||A New Direction for Australia: Time for a Change|
|Themes:||Common sense and a fair go. See themselves as centrist, but fairly progressive. Increases to welfare, more renewable energy, better healthcare. Slightly obsessive about fraud, and a bit funny about foreigners.|
||Upper House: NSW|
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Policies & Commentary
At first glance, the Australian People’s Party is the platonic ideal of a small Australian political party. It’s the party you picture in your head when you think of small parties – the website features a Southern Cross, and a map of Australia (green) with the words ‘Not for sale’ (in yellow) printed across its centre. And their opening paragraph comes straight from the Small Australian Political Party Handbook:
The Australian People’s Party (APP) supports transparent, accountable and honest government. We are a centrist party. Neither supporting left or right wing ideologies but commonsense policies and ideas.
Our party supports politicians who make decisions for the good of the country and all Australians not for their own self-interest, ideology, financial donors or to buy votes.
It’s… a rather unflattering reflection on recent governments that nearly every single small party in every recent election has felt the need to emphasise their support for ‘transparent, accountable and honest government’, and politicians who are in it for the country and not for self-interest, isn’t it? And it would be difficult for anyone who has been tuning in to the Senate Estimates recently to disagree with this assessment.
(The desire for ‘commonsense policies’ is also a hallmark of small parties, but I think that’s less a reflection on what we have been seeing in politics and more a reflection of the fact that one’s own ideas are always commonsense, unlike those of whoever is in government…)
The APP wants a ‘fairer, sustainable and better Australia for all Australians’. Also:
Some say we can’t form government because we are too small. But we can influence the decisions being made and avoid bad laws being introduced. If you carefully examine laws introduced by the major parties, none of them provide voters with detailed analysis of the impacts of those laws. Nor do they show how those laws reward their supporters or donors. What have they got to hide?
You can’t be a proper small party in Australian politics without having that little frisson of paranoia regarding the intentions of politicians. The APP’s goal is to ensure that whichever party wins, they don’t control the Senate, which is a goal that most Australians strive to achieve by voting Labor in the lower house and Liberal in the upper, or vice versa. I’ll agree that this method is more interesting.
Mild sarcasm aside, their front page paints them as a little bit nationalist, though not necessarily dangerously so, and mistrustful of large political parties, which is probably a sign of sanity in our current climate. So what else do they have for us?
Their Party Leadership page is a bit of a stub at present, but I’m interested to see that the only positions listed are their National Leader and their Advisor for Aboriginal Affairs, which suggests some unusual priorities. Their Candidate pages are a bit of a pain to get to, but my quick scan suggests that they have a pretty broad mix of ages and backgrounds, which is good, and in Victoria, at least, they also have a range of ethnicities, and several women candidates, though they trend a bit white and male in some other states.
Interestingly, they also have a Budget Response for last year’s budget, which condemns both major parties:
Both parties are still focussed on buying votes rather than improving the lives of Australians.
There is no strategy to paying off our huge debt we are leaving our children.
Nor are they focussing on those segments of our community doing it tough.
And then they talk about tax reform and increasing Newstart, but if that’s what we are talking about, I think it’s time to look at their policies.
The APP has policies in thirteen areas – social security and living standards; environmental issues; education; health; taxation; immigration; energy policy and phone/broadband plans (I think the word they were looking for might have been infrastructure?); housing affordability; government accountability; international trade and aid; state and other issues; and superannuation.
On Social Security, they have some interesting ideas. They want to increase Newstart by $100/fortnight and the Pension by $75 for singles and $100 for couples, and make the pension age 65 again. They want to do something unintelligible to reform the NDIS – given that they are reasonably sound on both health and social security, it’s probably not something I’m going to hate, but honestly, ‘Support NDIS name change to National Investment Scheme and NDIS reform campaign’ is not a useful statement without significant expansion.
