Continuing in the spirit of Cate Speaks

Australian Labor Party

Summary

Website: www.alp.org
Social Media: FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube
Previous Names: none
Slogans: A Better Future
Medicare, Childcare, Aged Care, Labor Cares
Themes: We do hold a hose
Electorates: Upper House: All
Lower House: All
Preferences: A mixed bag. Greens get the coveted number 2 spot in most states. Tasmania directs preferences to Jacquie Lambie Network, and ACT to David Pocock. The next preference changes depending on the state: Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party in Victoria; Shooters Fishers and Farmers in NSW; Animal Justice in Queensland, SA, and WA; Greens in Tasmania and ACT; and Liberal Democrats in NT.
Previous Reviews: 2019201820142013

Policies & Commentary

Let’s face it, you’re probably all sick of hearing about the major parties’ policies by now, having to put up with ads everywhere, from your TV to your phone to every possible billboard and fence space if you happen to live in Kooyong. I know I am. We’re five weeks in, and the remaining week of the campaign promises to be wall-to-wall coverage. Deep breath. We can make it.

So, instead of going through a full review of the Australian Labor Party (hereafter referred to as Labor) platform – which should be pretty familiar by now, I thought I’d fact-check some of the claims being made about their key policies, and highlight a few areas that haven’t had a lot of publicity. Hopefully, this can cut through the spin from both major parties and get to what these promises are really all about.

Let’s kick off with some that are less well-known. First up, the ABC and SBS. There’s a lot of talk on social media about ABC showing right-wing bias lately, and I have to say, it’s not all oversensitivity on people’s parts. Put into context, though, that behaviour reveals itself as stemming directly from the campaign conducted against the ABC by successive Coalition governments, that have threatened privatisation, cut funding, and hauled ABC management up before Senate Committees to be screamed at for left-wing bias. Labor’s pointed to this political interference, and linked it directly to funding. It proposes to fund the ABC and SBS for five years at a time, instead of the current three. The idea is that with longer funding periods, the national broadcasters will be better able to plan for the future, set up productions, and innovate. It’s also a very effective way of separating them from the election cycle, which Labor says will go a long way towards countering political interference and using the threat of funding cuts to force ideological changes. It’s not going to stop the Senate Committee farces, but it will give both ABC and SBS more scope to focus on production of local content beyond news, as well as improve its ability to reach out to remote Australia.

The Education policy starts off with a Schools Upgrade Fund, earmarked for the specific purpose of making schools more Covid-safe through better ventilation, outdoor classrooms, and the like. Apart from the obvious public health benefit, this fund would see public schools receive the same amount of funding as private for new buildings and facilities. Given the current staggering and, in my opinion, indefensible imbalance, it’s long past time that public schools were given the support they need.

For tertiary education, Labor promises fee-free TAFE for those who want to undertake courses in which there are identified skills shortages, as well as 20,000 new university places. These areas include teaching, health care, and new energy. Crucially, the university policy includes a promise to prioritise groups that are historically marginalised – people in the regions, First Nations, and people who are the first in their families to study at this level. For those wishing to undertake apprenticeships, Labor has promised $100 million to train and support apprentices in new energy jobs.

The last area I want to highlight before moving on to the headline policies is Labor’s Disability policy. This ranges from motherhood statements about support to proposals that might seem pretty micro in comparison – but which can make all the difference for those who live with disability every day. There’s a promise to overhaul the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and ye gods is this overdue. People like to talk about the “cost blow-out” of the NDIS, but what’s generally not known is that the bulk of this expenditure isn’t making it to the participants. The National Disability Insurance Agency spends a huge amount on legal fees to fight participants who are appealing cuts to their plans (or being rejected altogether, often on quite spurious grounds). Labor wants an Expert Review to oversee plans and ensure that any cuts made are not unfair, as well as a doubling of support for advocates who assist participants with their appeals.

