On first glance, the Australian Progressives look like a party after my own heart. Their front page, which looks a little bit like the cover of a science fiction novel, and is brought to you by the Letter E, which stands for:
Ethics. Empathy. Equality, Evidence. Engagement. Empowerment.
Please note the use of full stops, because you are not going to get nearly as many of these on the policy page. These are their party values, of which more later.
The Australian Progressives believe in the advancement of an empathetic society – one in which all citizens of this country can reach their full potential and find fulfilment in their lives within a thriving environment. We want to be a government with the guts to advance society through laws, services and infrastructure, rather than gambling on the off-chance that “the free market” will look after everyone and everything. Government and communities should work together to develop creative, passionate and driven individuals who can improve the world around them, embracing education, technology, science, culture and global leadership.
These are good goals, in my view, and this is another party that is aiming to be a party of government, not a single-issue microparty.
Let’s see how they plan to achieve them.
We’ll start with a quick glance at the party values. Under ethics, they pretty much feel that we should follow the Golden Rule, and that “Our leaders must be the very finest human beings. Leadership, fundamentally, is about setting an example.” They have an absolute commitment to great character, apparently. We are setting ourselves some lofty goals here, I see.
Under Empathy, they talk about compassion and community (which both start with C, in point of fact, but C is also for cookie, which is good enough for me) and talk about seeing through the ‘otherness’ of our neighbour ‘and perceive a common humanity, regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender’. They really seem like sweet people. Can they survive in our political system? They extend this notion of community to our global neighbours.
The AP believes in Evidence, which brings a smile to my heart, especially after my disappointment in Health Australia.
Our values determine the broad direction of our policies, but the specific methods used must be determined on the back of sound evidence – peer-reviewed research being the most obviously verifiable, transparent example – or upon a carefully thought-out projection from past experiences or new discoveries. Too often policy has been dictated by a manipulative hidden agenda or by populist impulses in the face of a looming election, with dire results for the community. The Australian Progressives are firmly committed to using evidence to shape our policy specifics.
They also intend to learn from mistakes, and even admit to them. So far, the AP is playing well with this voter.
Under Empowerment, they want to empower people and communities to be heard in politics. They also want work to be ‘the path to creative expression and fulfilment’, and seem to be anti-big-business and pro-entrepreneurship.
Here’s what they say about Equality:
Achieving equality for all our citizens is not a matter of giving all citizens the same thing, regardless of where they stand in the current demographic. To do so simply retains the degree of injustice. As a government we must apply principles of equity, regardless of each citizen’s social, economic or political standing- providing the resources that people need to bring them up to an equal footing with others.
The culture of blaming whole sections of our society for their disadvantage must end. The illusion that people can always control what happens to them is a fallacy. An empathetic society stands in the shoes of the disadvantaged and sees that ‘there but for the grace of God – or circumstance – go I’. An ethical society holds out a hand and helps the disadvantaged rise to an equal level of happiness and fulfilment with compassion – it does not hold them down with judgment.
Finally, a party who gets it. And which is going to be instantly eviscerated on the internet because they are clearly Social Justice Warriors (why is this an insult? Why?).
And in Engagement, we come back to community again, and here’s the real mission statement, buried at the very end:
Progressivism must be more than rhetoric and theory. It must prove itself to do real good that improves people’s quality of life. Only with grassroots positive action can we fight the disillusionment and cynicism that pervades our society and elevate the human race to the next level of enlightened civilisation.
All very promising so far. They are currently running two candidates each in New South Wales and Victoria, one of whom is First Nations. All blokes though, which is a bit of a pity for a progressive party. Having said that, they look like good candidates, and two of them have good credentials in the area of Indigenous Australia, which is something our Parliament definitely needs – but a little gender equity would be nice. Hopefully they will run some female candidates in other states??