They want to make Job Network providers not-for-profit, and have an interesting idea about a skills shortages register and where vacancies are listed, and where jobseekers can list their qualifications and skills. Companies would have to take people from the register ahead of bringing in skilled migrants. This is not an entirely terrible idea, but I can see some flaws in it. Like… what if you are in Western Australia and the company that needs your skills is in Victoria, but your partner has a job in WA and the kids are at school there? Or, how specific are those skills lists? Or… what about industries like research, where a large part of the model involves sending our skilled people overseas to share their knowledge and gain new skills, while employing skilled people from overseas to do the same here? I’d like to see this policy expanded, frankly, so that it was possible to address these questions. As it stands, it has promise, but it also has a whiff of xenophobia.
They want the government to provide employment for long-term unemployed people, and they want to fully fund childcare ‘only for working parents and properly means tested’.
And they want to ‘require all welfare recipients to supply photo id when applying to eliminate fraud’.
Now, this is an interesting one. My first thought was ‘wait, not everyone has photo ID, especially if they are young’, but later on we will learn that they want to put photo ID on Medicare cards, so I guess that addresses that problem. Buy my second thought is, what sort of welfare fraud do they expect to eliminate with photo ID? People earning cash ‘under the table’ while being on Newstart? People getting Austudy when their parents are actually supporting them? Photo ID won’t make a difference to either of those forms of fraud.
I think the kind of fraud they are trying to eliminate is Those Foreigners Who Don’t Pay Tax And Live On Our Welfare. Which… is less than charming.
I’m going to skip down to their tax reform plans next, because I think these go hand in hand with welfare. The APP wants to simplify the tax system to make it harder for people to avoid tax through loopholes.
- Simplify individual tax system by: (i) removing the tax-free threshold, (ii) allow no work-related deductions, (iii) remove Invalid and invalid carer tax offsets (replaced by direct payments by Human services), (iv) remove beneficiary tax offset.
- Have a new low and middle income tax offset of $8,800 up to $50,000 that can be claimed by Australian citizens and permanent residents only to replace the tax-free threshold and tax offsets above. The offset would be reduced to nil at $120,400
- The tax brackets would be indexed annually by the CPI. Marginal tax rates reduced across the board.
They explain this further for those of us who are now utterly confused by explaining that basically anyone with an income up to $50,000 will get all their tax back under this system. Interestingly, their table of new taxes show that they are actually *raising* taxes in every bracket (though then giving the difference back in lower brackets), something rarely admitted to by a political party.
Removing the tax-free threshold will force foreign residents coming to Australia to pay tax and stop high income earners manipulating the tax system to reduce their taxable income below the threshold to receive franking credit refunds. It also means backpackers and pacific island workers will be treated the same avoiding the need for extra tax legislation.
It’s those Foreigners again. I’m getting a wee bit concerned.
Actually, I’m probably not being entirely fair here, because we definitely do have a problem with large international companies operating in Australia and paying absolutely no tax. And this is something the APP has clearly thought about. So it may not be reflexive xenophobia – I’ve just been reading through so many xenophobic political parties recently that I’m seeing it everywhere…
But while we are being Anxious About Foreigners, we might as well have a look at the APP’s Immigration policy, which they also want to review and simplify. And yes, they really do want to make it harder for people to immigrate here. They want to reduce all visas and abolish temporary skilled shortage visas. They want those seeking citizenship to have lived here for 5 years continuously, speak acceptable English and have no convictions for breaking Australian law, which sounds reasonable to me, and family sponsorship is contingent on being able to support that family member, which does not sound entirely unreasonable either. They want migrants to settle and remain in regional centres for five years, which is a good idea in theory, but needs to be supported by jobs and infrastructure in those regions, or we are setting people up to fail. But I don’t have a beef with any of this.
I’m a bit more concerned about outlawing conversion of student visas to bridging visas with the intent of seeking a permanent visa. I mean, people come here to study, they find jobs or meet life partners… if they are being productive citizens, why shouldn’t they be allowed to stay? Again, I work in medical research, where this is a pretty normal pathway, and functions in both directions, so yes, we might be bringing in people who would be competing for Australian resources (and, please note, paying taxes in Australia – we do gain from this quite tangibly, even if you want to discount their other contributions), but we are also exporting somewhat equal numbers who will be using the resources of other countries, so it evens out. Equally, their ‘Skilled migrants must be on short term contracts, train another Australian while here and then leave after the project is completed’ policy, in addition to being unwelcoming and unfriendly, is again going to be pretty crappy for medical research.