One NDIS policy in particular stands out. Labor proposes to put ”people with disability at the centre of the Scheme and includes families, carers, service providers and workers”. Those who have lived experience have a unique perspective that just can’t be adequately represented by health care providers or even advocates, and certainly not by bureaucrats. Nowhere is that more obvious than with the NDIS. The idea that Labor is recognising this and proposes to build it into the scheme is incredibly encouraging.

Labor has recognised that NDIS participants are not the only, nor even the majority, of people with disability in Australia, and proposed additional policies to benefit them. That’s something that often gets overlooked by both politicians and the media. It’s hard to get access to the NDIS; many people try, and give up in despair as they’re blocked and bullied and belittled by bureaucracy. Many others just can’t qualify, no matter what they do. Having a party recognise this is a welcome change, but also a pretty damning indictment on the majority who don’t.

A Disability Employment Service is on the agenda, as well as a National Autism Strategy. On the “micro” level, there’s a pledge to co-fund ”Changing Places” – accessible public toilets for those with high support needs – in 400 Local Government Areas that do not currently have such facilities. This proposal might seem like a small thing, but put yourself in the place of someone who would dearly love to be able to go out and engage in activities that are taken for granted, but can’t do it simply because there’s nowhere they can go to the toilet. This extends much further than simply whacking a wheelchair symbol on existing public toilets – many of those do not have doors wide enough to accommodate mobility aids, require impossibly tight turning circles to even line up with a door, or have inward opening doors with handles that can’t be reached. It’s embarrassing, frustrating, and humiliating for a person with disability – I speak from experience. That Labor has a policy to address this problem speaks to how deeply they have investigated the question of disability as a whole.

Let’s move on now to the “big name” policies. Housing is very much in the headlines right now, so let’s start with that.

Labor has several initiatives here. It promises 20,000 new social housing units, 10,000 affordable homes for essential workers (such as those in health-care), housing for homeless veterans, and $100 million to go towards crisis housing for those at risk of violence. That’s all pretty straightforward. More social housing is desperately needed, and Labor’s policy is more or less in line with that of the Coalition. It’s still not enough, but at least it’s there.

Then there’s the ”Help to Buy” scheme, and here’s where the fact-checking and myth busting starts.

Simply put, the scheme works like this: each financial year, a maximum of 10,000 people would have the opportunity to enter into a shared equity scheme that would enable them to buy a home. To qualify, you’ll need to be a citizen, earn less than $90,000 as a single person (or $120,000 as a couple), live in the home, have it as your sole property, and have a 2% deposit saved and finance lined up. The government would then contribute 40% of the purchase price for a new home, or 30% for an existing one.

Once in the home, you’d have the opportunity to either buy out the government’s stake over time, or pay it back when you eventually sell. And if your income rises above the qualifying threshold for two consecutive years, you’d be asked to pay back the government contribution in whole or part “as … circumstances permit”.

Hopefully that’s pretty clear. The scheme is very similar to those currently operating in Victoria and Western Australia.

Now here are the claims being made by opponents about the policy. I’m going to leave out the purely ideological rubbish being thrown around about totalitarian interference and government oppression, blah blah blah, and just look at those which have some substance to actually debate.

Claim: This will make housing prices skyrocket.

In any incentive scheme, there is a danger of inflating and overheating the market. That’s something you simply can’t get away from. It can, however, be mitigated through restrictions in the scheme itself. Unlike other home ownership initiatives both past and current on offer for this election, “Help to Buy” has a series of caps aimed at controlling that inflationary effect. There’s the limited number of places each year, the qualifying income threshold, and the upper limit on property prices that can be funded (for example, $850 for a property in Melbourne or regional centres of Victoria). This last, particularly, works in favour of limiting price rises. There’s no gain for vendors in inflating prices, as doing so would quickly price them right out of potential sales. So will this scheme stop price rises? No. But it will limit them.

Verdict: Alarmist and overblown.

Claim: The government will own your house. You’ll have to pay rent. It could sell your house and you couldn’t do anything about it. You won’t be able to paint a wall without government permission.

