25 May, 2019

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Australian Labor Party (ALP) Might Show A New Direction? 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

“The choice for you, the choice for our country, is clear. It can be more of the same – or a change for the better.”    Bill Shorten 

Does Australia need change? This is the key issue at the forthcoming federal elections to be held finally on the 18th May, and even before during the ongoing pre-polling. Already over a million out of 16.4 million registered voters have cast their decision. 

The voters would be fundamentally voting on this issue of change, directly or indirectly, weighing the pros and cons of party policies, platforms and promises put forward by the two main players, the incumbent Liberal National Party (LNP) and the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP).  

The leadership or the leadership style also might play a role in the choice between the ‘same versus change’ scenarios.     

Same versus Change   

Australia is one of the most enlightened democratic systems with compulsory voting after the age of 18. However overtime, the confidence in the system has deteriorated because of meaningless leadership struggles, personalities taking over policies, the neglect of the needy and vulnerable, and relative deterioration of political ethics. Percentage of satisfaction has deteriorated from 80% in 2008 to 40% in 2018. (Museum of Australian Democracy). 

Since the nominations for the present elections on 23 April, five candidates have had to withdraw from the contest, after exposing their unethical or unprincipled positions and pronouncements. This reveals not a weakness but the strength of the overall working of the democratic pressure. Among the average voter, there is a tendency to move towards credible independent candidates for similar reasons.     

Therefore, it is not merely a government change that the voters would be considering this time, but policy change and a change in future directions. This has given a slight edge towards the Labor in my observation, apart from my liking for Labor policies. 

If the LNP wins as in the case of past two elections in 2016 and 2013, the same neoliberal policies would continue, with some new promises and minor changes. Only the leader, Scott Morrison and some others are new, yet with old hats. And if the opposition Labor wins, it appears that there would be some fundamental changes to economic policies, social welfare and particularly climate change targets. 

Labor is promising to reduce emissions that pollutes the environment by 45 percent by 2030, and zero pollution by 2050. If those are achieved, undoubtedly Australia would become a great futurist nation, and an exemplary icon for other nations. The Liberals are not only sceptical about those climate change targets, but ask about a cost-benefit analysis saying that it is not achievable or perhaps not necessary. 

That is why a Liberal win at the elections would result in the same old story of environmental pollution and natural disasters.  

Class Issues 

There are ‘class issues’ that have emerged during the election campaign. The Labor claims that the Liberals are catering, by and large, to only the ‘top end’ of society. Tax concessions to multinationals, tax cuts to big business, misplaced ‘negative gearing’ and ‘franking credit’ are the examples. The Liberal argument is that these are necessary for ‘capital accumulation’ and further strengthening of the economy. 

When the Labor leader, Bill Shorten says, ‘A Fair Go for Australians,’ the Liberal leader, Scott Morrison, says ‘A Fair Go for Who Have a Go.’ 

The latter is actual words of Morrison in several public pronouncements that I have heard. Even if he means to encourage who are ‘investing, entrepreneurial or hardworking,’ it obviously neglects the vulnerable, helpless and the needy. 

Touting of purely a free-market or a neoliberal capitalist system are the major planks of the Liberals. Under a such system, unfortunately all are not fairly placed even in finding gainful employment, let alone investing or starting businesses. What are available at present are mostly causal jobs and thus one has to obtain at least two jobs just to  make the day to day ends meet. 

I have a neighbour who goes in his car in full suit for a security job, and then on some nights he takes his motorcycle attired in a peculiar dress for a food delivery job. This is a general pattern. The young woman whom we see at the counter of our family doctor’s medical centre, some days appear at the Coles supermarket as a sales girl. 

The Liberals promise that they would create 1.25 million new jobs over the next five years. That may be genuine. But what kind of jobs is the question? Would they be stable? Would they give the young or the old a living wage with some stability? These are the questions at this elections, among other longer term and fundamental issues pertaining to climate change, renewable energy and sustainable development, that people are weighing. 

We have a known Sri Lankan family whose son has graduated with a degree in health sciences but after applying for 70 jobs, only for 5 he has been invited for interviews. Those are of course for stable and professional jobs. There are many other known stories of graduates finding it difficult to find stable employment. Most of the graduates are left with unstable and temporary jobs as a result. 

