• John McDonnell

Labor now on an election footing

When Anthony Albanese gave his rousing closing speech at the Labor party conference on Wednesday, it was clear that he was pleased with the way things had gone.

The conference was a seamless piece of political management, apart from a few glitches from the Zoom-master. Labor now has a negotiated platform that can form the basis of its election manifesto, whenever the next election is held.

In many ways, 'Albo' embodies the Labor tradition. It is as if the succession of Labor leadership had passed directly to him from Curtin and Chifley and that the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating years had never happened. His agenda is focused on the same policies that Labor carried into post-war reconstruction: full employment; infrastructure and housing; promotion of domestic manufacturing; protectionism and intervention into markets where necessary.

Labor wants strong, sustainable, environmentally-responsible inclusive growth. There is an emphasis on fairness, which is reflected in their election slogan, borrowed from the British Labour Party, ‘On Your Side’.

The party announced a number of specific initiatives at the conference. The first, announced at the opening of the conference, was a $15 billion manufacturing future fund that will make soft loans to business for early stage financing of innovative manufacturing. There was a suggestion that this could be mixed with superannuation fund investment to get larger scale investments off the ground. There was commentary that this could be used to reconstruct the car industry in Australia, but analysis of the policy suggests this is just speculation.

Labor did announce a car policy but it related to imported electric vehicles. A Labor government will slash the tariff and fringe benefits tax on electric vehicles costing less than $77,000 to make them more competitive. The Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood was of the opinion that this was unnecessary because the cost of electric vehicles would fall dramatically once the development costs had been absorbed. The roll-out of charging infrastructure would make them more convenient and their operating costs would be much lower than conventional vehicles.

The ALP also announced a very sensible initiative to allocate $400 million for investment in community batteries. This will allow for more efficient use of rooftop solar systems and save money for consumers and the economy in general.

The Labor platform had meagre pickings when it came to regional development. It reiterated the line that spokesperson Catherine King had taken at the Regions Rising conference, that Labor would reinstitute the Regional Development Authority to co-ordinate things like regional infrastructure investment. There was no mention of things that were the remit of the states, like regional health and education, although there was a nod in the direction of equality of services.

The forecast tensions between the politicians and the unions did not occur. The trade policy is pretty much as before, with a Labor government required to have strict labour market restrictions and not leave Medicare or the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme open to privatisation and foreign ownership.

The right wing of the party pushed through resolutions critical of China over Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Uighurs but these were not imported into the platform.

Although he attacked Scott Morrison for being all about political management, Anthony Albanese showed himself to be a dab hand at the same art. There is nothing in the platform to frighten the horses and he is able to maintain his small target strategy. The real risk with this approach is that while the government self-destructs, he won’t be noticed.

Recent socio-political surveys show that the public doesn’t discriminate between elected officials: they despise all politicians.

Pollies shouldn’t worry, they despise journalists even more and we get paid a lot less to be objects of derision.