Labor conference to cull policies and confirm move to the right

Scott Morrison’s appalling response to the rape scandals in the Liberal Party means an early election this year is off the cards for now. But Labor is getting itself ready just in case, with its National Conference being held on 30-31 March to set down policies.

The event will be even more stage-managed than usual after the party opted for an online event held over two days mid-week.

Leader Anthony Albanese is dumping many of the policies Labor took to the last election, moving to the right and adopting a small target strategy that avoids serious change or any effort at taxing the rich to fund much-needed services.

The “draft” policy platform hammered out between Labor’s factions prior to the conference has been slashed to 115 pages, down from the 310-page document ratified at the party’s last national conference in 2018.

The effort to reduce tax handouts for rich property investors taken to the last election, through changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax, have been dumped altogether.

House prices have soared since negative gearing was introduced under John Howard’s Coalition government in 1998, making it all but impossible for many young people to buy a home. After a dip last year during the COVID crisis, house prices are back to new record highs in Sydney and Melbourne and are set to rise further.

As economics commentator Greg Jericho wrote, “any political party seeking to do something about housing affordability needs first to change negative gearing and the ability for people to get a 50 per cent discount on capital gains tax rate.”

Yet Labor has waved the white flag on any action—blaming its failure at the last election on “too many policies” as Albanese has put it. But its real failure was to explain how the rich were the ones who would lose out. Its plan to increase taxes on shareholders through changes to franking credits has already been dropped too.

Labor’s policies now include further backing for fossil fuels, too. Instead of taking a stand against Morrison’s nonsense about a “gas-fired recovery” from COVID, it has rushed to embrace it. Not only does its platform declare that Labor “supports the critical role that gas plays in the Australian economy”, it even accepts Morrison’s lie that gas is needed as a transition fuel in reducing emissions by saying it “has an important role to play in achieving Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050”.

Worse, it declares that failed Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology has a “crucial role” to play. CCS was dreamed up by fossil fuel companies as a figleaf to pretend their operations could continue indefinitely. Despite decades of research and government funding it is still nothing but an expensive failure, currently estimated to inflate power costs to six times more than renewables plus storage, if it even works.

Labor for Refugees made another attempt to amend the platform to end Labor’s support for offshore detention, but that won’t be changed at this conference. Labor, however, remains committed to providing permanent protection visas and abolishing the Coalition’s fast track system of refugee assessment.

Gutted

The slimming down of party policy has also removed rafts of previous commitments. Both Palestine and LGBTI policies were initial victims of the cull.

Labor’s agreement to recognising a Palestinian state, voted through at its last national conference, was a small break from its otherwise firm devotion to supporting Israel and the US alliance. But it simply disappeared from the platform.

NSW right faction heavyweight and former NSW Premier Bob Carr had to intervene personally to have it reinstated.

LGBTI activists have not had the same success. Pledges to end coercive medical interventions on intersex children and to end out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse people seeking gender affirmation treatment, as well as all references to HIV, have all been removed.

Advocacy group just.equal has also condemned the failure to commit to measures to extend anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTI school students and teachers.

“Labor’s LGBTIQ+ policy commitments continue to go backwards. In the 2018 platform the term LGBTIQ appeared 46 times, now it appears eight times,” just.equal’s Charlie Burton said. “Labor’s 2019 election loss was not the fault of LGBTIQ+ people but we seem to be ones being punished for it.”

Labor has announced changes over industrial relations that it says will increase the rights of casual workers. Some of these address union demands over equal pay for those employed via labour hire companies and an increased right for casuals to move into a permanent job.

But the overall direction is clear. Labor lost the last election because not enough people trusted it to deliver on promises of change. Dropping those promises altogether won’t get it anywhere.

By James Supple

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