During the last five years, the profits of companies have increased by nearly 40 percent. But wage increases are below 5 percent, mostly through formal increments in the public sector, while wages in many sectors have just stagnated. This is why that some sort of class polarization has emerged, among other election issues, this time at the federal elections.    

Continuity and Change 

All democratic countries need continuity and change. In the case of Australia, there are no fundamental controversies about the constitution, electoral system, national security, foreign policy or democracy versus authoritarianism. Except in random cases, there are no major threats of terrorism in the country either. The security commitments on the part of both parties are more or less the same. These are mainly the results of bipartisan policies developed through ‘give and take’ and building consensus. 

In the case of border security and ‘boat people,’ the ALP appeared quite lenient before 2013. Through experience however, they have openly changed policies while keeping humanitarian concerns of the refugees in mind – particularly of the sick, children and women. Border security is something on which many countries require stable bipartisan policies considering the volatile international circumstances and global terrorism.  

Even during the present election campaign, the two parties appear to absorb each-others positive policies although in uneven terms. When the Liberal Party promised to expand on the pharmaceutical benefit scheme (PBS), the Labor quickly absorbed it. However, the Liberals apparently cannot do so on the broader health front or in education, given the costs involved, as they say. 

During the last debate between the two leaders, Morrison and Shorten, on 8 May at the Press Club, the latter asked the former whether the Liberals would agree to extended the concessions that the Labor has offered to cancer patients to get rid of enormous out of pocket expenses. The answer of Morrison was that they would consider, if the figures are available! Liberals appear to obsessed with accountancy and not policies. 

What the Australian people are most detesting is the policy changes ‘back and forth’ when governments change at periodic elections. This is not good for stability or forward planning both on the part of the country and the people. Perhaps this elections might show a breakthrough.

New Directions 

The vision of the present Labor, exemplarily united as a team compared to Liberals, is not just to turn back the clock to pre-2013 period (Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd) or even pre-1996 period (Bob Hawk and Paul Keating), but to move beyond in constructing a fairer society to all Australians. As the ceremonial campaign launched in Brisbane showed, the present Labor has all the blessings of all past leaders and PMs, Bob Hawk, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. 

The Labor has given a fair share for women in the leadership, shadow cabinet and party organization. 

Under the present circumstances, the Labor is giving priority to the needs and aspirations of the working and the middle classes. The middle class however means even the small businesses and entrepreneurs. There are vast incentives offered to small businesses, including tax concessions. Bill Shorten declared that a fairer society means win-win solutions even for the big businesses or multinationals, if they pay fair taxes, use renewable energy, and work for a better society with social conscience. 

This is the first time in the Western world, after some catastrophic practices of neoliberalism since late 1980s, that a labour or a social democratic party attempting to reverse the world trends, not just to go back to welfare-state of pre-1980s, but to look beyond and construct a fairer and a caring society for all humans living in a particular territory. The British Labour, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbin, is also set to go in similar directions when the British elections are on in May 2022, if not before. 

If the Labor wins at the forthcoming elections, it would be significant not only for Australia, but for the world at large.      

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Uncle, we are not yet done with Lanka yet.

  • 1
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    The author’s personal preference seems to be Labor at the 18th May poll. Both parties (ie Labor and Liberal) have had similar policies on several key issues even from the time of Bob Hawke or Malcolm Fraser. Economic hardships and unemployment being high when corporate profits have increased by 40% (author’s figures) shows the deterioration of human values in the face of unbridled greed. While capitalism and socialism in a peculiar mix practiced in Aussie has worked rather well in the past, the future for workers looks bleak as automation and sophistication eats into the need for workers to operate companies’ workforce.

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    In a Parliamentary Democracy, usually two political parties periodically win elections and govern and In fact in such countries there exists only two major political parties and all other parties become marginal and irrelevant.

    The two political parties come to power at alternate elections.

    Over a period, polices of these parties begin to converge and ultimately indistinguishable.
    People lose interest in elections and as in Australia the people have to be obliged to vote and declare to be super democratic state and Dr Laksiri Fernando dreams the day when Sri Lanka could follow suit!

