Continuing in the spirit of Cate Speaks

Australian Democrats

Summary

Website: www.democrats.org.au
Social Media: FacebookTwitter
Slogans: Bring Back Integrity, Transparency and Trust
Themes: Government accountability, Evidence not ideology
Electorates: Upper House: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia
Lower House: none
Preferences: There are a few surprises on the Australian Democrats’ How-To-Vote card. The complete absence of the major two parties is to be expected, given the Democrats’ historic commitment towards balance-of-power politics. Preferencing the Reason Party first, followed by Independent Susan Benedyka, is in line with the broadly centrist position of the Democrats. What’s more unexpected is the next three preferences, all of which are squarely on the left side of politics: Sustainable Australia, the Australian Progressives, and the Greens. All these parties are far more interventionist than the Democrats, so I think preferencing them is purely about their climate change policies.
Previous Reviews: 201920132010

Policies & Commentary

Back in the early days of the Australian Democrats (hereafter referred to as AD), founder Don Chipp declared the party’s guiding principle to be “keep the bastards honest”. Over the decades, AD broadened its scope to claim a mostly centrist position as its fortunes waxed and waned. After its deregistration in 2016, commentators were pretty confident in stating that was the end for the party – but it’s back, and it looks like it’s finally returning to its roots.

Before I get into the policies as whole, I want to draw reader’s attention to one particular part of the AD website – “Rorts Watch,” which contains a detailed list of corrupt (or at least, dodgy) behaviour on the part of politicians, and what – if any – action has been taken. It’s a damning indictment, and it takes aim at parties and individuals across the political spectrum. This is the AD of old, and it’s good to see it making a comeback.

AD has policies addressing almost every area of Australian life, far more than I can cover here. Instead, I’ll focus on a few major areas, but I encourage you to take a look at the entire policy suite.

Accountability is a huge part of AD’s 2022 platform. It calls for, not just a federal anti-corruption commission, but a full integrity system that encompasses whistleblower protection and a Minister for Ministerial and Parliamentary Ethics. Now, it’s debatable whether such a Minister could really do the job of holding their own side to account. The AD’s proposed National Integrity Commission would be entirely independent of government with the powers of a Royal Commission, however, so an ineffective Minister wouldn’t be a stumbling block to actually holding politicians to account.

It doesn’t stop there. AD also has policies around disclosure of donations and caps on election spending, government advertising, a transparent Budget (noting that over 384 items were marked “secret”), and Parliamentary oversight of grants. Its Pandemic Response calls for a Royal Commission into the Federal government’s management of Covid-19, and for aged care, it wants an Inspector-General to provide oversight. Even policies as disparate as Health and ”Right to Repair” contain a commitment to set up ratings systems for nutritional value and repairability that are transparent and independent.

Right to Repair” is an unusual policy, and it’s worth highlighting. Simply put, it’s about combating the tendency of certain companies (no names, but I’m sure you can think of a few) to put out products that can’t be repaired by third parties or consumers without voiding warranties, needing special tools that are not commercially available, and are designed to be obsolete in a relatively short time. We’ve all run up against that problem, and it’s deeply, deeply frustrating. As it stands, we’re faced with either shelling out exorbitant sums or simply putting up with out-of-date products because they can’t afford to buy a new, ridiculously overpriced one.

AD wants to tackle that head-on. It calls for independent repairers to be given access to the tools and manuals they need, as well as protection against frivolous legal action. For consumers, there are policies designed to protect them from being misled by manufacturers, better oversight of warranties, and plans for an industry-wide complaints system. Manufacturers would be required to cease installing software locks that prevent upgrades and make specialised parts available to independent repairers. They’d also be subject to regulatory practices around planned obsolescence and potentially face stiff penalties for anti-competitive behaviour.

Trying to hold manufacturers to account is a big call. A really big call. Most of these companies are not Australian, so there are all sorts of questions to be raised about just how much power the government would have to change the current situation at the manufacturing end. The idea of supporting independent repairers, however – complete with education programs and TAFE courses – is excellent. The problem is that most of these policies would threaten company profits, and we all know how much the tech giants in particular like to hold on to all that lovely money, so I wish AD luck. (The Greens have a similar policy, but the AD version has much more detail about how it would work.)

Socially speaking, AD is right out ahead of the major parties. It wants an increase to Centrelink benefits to around $90 per day; in addition, AD is calling for rent assistance caps to be raised by 30%, and for an end to the current system of endless bureaucracy and “pointless job application requirements.” Curiously, AD does not want to do away with the Indue card altogether, instead suggesting uptake should be optional. Minimum wage should be raised by 5%. AD also tackles the problem of gender pay equity, although it must be said that much of this policy suggests a whole new wage review rather than acting on reviews already in progress.

Apart from the already mentioned food star rating system, AD’s health policy focuses on prevention as much as treatment. Dental care is a key part of this, starting with government-funded treatment for people under the age of 18 and for concession card holders. At the same time, a government-funded preventative dental health scheme would be founded, with the aim of eventually making the transition to universal dental care.

Their National Mental Health program would focus on community care and supporting more mental health practitioners and care providers. Social supports such as housing would be improved. Crucially, the key problem of stigma around mental illness would be ”addressed”, although AD doesn’t provide any details on how this would actually work. This is a real shame, because AD is one of the few parties out there even acknowledging that stigma is a pervasive problem for those suffering from mental health issues.

Finally, AD’s policies on climate change, which might best be described as ‘no compromise.’ A whopping target of a 66% reduction in emissions by 2030 is second only to that of the Greens. AD is also not afraid to say it wants a $30 per tonne tax on carbon. This would put Australia at number 11 on the list of countries that currently have a carbon tax, squarely in the middle of the pack (which ranges from Sweden’s $137 to Mexico’s $1). As might be expected of a broadly centrist party, the transition to renewables would be not by direct investment. Rather, AD says it will “underwrite support” for the lithium battery and hydrogen industries, as well as encourage investment in upgrades to electricity transmission. A super profits tax on non-renewable resource projects would form part of AD’s plan to encourage this private investment.

When it comes to adapting to climate change, AD has a multi-pronged approach. It promises investment in both the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, with the aim of improving data collection, modelling and forecasting. Reforestation is a crucial strategy in terms of practical climate change mitigation, as is the use of techniques such as planting native grasses to help improve soil carbon capture. An overhaul of intensive farming practices and use of pesticides is on the agenda, sweetened by the promise of a fund to reward farmers who utilise regenerative farming techniques. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan would be updated to take into account improved data and modelling. The increasing threat of devastating bushfires would be met with improved fire management, including traditional practices, and there is a long-overdue pledge to invest in a national fleet of water bombers to be deployed as needed across the country.

From a situation of being almost defunct, AD has returned with a vengeance, with a strong platform that tries to balance government intervention on social policy with encouraging private enterprise. Its emphasis on accountability and independent oversight of government makes it feel like the old days are back. It’s unlikely to sway many potential Greens voters with its climate policy, but it does offer a compromise for those who wish to encourage industry to do its part in transitioning to renewables.

Whether AD would ever again hold the balance of power in the Senate is probably unlikely, but it’s good to see them making such a strong policy showing. All in all, a pretty good alternative to the majors.


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 🙂

2 Comments

  1. Sandra Kanck

    Because the ADs are fact-based, what about Stevie Wonder’s song ‘Superstition’, where he is critical of holding beliefs based on superstition?

    • Loki

      Not a Eurovision song, but I’ll allow it 🙂

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