Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
Co-operating At All Costs
All Good Except You
State of Play
By Peter Lewis
Labor and Liberal once debated about whether or not we should have Medicare. Now that debate's been run and won, the debate is much trickier - what role should Medicare play in a health system coming under greater pressure from our ageing population? A safety net for the low-paid (or the comprehensive health cover for all Australians that it once was. To Howard, people should take responsibility for their own health care and take out private cover - and he has created incentives to force you into the private system if you mare over a certain income. To Labor, Medicare should be the centrepiece of the health system, supported by billions of dollars currently being spent to subsidise private health insurance. The other issue is the scope of public health cover - and Labor's plan for publicly funded dental care is a clear sign it wants to extend the public cover.
The key education battleground in this election is the public funding of elite public schools by the Howard Government: millions of dollars being siphoned into the playpens of the elite by a Prime Minister who criticises public schools for teaching kids the wrong values - and wants to tie funding to teaching the right ones. To the extent that this is a class war, Labor has not bitten, supporting funding for both public and private schools on the basis of need; leaving the Greens to run the 'put public education first' chant on their own. But 'education' at this election is also about federal government funding for early childhood education (there is very little) and the funding of higher education (higher HECs, more full fee places). What the electorate is looking for is a leader who views education as more then a budget line item and more an investment in the nation's future. Which might explain why Mark Latham's bedtime reading routine works so well.
THE global issue of our times; and it's big, big problem with no easy solutions. In a world gone made, how do we keep the terror from our door. John Howard's approach is to set himself up as the Bush Administration's deputy sheriff, back the doctrine of preemption, bypass the United Nations and follow him into the quagmire that Iraq has become. Mark Latham has taken heat for calling for the troops to come home be Christmas, but more an more Australians seem to agree that the Iraqi occupation is having the opposite to intended effect. While Latham has had to work hard to reverse perceptions he is anti-American following some colourful outbursts before he became leader, he has a shrewd foreign affairs spokesman in Kevin Rudd whose consistent support for the United Nations marks out the key policy difference on national security. Labor stands for multi-lateralism, while the Coalition supports US bi-lateralism. Only history will show which is the approach that will make the world safer, but the scoreboard isn't looking too flash for Howard at present.
No one doubts that globalisation has changed the world and that the bringing down of tariffs has led to cheaper products at the cost of local jobs. The political debate is about how we can build a sustainable economy in this new environment - and trade is an important factor. The Howard Government's master plan is to gain special trading status with the USA - allowing Australian products into the world's wealthiest market, albeit trading off some of the few remaining protections for local workers in the process. The Americans though have driven a hard bargain - that goes way beyond economics, with Australian culture in the gun as America seeks to limit local content rules. Labor has not opposed the US Trade Deal, but remain skeptical around some of the details; while arguing that Australia's interests lie in pushing for global trade reform. None of which deals with the biggest issue approaching, which is the opening up the Chinese economy.
As soon as the election begins, get ready for the godfather of all Coalition scare campaigns about the ALP's record on interest rates. With the property market at the end of a boom and a whole lot of punters over-extended, it is an issue there for the exploiting. Yes, interest rates reached 18 per cent under the Keating Government, but there are a few mitigating factors. First, the interest rates jumped during a period of profound economic change which has set the conditions for the prolonged recovery that has been the basis of the Howard Government's economic credentials. Secondly, 18 per cent of a $100,000 load hurts, but the boom in house prices under Howard makes interest rate changes far more punishing today. And finally, the Howard Government's pressure on the reserve Bank to keep rates down has actually helped fuelled the credit boom that has left us on the verge of a housing bust, So yes, interest rates have been low - but voters have a right to ask, at what cost?
Key difference here between the major parties in their attitude to the Kyoto protocol - the treaty that was to have begun the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Howard Government has joined the US in opposing the treaty, asserting our right to continue to guzzle fossil fuel as a sovereign right. The ALP has a broader vision, recognising the great opportunities available in the Kyoto Protocols carbon credit scheme - a marketplace where companies that reduce emissions can trade their credits with polluters. And for the first time in a decade the Tasmanian wilderness is back on the national agenda after mark Latham's stroll through the park with Bob Brown, an alliance with is likely to clinch Labor Green preferences in return for a sustainable forestry policy.
In every modern election there is always a loose cannon issue - what pundits call the 'wedge' designed to split the Labor's two core constituents - its traditional working class base and progressive middle class. In 2001 it was border protection - and it worked a treat, Howard returned to stop the turbaned hordes invading our northern coast. This time it seems that Howard is following President Bush in making gay marriage an issue of national import, Other potential issues that have been seeded before the election include rights for single fathers, treatment of the unemployed and public funding for our indigenes.
This is where it becomes a little hard to sound un-biased. If you care about union rights and a strong independent umpire you've got to see the Howard Government as an enemy. The Howard era has seem some of the nastiest taxpayer attacks on unions since Federation - Reith and the waterfront, Abbott and the Cole Commission and the concerted push to kill of the AIRC as a body with the power to resolve disputes. The ALP can rightly claim to respect workers rights - and while you won't see a return to the halcyon days of the award system under a Latham government you will some important reforms. These include: giving the AIRC some teeth to force employers to bargain in good faith, outlawing Australia Workplace Agreements; and disbanding the anti-union Employment Advocate. A Labor Government won't be singing the Internationale, but it will call an end to the nasty class war of recent years.
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