    Dr Laksiri Fernando is proud to claim that he supports Labor in Australia.

    It is only because in his home country, he traditionally supported the SLFP believing that It Is leftwing and SLFP had achieved this distinction by swallowing the then left and made them
    non—existent.

    UNP and SLFP follows inwardly identical neo-liberal polices but outwardly claiming to be dissimilar by mouthing different slogans

    • 0
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      A response to Sri-Krish:
      Sri Lanka needs a social democratic party and the SLFP is not that. A social democratic (labour) party can emerge through the existing left parties, but a new vision and unity are necessary. There can be other or parallel possibilities that I will explain later.
      It is not correct to say, ‘he (to mean I) traditionally supported the SLFP.’ In 1964 as a youth league member in Moratuwa, I broke away from the old LSSP to form the LSSP (R) with Edumund and Bala on the issue of the coalition with the SLFP, and maintained those positions when I was active in politics until around 1980. I left active politics thereafter and served (or tried to serve!) as an independent academic since then. In this independent capacity, I have been airing several and different positions considering the progressive and democratic evolution of the Sri Lankan socio-economic and political system, whatever the errors I may have done in the process.
      Yes, during the recent SLFP-SLPP spilt, I expressed the view that perhaps a visionary leader/s or activists could infiltrate the SLFP and perhaps could direct that into a social democratic direction. The split or the present SLFP has this capacity/opening I still believe. Unfortunately, no one has done that except some academics coming into prominence. The reason to air that view was the opportunity opened up as a result of the SLFP crisis and the distancing of the family grip. This may remain the same today to an extent. I was advocating an ‘entry tactic.’ That is more feasible and better than going behind Ranil and the UNP and serving neoliberalism like some of our friends do!

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    My response

    Dr Laksiri Fernando, You claim in your main article that, “Even during the present election campaign, the two parties appear to absorb each-others positive policies although in uneven terms “clearly claiming that the two political parties in Australia converging on polices .

    it is not due to any strange trait of the leaders, but inevitably due to due to the dynamics of two party parliamentary democracy.

    This is what is happening to UNP and SLFP in Sri Lanka.

    This not news.

    In 1960. When NM faction of LSSP decided to join with SLFP, The Samarakody faction broke away from LSSP and formed LSSP (R ).

    The class character of UNP and SLFP were well articulated and the stand of Edmund has been historically validated.

    What was true then is true even today.

    Then why oh why you who had supported Edmund line then decided to betray him later.

    Obviously you will not claim all of them were dead and gone.

    Then it is the dynamics of the two party system!

    How long will JVP keep away from this temptation is the question?.

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      Sri-Krish,
      First, if you go through my article carefully, I have not said that the ‘policies of two parties in Australia are converging.’ That is your invention! Quite the opposite this time, although there is ‘give and take.’ That is why I said the ‘Australian Labor Party might show a New Direction.’ What is this new direction? Moving away from the grips of neoliberalism and moving forward for more and more socialist or socialistic policies. What are the lessons for Sri Lanka? Yes, of course all parties including the JVP should have common ground on preserving and promoting democracy even with UNP. That is why I supported 2015 particularly the January change. This should not be the case in socio-economic policies of the UNP. Things like the Bond Scam, unbridled free trade, neglect of the poor and the rural, and supine submission to Western powers should be resisted.
      Second, you ask me why I opposed a collation with the SLFP in 1964, and why I have now changed? Short answer is ‘political reality.’ In 1964, absolutely there was no reason to form a coalition government with the SLFP, betraying the strongest ever working class movement in the country. What is the situation now? The socialist movement has to be rebuilt patiently and consistently with necessary strategies and tactics. Particularly after the formation of the SLPP or the SLFP split, there are possibilities for the Left including the JVP to work with the SLFP. If the LSSP and the CP go for a united front with the SLFP, it has more logic than tagging with the SLPP. If you are pursuing more on my personal matters (!) and/or on the past, my ‘association’ was during particularly CBK’s time. Whatever the weaknesses, she is a democrat with even social democratic views.

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