Continuing in the spirit of Cate Speaks

Sustainable Australia Party

Summary

Website: www.sustainableaustralia.org.au
Social Media: FacebookTwitterYouTubeInstagram
Previous Names: Sustainable Population Party, before that the Stable Population Party
Slogans: Redefining Growth
Themes: Protect our environment. Stop over-development. Stop corruption.
Electorates: Upper House: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and West Australia
Lower House: Eden-Monaro, Goldstein & North Sydney
Preferences: Sustainable Australia is another party that doesn’t want to suggest how you should direct your preferences. As long as you vote for them first, you can do what you like with the rest of the choices.
Previous Reviews: 201920182013

Policies & Commentary

The first thing to note about the Sustainable Australia Party (hereafter referred to as SAP) is that it’s had a makeover since it contested its first federal election in 2013. Back then, it was known as the Sustainable Population Party. The new name was first used at the 2018 Victorian state election, where it netted a Lower House seat. A generous explanation for the name change would be that it’s offering a broader suite of policies this time around, with climate change and environmental issues foregrounded. The cynical explanation is that the party finally realised that it was attracting all sorts of criticism and misrepresentation from political opponents who could spin the name into some kind of xenophobic, Hanson-esque ideology. That SAP includes quite a bit of explanation about its population policy in its “About Us” page suggests the latter is more likely.

SAP has a huge policy platform, addressing virtually every area of Australian society. I’ll concentrate primarily on those categories that are reportedly voters’ biggest concerns in this election and those that address areas largely neglected by other minor parties, but I encourage you to go to the website to see the full suite.

To kick off, I want to highlight that SAP is extremely unusual among minor parties in that it actually has an Arts policy. An Arts policy, you say? In this economy?! Take a few minutes to get over the shock, I’ll wait.

There’s been a long, slow decline in the importance of the Arts as a policy area. The Arts Ministry tends to be the butt of jokes about insignificance and dead-end career choices; nobody cares, it’s implied, about funding a local movie or tv industry, supporting Australian authors, theatre, etc. Here’s where I put my full-disclosure hat on – I’ve worked in various parts of the Arts sector over the years, and I’m a passionate supporter of local content. To find an actual policy in this election is a pleasant surprise.

So what does SAP actually promise? Local film and tv? Check. Funding for community arts? Check. Protection of creative and intellectual rights? Check. All of these areas are crying out for effective action. Sure, Australia is making a name for itself in the movie industry, particularly in the area of special effects, but it’s American companies that are reaping the benefits. Community theatre is woefully unsupported as the focus has shifted towards attracting the big-name musicals like that execrable Harry Potter thing to the professional stage. And protecting rights? Hallelujah!

SAP also wants “better income support to artists negatively affected by significant events such as global pandemics”. That would be a low bar, indeed, since artists and crew were excluded from JobKeeper altogether.

The final Arts policy SAP offers is, well, optimistic at best. They want to prevent housing and property development from happening near live music venues. The rationale behind this is sound – many venues that have been operating for years have suffered as a result of noise complaints coming from people in new housing that’s sprung up nearby. Some have been forced to radically alter their practices, or even close. The problem, however, lies in implementation. Effectively, SAP is talking about enforcing special zoning regulations, which is the province of State, Territory and local governments. So right off the bat, we have a jurisdictional tussle. Even assuming that could be sorted out, the policy runs up against the fact that there is a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing. Apartments in already built-up areas are in high demand, and councils are unlikely to look favourably on the potential loss of rates revenue from this proposal.

But the idea of finally sinking some significant money into supporting the Arts and artists? Bring it on!

Anti-corruption and governance comes in for a lot of attention, with no less than 24 separate policies. There’s a strong emphasis on accountability and transparency, with SAP calling for truth in political advertising as well as disclosure of campaign donations and a federal ICAC is on the agenda, with the emphasis on “independent”. Freedom of Information request processing would get a much-needed overhaul.

