Friday, May 14, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Safety in small numbers
Labor pledges billions for housing (and not much else)

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese after delivering his budget reply speech last night. Image via Twitter

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese after delivering his budget reply speech last night. Image via Twitter

In last night’s budget reply, Labor leader Anthony Albanese laid out a number of admirable policies, in particular his headline-grabbing $10 billion social housing fund, but otherwise played it safe. The housing policy, which has today been praised by charities and advocacy groups, stands in contrast to what experts say is a major failure by the government to address the housing shortage in the budget, which pledges only $124.7 million over two years to address homelessness and affordable housing. But while Labor’s reply offered to make up for the government’s shortcomings on housing, it didn’t make the bolder financial commitments that are needed on aged care or disability services, welfare or climate change. It pledged money to build houses, but didn’t step in and offer to build quarantine facilities. Admittedly (and as the Opposition repeatedly reminds us), Labor is not in government, and the budget reply is not strictly meant as an “alternative budget”. But if Albanese can announce $10 billion in hypothetical government dollars for housing, why can’t he announce other investments? And if Labor wants to criticise the government, not for the debt but for the distribution of that debt, why do we still not know what it would do instead?

The consensus from the commentariat seems to be that Albanese has gone on the defensive, unwilling to announce too much extra spending or to become the next “Bill Australia can’t afford” in response to what is already an eye-wateringly huge spending budget (though totally still a Liberal one, the PM continued to insist at today’s post-budget lunch). Some have called Albanese’s speech a “campaign launch”, following the accepted wisdom that Josh Frydenberg’s budget was an “election budget”. And yet Australians are still very much in the dark on what Labor would do, having turfed out so much of its previous platform, from negative gearing to its 2030 emissions-reduction targets. Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers has in recent days claimed Labor can “spend money more effectively” than the Morrison government. But on what?

Albanese did announce a new energy apprenticeships program to train young people for the energy jobs of the future: 10,000 apprenticeships supported at $10,000 each (which, for those playing along at home, makes $100 million, not that he mentioned that figure). He also flagged a “plan” to help families and communities “play their part” in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. But he went nowhere near a pledge for the 2030 target we need to hear, nor did he pledge any other funds to get there. And despite constantly saying we need to expand our quarantine facilities (and again laying into the Morrison government for its failure to do so), Albanese did not pledge one cent for quarantine expansion. While the Labor leader did flag Bladin Village outside of Darwin, which “has the potential to house up to 1000 people and is currently being used to quarantine US Defence personnel”, he made no commitments to bring about an end to Fortress Australia by building the extra facilities necessary to bring all Australians home this year. He was afraid, no doubt, to put a figure on it (or to ruffle the feathers of the Australians who are enjoying their protective bubble).

Labor’s position here is a difficult one. It is unable to criticise the Liberal government’s “Labor-lite” budget for its big spending when most people assume it would go bigger. And it is afraid to actually say where it would go bigger lest the Murdoch media ­– suddenly full of praise for the “super spenders” – lash it for its recklessness. But what’s the point in being known as the bigger spenders (no matter what you say) if you don’t actually get to make the meaningful vote-courting pledges? The Liberal Party has positioned itself as Labor-lite this year, encroaching on ALP territory with its big services spending. The Opposition, unfortunately, looks to be trying to position itself as Labor-lite, too.

“Here’s a helpful suggestion for the IDF … Find a way to retaliate against rockets without killing kids.”

Former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr calls for Israel to stop killing Palestinian children, as current foreign affairs minister Marise Payne releases a statement calling for both sides to refrain from violence.

“Wage theft, unfortunately, was not able to be gotten through the Senate.”

Employment Minister Stuart Robert blames Labor for not being “constructive” on wage theft, despite the Liberal Party having withdrawn the universally supported provision outlawing wage theft when it didn’t get its way with its ill-fated IR bill.

Fighting racism in Australian sport
For Rana Hussain, being a young Muslim woman and an Aussie Rules fan was a tough match. But instead of turning away from the game, she forged a career fighting for inclusion and diversity. Today, Rana Hussain on the racism problem in Australian sport, and how to fight it.

Australians’ level of confidence in the federal government, down from 54.3 per cent in January, according to an ANU longitudinal survey. The results also show a decline in those who say they would vote for the Coalition, and in those satisfied with the direction of the country.

“The Greens want federal parliament to set up an independent commission of inquiry into Christian Porter’s fitness to be a minister and an allegation of sexual assault against him.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters plans to introduce a bill setting up an inquiry, led by a former judge, into the allegation against Christian Porter, given the allegation will not be directly tested in his defamation case against the ABC.

The list

“The latest government determined to scapegoat kids is Michael Gunner’s Labor administration in the Northern Territory. On Tuesday night this week, NT Labor – which controls the Territory’s single house of parliament – rushed through amendments that will make it much easier to incarcerate kids, and much harder for them to get bail … In practice, that will mean a lot more kids in the Territory’s two youth detention centres: Don Dale in Darwin and the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre.”

“The free-speech discourse of late is decoupled not just from the law but also from Australian history. The US history of racism is brutal, horrendous and unimaginable, yet well ventilated. The truth-telling is messy, difficult and ongoing. The legacy of white supremacy continues, and the country constantly grapples with racism in its many manifestations. Here in Australia, there is an agreeable, patrician silence. The progressivism displayed on so many social issues goes missing on matters of race. There has been no proper ventilation of our history, and I am not limiting this to Aboriginal history.”

“When it comes to abuse and violence experienced by women, the abuser is only part of the story. The second episode explores how the state also plays a role. Women who are further marginalised by race particularly encounter this problem. Aboriginal women experience violence at a rate 34 times higher than other women in Australia, but often end up being criminalised when we seek police assistance … Aboriginal women continue to be the fastest-growing prison population. We know there’s no justice.”

Your chance to win a double pass to see Alan Cumming

The Monthly invites readers to enter the draw for a chance to win a double pass to see Alan Cumming, courtesy of Frontier Touring. Up for grabs is one double pass for each city: Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Perth.

Call him a Renaissance man, provocateur, a bon vivant – Alan Cumming is a storyteller par excellence. Previously in Australia in 2017 for a sold-out run, the Olivier and Tony Award-winning icon returns with his latest creation: a joyful, mischievous cabaret production titled Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age.

Entries close at 11.59pm AEDT on Sunday, May 16, and the winners will be notified on Monday, May 17 via email.


Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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