The government would have a stake in your house. Of course it would – that’s what shared equity means. Labor has made it clear, however, that this would not allow it to simply sell it out from under you, nor does it mean that you can’t decide how you might redecorate or renovate. There is no requirement to seek permission for this from anyone except local planning authorities. Paint the damn walls in neon pink and green stripes if you want – the government can’t stop you. On the other hand, your partner or housemate might have something to say about it.

You also wouldn’t be required to pay any form of rent. You can, if you wish, start to buy out the government’s stake, but it’s not compulsory.

Verdict: Misleading to an almost criminal degree.

Labor’s shared equity scheme is aimed squarely at the lower middle class of Australian income earners, who are currently in a situation where they have little to no chance of owning a home. It’s relatively modest – you won’t be getting a Harbour-side apartment in Sydney or a mansion in Toorak – and restricted to minimise impact on housing prices as far as possible. It won’t usher in a Communist dystopia, and it might just help a significant number of people to exit the rent trap.

The other headline policy area I want to look at from Labor is on Climate Change. It’s promising to: exempt lower priced electric vehicles from import tariffs and Fringe Benefit Taxes; install 400 community solar batteries to encourage uptake of solar by households; and allocate $20 billion to rebuild and modernise the national power grid to integrate renewables. There is an emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 and net zero by 2050, and a crucial part of that is actually setting pollution limits on the existing Safeguards Mechanism.

Claim: Labor is prepared to sacrifice the Great Barrier Reef to keep big miners happy.

Labor has an entire program that specifically addresses the needs of the Reef. This includes working with farmers on more efficient fertiliser use and precision farming, investing in research on thermal-tolerant corals that may be able to resist bleaching events, protection for Reef animals from poaching and plastic pollution, expand the Crown of Thorns culling program, fund local research into the Reef’s ongoing needs, and continue the Reef 2050 Plan (slated to end in 2023), doubling its funding. More generally, there is a proposal to double the number of Indigenous Rangers.

Now, given that Labor is also supporting new coal mines, there is a question to be raised here as to what extent it’s undermining its own commitments to addressing climate change. Labor’s caveat is that it would only approve mines that could ”stack up” both commercially and environmentally, but detail is very light on what this actually means in terms of mitigating damaging environmental effects. Where the Reef is specifically concerned, though, there’s been no evidence brought forward to suggest that coal mines in particular would contribute enough to be a significant cause of its destruction. And the multi-million dollar investment into preservation and repair of the Reef is hardly consistent with the idea that Labor is fine with “sacrificing” it.

Verdict: Hyperbole, but more evidence needed.

Claim: Labor is introducing a “carbon tax by stealth”. This will be massively destructive to Australia’s economy.

This one is all about the Safeguards Mechanism which was established by the Coalition government, and Labor’s proposal to set pollution limits. Briefly, this scheme was supposed to encourage polluting industries to clean up their act and invest in cleaner technology and energy use: however, the Coalition has never set a limit on how much pollution could be generated, and there is no penalty scheme. Since its establishment, emissions from the biggest carbon polluters have increased by 7%. Labor wants to add caps on pollution that would gradually become lower over time, to incentivise these polluters to make the switch to cleaner practices or invest significantly in carbon offsets. Along with the cap would be a penalty system.

This is, effectively, a price on carbon, something economists have widely backed as economically efficient. What it’s not is a tax, and saying it is won’t make it so. At its base, it’s the same mechanism brought in by the Coalition, but Labor is proposing to give it teeth – in other words, to do what it was supposed to do in the first place. Does it go far enough? Probably not. Labor’s set up programs to encourage farmers and others to engage in selling climate offsets, and supporting development of clean energy and industry, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough. The Safeguard Mechanism is only one part of a wider, fairly ambitious Climate Change strategy, however, and should be viewed in that context

Verdict: Baseless scare-mongering.

