Scott Morrison has always stood for nothing. His potential to disappoint is therefore somewhat limited.
On the other hand, Anthony Albanese once stood for something and now stands for nothing. In abandoning Labor’s policy on negative gearing and backing the Coalition’s stage three tax cuts, he has solidified his leadership as a heartbreaking disappointment.
These decisions are monumental
Labor’s decisions were pre-empted and predictable. That doesn’t lessen the monumental sense of betrayal, particularly from a man raised by a single mother in social housing, who is a member of Labor’s left and apparently a big fan of fighting Tories.
The stage three tax cuts will mean that someone earning a measly $45,000 will pay the same tax rate as someone raking in $200,000. This is ludicrous. A person earning an annual salary of $45,000 falls within the bottom third of taxpayers while a person earning an annual salary of $200,000 sits within the top 5 per cent of taxpayers. How on earth is it fair for a cleaner to pay the same amount of tax as a CEO? Unsurprisingly, a study by the Australian Council of Social Services concludes that it will be men who disproportionately reap the benefits of the stage three tax cuts.
The decision to abandon plans to scrap negative gearing and halve the capital gains tax deduction is equally reprehensible. The housing affordability crisis has only worsened in the COVID-19 pandemic with a recent report from NAB’s chief economist Alan Oster tipping Sydney and Melbourne property prices to rise more than 20 per cent by the end of next year. The playing field is levelled more steeply than ever against first homebuyers and low-income earners. Labor’s consolation policy of increasing social housing supply is nothing but a band-aid solution.
There are indications that Labor will also formally dump its policy of free cancer treatment and dental care for pensioners. How can a party purportedly driven by the paramount principle of fairness, the party of Medicare, even be considering this? If fiscal responsibility is Labor’s motivation, why back tax cuts that will cost the economy $184 billion by the end of the decade? Especially when the expected benefit of these tax cuts (i.e., rewarding hard work and encouraging aspiration) is really nothing more than dumb, trickle-down dependant speculation.
The most perplexing thing is that Albanese isn’t selling out because he’s facing a formidable opponent who has him up against the ropes – far from. Morrison is not only the most visionless leader Australia has had in modern times but he’s also a leader at whose feet lies responsibility for the “worst failure of public administration in Australian history” in the words of his predecessor. The timing is also questionable with these decisions announced in the wake of Morrison’s approval ratings falling to the lowest level in more than a year.
Albanese often criticises Morrison as responding too late in a crisis and he is correct. But responding late is better than responding badly. That the Morrison government successfully embraced bold market interventions and delivered “labor-lite” budgets to grapple with the pandemic (like many other conservative governments) is a vindication of progressive economics and Labor should have responded by shouting “I told you so” from the rooftops and veering further left. Instead, Labor kicked an own goal trying to beat the Coalition at their own game, with Albanese parroting Abbott with petty whingeing about budget repair rather than seizing the moment to call for radical change: A Green New Deal for example.
The Labor apologists who say that Albanese is just doing what needs to be done to get Labor into office, are basically saying he’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing, a trojan horse who will reveal that his gentle soul is not dead once he’s sworn in. But really, a good leader should move people to vote for him, not trick them into doing so. We should want to vote for Labor because they have good policies, not because they will probably be less bad than the Liberals.
The wrong lesson has been learnt
The 2019 election result was a shock but there was an enduring sign that it wouldn’t go well for Labor – Bill Shorten’s personal popularity and the preferred prime minister rating.
These signs persist under Albanese’s leadership, but Labor has chosen to stick its head in the sand. It’s understandable that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years has made the prospect of leadership change traumatic but that’s no excuse given Labor’s determination to look at everything through the “clear-eyed lens of winning the next election”.
Personal popularity matters. Shorten didn’t have it and neither does Albanese (though admittedly, personal popularity is determined largely by the Murdoch media which puts any Labor leader at a disadvantage). But Labor does have impressive, inspiring leaders. Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong stand out, with the former being particularly likeable and seemingly able to reach across the divide with her regular appearances on Sky News. In the wake of the Brittany Higgins scandal, and with the momentum of a reckoning on sexism in Australian politics, it’s also never been a better, more necessary time for a strong female leader to take charge of this country.
It’s time 2022
Next year will mark 50 years since Gough Whitlam, Australia’s greatest ever Prime Minister, came to power following his iconic 1972 “It’s time” campaign. Whitlam bettered Australia in fundamental and enduring ways, be it through free tertiary education, the establishment of Medibank, ending conscription, establishing the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and pioneering legislation on Aboriginal land rights, sex discrimination, human rights and the environment. Whitlam wouldn’t recognise today’s Labor.
An election will likely be called in 2022, and for progressives, it’s time to abandon Labor as they’ve abandoned us. It’s time to vote for minor parties and the independents.