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Laborís promises - the good, the bad and the ugly

By Lyn Allison - posted Friday, 14 December 2007


Now that the election dust has settled, Kevin07 has been to Bali, ministers and their shadows are appointed it’s time to take a cold hard look at those vote-catching, me-too, small target, ill-conceived promises and toss most of them in the nearest bin.

The applause for the Prime Minister’s dramatic Kyoto ratification will have faded with still no sign of a 2020 target.

The Reserve Bank warnings that the tax cuts are inflationary and the silliness of taking over small hospitals and making threats to the states on waiting times will be dawning.

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Then there is the education revolution which will need more meat than the catchy slogan promises. Lap tops and trades in every high school will be expensive, wasteful and wide of the mark in solving the real problems, as presumably those Labor MPs were told when they visited schools on Mr Rudd’s instruction. It’s just a pity they weren’t sent on this errand before the platform was ticked off by the me-too experts.

Professor Brian Caldwell says teachers should have masters degrees, higher salaries and four weeks a year of professional development and the many run down schools must be rebuilt. He says the government needs to work with the states and reduce the obsessive amount of testing.

Dr Bruce McCabe says laptops are no longer necessary for good education outcomes and the money would be better spent on very fast school broadband networks.

Not all schools are doing badly on computer access or results but the kids who are failing do so because there is a lack of expertise and resources in sorting out their problems.

Thanks to the Howard government’s preference for parents paying more for schooling, big money has been spent expanding private schools and the gap between per student resources there and in the public sector is now huge. The principals association says a third of government primary schools are struggling to teach the full curriculum because of poor funding and that it needs a top up of at least 40 per cent for schools in disadvantaged areas.

The good innovative, problem-solving ideas that some standout schools employ don’t always need a lot more funding but it sure helps.

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On climate change, ABARE, now free from its do-nothing Coalition shackles, warns that the affect on agriculture will be dire. Sir Nicholas Stern warned the international community that the cost of not acting immediately will be far more expensive than the cost of acting now. So instead of waiting for Professor Garnaut to tell us what targets the economy can afford by 2020, why not set them now based on the criteria for cuts needed to keep global warming well below 2C? That way we can turn our finest minds and efforts to the solutions without further delay.

And it’s time to drop the posturing on developing countries signing on to tight targets before we agree to any cuts at all. Under Kyoto we were the only country given permission to increase our greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 levels. Our clever negotiations also delivered big credits for not clearing land when other countries were agreeing to emissions cuts. Everyone knows the developed countries got wealthy by burning fossil fuels. It was always understood that they would be the first to act and that mechanisms would be set up to assist poor countries to avoid our mistakes so please Mr Rudd, stop pretending this is irresponsible.

All we know about Labor's proposed "cap and trade" emissions trading scheme is that it will be "practical, sensible, flexible, fair and internationally consistent". There is no clue about whether or not it includes power stations, transport, industrial processes, auctioning of permits or agriculture offsets. In contrast the one put up by the Coalition earlier in the year, though not promoted at all during the election campaign, is full of detail. It's hardly plausible that Labor has yet to work out what its scheme would look like when state and territory governments have been developing their own national scheme since 2004 and the Greenhouse Office prepared a model back in 2000.

Indeed Labor berated the Howard Government for not implementing their scheme. Perhaps Labor left out the detail so it can deliver on its other greenhouse promise that "energy intensive trade-exposed firms are not disadvantaged". This undertaking to the fossil fuel and aluminium industry could leave holes the size of coalmines in a trading scheme that needs to deliver major greenhouse cuts.

Labor is also chasing miracle cures like "clean coal" technology.  The reality is that "clean" coal is a pipe dream. If the coal industry believes clean coal can compete when emissions trading finally puts a price on carbon and it wants to survive, let it fund its own life saving research. Why should $500 million of taxpayers money be thrown at a polluting sector which is doing very nicely, raking in $22 billion from export income alone?

The general consensus is that Mr Rudd won this election by playing the Howard team at its own game. Until June 30, 2008 the Democrats won’t be holding Labor to its promises; we’ll be trying to inject some sense into policy that will otherwise be a waste of money and effort.

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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