23 October 2014

To rekindle some hope

I left Anthony Albanese's talk at Politics in the Pub with some hope and it's a relief after recent years. Like many, I have been disappointed by Rudd and Gillard and despaired that that three-word slogans won Abbott the Lodge to implement IPA's 75 (now 100) actions in such a radical and class-ridden process. We are mulling over "progressive" politics now following the very recent death of Gough Whitlam. It was in this context that Albo's response to one question gave me some hope and trust in Labor. A woman had attacked the "corrosion of reforms" in the ALP, citing single parents moved to Newstart and HECS in place of free education. Albo defended strongly: we love Gough but some people have "rose-coloured glasses". He listed later positive changes by Labor; he claimed pride in the achievements of Rudd and Gillard and argued that they "will be regarded well by history"; he admitted some errors and policies that he didn't agree with, but "only the impotent are pure". It was a strong rebuttal and reasonable. Another questioner had also attacked Labor/Albo on public housing. Again, Albo stood his ground: he denied denigrating public housing; he argued for social housing being good not just for the poor, but also for the richer by maintaining a good social mix; he argued that it's inconsistent that individuals invest in housing but Government says it can't afford it (I thought that individuals are actually sponsored by Govt to invest in housing; they might not so invest on the mythical level playing field). Again, a strong rebuttal. It's interesting that Labor is having to defend itself so strongly, even from its supporters, but not surprising. Albo did a good job and restored some faith. Otherwise, what did he say?

He's now Labor's spokesman on cities. He argued that Commonwealth Government must be involved in cities (planning, transport, infrastructure, etc) as 80% of population and GDP are in Australian cities. Australia is exceptionally urbanised. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will number 8 million each in 2050. Infrastructure and jobs growth must be matched; big cities must function with multiple centres; urban design is essential for quality, livable cities. I was interested in the concept of a "30-minute city" meaning work, education, most necessary functions, are accessible within 30 mins. In its first day in office, Abbott abolished the "Major Cities Unit" and moved all funding from public transport to roads. Albo quoted Abbott's Battlelines that there are not enough people to warrant other than private motor vehicles, and the (perhaps a rough quote) "in the car the individual feels like he is king". Good planning promotes efficiency and sustainability and it's good economics: "it saves money". [Can't argue with that one!].

Albo had started by praising the previous day's Parliament (the honour session for Gough) and specifically esteeming Warren Truss' speech, but then passing to Abbott's government as ideological, promoting withdrawal of the State and individualism as a philosophy and seeking to institutionalise it. This was "unexpected at election" and the Budget was a "concrete indication of these principles". The Right argues that class doesn't exist, but this was a "class-based budget". Roughly, the poor electorates are impacted $1,000 against $150 for richer. We need a debate on equality in Australia. He ended by saying "enormous opportunities are presented by this Government", meaning opportunities for Labor to capitalise on very real hardships. [This is one to wait and see. I don't see much capitalisation yet].

There was a question on trams in Melbourne. Apparently Howard bemoaned the loss of trams in Melbourne under Menzies. Albo didn't specifically reply on our own tram, only to argue that public transport (and roads and other infrastructure) must be justified over time and this requires analysis. He lambasted the Left for NIMBYism and Abbott for withdrawing funding from well supported (public transport) infrastructure and placing it, with poor analysis, into roads. Another question was on the East-West Link in Melbourne in the context of the election. He argues the Benefit Cost ratios don't add up and that the Federal Government has hog-tied the states through access to funding, and had already transferred $2b to Victoria to improve the books for the coming election . [Mmm, I hadn't heard anything about that, but politics and reporting can be local]. There was another question on ANU divestment and the Government storm in reaction in context of Abbott's "coal is good for humanity" claim. Albo said it's this government speaking for a sector of the market, not for the economy. Then a touch on the Shakespearian tragedy of Greg Hunt's role "driven by an objective that is so small", especially given his thesis (A tax to make the polluter pay : the application of pollution taxes within the Australian legal system / Greg Hunt & Rufus Black). "We [Labor] may not always get it right but we think to the future". This was a rough quote but a positive theme to end on.

We are experiencing a radical right government. Like Gough, it's crash or crash through, but unlike Gough's, it's got small vision, prefers ideology to evidence and serves a small class of society. "Coal is good for humanity" only joins a string of ignorance like "climate change is absolute crap" or goodies and baddies or invisible substances. You can't argue with physics. You shouldn't argue with class.

Anthony Albanese spoke at Politics in the Pub organised by the Australia Institute.

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