I gave up hope of getting much out of a Labor government when Albanese announced that he would implement Morrison’s top-end tax cuts, and it became clear that this meant abandoning most of the spending commitments Labor took to the 2019 election. But at least it seemed that Labor would be significantly better on climate policy. Now, that difference has been reduced to a minor point of semantics. Morrison has finally crabwalked his way to a 2050 net zero commitment. In deference to the sensitivities of the National Party, he refused to increase Australia’s 26-28 % emissions reduction target for 2030, while pointing out that the policies of state governments (both Liberal and Labor) would probably get us to 35 % with no action at the national level. Labor has yet to announce a 2030 target, but has already abandoned the 45 % target from 2019. So, it’s clear enough that the target will be indistunguishable from Morrison’s non-target, and will similarly imply no significant policy action.
More importantly, over the last week or so, Labor has acted to remove the remaining points of difference between the parties. Albanese backed Morrison’s refusal to join an agreement to reduce methane emissions. Then, Chris Bowen ruled out either a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, and indicated Labor would continue the current governments’ voluntary policy, possibly with some minor adjustments.
What’s left?Labor’s leading climate policy is “solar apprenticeships”, an appeal to nostalgia that reflects Albanese’s general approach. There’s some limited support for electric vehicles and community batteries, and that’s about it.
There are similarly minimal differences on foreign policy and other issues. Indeed, with the exception of support for a corruption watchdog (an easy call for a party that’s been out of government long enough that it has had no opportunities to do anything corrupt) Labor offers no change at all.
The idea that, once elected, Labor could somehow move to more radical policies is naive (or disingenuous). Most options have been ruled out explicitly. In any case, the general pattern has been for Labor governments to trim their ambitions in office, not to expand them. Albanese has skipped this step by promising to have no ambitions at all.
If voters were carefully assessing the options, this capitulation ought to produce a big swing to the Greens. But most people vote out of habit, and few fully understand the preferential voting system. Even among the commentariat and political class, the idea that it’s first preference votes that matter remains dominant.
My usual response when Labor shifts to the right is to advocate putting them (nearly) second-last, ahead of the LNP (and ahead of anyone really repugnant like Hanson). But there are occasions when that’s a mistake, In 2012, following the Bligh government’s sale of public assets, I voted Green and didn’t allocate any more preferences, thereby contributing to Labor’s landslide defeat. That turned out well (though this couldn’t be guaranteed). The LNP lasted only one term in office, and Labor learned its lesson, at least on public ownership.
Federal elections don’t allow optional preferential, making for a hard choice. The Morrison government richly deserves defeat, but the LNP would learn nothing from a loss, while Labor would be confirmed in its decision to offer nothing. Unless things change, I plan to put Labor last at the next election. At a minimum that would end Albanese’s leadership and perhaps scupper the hopes of leading advocates of do-nothingism like Chalmers. Then we might get a serious alternative next time around.
This isn’t a happy prospect, but there aren’t any happy prospects on offer right now. Feel free to suggest more positive alternatices.