These policies are backed up by a raft of restrictions and bans – no foreign donations, no donations from “industries demonstrated to have a corrupting influence on democracy (as determined by an independent federal corruption commission enquiry or similar process),” and ultimately, banning all political donations in favour of equally distributed public funding. Wisely, the SAP recognises that this last may simply be impossible, and offers as a fall-back position a cap on donations at $10,000 per person or “entity.” And while it’s on the subject, SAP wants the current rules for receiving election funds relaxed. Right now, a party or candidate needs to get 4% of the primary vote to qualify. SAP suggests that there should be no minimum threshold, and that everyone should be able to apply for public funding for an election campaign.

Now, we’ve looked at a lot of campaigns here at Something for Cate this election, and there are many we just won’t be able to get to in time for polling day. (We are, alas, only human.) There are literally hundreds of people attempting to run for office for the first time. Some of them appear to be little more than placeholders (I’m looking at you, One Nation), while others have the quality of late-night thought bubbles. There are candidates running who have literally said their sole purpose is to tear down the Australian governmental system (why yes, Mr Bosi, I am talking about you). Funding all of these is philosophically a nice idea, and the current system does privilege a mere handful of parties. Implementing it, though, would be impractical in the extreme. Even with a relatively modest cap (and SAP also wants the amount of funding per vote increased), the drain on public money would be immense. And who qualifies? What’s the criteria? Surely SAP isn’t suggesting it would be enough for potential candidates to just stick their hands up, because if that was the case, that would be an excellent money-making scam for unscrupulous people. It’s just not viable.

SAP wants a ban on ex-politicians and former senior government staff holding any position with lobby groups or “other relevant vested interests”for the first four years after they cease public service. Good luck with that.

In their Education policy, SAP calls for all HECS/HELP debts to be wiped, and for university and TAFE to be free for Australian citizens. Public schools should get more funded if needed (and it definitely is needed), and teachers’ salaries and working conditions should be improved. Presumably, this last would accomplish another SAP goal of smaller class sizes. I’ve taught university tutorials that held over 30 students – they were unwieldy and very difficult to manage, and these were adults! I cannot imagine how any teacher of younger children can possibly cope. That SAP even has a class size policy shows that it’s willing to get down in the granular detail of an issue, to look at how a situation affects individuals as well as approaching the system as a whole.

In the area of climate change, SAP has policies spread across many areas. A ban on fracking and new coal mines is accompanied by a call to “empower” Australians to choose renewable energy such as solar panels or micro wind. It’s not exactly clear what “empower” means here. There are policies to support investment and research in renewable energy generation and storage in general, but crucially, there’s nothing about subsidies or rebates to encourage uptake on either a personal or institutional level. Fossil fuel subsidies, however, would get the chop.

Net zero by 2035 would be SAP’s preferred outcome, with emissions reduced by at least 50% by 2030. There would be a Renewable Energy Target “in line with this, although the actual number isn’t specified. SAP also wants a carbon pricing mechanism, but it stresses that this should “not unfairly penalise Australian industries” It’s hard to know what to make of a statement like that, since there’s absolutely no detail on what would constitute an unfair outcome. On its face, it looks like SAP is trying to keep a foot in both worlds here, spruiking its green credentials while simultaneously trying not to alienate voters in industries likely to be heavily affected by any such mechanism. Without clarification, though, it’s impossible to evaluate further.

A key part of SAP’s climate change strategy is reducing the Australian population, but I’m going to deal with that separately, since it also underpins policies on the economy, housing, health, and ageing.

What’s this? A gambling policy?! I’ll give SAP this much, it’s been so thorough in building a platform that it’s taking on areas other minor parties aren’t even looking at, for the most part.

Tackling advertising for sports betting is a big part of SAP’s gambling policy. It calls for a ban on such advertising taking place during sports broadcasting, and before 10.30 pm on all media. In newspapers, betting agencies should only be permitted to advertise in the sports section, and at venues, only in the designated betting shops. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying I’m sick to death of seeing wall to wall ads for betting agencies when I’m just trying to watch the footy, so I suspect these proposals would be very popular. Frankly, I’m surprised SAP hasn’t gone further, and called for an outright ban on advertising across all media, as is currently the case with casino betting.