Time to have a peek at their policies. I see that they currently have three ‘endorsed’ policies, and 10 other policies – endorsed policies are fully-realised, including references, for transparency (they urge other political parties to steal this idea), and have been voted on and agreed on by the membership. Unfortunately, there is something a bit wrong with the PDFs they’ve made, and text is missing, and sometimes disappears and reappears when I try to read it on my computer, or just repeats endlessly, so I can only refer to the key points on their website. (You might want to fix that, guys, if you are reading this.)
Their endorsed policies are in the areas of Dental Health, Anti-Corruption and Whistleblowing protections, and ABC and SBS Funding.
Under Dental Health, the AP wants dental care to be funded by medicare and bulk, and targeted funding for rural areas and for indigenous populations. They would also like dental/GP clinics and subsidised fluoride treatment for rural areas ‘including education materials’, which I suspect refers to our friends from Health Australia and their co-religionists who feel that fluoride is Poisoning Our Children.
They want to restore funding to the SBS and ABC (hooray!), oppose expanding advertising or commercial influence, and provide better infrastructure. They also want to restore the contract for the international television broadcasting network to be restored to the ABC. They point out that this supports diversity, and I think I saw something about employment opportunities before the text disappeared from my screen.
They are very keen on anti-corruption stuff, including stronger protections for whistleblowers, and proactive corruption prevention. This appears to incorporate things like keeping an eye on what sort of lovely appointments politicians get after they leave office, and whether these might, just possibly, be related to the policies they supported while in office.
So far, I see nothing to object to, and a fair bit to like. Let’s move on to their general policies page where we learn that they are ‘Pro-fair share!’, ‘Pro-fair go!’, ‘Pro-sustainability!’, ‘Pro-Health!’, ‘Pro-Equality!’, ‘Pro-opportunity!’, ‘Pro-creativity!’, ‘Pro-compassion!’, ‘Pro-integrity’, and evidently also pro-exclamation marks! (!) (!!)
The Australian Progressives start with their budget plans, which is a novel and pleasing notion for parties on the left of politics (it’s not that other lefty parties don’t do budgets or costings, but they generally don’t put them first on their list). They want progressive taxation, with less corporate welfare, cracking down on tax havens, and a trading tax on stocks and bonds. They also want to increase super contributions and basically make property unappealing as an investment, by losing negative gearing, getting rid of capital gains tax exemptions, and cracking down on foreign investments, among other things.
They want to reduce the working week to 32 hours, with flexibility for a four day week without financial loss. This would be glorious, but very expensive for employers – I’m not sure how it could be done. Also, not all jobs are going to fit into 32 hours a week, and jobsharing can be messy. But if it could be done, I’d love it to happen. They also want to cap CEO remunerations, give tax breaks to businesses that employ 10% entry level/graduates, and extend parental leave for both mothers and fathers while increasing childcare facilities and affordability.
This paternity leave extension is an important one, by the way. The assumption that women are likely to have babies and take a lot of time off is actively harmful in terms of both getting jobs and being considered for promotion (pretty much every woman I know has, at some point, been asked in an interview about her plans for having children. This is illegal. It’s also absolutely ubiquitous.), and countries where there is an assumption that men will take a similar amount of time off at the birth of a child tend to have better outcomes for women in the workplace – suddenly, there is no perceived advantage in hiring a man over a woman.
And they hate the TPP.
I love all these policies, but I really do question how financially feasible they are, especially the working week one. I’m not sure if my inability to see how this would work represents a problem with the policies or a problem with me, but I am a little doubtful.
They have all the climate change policies:
Introduce broad based Emissions Trading Scheme; restore/increase funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the CSIRO as well as reversing the cuts to funding and staff in the CSIRO, and the reestablishing the climate change commission; lock in 100% Renewable energy target by 2036 and 125% by 2060. Target 70% reduction on 2005 emissions levels by 2030.
They also want to protect the reef, but also agricultural lands, and I do like that they want to provide support for climate change mitigation to agriculture, and provide funding for sustainable agricultural development. Like every other party I’ve read, they also oppose foreign purchase of agricultural land. Major parties might want to listen up on this one. Finally, they want to phase out mining and remove fossil fuel subsidies.
