The Guardian August 9, 2000


ALP Platform 2000:
Some valuable reforms, but economic rationalism stays

by Anna Pha

The ALP national conference held in Tasmania last week set the stage for 
the Party's Federal election campaign. Most of the battles were fought out 
before the Conference with the right-wing successfully reaffirming its free 
trade agenda, financial deregulation, privatisation, competition policy, 
cooperation with employers, export-led growth, and balanced budgets  the 
hallmarks of economic rationalism. The "markets" have little to fear from a 
Beazley government.

The right wing has, however, been forced to make a number of concessions, 
some of them very important to workers, to gain the support of trade 
unions, rural and regional communities, small business and other important 
electoral constituencies.

Privatisation, including competitive tendering and contracting out will 
continue but there are undertakings not to sell Australia Post or the 
remainder of Telstra  key demands of the CEPU.

There will be a freeze on textile, clothing and footwear tariffs from the 
year 2000 to the year 2005, with a review in 2004.

Government will retain some core functions, such as the provision of 
funding for education to both private and public schools.

"Labor also recognises the importance of public funding of the non-
government schools sector ..."

University and TAFE fees will remain, HECS will be reformed, university 
fees controlled and upfront fees abolished.

The Coalition's Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment scheme which transfers money 
from public to private schools will be abolished and additional resources 
directed to the disadvantaged  key demands of the Australian Education 
Union.

Recognition of trade unions

Trade union rights are to be recognised and strengthened.

Australian Workplace Agreements and the Employment Advocate will be 
abolished  an important move, but the possibility of individual contracts 
is not ruled out, nor are non-union enterprise agreements.

The powers of the Industrial Relations Commission will be strengthened and 
the comprehensive nature of awards restored as part of a dual system which 
also provides for enterprise agreements which can override awards (with a 
new no disadvantage test).

Primary and secondary boycott provisions will be removed from the Trades 
Practices Act and included in new industrial legislation. There is no 
promise to abolish them although they might be amended.

The system will "encourage cooperation not confrontation", a theme that 
runs throughout the Platform, in an attempt to deny the conflicting class 
interests between workers and their employers.

There are also important proposals for the protection of workers' 
entitlements when employers go bust or do the wrong thing. This is in 
response to a number of recent examples where workers have lost their 
entitlements when employers were bankrupted or restructured to avoid their 
responsibilities.

Government's role

Although the policy statements call for a "strong role for national 
government", this is contradicted in the reliance on the private sector and 
"markets" to deliver through "growth". The government will play a role in 
the case of "financial market failures" which means in practice that the 
government will bail-out bankrupt privately owned financial institutions 
using taxpayers' money.

Jobs will be created primarily by "Growing the Australian economy as fast 
as we can".

There are references to "government intervention", but this does not mean 
government control or planning.

There is an underlying assumption that the present course of economic 
development, as dictated by the transnational corporations, OECD, World 
Bank and IMF, is inevitable, that there is no other course.

The Platform opens with the remarks: "Our world is being remade, and 
Australia is being remade along with it, at a pace we have never before 
experienced, and in ways we cannot avoid."

A Labor government will by and large leave the course of economy to the 
private sector, while encouraging investment into some key areas (food 
processing, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, resource processing, 
environmental technology, etc) through the use of financial incentives.

It will increase spending on training, education and research, provide 
lifelong learning opportunities, for Australia to become a "knowledge 
nation".

Free trade

"Labor remains firmly committed to realising our free trade objectives", 
says the Platform which then goes on to embrace APEC, endorse the WTO's 
Uruguay Round agreements, and calls for a new round of WTO negotiations 
including competition policy, investment and agriculture  along the lines 
rejected at Seattle.

These policies are exactly the opposite of "strong government" and 
"government intervention"  unless by government one means the 
transnational corporations, the IMF and World Bank.

A Labor government will deliver "public goods which the private sector is 
unable or unwilling to provide, at all or as well".

It "has a duty to ensure that none of us is left without the means to a 
decent life" because of unemployment, family responsibilities, inadequate 
retirement income, disabilities, etc. But, there is to be no attempt to 
reverse the take-over of welfare services by private providers.

In effect the government will not take prime responsibility for provision, 
but rather top up where the private providers and self-provision failed.

The Job Network will remain (with a review), providing "universal, publicly 
funded active labour market assistance". But public funding does not mean 
public provision or control. Trade unions will also play a role.

Medicare

Support for Medicare is reaffirmed. "... Labor's Medicare is fair, simple 
and economically sound."

Beazley in his address to the Conference pledged to "restore Medicare as a 
universal health system providing for all Australians", a very positive and 
important commitment.

This support for the universality of Medicare is, once again, contradicted 
by Labor's support for the private hospital system.

The Platform sees the private health system as "complementing the core 
services funded through Medicare" and, by default, encourages people to 
leave the public hospital system as a Labor government will retain the 
Coalition Government's 30 percent rebate (subsidy) on health insurance 
premiums.

In fact, very few of the Coalition Government's actions will be reversed.

For example, the GST will not be repealed, only "rolled back" in the areas 
of health, education and charities and even this commitment seems to be 
pushed into the background as one of the outcomes of the National 
conference.

The Labor Party hopes to regain office in next year's election and the 
Hobart Conference was a preparation for that.

Its decisions reflect its need to maintain the support of many trade unions 
and workers who are seriously disillusioned by the experience of the Labor 
Party in office.

However, the ALP has not changed its basic support for economic rationalism 
and will implement, on all major questions, policies readily acceptable to 
the big corporations.

Kim Beazley will be able to repeat the claim of Bob Hawke that a Labor 
Party government can manage the system better than the Liberals because it 
is able to keep the workers and their trade unions quiet with some well 
directed reforms.

Important as these reforms are they do not overcome the real problems of 
unemployment, the run-down and privatisation of public enterprises, the 
lengthening of hours of work and the casualisation of many jobs, etc.

Social democratic parties in all countries have been shown to always bend 
to the demands of the big corporations rather than fully side with and 
fight for the interests of the working people. A Beazley government will be 
a repeat performance of the Hawke, Keating years.

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