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Labor's predicament: an opinion

By Chris Lewis - posted Monday, 14 May 2012


Should we be too critical of Labor. After all, it could be argued that governance is now that much harder in this ultra-competitive economic environment made even more difficult by the ramifications of the global financial crisis (GFC).

But Labor has indeed lost the plot and many voters have ample reason to jump ship.

Yes, Labor has a great history. Inspired by trade unions many years ago, its willingness to take on the status quo helped make Australia a better society in many ways. By 1996, Labor's influence on the policy agenda was indicated by the Coalition also promising to retain the popular Medicare while giving greater consideration to environmental matters. In fact, the Howard-led Opposition even promised to spend more than Labor on the environment prior to the 1996 federal election, albeit that higher spending depended upon the sale of Telstra.

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But no one should live in the past. The demands of the 21st century demand that all major parties anticipate the difficulties ahead rather than mostly rely on short-term policy considerations.

Sure policy change occurs in a gradual way, and various players will utilise a given context to promote their interests. It has always been that way.

But political leadership must express a mastery of recent policy trends in order to provide an appropriate vision (or plan) for the future. Political leadership must be driven by individuals or parties that have the guts to call a spade a spade rather than rely on spin and live in hope.

The writing on the wall about the Western world's current predicament has long been evident. In the 2006 Boyer lectures the departing Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane noted the risk caused by our greater reliance upon the financial sector. In his words,"If a major financial shock were to occur, such as a large fall in share or property prices, the effect on the economy would be greater than in earlier years … it is likely that asset price booms and busts will be at least as common as during the past two decades, and that their effect on the economy will be larger".

But a few years after the GFC began, most Australians now realise that Labor is struggling to come to terms with the nation's needs.

While Labor tells us how its policies helped avoid a major economic recession after the GFC, and how it leads the developed world in terms of economic growth, most Australians know it has much to do with what Australia has in the ground and our exports to China.

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I ask this of Labor. Can they look into the eyes of Australians and say that they really understood and addressed the nation's major problems, including greater job insecurity and housing affordability.

Can Labor say to Australians we understand what is needed to make our economy more efficient, productive and prosperous?

I don't think so.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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