By Mark Morey
Secretary of Unions NSW
The contemporary political challenge is confronting. Rules which appeared unbreakable for decades are suddenly looking flimsy. The economic and behavioural theories that underpinned it are being found wanting.
For us this is something to embrace, not fear. Our political heritage rejects dogma and doctrine. We focus on tangible outcomes. We are uniquely placed to drive the social and political change that empowers Australians not born into privilege. In workplaces across the
In workplaces across the nation unions are performing precisely this task; bargaining and advocating for better wages, leave, superannuation, and training. These are the foundations on which a prosperous, secure life is built. However, as our movement and party have known since 1891, prosperity and security are often found beyond the workplace, and our place in the nation’s political firmament has never been more critical. Outer-metropolitan and regional Australia are in the grip of an income recession and unable to access the benefits of an economy geared towards the privileged few. Flatlining wages and surging property prices have combined to push Australia’s household debt-
However, as our movement and party have known since 1891, prosperity and security are often found beyond the workplace, and our place in the nation’s political firmament has never been more critical. Outer-metropolitan and regional Australia are in the grip of an income recession and unable to access the benefits of an economy geared towards the privileged few. Flatlining wages and surging property prices have combined to push Australia’s household debt-
Outer-metropolitan and regional Australia are in the grip of an income recession and unable to access the benefits of an economy geared towards the privileged few. Flatlining wages and surging property prices have combined to push Australia’s household debt-toincome ratio from the low end of the OECD scale right to the top. Our household debt bubble blows bigger each day while employment is increasingly insecure.
The conservative side of politics has no answer to this problem. It pursues a misguided fixation with the Commonwealth budget deficit. Yet the true debt problem in this country is the one carried by individuals and households. The conservatives have not only misdiagnosed the illness, their proposed panacea of cuts to public health and education makes the problem more acute. And rapid technological change exacerbates uncertainty for many people. The political symptoms are serious. The phenomenon of Trump, Brexit and Le Pen is alive and well here in Australia – just look at the Senate.
However, the populism of Hinch, Lambie, Hanson, and Xenophon – which ranges from naïve sloganeering through to dark and deliberate race-baiting – will not restore security or stability. And the conservatives are intellectually incapable of recognising the problem, let alone dealing with it.
As ever, the mantle of leadership in difficult times falls to us. Labor must be prepared for Government with a bold platform that restores confidence and security.
The next Labor Government can rebuild social solidarity with three distinct pillars: a system of portable workplace entitlements, a universal early childhood education scheme, and the implementation of Labor’s limits on negative gearing.
Portable entitlements are overdue in Australia. Australians are working harder and longer than ever. They are also connected to their employment through smartphones and social media at all hours of the day. We are giving more of ourselves to work, yet our employment is more fleeting and insecure than it’s ever been. The upshot is fewer of us accrue holiday or long service leave.
The next Federal Labor Government should build on the initial work of the Andrews Government to create a fully-fledged national system of portable entitlements. When a worker changes jobs, their accrued leave and long service leave should travel with them in a managed fund, much like superannuation. This entitlement should be available to the workers after a defined period. Such a scheme would provide workers with the entitlement to take time out for their families, parental leave or for other caring responsibilities.
A portable entitlement account recognises the reality of the world we live in. It could boost productivity and flexibility, and provide upward social mobility. This is both smart politics and smart economics.
The next overdue pillar for a modern social democracy also has powerful productivity boosting potential and the capacity to expand the middle class: universal early childhood education.
The broad principle is clear: the social benefits of early childhood education are manifest and should not be confined to kids whose parents have a capacity to pay.
Through socialisation, kids learn cooperation, respect, teamwork and resilience. They develop patience and concentration capacity. They experience diversity and through all of it, grow in confidence and the love of learning. These are key qualities in the unpredictable, competitive labour market of the 21st century. If we don’t spread these advantages, we are selling ourselves short as a nation.
Modelling by PwC makes a profound economic case for universal childhood education. It found by 2050, wider access to early childhood education would deliver a net economic gain through female workforce participation of $6 billion. Modelling also found a $10.3 billion economic benefit for children receiving a quality education and care program and a $13.3 billion economic benefit through increased participation of vulnerable children.
Finally, we must resolve to implement the bold plan for housing. Restricting negative gearing to newly constructed properties will see a surge of investment in our housing supply of up to ten percent. This has the twin benefit of increasing supply to place downward pressure on rents while also improving the budget bottom line. These ideas are important, but so too is the politics.
If there is one thing we should learn from the turmoil of recent governments, is the need to properly argue a case from every dimension – moral, political and economic.
There is no point weaving new strands into our social safety net if they can just as easily be unravelled. The upside for social democrats should be obvious. Reform endures when it is properly executed.