There are few commentators in the Australian media better informed or more capable of penetrating social analysis than Dr Jennifer Oriel. Click the link just below for a list of Dr Oriel’s articles in the Australian.
Federal election 2016: ALP’s fairness means socialist ideology
Labor has gained poll popularity by mastering the art of framing. No concept has been subjected to more radical reframing during the election campaign than fairness. By modern Left reckoning, indebting citizens to expand state power constitutes fairness.
The ideals of fairness and equality have been retrofitted to serve the New Left’s voracious statism and our most vulnerable citizens are paying the price.
When asked to define Labor’s economic agenda last week, Bill Shorten said: “Labor’s plan for economic growth is jobs, education, Medicare, renewable energy, fair taxation, access for first-home buyers into the housing market. Our economic plan is all about fairness.”
This response was economically and politically illiterate. Fairness is not an economic plan. It is a political ideal that typically comes at a high cost with no guaranteed return on investment. Fairness has to be funded. That funding often comes from sources the Left despises: the entrepreneurial class, the private sector and mined natural resources.
The Left’s fairness agenda depends on the redistribution of revenue from wealth creators to state dependants including politicians and bureaucrats. Many taxpayers accept some income sacrifice is necessary or desirable to ensure a welfare net to support fellow citizens who have fallen on hard times. But the Left is reshaping the fairness agenda in the image of more typically socialist ideology.
It agitates for substantive equality where fairness is equated with equality of outcomes. Substantive equality requires the neo-Marxist strategy of levelling enabled by “positive discrimination” in affirmative action laws. It is promoted by the Labor Left, the Greens, publicly funded institutions including the Australian Human Rights Commission and many supranational organisations. By contrast, the Right supports formal equality defined as the equal opportunity to achieve and the equal treatment of individual citizens under the law.
Despite mounting an urgent case for substantive equality over several decades, the Left has not achieved it. The legacy of left-wing government is neither equality nor fairness. It is debt. In a 2013 review of Australia’s debt, senior researcher Alan Payne measured the gross and net debt left by governments since 1971. He concluded: “In gross and net terms the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor government recorded the second largest debt position of all previous governments over the reporting period, with only the Hawke-Keating Labor government experiencing a higher debt position.”
In an essay for Quadrant, former prime minister Tony Abbott wrote that the last Labor government left cumulative deficits of more than $250 billion. His government identified Labor’s vast expansion of state bureaucracy as a principal driver of government debt and aimed to rationalise duplication of services. According to the Office of Best Practice Regulation, the Coalition has cut red tape by $3bn a year. It met a pre-election pledge to reduce the wasteful bureaucracies Labor propped up by eliminating or merging 300 agencies. And despite protracted Senate opposition, the 2014 budget produced $50bn of savings over the forward estimates.
Labor claims to have learned from its history of wasting public money and creating intergenerational debt. But it has crafted an economic plan that will add $10bn to the deficit over three years on measures funded by higher taxes and higher debt to service policies that bear no direct relation to economic growth.
The fallacy of Labor’s fairness agenda is evident in its populist sales pitch for the public vote on education. Polls show education is a vote winner for Labor, but hard evidence suggests it shouldn’t be.
A recent poll by Essential Research found 28 per cent of respondents trusted the Liberals more to ensure a “quality education for all children” while 39 per cent favoured Labor. The ALP claims that it will improve education for all children by spending an additional $37.3bn in public funds on Gonski school reforms.
However, there are significant doubts about the validity of the claim. In its 2012 Low Performing Students report, the OECD wrote of Australia: “There was no other OECD country where large proportions of low-performing students attended schools with better educational resources.” Yet the elements of education related to high academic outcomes in other countries such as school autonomy, teaching literacy through phonics, cultivating students’ self-discipline, and ensuring that those who teach children are themselves high academic achievers are not the primary focus of Left educational policy.
The Liberal approach to equity in education rests on improving the quality of teachers, increasing literacy and numeracy through proven methods, quantitative evaluations of teacher and student standards, and encouraging private investment to stimulate performance where the state has failed at the task. The government’s first test of teaching standards found that among trial participants, 1800 students had graduated from university teaching degrees lacking basic literacy or numeracy. Eight per cent failed the literacy test and 10 per cent failed the numeracy component.
Labor’s higher education policy provided direct financial incentives for universities to achieve participation targets by enrolling more students irrespective of entry standards.
In The Weekend Australian, higher education editor Julie Hare reported that in five years, university offers to students with ATARs below 50 have trebled. This year, the number of teaching education offers made to students with ATARs below 50 increased from 894 to 1062.
Labor’s fairness agenda is contributing to long-term inequality and intergenerational debt. In policy areas such as education, it has succeeded in expanding the state and the public institutions it regulates at the expense of academic standards that could furnish equal opportunity.
The modern Left sacrifices the principle of fairness and the practice of equal opportunity to service the statist ambitions of its political elite. None are more disappointed than those of us who once believed Labor’s pledge to fairness meant putting the people before the party.