Contrary to the assertions of some media commentators, Labor is not a policy-free zone this election, nor is it playing it safe by only having small ideas. There’s nothing small about its Aged Care platform; Labor is proposing no less than a complete overhaul of the way these facilities are run, with an emphasis on capping fees and making providers accountable for every dollar of federal funding they spend. It’s calling for nurses on duty all the time, better and more nutritious food for residents, and a pay rise for aged care workers.

Claim: There are not enough nurses to have someone on duty 24/7. We would have to import nurses through immigration.

This has been countered by those who already work in the sector, and by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, who have said that the problem is not a shortage of nurses. Rather, it’s a combination of underpayment and underemployment. I leave as an exercise for the reader the question of how much of that can be laid at the door of individual providers, and how much points to under-funding. Pay rises and the promise of more hours would attract nurses back to the sector, and Labor’s education policies address the problem of renewing the workforce as older nurses retire.

And if so happens that we do need to attract nurses from other countries to help with any shortfall – is that really such a bad thing?

Verdict: Just not true.

The last area I want to look at for Labor is its suite of policies for Women.

Claim: Women have been forgotten this election.

Labor has a commitment to close the gender pay gap. To do this it wants to pass legislation that will prohibit pay secrecy clauses and compel companies with more than 250 employees to publicly report their particular gap. There is also a pledge to set the example by addressing the pay gap in the Australian Public Service.

On the ugly subject of workplace sexual harrassment, Labor has promised to implement all recommendations of the Respect@Work report, and to pass legislation that would make employers ”have a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation, as far as possible”. Along with this are proposals to set up Women’s Centres to provide advice and support, and a separate department within the Human Rights Commission to deal with the issue.

I’ve already mentioned the crisis housing policy. Although not limited to women, the fact is that it’s still mostly women who suffer from family violence, so it’s fair to include it here. Likewise Labor’s childcare policy, which would see cheaper and more accessible childcare.

And on women’s safety in general, here’s a sample of Labor’s policies; a Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner; 500 community support workers; funding to implement age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education; and a separate First Nations national plan to address the issue of family violence.

Is this enough? No. Hell, no. Labor could have committed to upskilling training to assist women to achieve upper management positions. It could have pledged to not only have 50% representation of women in Parliament, but also on its front bench. Addressing the fact that women usually have far less superannuation on retirement, and therefore are less able to support themselves, would have been nice to see. And I could go on. There’s so much still left to do to correct the historically less privileged position of women, especially women of colour and women with disability.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that women have not been left out of Labor’s thinking this election.

Verdict: Incorrect, but could do better.

So there you have it. A sampling of Labor’s less well-known policies, and some fact-checking on the headliners. I hope this provides you with a bit of clarity amid all the spin. In summary, there are some really solid policies here that appear to be the result of considerable thought and research. It’s not enough, and there are questions to be answered about inconsistencies between Labor’s commitment to both tackling climate change and supporting the mining industry, but on the whole, these policies manage to straddle a fairly uncomfortable line without ripping apart at the seams. (Dear me, what a terrible metaphor).

I encourage you to take a look at the entire platform, because there’s a lot more there to be found.


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 🙂

4 Comments

  1. Benjamin Cronshaw

    Very detailed article about some of the policies and some thorough fact-checking! Very much appreciated when looking at Labor, as a major party (and hence subject to a good degree of scrutiny).

  2. DS

    I was disappointed that of Labor’s five Victorian senate candidates, three don’t appear on their website.

  3. KD

    If you are looking for info about the Labor party’s platform for the VIC 2022 elections, it’s not on the state Labor party website, not on the federal Labor party website, but on Dan Andrews’ website: https://www.danandrews.com.au/

    It’s taken me ages to find it, and in the end I had to ask a friend who is running for state Labor. So hopefully this saves you a few extra minutes of frustrated googling.

    • Loki

      Thank you so much for that. What an odd choice on their part. I mean, I get why it should be on Dan’s page, but it really ought to be on the state party site too.

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