One of the great Australian traditions is the windows on Play School on the ABC. There are three – round, square and arch – you have to choose which one the camera will zoom through to reveal the next snippet of life-changing information. (The BBC”s Tikabilla program for kids has the same feature, proving we can export knowledge successfully). We always play the game, and I love picking the arch window. On average, I am right 1 in 3 times. It’s probably the only system, gambling or otherwise, I have in my life.
This morning I was walking the younger around the fabulous old railway workshops in Eveleigh, next to Redfern, which have been transformed into the quite juicy Australian Technology Park. I paused in front of these windows, it was like a game I couldn’t lose, the answer would always be the arch window.
We walked home through the 34 degree “autumn”, using local knowledge of streetscape and sun-plane to stay out of the sun most of the way. Frankie fell asleep and I got to pondering on the metaphor of the windows as choice. And how the lack of choice in this picture seemed to capture the lack of choice facing the Australian Labor Party. It was only this morning that Mark Latham’s latest punching bag, the disgraced former chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon, was reported to have said that those on $250,000 a year were doing it tough. There are stories of the Labor Government contemplating changing some rules relating to superannuation, to attempt to provide greater fiscal balance (we’re currently spending more than we’re making) and make a start on initiatives in education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Labor is getting snookered on the left, where some would have it increase taxes, including on super, and spend more, much more, to deliver “traditional Labor values”. It’s snookered on the right, it will be probably crucified as reckless if it increases the current deficit, and Fitzgibbon and his ilk have just provided ammunition to the lobby groups for the aspirationals and upwardly mobile to stifle changes to tax. And the Conservative parties.
This morning, Bill Kelty, Paul Keating’s great partner in the Prices and Incomes Accords of the 80s and 90s, and co-author with Lindsay Fox of a major regional development report for Keating, spoke of the need to return to the “consensus” “reforming” days of the Hawke and Keating Governments. He wasn’t critical of all the Rudd-Gillard achievements, but scathing of much of the politics. Kelty was the champion of compulsory super, often trading off wages now for future super.
Still, I think he looks at the past with a bit too much rose in his glass. There is a consensus that the consensus approach was successful, if you define success the way Hawke, Keating, Kelty, Howard and most of the mainstream media did. The economy has grown for years, if that’s the yardstick. But, to be really truthful, there weren’t really many votes in it for Labor. In 1983, there was a large swing to Labor, in response to Fraser’s recession. But in 1984, as the first wave of reforms were rolling out, the Liberals achieved a swing back, despite PM Hawke’s popularity. In 1987, Keating demolished Howard’s tax plan and Hawke exploited the splits in the Liberals and Nationals (Joh for PM, etc), and Labor ran hard on the Daintree and Tasmanian forests… they increased their majority. In 1990, as interest rates rose to “break the inflation stick”, Labor almost lost power, and were almost forced into minority government. They won in 1993 because Keating stalked Hewson and Fightback ferociously, because they drummed the GST into the ground, and especially because women did not like the proposed changes to Medicare. In 1996, with the economy boomimg, Labor and Keating were smashed. It was Time, again.
So, from here, the Government is essentially being herded into the one window. The Budget is being developed, but the parameters have been set, by Kelty, and by resigning Ministers like Simon Crean last week (a member of both Hawke and Keating Governments, and ACTU President when the first Accords were developed). Any changes to super will be anti-consensus. How that leaves the Government able to fund education and Disability, and continue nation-building infrastructure programs, is not the problem of these critics.
Only one window to jump through, the arch one. Arch, in all senses of the word…