Poker machines would be capped at current levels across the country, with a view to gradually reducing them in pubs and clubs, or even removing them altogether. It would be backed up by a $1 maximum bet per spin limit, as recommended by the Productivity Commission. That’s a massive loss of revenue for pubs and clubs, not to mention manufacturers, so there would likely be strong opposition to it – but let’s face it, anything that’s going to hurt someone’s bottom line will attract controversy. It comes down to weighing loss of business and revenue against the general wellbeing of Australians. Problem gambling can lead to a great deal of social ills, including homelessness, family breakdown, and poor mental health. The Productivity Commission suggested that $4.7 billion is lost to problem gambling each year, and poker machine losses make up a substantial part of that. SAP makes it clear where they stand – get rid of the pokies.

One gambling policy had my eyebrows climbing up into my hair. SAP would hold a feasibility enquiry to look at nationalising casinos “in order to turn them into world’s best practice, and least-harmful, operations.” That’s right, SAP wants the government to get into the business of shaking the dice and dealing the cards. This is presented as a policy primarily about social benefit, but let’s be real here. It doesn’t take nationalisation of an entire industry to bring about purely social effects. What SAP aren’t saying – and, I suspect, are deliberately not saying – is that nationalisation of casinos would be a huge potential source of revenue for any government. Huge. Millions of dollars each year pouring into government coffers. And this creates a fundamentally insurmountable conflict. When you’re trying to increase your bottom line, the last thing you want to do is undermine that by implementing strategies to decrease the money coming in. It also conflicts with SAP’s other gambling-related policies.

In Health, SAP swings clearly to the left. Basic dental services under Medicare are there. There’s universal free access to contraception, reproductive and sexual health services, which is something not many parties are even mentioning in this election. I have to note, however, that this proposal is “to help prevent unwanted pregnancies,” not primarily for general sexual health. SAP wants a ban on junk and high sugar content food advertising during children’s viewing hours, and an excise on high-sugar foods. Again trying to have a foot in two worlds, SAP calls for both increased immunisations and support for “scientifically proven” alternative and natural therapies. Finally, there’s a curious little note that “higher population density leads to greater spread of diseases, including during pandemics.

And that brings us squarely to the notion that lies at the heart of so many of SAP’s policies; stabilising Australia’s population at under 30 million people through to 2050 “and beyond”. Primarily, this is to be done through controlling immigration

Now, before I get into it, let’s make sure one thing is clear. I am not accusing SAP of being racist, or even dogwhistling. That criticism that has often been levelled against it, but I believe SAP is not xenophobic – so let’s examine the policies on their merits.

Immigration would be slashed by around 60% to a maximum of 70,000 people per year, while the humanitarian intake would be 14,000 – 20,000 (depending on circumstances). Our open doors arrangement with New Zealand would be abolished. Immigration would be removed from all our trade agreements. Marketing to prospective immigrants would get the chop, as would all State and Territory associated Department of Immigration visas, both permanent and temporary.

Apart from drastically limiting immigration, SAP proposes that baby bonus payments be limited to a woman’s first two children. SAP also confirmed my suspicions that its sexual and reproductive health policies are primarily, if not solely, about preventing “unwanted” pregnancies.

The first problem that raises its head in relation to the immigration policies is the loss of workers, both skilled and unskilled. Australia is seeing record levels of employment; in fact, employers are complaining that they cannot attract enough workers. Reducing our immigration intake by two-thirds is only going to exacerbate the problem, particularly when it comes to skilled workers such as those in the health care sector. Currently, our humanitarian immigration program is capped under 14,000, so SAP is proposing a net increase.in our intake. Even should its suggested maximum of 20,000 be accomplished however, it still leaves our immigration well below half of current levels.

