Final Thoughts on the Election

I have spent this election cycle largely silent in regard to Australian politics. While I’ve managed to start a few articles on a few different subjects, they’ve managed to remain unfinished while my attention has been drawn to other things.

But now it is the morning of the election and I’ve run out of time to say anything other than some last minute considerations before going to the polls. There are two areas that I would like to talk briefly on for your consideration; environment & economy.

Environmental Policy

While it has been said that the Coalition has not got a plan for the environment, this is not true. They have a plan, it just isn’t one that correctly measures the spending or action with the scale of the problem. It has also come to light that they have a poor plan when it comes to action on environmental degradation and the extinction crisis. They have added funding for their “Direct Action” plan, though that this is continuing to be in use is baffling.

Since the Coalition’s scrapping of the Carbon Tax and implementing Direct Action, Australia’s carbon emissions have resumed their upward climb, growing in the last quarter of 2018 at their fastest rate since 2004. Both the UN and energy experts have said that under the current program Australia will not meet its Paris Agreement targets. The Paris Agreement targets have been evaluated by the UN and also found to be unlikely to achieve the desired effect of limiting warming by 2 degrees Celsius, instead causing something more like 3 degrees of warming. This falling well short of the much more desirable limit of 1.5C.

The Coalition claims that we are on track to be meeting our Paris targets, a plainly untrue statement, given that emission trends are upward under their governance.

Labor, on the other hand, have a more clear view of how Australia can progress toward meeting its Paris targets. Their plan includes having a 50% renewable energy target by 2030, transitioning to gas where necessary by the National Energy Plan, establishing an Electric Vehicle policy and target, investing in building a hydrogen renewables industry and reversing some of the Coalition changes like reinstating a Climate Ambassador.

In relation to the extinction crisis, the ALP has said that it will also be creating a $100m fund in addition to reversing the Coalitions cutting of marine conservation areas, doubling the amount of indigenous rangers and spending $200m on restoring urban waterways. According to experts, this is a step in the right direction though is slightly behind the times and the scale. Labor has directed much of it’s attention at species, rather than ecosystems which is the way that scientists are adapting their response to attempt to alleviate the Sixth extinction.

The Greens offer the most advanced and comprehensive policy on the environment. The Greens have articulated a real way to transition to an economy that is fuelled by renewables. The Greens would see the economy on 100% renewables by 2030. They have also said they would initiate a renewable hydrogen production industry in Australia.

In tackling the extinction crisis the Greens have proposed new and more comprehensive environmental protection laws, the establishment of an independent environmental protection authority, a $2bn nature restoration fund, an expanded science-informed network of marine conservation parks and ending logging in native forests.

It is pretty obvious that the most comprehensive and ambitious policy was going to come from the Greens. But that is exactly the type of policy that we are searching for, given the scale of the problem that is being faced in Climate Change and extinction.

Economy

The Coalition government has been ramming the rhetoric that the economy would be weaker under three years of Labor leadership. This is familiar, given that they ran on a similar scare campaign in 2013 and 2016. The claim rests on the ideas that Labor have historically been poor economic managers and that their closures of tax loopholes and avoidance schemes constitute new taxes that will burden the economy.

In relation to the economic history of the country, it seems that most of the changes that Australians would recognise as being central to the nation and their lives were brought in by Labor. Since World War 2 the government has tended to be under the control of the Liberal Party. Despite this, the Labor Party has still managed to prepare the economy for internationalisation during its periods in government. For brevity’s sake I’ll only talk about what I see as the major developments.

Under the Whitlam Labor government in the early 70’s, trade was opened with China, who would become our largest trading partner. While the Chinese economy is reportedly slowing, according to the Australia China Business Council this trade relationship benefits the average Australian household by upwards of $15,000 a year.

Following Whitlam there was a long period of Liberal Party rule under which Australia remained a largely inward looking economy with an agricultural focus. There were high levels of unemployment and inflation and only about 3 in 10 people were completing high school education. This began to change with the election of the Hawke/Keating Labor successions of governments.

Hawke and Keating were responsible for opening up Australia’s economy to world trade by inviting foreign banks into the country, floating the Aussie Dollar on the international market, lowering trade tariffs and getting rid of import quotas. All of the economic activity and growth that was spurred by these policies were offset by the devising of a more progressive tax scheme and the redistribution of generated wealth by programs like Medicare and a publicly funded wage (the dole). Unemployment was on a steady decline over the course of the Hawke/Keating governments.

Paul Keating was the first Australian to win treasurer of the year from Euromoney, a feat that has since only been matched by Wayne Swan (also a Labor treasurer).

The Liberals took power again between 1996 and 2007 with the Howard government, under which Australia saw it’s most reckless and wasteful spending since Federation. While I don’t necessarily agree with a deficit or debt as a good measure of economic strength, it was Howard’s spending on quick fixes that ultimately set up the deficit that was incurred by Labor in trying to navigate the Global Financial Crisis.

John Howard inherited the country’s leadership during a once in a century resources boom. He spent the generated resources wealth (which was less than it should have been under optimum taxation laws) on welfare for those that didn’t really need it. Howard also laid the grounds for the current housing crisis by his changes to the capital gains tax.

An important documentary on the housing bubble

In 07 we got Kevin [Rudd] and between 2007 and 2013 we had a succession of Prime Ministers alternating between Rudd and Julia Gillard. The Rudd/Gillard governments had to navigate the Global Financial Crisis and its fall-out. Then-treasurer Wayne Swan oversaw cash handouts to the general population along with an extensive public schools infrastructure program. Where every other developed economy went into a recession, Australia’s GDP maintained growth and a relatively low unemployment rate (around 5%, half of Europe and USA generally). In contrast to the Liberal Party scare campaign, the level of Federal debt was one of the lowest in the developed world at the conclusion of the Labor government in 2013.

The Liberal Party inherited a relatively well-performing economy in 2013 in contrast to the rest of the developed world. They have touted employment statistics as being positive from their time in government (and they are), but unfortunately not much else is. Labour productivity and GDP growth are down when compared with the Rudd/Gillard years. Worse yet, real wages have stagnated under the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government. In fact, the current government holds the title for the worst period of growth in real household disposable income since Malcolm Fraser.

Source: ABS

Concluding Thoughts

There are many other things to consider when casting your vote today, like health and education that I simply haven’t got the time to mention in proper detail. But it seems clear that in terms of what matters to people this election by-and-large, the environment and the economy, one of the major parties greatly outperforms the other.

In relation to voting for the Greens, I would encourage this as every vote for the Greens gives the party an extra $2.75 funding for their campaigning. In addition to this, the Greens have a coherent environmental policy and budgetary policy (one tailored for Australia and another internationally). The Greens are entirely transparent about their donors and don’t accept corporate donations.

To find out who is funding the other parties you can look at the previous year of disclosures here.

By Nathan Booth

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