The recent Victorian election delivered Victorian Labor the third biggest victory in the history of Victorian parliamentary democracy (the 2002 election was the biggest victory). Despite the Liberals spending more money on campaign promises and with the state Opposition leader performing media stunt after media stunt, Labor triumphed.
The major reason for this success was because Labor’s campaign concentrated heavily on families and on meeting their needs - especially concerning issues such as health and education.
While Victorian Labor is now firmly positioned as the “party of the family”, at a federal level it is obvious that the Liberals take that position. And this can explain the Liberals' success under John Howard. But under Kevin Rudd leadership, the focus of Labor looks set to change.
If you look at Kevin Rudd’s speeches over the past few months, you can see that in his time as shadow minister for foreign affairs and trade, he not only spent time discussing foreign policy, but also devoted considerable effort to addressing the need for a new domestic policy agenda and laying the foundations for his leadership of federal Labor and, possibly, Australia.
One particular focus of his has been to address a major tension that exists in societies such as Australia. That is the tension between family life and the demands of a modern, dynamic economy, which is a common aspect of liberal free market democracies.
This tension, which I also discussed in a previous article in On Line Opinion, is a consequence of the fact that modern, dynamic economies demand flexibility. This flexibility has often meant Australians working longer and harder than ever before. And this has meant that working Australians have less time to spend with their families.
Given the Liberals' introduction of the WorkChoices reforms, it is evident that they seek to further increase this tension. Why else would they introduce legislation that enables penalty and overtime rates to be cut and makes it easier for employers to demand that employees work on weekends?
This shows that the Liberals are turning their heads away and not listening to what families want. Families want stability and predictability. They want to know that if they plan ahead to spend time together on the weekend, their employer won’t be able to require them to spend that time at work instead. And they want to know that if they do work additional hours, or weekends, that they will be properly compensated through penalty and overtime rates.
But they also want other things that the Federal Government currently ignores, which, given its massive budget surpluses, it could comfortably afford to provide. Families want to be able to visit a bulk-billing doctor at short notice and close to their home. They want to be able to take time off work to have a baby, and to have paid parental leave in order to be able to take time off work to care for a new baby and still continue to pay the mortgage off. They want to be able to put their children into childcare and then kindergarten once they return to work, without needing to go on a waiting list and then have to pay massive fees.
And this is where Kevin Rudd and Labor can fill the void.
Labor needs to transform itself into a party that listens to families, in contrast to a Federal Government that is ignoring families when it comes to many of their basic needs. And in doing so, the ALP needs to focus on developing policies that help meet these basic needs.
They obviously need to abolish the WorkChoices reforms given their impact on working families, and develop a completely new alternative industrial relations system.
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Krystian Seibert is a public policy professional based in Melbourne. He has worked as a policy adviser to two Australian Ministers and studied regulatory policy at the London School of Economics.