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What’s Left ? What’s Right ? Views at Byron

August 5, 2011

In a panel chaired by Mungo MacCallum, here at the Byron Writers’ Festival, I said the most fundamental issue is the size of the public sector. Social democrat and labor parties around the world cannot urge more public spending as a share of the economy when we are up against the debt and tax limits so apparent everywhere. Otherwise we just become public prodigals. And end up producing fiscal crises that bring a conservative backlash – as with Thatcher or Kennett or the Tea Party.

Robert Manne was impressive with a rip-roaring attack on The Australian for its dogged attacks on the science of climate change. He argued the paper produced Abbott’s leadership based, as it is, on climate change denial.

But Manne offered a reasonable suggestion for social democrats. First he said Gillard could be seen as a principled leader taking a stand for the pricing of carbon, the first Australian Prime Minister to fight through to success on a difficult reform. He said, further, that the Labor-side could take up:

  • dental services, to make good Howard’s withdrawal of support for dental services and give access to the poorest
  • national accident insurance, as refined by former state minister John Della Bosca and the Productivity Commission
  • a defense of taxation (to me, the difficult one given what I’ve written above).

General agreement that the dividing line dividing left and right in Australia is carbon pricing. Noteworthy again is the withdrawal of conservatives from any serious interest in the environmental agenda, to me a mystery of the universe in both Australian and US politics.

  1. Matt permalink
    August 5, 2011 6:38 pm

    Dental services reform needs to go beyond the Commonwealth Dental scheme that Howard cut. Take on the dentists and other vested interests and have a medicare styled program, i.e the Denticare proposal put forward by the Australian Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. Medicare is a policy that defines the ALP identity for many supporters. Make Denticare the same strong brand that the Conservatives can’t demolish even if they want to. That’s what the Commonwealth Dental Scheme lacked. Remind Middle Australia families that Labor is on their side.

    Support for National Disability Insurance Scheme too is likewise a no-brainer for the ALP. The conservatives would be careful with this one, wouldn’t want to be seen as the ‘nasty party’, the DLP in Tony Abbott would make him inclined to be personally supportive despite the cost and Alan Jones is one of the NDIS’ biggest supporters in the Australian media.

    The cuts or increased revenue would have to come from somewhere to pay for these expensive schemes, but they’d have incredible benefits for the weakened ALP brand. More importantly they’re also the right thing to do.

    • August 8, 2011 10:53 am

      Saying “cuts or increased revenue would have to come from somewhere” is not good enough in our new world. Discussions about how to strengthen the “weakened ALP brand” are now required to be along the lines of “instead of spending money on this, we should be spending it on that”.

  2. August 5, 2011 6:53 pm

    Thanks for those points and I agree John DB has been a good advocate, and your point on environmental issues is well made especially with CSG, even Barnaby Joyce can see the effect of destructive practices on water tables and the land itself.

    If you get the chance what do various panels believe about US energy security, one hears the call drill baby drill, after the BP saga and what implications does electricity generation have in our own context?

    Most of these issues would be regarded as rather boring is there any chance to re capture the spirit of the mid 70’s with other issues to re ignite a flagging party?

  3. Watson permalink
    August 6, 2011 1:38 am

    The fundamental characteristic of ‘conservative’ politics is its compete disregard for conservation of any sort, be it the beauty of the natural environment – which only has value as timber, potential farm land – or of the minerals beneath it.
    They maintain an unshakeable faith in the utterly debunked theories of unending population growth, resource exploitation and ‘trickle down economics’, and hence regard any suggestion of socially and environmentally responsible management and re-distribution of wealth as theft.
    The behaviour of the Tea Party representatives in the debt ceiling debate has been completely insane – preferring to bring down the world’s largest economy and ruin their own supporters than cooperate with the hated President.

  4. Peter Pando permalink
    August 8, 2011 4:23 pm

    Dear Mr Carr, It’s a constant source of amusement to conservatives to read and listen to the views of non-conservatives about what being conservative means and what they’re interested in. This article raised a smile. The shame is that the narrow interpretations of political left and right prevalent in Australian political commentary mean that if you thought I was a conservative you’d ascribe a stack of incorrect ideas to me. We’ve seen this dynamic before in pre-revolutionary Russia, where factions fought for power within a narrow political spectrum, whilst creating the vacuum they were going to fill with Stalin by failing to integrate the useful ‘conservative’ principles (because of ignorance of what they are) and driving conservatives themselves from any standing. The weakness of absolutist Parliamentarianism is emerging again, and sadly if it runs its natural course it will entirely discredit democracy in the Pacific for over a century, as it did in the USSR.

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