Sinclair Armour tell us how promoting Labor values can be put into policy practice.
Things have changed over the century since the formation of the Australian Labor Party. The older one gets the more it’s noticeable! It’s not a case of “things were better in the old days”, in fact it’s the reverse as many social equity issues have been addressed. Social safety nets, increasing affluence and the widespread adoption of a single economic model have bought about a convergence of policy offerings from the mainstream parties. Politics is now frequently differentiated by either the stand on marginal issues or increasingly on leadership personalities. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are opportunities to differentiate, to polarise viewpoints, to present the electorate with real and meaningful choices that build on the attributes of our lucky country and define its future as an increasingly decent society. Labor can re-write the rules and lead public debate with stories that move media attention from insider gossip to the important issues.
What is required is an organised, co-ordinated and consistent body of policy which can adapt over time as national circumstances change. It needs to be presented at both a rigorous detailed level to withstand professional critique and at a popular level in brief straightforward terms that all can understand. The themes of Labor Values need to stand out proudly and it is these themes, rather than the minutiae of policy clauses and organisational positioning, that need the formal support of party membership. The wider Australian public would then clearly understand at all times precisely what it is Labor stands for.
Two policy suggestions for this new comprehensive platform are offered here to illustrate where Labor might differ in a significant way.
The first regards the age pension: the pensionable age could be set at 65 for both men and women, but then subject to a means test and indexed to wages. I would include the family home only if it exceeds a threshold – for instance this could be set at 66% house price median level. Importantly, this threshold could be raised for persons opting to take the pension later, incremented by years, perhaps to 70 or even higher. People would have the choice to retire, but incentives to work longer.
A reduction in tax breaks on superannuation above a certain threshold would fund the policy. Remember if the pension is denied the Newstart alternative, albeit less, would have to be funded.
The second concerns negative gearing: Gradually remove negative gearing from property – say, a ten per centage point reduction in the rate every year, whilst at the same time gradually introducing tax relief on interest payments on the family home.
These measures would trumpet Labor Values by helping the relatively less well off at the expense of the relatively better off. The moral high ground would held and the standard proudly defended. These ideas don’t involve spending new money – in fact by selecting various thresholds and levels the effects of these policies could be budget neutral or even raise money for the Budget if required. Importantly the changes would show funding sources so reflect fiscal responsibility. There would be a clear differentiation between Labor and our political opponents.
For some, perhaps ideologically committed to market gods, there would be winners and losers. For others, perhaps of a more egalitarian and compassionate disposition, there would only be winners. Whatever their political and ethical persuasion, there would be a clear message of Labor Values for all to see.