Monday, December 17, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

From little things ...
Labor confronts an enormous historical opportunity


Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s famous protest song was playing on a loop this morning as day two of the ALP’s National Conference got underway in Adelaide, with the announcement of a new reconciliation action plan, billed as the first to be presented by any major political party. If anything can lift the assembled delegates’ heads out of the political mire it is that song, accompanied by pictures of Vincent Lingiari with Labor giant Gough Whitlam: “A tall stranger appeared … and he came with great ceremony … and through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has spelled out the challenge of restoring public faith in politics, and Labor’s national conference in 2018 is about trying to raise Australia out of the morass, and drawing a line under a decade of political dysfunction. Today’s Ipsos poll points to an 18-seat landslide victory to Labor at the next election, leading by 54–46 in two-party terms, in line with last week’s Newspoll. Today’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) confirms a return to surplus in 2019–2020, and the $4-billion surplus will be twice as big as it was forecast in the May budget, and sets aside some $9 billion for what The Australian is calling [$] a “pre-election cash splash”, including tax cuts. It is better to be in surplus than in deficit, and even the deeply unpopular Morrison government will surely get some credit from the MYEFO and next year’s surplus budget.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was dubious in a presser this morning: “What we see in this economic update today, the government’s own update, is that growth is down, investment growth is down. Wages growth is down. Consumption growth is down. And the only thing that’s up is terms of trade. What the world is prepared to pay us for our commodities – the one thing which this government has absolutely no influence over is up.” Analysis by the Grattan Institute argues that the government has actually fallen short on fiscal consolidation: “An objective assessment of the government’s performance against its own key targets suggests its good news budget is more mirage than magnificent management.” Senator Murray Watt told Sky News the surplus would have happened under Labor.

It is hard to overstate the historic opportunity that stands before Labor now, with a budget in balance, both Coalition partners bitterly divided and even the Greens facing a possible split. In the AFR on the weekend, Phillip Coorey reprised [$] an all-time, off-record observation shared with him by a senior Labor figure during the woeful Rudd-Gillard years: “This is the Whitlam government. The next one will be the Hawke government.”

Backroom deals mean most issues are resolved before they get to the floor of the conference, with resolutions agreed unanimously, by acclamation. Nonetheless, it is clear from the speeches – and in between protests over Adani, closing the refugee camps and raising Newstart – that Labor is talking about real issues that matter to ordinary Australians, not abstract culture wars a million miles removed from everyday lives.

In addition to reconciliation, this morning’s agenda included deputy leader and education shadow Tanya Plibersek pledging to restore $14 billion in funding to public schools and fixing TAFE as part of a once-in-a-generation review of post-secondary education. Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese outlined an unashamedly economic nationalist transport policy, including a corridor for high-speed rail on the eastern seaboard, and ending the government war on shipping so that Australian-flagged vessels with Australian seafarers would ply Australian waters. MUA stalwart Paddy Crumlin lauded, “You’re a visionary, Albo”, and fired a shot at former energy minister Martin Ferguson for offshoring Australian oil refining to Singapore.

The work of the conference is real. In support of the Safe Rates campaign, the TWU’s Michael Kaine told delegates a true story that he has told often enough before, of Bunbury truck driver Paul Kershaw who was ordered to do a double shift, killed two men fixing a car by the side of the road, subsequently went to jail and committed suicide. The union’s Nick McIntosh said trucking was Australia’s deadliest industry by far and blamed the Turnbull government for abolishing the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal in 2016. He cited figures from a subsequent independent study showing that, had the tribunal been in place, 28 per cent fewer deaths would have occurred, meaning that roughly 139 lives would have been saved.

The Coalition has so far escaped any political accountability for the abolition of the RSRT. By comparison, after four tragic deaths as a result of the pink batts scheme, there was endless controversy and a royal commission.

Labor’s new policy, which will re-establish a similar tribunal, was voted up to loud cheers this morning.

since this morning

Nationals MP Andrew Broad, assistant minister to the deputy prime minister, has resigned from the frontbench after New Idea revealed the married politician was caught out using a website to meet younger women while he was away on work trips.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] that after Saturday’s announcement about recognising West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but not moving our embassy, Scott Morrison has pulled off the full disaster and offended all sides of the debate.

in case you missed it

A Liberal National Party staffer has been put on “indefinite leave” after texting an expletive-laden tirade to News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

The Ramsay Centre has found a home at the University of Wollongong for its controversial degree in Western civilisation.

by Jeff Sparrow
The Nation Reviewed
A Norfolk Island mutiny
Australia’s remote territory is agitating for autonomy

by Mungo MacCallum
Scott Morrison’s bad faith
The PM’s bill to protect religious freedom is a solution in search of a problem

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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