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Labor must decisively reject austerity in its policy outlook

By Tristan Ewins - posted Thursday, 18 February 2016

Bill Shorten has recently made some extremely positive policy announcements which should go down well with Labor supporters looking for leadership on important issues. The announcements on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions will save tens of billions over the course of a decade, and will go some way towards redressing the Federal deficit, while creating some room in the Budget for Gonski, the National Broadband Network, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor's strong endorsement of Gonski – implementing the final two years of the reforms amounting to almost $40 billion over 10 years – also seemed to indicate that Labor strategists were starting to learn their lesson.

But Shorten has disappointed recently as well. Recently - listening to the radio – I was concerned to hear Shorten mimicking the Conservative mantra on 'reducing government spending'. Sure this could be framed in the context of mainly reducing spending on superannuation concessions specifically (that would be a wise move – very smart politics) ; but the usual association is with cuts in social services and welfare. That must be clarified. And arguably there are several areas in which Labor must expand rather than contract spending if it wants to meet its social justice objectives.

We will consider this issue of austerity and 'smaller government' in this article ; but also we will consider Labor's existing suite of policies and where it must go from here.


Conservatives have long argued that Turnbull must "slash government spending". And now it seems Labor leader Bill Shorten might be arguing for the same. But where would that come from? The unemployed already live in such poverty it interferes with their ability to seek work.

The Disabled already experience poverty through no fault of their own.

Student poverty forces mainly young people to seek out work that actually prevents them from getting the most out of their study.

The Aged are forced to sell their houses to access sub-standard Aged Care even when they are from a working-class background. There are insufficient staff to resident ratios in Aged Care facilities ; and no regulations ensuring a registered nurse is always on the premises 24/7.

Waiting lists are out of control in public health ; and we have the threat of a permanently two-tiered Education system which disadvantages those unable to afford private schooling.

Mental health is neglected and many mentally-ill (hundreds of thousands of Australians) can expect to die 25 years younger on average. There has been virtually no progress here for over 30 years.


There is insufficient public money for infrastructure and privatisation passes on added costs that hurt the broader economy.

Public housing could increase demand and make housing affordable for more families.

So in fact more public money is needed – not less.

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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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