Getting rid of marketing that presents Australia as a desirable destination to settle may well have the added, unwanted consequence of deterring foreign investment. Likewise the removal of immigration provisions in international trade agreements. Whether we like it or not, Australia cannot simply turn its back on the rest of the world. As for doing away with visas, including temporary ones – well, that’s a recipe for disaster. States and Territories have different needs, and the use of tailored visas helps address those needs. To name just two, there are schemes to attract people to settle in regions that need support and skilled labour, and seasonal work programs in agricultural areas for harvest season. Doing away with those would leave Australia critically short and have a potentially catastrophic effect on both agricultural revenue and food production. The problems in the latter sector caused by Covid-19 pale in comparison to the consequences of the SAP’s policies.

And lastly, we come to the issue of “unwanted” pregnancy. This one makes me very uncomfortable, especially as it features not only in the Health policy suite, but also in relation to Immigration. According to its own policy, SAP has specifically linked its contraception and reproductive policy with our humanitarian immigration program::

Maintain an annual humanitarian (refugee) intake of around 14,000-20,000, according to circumstances(2)Provide free universal access to contraception and related family planning, reproductive and sexual health services, to help prevent unwanted pregnancies (also see Health policy).”1This quote contains the original formatting as it appears on the SAP website. The inclusion of the number (2) is unexplained; it doesn’t refer to a footnote nor is it part of a numbered list.

Now, I’m hoping that this is something that could be attributed to bad formatting, some kind of copypasta mistake, or similar stuff-up. I can’t say definitively that’s what’s going on, however. At face value, SAP seems to be targeting refugees and advocating restriction of their ability to reproduce. I would like to believe this is not the case, I really would – and if it’s not, then I really hope SAP addresses this as soon as possible. The party has worked hard to overcome accusations of racism, and it would be a pity if that was undermined by what turned out to be a formatting error. Equally, if that is the intended message, they have to be prepared to – quite rightly – front up with their justification for it.

As I mentioned above, there’s a lot more to SAP’s policy platform, and it’s worth your time to take a look. For my money, though, its policies are largely too sweeping, and not well thought out or supported. There’s good stuff there, no doubt – an Arts policy, class sizes, and anti-gambling provisions, to name a few – but that doesn’t outweigh the problematic nature of its larger policies.


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 🙂

5 Comments

  1. Benjamin Cronshaw

    Personally do not share their concerns about overpopulation as such, though they do seem to talk in a good-faith way around future planning (which is refreshing compared to some parties). I think would be better to emphasise using our resources equitably and sustainably (examining say, wealth concentration might indicate a few wealthier people use up resources more intensively, rather than being a population problem). Also agree with the review that we cannot act like we are seperate from the world (either for our own needs or for humanitarian reasons), and think we should increase our humanitarian intake too. Though SAP do seem to have a range of social justice and environmental policies, so I am amenable to the idea of them being on the cross-bench. Overall, interesting points.

  2. DS

    Where does the 30M value come from? At present I’ve earmarked SAP for around the middle of the ballot, even though i like a lot of their policies, because increased population density is more important than controlling the actual population numbers if the goal is to maximise quality of life while minimising individual impacts. While it’d be difficult to market, it might make more sense to talk about population-equivalent-units or something like that, i.e. 30M at today’s rate of per-capita consumption/density = 50M with better policies?

    • Maz Weaver

      SAP bases its numbers on a couple of reports that looked at sustainability in relation to Australia’s population. I was unable to directly access the reports.

  3. Robert Rendell

    Thank you so much for picking up the torch for Cate! I was very upset when I read she had died, although not as upset as I’m sure the people who actually knew her were. Her write-ups of the weird and (occasionally) wonderful political hopefuls each election were a source of information and joy… much more palatable than actually reading the websites of the candidates unfiltered! She will be missed.

    I guess for the sake of actually saying something about this post in particular: “in fact, employers are complaining that they cannot attract enough workers.” I presume that’s the SAP’s point? Employers are complaining that they cannot attract works at the rates they’re used to offering. The bargaining power of workers have historically improved when they are hard to come by.

    • Maz Weaver

      The problem is complex. A major factor, though, is that Australia is currently at near-full employment, but there are still many jobs – skilled and unskilled – that are unfilled. Skills shortages form part of that, as does the fact that adults tend to move away from lower paid jobs if they possibly can. SAP’s policy doesn’t account for us simply not having enough working age people without immigration.

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