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An agenda for Labor

By Tristan Ewins - posted Thursday, 22 February 2007


As Australia heads inexorably towards the next Federal election, there will be a host of issues confronting Kevin Rudd and his inner circle of shadow ministers and advisers.

Will the Australian Labor Party cave in to corporate interest on the issues of workers’ rights and collective bargaining, or will a new and comprehensive regime of minimum wages and conditions be established - which defends the right of collective bargaining and protected industrial action?

What kind of agenda will the ALP adopt on the question of tax reform: a plan to progressively restructure the system in favour of workers, the poor and the marginalised, or an agenda (maybe including a “flat tax”), which provides sweeping corporate tax cuts, and tax cuts at the upper end of the spectrum, while tightening public expenditure and welfare, and further crushing the aspirations of the needy?

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And what agenda will the ALP bring to the field of compulsory and tertiary education? Will Labor respond to demands for the establishment of a single, and most likely conservative national curriculum or will Labor work with the states to re-energise education, retain critical content and diversity in English and the humanities, and provide beneficial standardisation only where the states co-operate to achieve this end?

Many peak corporate bodies, including the Business Council of Australia, are concerned that any incoming Labor government not wind back the clock on industrial relations.

Additionally, they are interested that any development of infrastructure - which, incidentally, the BCA reasonably craves - be provided for by the public, and not through impositions on the corporate sector. The preference, here, from the finance capital sector will be for Public Private Partnerships: arrangements that do not “crowd out” private investment in public infrastructure - and which fleece the public for hundreds of millions of dollars.

From both major parties, the BCA will be looking for generous company tax cuts: and it will not care what forms of austerity for public programs and welfare accompany such largesse.

Does Labor accommodate such desires in order to avoid a business scare campaign, or should Rudd have the courage to put the public interest ahead of sectional business interest?

The key here is to dull any negative reaction by the business community by dividing it on the basis of posing as the only party willing to invest in the infrastructure necessary to the nation’s future competitiveness. The Coalition, as a consequence of its fiscal conservatism, and an ideological hostility to the development of public infrastructure, has proven itself incapable of this task. Many business leaders have already recognised that the neglect of Australia’s infrastructure has already reached crisis-point.

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Insofar as the business community benefits from this infrastructure, the corporate sector ought to be made to pay its fair share through the maintenance of Company Tax, and perhaps even the implementation of a new “infrastructure levy” of up to 4 per cent. Such reforms would still leave effective corporate tax rates lower than is the case in the United States.

From ports to rail, and from public transport to roads, water, health, aged care, energy and education infrastructure and services, Australia suffers from a lack of investment in these critical fields, impacting upon our overall economic performance.

The states, in particular, require additional grants from the Federal Government if they are to respond adequately to crises in public health, housing affordability and education. Additional tied state grants could also negate the demand for private toll roads and other inequitable means of infrastructure finance (i.e. varieties of “Public Private Partnerships”) - so long as State Labor governments were to overcome their irrational aversion to debt finance.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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