I’ve been pondering this topic for a while and thought it might make an interesting blog discussion point. I should state first up that I generally support a Labour government (well, my first preference would be the Greens, but we’re yet to get to a point where they come close to a majority) and I also think that Julia Gillard has done a pretty good job considering she’s leading a minority. The sheer amount of legislation that has been successfully passed through both houses of parliament is quite astounding, it’s just a pity we rarely hear about that. I’m proud of the fact that Australia is taking a strong stand against carbon pollution and that we now have paid parental leave (a long time coming that one, and still not perfect). But along the way Julia and her party have made some terrible errors in judgement (“There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” springs immediately to mind), and have dealt poorly with the continuous leadership speculation, the Peter Slipper saga and the controversy over Craig Thompson. All these have left her with very little credibility, especially with those who gather all their political information from tabloid newspapers and current affairs programs, and even I would concede that she is unlikely to win the next election. This frightens the pants off me, the alternative is just too scary to contemplate. But if I put myself in Julia’s position I think I would make this last (potenitally) 18 months really count and get through some socially important legislation that would leave an amazing legacy. Labour governments in the past have been known for their social policy reform, leaving us with the ongoing benefits of their hard work – medicare, free university education (sadly this has been significantly eroded).
And if I was in that position what would I do first:
1. Legalise gay marriage – it makes no sense to me why Gillard hasn’t done this already. There seems to be pretty strong public support for it and she doesn’t appear to have any moral obstacles to get around personally. If we find ourselves with an Abbott led Liberal/National government after the next election this will never happen, but we do have a small window of opportunity now to rid our laws of this particular discriminatory part and I would hate to see that lost.
2. Bring in a policy on refugees that is fundamentally humanitarian and acknowledges that the vast majority of refugees who seek a safe haven here do so legitimately and deserve far more care and respect than our current system offers them. The fact that the Labour government has allowed the opposition to continue misleading the people about refugees and in particular “boat people” beggars belief really.
3. Put the teeth back in both the mining tax and the pokies reform – actually the $1 limit on pokies is a better reform in my opinion than the mandatory pre-committment. This would mean that the Labour Government would again have the support of some crucial independents and the Greens and not have to reply on Craig Thompson nor would they need Peter Slipper in the speaker’s chair (not that they have him at the moment). And even more importantly it would address some real social needs (ie unfair taxation favouring big business and multinational companies and the issue of problem gamblers).
4. And finally on something I am personally concerned about, apply the recommendations of the Gonski Report regarding increased school funding and introducing major reform into the way that funding is distributed. At the moment a significant percentage of federal education money is spent on wealthy independent schools. There are so many schools in need of basic infrastructure improvements, introduction of technology and other crucial educational resources that it is unfathomable that they are competing for dollars with schools that have their own indoor swimming pools, fully equipped theatres and sports fields as far as they eye can see. There’s all sorts of other issues with the state of our education system, but I’ll leave the rest for now.
I could go on, but that would be a good start. I’d like to think that if Julia and her ministers started taking a lead on these kinds of socially important issues she might actually find a bit more public support and her credibility in the public eye would increase. Heck, she might even get re-elected. So if you were Julia, what would you do?