By Joe Montero
Bill Shorten’s budget alternative to the Coalition’s promised change.
There was talk about new industries and aiming to be the best in the provision of health and education, using the people and science that we have. Emphasis was given to achieving a fairer and more equal society, where the economy works in the interests of everyone.
This is all positive.
Bill Shorten said, “Labor offers stability and unity and a vision for the nation. We choose hope over fear, we choose the future over the past. We choose the best possible support for people with cancer. We choose fair wages and good jobs. We choose TAFE and apprenticeships. We choose a voice for the first Australians enshrined in our constitution.
“We choose renewables and choose real action on climate change. We choose the ABC. We choose equality for women of Australia, equality for everyone.
A fine choice of words. Most of us would agree wholeheartedly. Australia is in a serious need of all of it.
True, it had the air of an election speech. Words are a lot easier than action, and there was little detail on how much of what was promised is going to be implemented.
Much was made of the further $2.3 billion plan for cancer, for MRI machines, relief in the costs of seeing specialists, cutting what must currently be paid for medication, and investing in research in clinical trials. Cancer sufferers and their families will welcome this.
They would like it even better, if something were to be done about reversing the present ban on Cenrelink providing disability benefits to cancer patients.
There is the $1 billion for TAFE.
Building more transport infrastructure was mentioned, with $1.5 billion for two new projects, the Gateway Motorway from Bracken Ridge to the Pine River, and the next stage of the Bruce Highway to Caboolture.
There is a tax cut for small business, and a promise for investment in agriculture, tourism, hydrogen energy, science and research, minerals, the defence industry, and commercial ship building.
It still all falls short on rejecting the neoliberal model, and therefore offers no real counter to the Coalition’s setting up for a wave of cuts to government services. There is an implied buying into the government’s budget deficit mantra, and no effort to answer this with an acceptance that the real problem is a failure of government revenue.
This revenue failure could be solved by ensuring sufficient regulation and compulsion to effectively put an end to negative practices of the banks and finance companies, ensure that investment is used appropriately to meet the real need of the Australian community and economy. Laws and policing could be put in place to ensure an end to the massive corporate tax evasion industry.
Doing this would increase the revenue base and provide the government with the funds needed to reshape the economy, expand the provision of important services and provide for social programs.
Without making these changes there is not a great deal that can be done.
These two measures alone would provide funding to upgrade services and spending on the appropriate growth of the Australian economy. Without increasing the revenue base, a Labor government will not have the resources to make a great deal of difference.
Building a new sustainable manufacturing base has been neglected.
There is a promise to put an end to the stagnation in wages. How is this going to be done? There is the Tradie Guarantee, curtailing the ability of employers to use sham contracts and labour hire to pay lower wages and delay payments. But is this enough? There is no abolition of the existing unfair industrial relations regime. Nor a promise to bring in legislation to restore penalty rates.
Reduction of negative gearing provisions, which have been a big part of making housing unaffordable for many, is a good step. But the need for a major increase in the provision of more affordable homes also needs attention.
This brings us the Centrelink. There is no change to overcome the reality that Australians who are dependent on benefits are falling further and further into serious poverty. There is a promise to restore funding and increase staffing levels for the NDIS. But there is nothing to ensure that those dependent on it get a fairer deal.
Although there is explicit recognition that climate change is real and needs action, it falls short of a concerted effort to transform Australia’s economy into a sustainable one. Reliance on fossil fuels continues and there is no major effort to turn to alternative energy sources.
This is primarily an ideological problem and the acceptance of the ground rules of neoliberalism. There is the notion that the future wellbeing of the nation is dependent on creating the best prospects for the biggest investors; minimalisation of interference from government; income redistribution upwards; and minimalising the taxation share of the corporate sector.
When the biggest part of the investment capital is in the hands of the banks and finance industry, and their major owners, neoliberalism ensures that interference with the flow if their funds is cut back to a minimum. Action to reduce speculation is to be avoided. Taxation loopholes and the ability to use overseas tax havens cannot be tackled. There is the handing over of public resources and the acceptance of the use of ever rising debt as a means to make a profit.
A shortage of revenues will continue, and the budget deficit will still be used to deny the Australian community the standard of services that it expects and deserves.
So long as the ideology of neoliberalism continues to be accepted, Labor will be vulnerable to the contradiction in its position and to attack, as the less capable of managing the economy.
There remains the matter of democratising the economy. Should private investors have all the say? What about an effort to encourage the growth of a social economy? This means support for enterprises built by communities, primarily to meet social needs. They could be an engine to put into action the skill and enthusiasm of average Australians, as the agents for growth of a new economy.
What about giving employees a sway on how major workplaces are run, how investment is applied, working condition and how each is rewarded for effort? This would help to improve wages and create proper jobs.
All this is possible and could have been contained in the budget reply. But it needs a clean break from the ideological consensus of the past.
Without this break and applying what has been mentioned above, how is it possible to really talk about a change that guarantees a fairer and more equal society, where the economy works in the interests of everyone?