Labor’s policy silence after its May election defeat has officially been broken with party leader Anthony Albanese’s October 29 vision statement, “Jobs and the Future of Work”.
In his Orwellian speech, Albanese seeks to spell out how Australia can confront the climate crisis while continuing to ramp up coal and gas exports.
The speech is full of buzzwords – innovation, job creation, productivity, purpose, self-confidence and dignity – but says very little that could be described as visionary.
Instead, Albanese focuses on affirming the party’s pro-business credentials.
Albanese said Labor was “proudly and resolutely pro-growth” and that because of Australia’s geography it is “in the box seat to reap the benefits of the Asian century”.
Castigating the Coalition for being “in denial” about most things, including climate change, Albanese particularly extols the virtues of the burgeoning LNG export market in South East Asia while remonstrating that Labor’s plan is a “road to a low-carbon future”.
Albanese makes it clear that a Labor government would assist coal and gas corporations to reap the benefits all in the name of “job creation”.
This issue is at the crux of the internal debate over why Labor lost the May election. Many Labor MPs, particularly those in seats covering mining areas, concluded that the party’s climate policies needed to be watered down to regain voters.
Since then, Albanese has signalled, in spades, how much he supports the push by fossil fuel corporations to open up new coal and gas projects.
Beyond that, he is prepared to back yet-to-be-developed technologies such as hydrogen sequestered from fossil fuels rather than solar, wind and geothermal, which have been proven to work and for which the costs are rapidly falling.
Albanese supports expanding lithium mining, but for electric car batteries not solar power storage.
In fact, his whole “climate” vision seems to revolve around electric cars which, as we know from unpopular and expensive tollway project such as WestConnex in Sydney, means more corporate handouts.
Transport is Australia’s third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions: between 1990 and 2017, emissions from transport rose nearly 60%, more than any other sector.
To address skills shortages, including the mining sector’s request for “an additional 21,000 on-site employees by 2024”, Albanese wants to work with the private sector “to “repair” the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system.
He said Labor will look into “the barriers to business offering fulltime employment”, while talking up the “flexibility” and “additional income” of the gig economy.
A Labor government would also establish “Jobs and Skills Australia”, which he described as “a new national partnership” between business and unions.
The aim would be “to harness insights from industry” to ensure that workers are trained in a way that meets “not just today’s needs but to anticipate how work is changing”.
This doublespeak is really about subsidising the corporate sector while further privatising VET.
Channelling former Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) leader and leading supporter of the 1980’s Prices and Incomes Accord Bill Kelty, Albanese said: “I want to do it with a proven model of collaboration”.
Critics blame the 1980’s Accord between Labor, the ACTU and businesses for weakening unions and collective power in the workplace. The Accord’s promised social wage gains never eventuated while wages stagnated and are yet to have recovered.
Albanese is posturing as the successor of those Labor leaders for whom class collaboration was critical to it gaining office in the 1980s.
Will big business be persuaded that Labor can better manage the economy for it? That remains to be seen.
If trade unions decide to fight for wages and conditions, the corporate 1% may well opt for the alternative party of the bosses, given its institutional ties to the union movement.
But if union fights remain sporadic and isolated, and the ACTU continues to stay quiet despite growing job insecurity, declining living standards and wage stagnation, we can expect big business to continue backing its preferred party, the Liberals.
Meanwhile, inside Labor, the debate about the party’s direction continues.
Former NSW Senator Doug Cameron alluded to it in an October 26 Facebook post where he railed against the “the right wing, conservative embrace of neoliberalism by some in the party” describing it as “a major impediment to engaging with working class Australians”.
“Dreaming up reasons to move even more to the right will not restore Labor’s credentials with disaffected and disadvantaged working class Australians,” he wrote.
“The policies we took to the last election should be defended and promoted. Capitulation to neoliberalism will not save the ALP.”
If Albanese’s first policy announcement is anything to go by, Labor members have cause to despair because, if Cameron is being ignored, you can bet the same is true for rank-and-file members.
[Pip Hinman is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]