get around to looking at some time in the future. Maybe.
Political funding is also on the chopping block for AP. The policy calls for an end to corporate donations, and so-called ‘cash-for-access’ events (you know, those several-hundred-dollars-a-plate dinners). It also wants donations to be completely transparent; any given donor would have to disclose their affiliations with everything from unions, to civic organisations to lobby groups. And they head off objections that this would leave political parties and independents at a disadvantage by stating that they would expand public funding of election campaigns.
This is an idea that’s been bouncing around for a while, and every now and then it pops up on someone’s campaign speech. AP haven’t quite called for a flat rate of funding across the board, no matter what any given party’s share of the vote was, but it’s along the same lines. Establishing a level – or more level – playing field in elections is an appealing notion. I mean, how many of us can say we haven’t groaned and complained when we get three ads for the same party in one ad break while we’re watching Married At First Sight or NCIS? Inevitably, though, this comes back to costing. Supplying more campaign funding, though, brings up the question of cost to the budget. And then there’s the reality that parties are likely to be none too happy about having sources of funding cut off. Nonetheless, AP’s policy is, in principle, a much-needed reform.
Health care is another massive suite of policies. They call for: expansion of Medicare in the areas of reversing cuts to procedures, dental and mental health care, coverage of gender dysphoria services; focus on preventative physical and mental health care, increased funding for research into age-related health issues, funding public hospitals, funding for regional and rural services, and improved access to substance abuse care.
Two policies, in particular, are likely to be highly controversial. The first is drug reform. AP wants drug use to be seen as a health-care issue, not criminal. It advocates for what it calls ”responsible regulation” of drug use for all purposes, including recreational, using a harm minimisation approach. This is to be done with a view to decriminalisation and eventual legalisation and taxation. At the same time, it calls for current alcohol and tobacco legislation to be ”expanded”.
It hardly needs saying that this policy is going to meet stiff opposition from the majors. That said, there are some interesting and noteworthy elements here.
Decriminalisation is something for which many have argued passionately. At the moment, for example, possession of marijuana is punishable by a maximum custodial sentence of two years. This not only places a burden on state coffers, but has a knock-on effect whereby possession of a single joint can result in loss of employment, and indeed loss of career path. There’s both a financial and social benefit to reducing penalties for at least possession, or doing away with them altogether. The question, then, becomes one of scale. At what point do we stop decriminalising? AP’s ‘responsible regulation’ notion comes into play here, I suspect, although we’re left to guess exactly what that means.
Offering up the idea of taxation in return for actually legalising use of current prohibited drugs is a novel one, although it really shouldn’t be. We’ve legally taxed alcohol and tobacco for decades. What AP proposes is simply an extension of that. It also aims to appeal to those who are concerned about budget bottom lines – a whole new source of revenue for the government. But it’s really putting the cart before the horse. The Australian public, at this point, is not in favour of decriminalisation of many recreationally used drugs, if any. The backlash against safe injecting rooms and drug testing at festivals is a good indicator of this.
That said, even foregrounding these questions shows that the AP is, at least, wanting to start the public conversation.
The final health care area I want to look at is AP’s vaccination policy. Ordinarily, this would be a non-issue, but in the current political climate of high profile politicians speaking out against covid-19 vaccinations, and increasingly unhinged protests against both vaccine mandates and vaccines themselves, it’s become something that needs to be looked at.
AP’s vaccination policy is mostly sensible, and science-based. Expansion of the current immunisation registers to cover a person’s entire lifetime, including a reminder service for boosters. Expansion of the “no-jab no-play” system to cover all early childhood and school services. Government-run vaccination programs for all vaccinations. Currently, most kids can get their vaccines at school, but the debacle we’ve seen with the piecemeal approach to covid vaccinations highlights a need for a central authority that is both responsible and accountable.
Recognising the amount of sheer nonsense being touted as ‘information’, AP wants advertising about vaccinations to be truthful, which is as laudable as it is frustrating that it even needs to be said. Slightly more concerning, though, is their policy of establishing a “no fault compensation scheme for vaccination injuries. The wording here is particularly dubious. “Vaccination injury” is a phrase tossed about with great abandon by anti-vaccination groups and politicians, usually employed hand-in-hand with lurid – and entirely fabricated – descriptions of children dropping dead en masse after being forced to get the dreaded jab.
Without turning this entry into an entire discourse on the sheer amount of rubbish being touted as fact in this sphere, I’ll simply say that serious complications (known as adverse events) from vaccinations – particularly the covid vaccination which, let’s face it, is the one on everyone’s minds right now – are very rare. The Therapeutic Goods Administration publishes data on this every week, and there’s nothing to suggest adverse events are such a large problem as to require compensation. Facts, however, are not welcome in the anti-vax sector.
That AP even has a policy around a “vaccination injury” compensation scheme suggests that either they are more sympathetic to the idea that the facts do not reveal the truth, or that they are offering this policy as a sop to pacify anti-vaxers. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on AP, which is disappointing, given its otherwise excellent, science-based health policy.
One area of policy that has become unexpectedly foregrounded in the 2022 election campaign concerns social equality, particularly in the areas of religion and gender identity. AP’s policies are straightforward here. It states its commitment to equality for all Australians ”regardless of race, sex, gender, religious, political, or cultural affiliation”. However it also commits to removing religious exemptions for gender or sexuality-based discrimination from existing laws.
These are not incompatible policies, by any means. Existing religious exemptions have been a bone of contention for some time now; major parties are officially rusted on in their support of them (despite individual members calling them into question), while minor parties and Independents have called for them to be modified, if not scrapped altogether. The issue is exceptionally complicated, and highly emotional. Questions of just where equality and freedom ends and discrimination begins are contentious in the extreme. Should a religious school deny entry to a gay student? Should a women’s sports organisation be able to exclude transwomen? And so it goes on.
This – like their drugs policy – is likely to be a ‘make-or-break’ point for voters. AP is calling for nothing less than the removal of all religious exemptions. I’d call this policy ‘brave’, if, perhaps, more than a little optimistic. That AP is willing to tackle it head on, however, speaks to their being unafraid to tackle the controversial, ‘hard’ issues.
I’ve reviewed only a handful of AP’s comprehensive suite of policies here, highlighting some of the biggest issues driving the campaign this time around. There’s certainly a lot more to discover on their website, however; there’s more under the categories I’ve already covered, as well as policies on Education, Foreign Policy and Immigration, Indigenous Affairs, Media and Culture, and Science and Knowledge.
It’s well worth a look if you happen to be a voter in the limited number of seats their candidates cover.
Just a reminder that Loki and I lack the necessary Eurovision knowledge to choose the songs that Catherine liked to include, but we’d love to see what you suggest in the comments below 🙂