This is all good stuff, and I endorse it with enthusiasm.
The AP’s policy on Health can be summed up as ‘more money everywhere, keep it free, and make sure everyone can get access to services. This includes mental health services, incidentally. They also want drug law reform – moving from a criminal to a healthcare model.
Under Equality, the AP wants a Treaty with Australia’s First Peoples, which is interesting, because I think that’s what New Zealand has – and from what I’ve read, it’s what our own First Peoples would prefer to a few lines in the constitution. They want to close the gap, and empower communities to solve their local issues.
They are also pro-marriage equality, pro-gender equality (with a recognition of systemic discriminatory practices), and they support the recommendations from the Royal Commission to increase funding and services for Domestic Violence.
Under Social Security, they pretty much want to increase payments all round, but they also want to review asset shifting to clamp down on naughty people transferring wealth to be eligible for pensions. Also, I like their unemployment policy a lot:
Nationalise unemployment support services and increase access to jobseeker case managers to empower people to actively contribute to their communities either as paid employees or as volunteers. Improve access to support services such as mental health and subsidised skills training.
Education also gets more money all around, with better teacher training and salaries, more individual learning plans, and generally following the Finnish model. They want to investigate rorting of the FEE-HELP system by the VET industry, they want to fund TAFE, and they want to reduce course fees, increase the study allowance, and let people pay back their HECS debt a bit more slowly. I also like the extra allowance of an extra $250 once per semester to pay for materials.
Under Innovation they want to reform the funding model to increase financial security for Universities, CSIRO and research and increase research funding HELLO MY DEAR FRIENDS WHY DID YOU NOT SAY SO BEFORE???(Sorry, you have no idea how many research grants I have helped submit in the past decade and more, which have gone nowhere). They want to get better at commercialisation, which is a smart move, and might make this more cost neutral.
They want a government Venture Capital Fund to seed emerging companies, and provide technical and business support.
They want more infrastructure. All of it. No, really, all of it. Actually, roads aren’t mentioned, so maybe not roads. And they want a proper NBN, oh, hear, hear.
(This is getting briefer partly because they are brief, partly because I don’t have much to say other than ‘this all sounds excellent, but can you show me how the costings work’, and partly because it is absolutely FREEZING in my study and I am having trouble typing.)
We already know about their anti-corruption stuff, but they want – hooray! – a Royal Commission into financial services! Time to take a drink! I was just thinking a few minutes ago that I hadn’t had any Royal Commissions today. It’s nice to know that I can rely on the Australian Progressives to meet all my needs. Except for women candidates. Please get on that, boys.
Last of all, they want to be nice to asylum seekers:
Onshore processing; increase intake to 26,000 per year; use Manus/Nauru closure to improve health and transition services; establish point-of-safe-harbour Australian-run refugee settlements in consultation with conflict border nations to improve safety closer to home and seek out a regional asylum seeker agreement.
It’s short, but I agree with all of it. Maybe I should point them in the direction of my own attempt at an asylum seeker policy, and see if I can get them to adopt it…
Overall, I really do like this party. I think they have a lot of potential, though I’m not sure they are there yet. They do remind me rather irresistibly of a computer game I played online years ago, where you had a country and had to work out policies and finances and so forth for it, and mine started off as a socialist paradise and devolved into an economic basket case within about two years. Now, I am sure they have someone in the party who is better at economics than me, so hopefully this isn’t actually as unfeasible as it looks, but I think it might be a good idea if they put some costings up there, because I cannot possibly be the only one looking at those policies and thinking, well, that’s lovely, but…?
Aside from that, my only real question really is why they haven’t joined forces with the Greens? They do seem to have a lot in common, policy-wise.
At this stage, the Australian Progressives are definitely in my top three of the new political parties for 2016, though I shall have to compare them with the existing parties on the ballot and any exciting new Independents before I decide just where I put them on my ballot paper…