Over the weekend of July 24 to 26, the nation will be watching as the Australian Labor Party (ALP) holds its 47th triennial national conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The Labor Party’s national conference is its highest decision-making body, deciding its policies and future direction.
The Labor party’s previous national conference was in Sydney in 2011. At that conference, it voted for a policy supporting marriage equality. Despite that vote, and the Labor Party being in government until the end of 2013, marriage equality was not made law.
The current Coalition government is failing the youth of Australia: a raft of its policies have adversely hit the young, unemployed and other disadvantaged groups.
Budget cuts are what we’ve come to expect of the Coalition but far more worrying is the Labor Party’s failure to offer a credible alternative.
Since the last election, Labor has shown its disregard for the rights of young people. If this is how it acts in opposition, we cannot expect it to do any better in government. Labor offers no future for young people.
While still in power in 2013, the Labor government proposed to increase school funding under the Gonski review. However, the grubby fingerprint of compromise was stamped on the project from its first days.
The $2.8 billion funding package was delivered by cuts to the university sector, effectively funding education by cutting funds to education. This is the model of political “vision” on youth issues that has come to characterise Labor’s approach to youth policy.
Instead of examining a broad field of options and setting a daring vision, the Labor Party continually takes short-sighted views on youth issues. It borrows from Peter to pay Paul. Instead of looking for reform opportunities, which might ruffle feathers among the wealthy and established, Labor chooses to either ignore youth every time or actively put the boot in.
One “bold” new proposal from Labor has been to cut superannuation tax concessions for high-income earners. In doing so, it would like to be seen as defying established money interests and the ruling class, and in favour of youth interests.
Closer analysis reveals that this is an elaborate election-time dodge to distract from real issues.
There is a huge gap between “cutting concessions” on taxation, and addressing a creaky, regressive taxation philosophy that allows multinational corporations and rich individuals to evade their social obligations.
If the Labor Party really cared about youth, it would look further than “cutting concessions” to the already-rich, and reshape the tax base to ensure those who have enjoyed a lifetime of prosperity contribute to a just social security system.
Added revenue could be put into much-needed infrastructure, healthcare and education programs to ensure that youth interests are looked after not just now, but for generations to come. Labor doesn’t present a credible development plan that addresses the interests of young people.
The Labor Party recently allowed the Coalition to pass laws to restrict internet usage and allow for total metadata retention and surveillance for up to two years. The new laws would give copyright holders unprecedented power to potentially restrict a wide variety of internet sites with totally legitimate purposes, possibly allowing a covert censorship system to sneak in under the radar.
For a generation who will spend their entire lives working and playing in the online environment, this is further proof of Labor’s unwillingness to take a principled stand or present a strong alternative solution to problems that are only beginning to emerge.
Rather, the Labor party’s guiding instinct seems to be to take the simplest and quickest way around a new problem, leaving the complex issues of technology and ethics to be sorted out later. Its support for the metadata retention regime blindly follows the Coalition’s stance to look “tough” instead of seeing that decisions made today will shape the lives of generations to come.
Instead, hundreds of thousands of young Australians will grow up in a world where their communications are tracked and their internet access is beholden to the interests of large corporate rights holders. The Labor Party has failed to present its vision of the internet, neglecting its potential as a learning and enrichment tool and framing it as a corporate money-making machine, which must be protected at all costs.
The Labor party’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is another reason why young people should be wary of supporting it.
The TPP could, among other things, potentially make medicines more expensive, implement further internet surveillance measures, reduce workers’ rights and remove environmental protections.
The agreement itself is shrouded in secrecy, requiring members of parliament — from all parties — to sign non-disclosure agreements before even reading it.
Labor has drawn attention to sections of the TPP that would allow foreign companies to sue the governments for losses, for instance environmental regulations that prohibit fracking. But it has failed to oppose the deal as a whole, choosing to haggle over small details while accepting the TPP with bland resignation. The Labor Party once again has dropped the ball and a great opportunity to show some backbone and present a vision of Australia that rejects these profits-at-all-costs trade agreements.
The Labor Party will not be able to win the confidence of the youth until it takes a principled stand on many social, economic and environmental questions.
A new generation of progressive youth activists needs to look well to the left of the Labor party. Check out the Socialist Alliance and Resistance on your city or campus. We’d love to talk to you.