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The burden of power and the challenge for Labor

By Tristan Ewins - posted Friday, 17 October 2008


The Labor victory

Dissatisfaction in the Australian community with the incumbent conservative government came to a head on Saturday, November 24, 2007. The Australian Labor Party was brought to power in a landslide: which even found former Prime Minister, John Howard losing his own seat.

Labor took power with a clear mandate to “tear up” the conservatives’ WorkChoices legislation: and to introduce what it called an “Education Revolution”.

Nevertheless, this program to provide computers to schools remains not fully implemented.

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During the 2007 election campaign, Rudd Labor largely succumbed to corporate pressure, echoing the Conservatives in critical fields. Thus Labor went to the polls refusing to recognise any right to political strike action; enforcing ballots before any industrial action; limiting union access to workplaces; and refusing the right of workers to engage in pattern bargaining strategies.

Now the new government is under further pressure to limit unfair dismissal laws and to prohibit content in enterprise agreements (including, payroll deductions, health and safety training and union training).

Overwhelmingly, the Australian labour movement’s campaign against the extreme conservative government’s WorkChoices laws is recognised as being the central element in the 2007 ALP electoral win.

And yet this factor is not translating into policy influence. Indeed, the Australian Council of Trade Unions finds itself compelled to campaign to get the ALP to implement the reforms it embraced before the election.

That reform agenda had many failings, and did not restore the breadth of protection previously enjoyed by Australian workers. Many basic conditions, however, were established and certainly this has still been a victory of sorts.

Furthermore, there are a number of crises confronted by Labor that, as yet, have not been adequately addressed.

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Rudd Labor prioritised the fight against inflation: but even modest increases in official interest rates helped contribute to dire consequences - compounding the housing affordability crisis in tandem with a vicious “bubble” of speculation. This bubble had been exacerbated by  the existence of generous first home buyer’s grants.

This crisis worsened as a consequence of a tight buyer’s and rental market. Over 100,000 Australians are now classified as homeless on any given night. And hundreds of thousands are experiencing housing stress “spending about one-third of their gross income on rent or the mortgage”.

This crisis in the cost of living has been compounded by the spiralling cost of fuel, dairy products, bread, poultry, electricity and bank fees.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus.

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