Australia’s in the final week of a significant election – the outcome’s close and the stakes are high. Though we have a number of minor parties, there’s no question that the real battle’s between two major parties – centre left Labor and Australia’s mainstream conservative party, the Liberals (who generally align with the National party, and are collectively known as the Coalition).
Last time they were in power, the Coalition introduced significant changes to workplace legislation, introducing an Act called WorkChoices. Among other things, the Act reduced the capacity for unions to represent members, made union officials’ right to enter workplaces more difficult, weakened the power of the dispute arbitration body, and made it far easier for employers to offer disadvantageous conditions to employees. The leader of the Liberal party, Tony Abbott, has denied that he will reintroduce WorkChoices – a legislative reform he calls then-Prime Minister John Howard’s “greatest achievement”. WorkChoices, says Mr Abbott, is “dead, buried, cremated”- except that he is open to a number of industrial relations reforms, many of which are eerily similar to those that were in the WorkChoices Act.
Rather than recreate a comprehensive list, here’s Robert Corr’s coverage of the ten reasons workers can’t trust Tony Abbott with industrial relations legislation.
As a nurse, a unionist, and a believer in fairness, equity and natural justice, I have significant concerns, and so this election I’ve been more than usually active – I’ve participated in two ads for the Labor party, and spent yesterday door knocking in a marginal seat. In addition, I’ve increased my level of political activity on social media – not that I’m ever particularly apolitical!
I know that, whatever their intentions, politicians break campaign promises – sometimes because circumstances change, sometimes because they had no intention of keeping them. So while what politicians say in the lead up to an election gives us an idea of what’s important to them, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour – of an individual, and of the organisation of which they’re part.
PM Howard differentiated between core and non-core promises, though not until after he was elected. His party faithful, Mr Abbott, has similarly said that he doesn’t consider promises he makes to be real unless they’re “blood oaths”.
In Queensland Liberal Premier Campbell Newman, elected after promising to protect jobs, has already cut over 14,000 workers, including nurses, midwives, and funding for entire centres. There’s money for sports grounds, but not for health – including a bus transporting Indigenous people with renal failure to dialysis.
In New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell has weakened WorkCover legislation, making it harder for injured workers to be covered, seek compensation, and return to work. The $1.7 billion he’s cut from education means over 15,000 jobs lost and – at least as importantly – significant reductions in the provision of education to the children on whom WA is reliant for a future. Premier O’Farrell’s cuts to fire brigade funding means that stations have closed over 860 times in under a year – over 10,000 fewer hours of coverage for NSW residents.
In Victoria Liberal Premiers Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine have created the most prolonged EBA negotiations in our state’s history – with nurses and midwives, with teachers, with fire fighters, and with paramedics. Failure to invest in more nursing staff in emergency departments and retaining paramedics means we lose over 10,000 hours a month because ambulances are ramped outside hospitals instead of being available to respond to ever category one calls.
West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has privatised public hospitals and prisons, resulting in reduced access, fewer jobs, and reduced assets for the state.
That is the Liberal way – sell off public assets to bump up the bottom line, which is great in the short term. In the longer term, though, it means less oversight over how those assets are run and maintained, restricts service provision to the public whose taxes built the assets, and means profits aren’t returned to the community. Not to mention the fact that we’re running out of things to sell off.
While there’s no question some are struggling, as a whole Australians have never been better off – in contrast with the Liberal line about rising costs of living, we’re demonstrably better off than we were six years ago, and we have more disposable income than ever before – it’s just that our expectations of what we ought to be able to have has raised beyond avarice.
I don’t agree with every aspect of Labor policy – indeed, some actively distress me, including PM Rudd’s harsher stance on asylum seekers. And I make no secret of the fact that I would be happier with a Labor party headed by former PM Julia Gillard, who seemed adept at negotiation well beyond how much she’s been credited.
These concerns have been somewhat diminished after watching the ALP’s campaign launch today – Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was stirring, strong, direct and engaging, and PM Rudd was future-focused, clear, dynamic and uniting (his speech), though I’d rather the last section talked about the Labor party’s making a comeback rather than mr Rudd doing so.
However, whatever concerns I have about PM Rudd, or about the rightward drift of Labor, the fact remains that, while there are some aspects I have concerns about, every aspect of the Liberal party worries me – natural justice, industrial relations, economic management, protection of our least advantaged, investment in the future, capacity for long-term and big picture thinking, integrity, and trustworthiness. And on the matters of asylum seekers and the environment? However far Labor have fallen short of ideal, they beat the Liberal party by a country mile.
I’m overseas next Saturday, so I’ll be voting tomorrow. For the majority of Australians, though, election day in just over 120 hours away – and the last polling showed almost a quarter of voters are still undecided. If you’re one of them, spend a few minutes thinking about not just the media narrative but what you know of the history, policies and behaviour of the parties. THink not just about the short-term but about the future – about the services you and your families may need, about the kind of care you’d like to receive from health providers, about the future you want for your children’s education and job prospects, and about investment in infrastructure.