Don’t look back
The era of Keating and Howard is done
With Paul Keating endorsing Bill Shorten, and John Howard endorsing Tony Abbott, it’s beginning to feel like we are back in the ’90s, as though nothing’s changed. This is concerning, because both these distinguished former prime ministers ducked the key challenge facing Australia this century – climate change. It will be a positive thing when Australia finally stops harking back to the supposed golden era of reform from 1983 to 2007, which in broad terms began with Labor’s embrace of economic rationalism and ended with the Coalition’s GST and WorkChoices. Climate aside, the seeds of today’s worsening inequality – not to mention the recession we had to have and the global financial crisis – were sown right there and, at the very least, the legacy of those trickle-down decades is now very much open to question. As Rebecca Huntley argues in her masterful Quarterly Essay, Australia Fair, the so-called third way turned out to be a dead end. Here’s hoping that a Shorten government, if elected on Saturday, really does put fairness back at the heart of Labor’s agenda.
Labor will need to put fairness first because all the signs are that Australia is heading into a period of economic vulnerability. Veteran business journalist Robert Gottliebsen today predicts [$] that a worsening trade war will lead to a China slowdown, leading to a mining downturn here, and property slump caused by a drop in foreign students, compounded by Labor’s negative gearing reforms. We don’t have to be quite so bearish, but as the sharemarket drops today it is natural to worry – particularly in the wake of the RBA’s gloomy statement on Friday, which downgraded growth forecasts. All those pre-election outlook figures may soon prove unreliable, and an incoming Labor government will come under immediate pressure to ease up on the reform agenda it has spelled out and costed so carefully over the last 18 months or more.
The market worries underscore that Labor is right to try to build up bigger surpluses before pursuing expensive, radical tax cuts. Shorten this morning signalled that Labor, if elected, would write to the Fair Work Commission on day one, which shows that Shorten’s eye is on the main game and the “referendum on wages” was not just a slogan.
Keating is a Labor hero but Shorten doesn’t need his praise. If we’re going to look backwards, perhaps we should look back further: if you look at income inequality, the Menzies years – which Keating once dismissed as the “Rip Van Winkle” years – were a golden era. Perhaps it is time to reassess the economic policy ingredients of Australia’s long postwar boom: higher taxes, higher unionisation, higher tariffs, falling inequality… What’s not to like?
“When your house is on fire, you don’t break open the gas main next door. Even if most of the gas is exported, fracking leaks so much toxic methane into the atmosphere that this project will be a giant taxpayer-funded carbon bomb.”
“[Port Arthur looked] like an operation designed for psychological manipulation of the general population … There is only one sure thing in my mind – Bryant didn’t do it and so a great crime on the Australian people was committed.”
“I have been clear about the information provided on which we have examined the responses, and been careful about not being categoric about the degree [to which] these responses will satisfy the recommendations (the devil is in the detail that we do not have).”
CSIRO water research director Warwick McDonald, in an email obtained by the ABC, tries not to give a categorical response to Adani’s groundwater management plan. The correspondence has raised questions about the government’s account of the events that led to the mine’s approval.
“Two years ago this month, a marathon period of legal and civics work was about to reach its climax in a proposal that could change Australia at its core ... The Uluru Statement from the Heart has often been mistaken for poetry, and it certainly can inspire, as the best manifestos do, but it sprouts from the fire-readied seeds of significant public policy reform.”
“It was in 1975 that the Murdoch bias against the Labor government finally pushed the dictatorial mogul’s journalists over the edge; they jacked up and went on strike. In the wake of the sacking of Gough Whitlam’s government, the election was bound to be bitter and fraught. But the blatant dishonesty of the coverage in the Murdoch media ... proved it had abandoned any pretence of objectivity. Every story had to be anti-Labor ... Remind you of anything?”
“Shorten believes he is as ready as anyone can be for the nation’s highest elected office, having spent six years in the role he says offers the best training. ‘You’re tested, you’re scrutinised, you learn, it gives you thinking time,’ he said. ‘In the modern digital era, with media concentration, it is not for the fainthearted. But I never thought I’d say this – I wouldn’t swap a day of it.’”
“Betting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on a myopic, expensive and backward-looking network based on copper, as the Coalition has done – while the world was moving away from copper and embracing optical fibre – was a huge miscalculation. It was not driven by a sophisticated analysis of the best technology choices for Australia’s NBN, but by ideology and politics.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
With Paul Keating endorsing Bill Shorten, and John Howard endorsing Tony Abbott, it’s beginning to feel like we are back in the ’90s, as though nothing’s changed. This is concerning, because both these distinguished former prime ministers ducked the key challenge facing Australia this century – climate change. It will be a positive thing when Australia finally stops harking back to the supposed golden era of reform from 1983 to 2007, which in broad terms began with Labor’s embrace of economic rationalism and ended with the Coalition’s GST and...