Refugees get temporary protection visas only (it is not stated whether they will be able to work and study while they are here) – though they do want to make decisions on refugees within 90 days, which at least gets rid of the terrible limbo effect that they are currently subjected to. They want to deport all 50,000 current illegal immigrants, and ban visa overstayers for 10 years. I’m actually OK with the second half of that.
All immigrants who become Australian citizens or permanent residents who commit criminal crimes to serve their sentence and then deported to original country without review by Administrative tribunal and revoke their citizenship
Setting aside my amusement about ‘criminal crimes’ (as opposed to the non-criminal kind?), there are one or two flaws in this idea that I would want to see ironed out. For example, if you came to Australia as a child, I don’t think you should be able to get your citizenship revoked in this way – it’s not reasonable to deport someone to a country that they may not even remember or speak the language of. And there are some countries that revoke your citizenship if you have citizenship elsewhere. We can’t be leaving people stateless, regardless of their crimes. If someone has served their sentence for a crime, they have been punished for it. This would be effectively punishing people twice for the same crime (I wonder if that’s a form of double jeopardy, actually?), just because they were born somewhere else. I’m not without sympathy for the spirit of this policy, but I don’t think it works in execution.
Their policy on housing affordability includes a reduction of capital gains tax, and negative gearing will be allowed for only one rental property – so you can have your investment property, but no playing Monopoly with actual houses. They want to abolish stamp duty for Australian home buyers and impose a tax on ‘vacant held residential properties owned by foreigners’ – so basically, don’t park your money here in the form of empty properties. I’m pretty OK with that bit of protectionism, to be honest. They also want tax incentives for building homes in regional areas and, interestingly, they want to abolish the first home buyer’s grants, which they feel pushes up house prices.
On government accountability, the APP shares the popular opinion that politicians are paid too much, and wants to freeze their pay for five years, and then index future pay rises to average public servant payrises. They also want to get rid of the politicians’ pension system. They want to get rid of travel allowances, which I actually don’t agree with – I think we need to reduce travel allowances, or require people to be sensible with them, but we do want to make it easy for politicians to get from their home electorates to Canberra. So, no helicopters, but let’s reimburse your economy plus fare, say…
On the integrity front, they want a National Integrity Commission. They also want to abolish political donations by foreigners and businesses, and limit the maximum donation size.
On environmental issues, the APP is fairly sensible. They are in favour of renewable energy (but worried about energy reliability), and want both incentives to businesses for reducing pollution and fines for those who fail to lower their carbon emissions by 2030. They want solar panels everywhere (Australian manufactured solar panels, of course), batteries, and a comprehensive plan to transition to renewables. They want solar buses, recharging stations at carparks, and a national recycling industry. They want a pipeline from Queensland to NSW ‘to bring water to NSW when the state floods to increase hydro electricity’. This is an idea I love, but I am never quite sure that it would work. Altogether, I’m pretty happy with this, even though I see the climate as more of an emergency than the APP does.
Their health policy is generally about more nurses, better programs for people with chronic illnesses, and reduced waiting times. They also want to ‘eliminate fraud, over servicing by having all GPs and specialists install card readers and have cards swiped at start of session and end of session, Medicare cards to have photos on them.’. Once again, I’m not quite sure what sort of fraud they are aiming to eliminate – doctors charging too much for short sessions, maybe?
On Education, the APP wants free public education up until the end of your first degree at University (or TAFE qualification) – so long as you are Australian born. Foreigners will continue to pay fees. They also want an emphasis on literacy and numeracy. In a more right-wing party, I’d wonder if this was code for ‘and none of that Safe Schools malarkey’, but this policy is so bare-bones that I don’t think there is a hidden message here. Apart from one of ‘we want to be sensible about things’. I do like this idea:
Support the introduction of course in year 10 where students are talk things to prepare them for life after education like tax, superannuation, budgeting, democracy, voting system, working rights .
This is a thing that should exist, and I’d love to see whoever winds up in government implementing it.
The APP is predictably protectionist on trade – they want tariffs on all imported goods ‘to match those imposed by foreign countries on exports’, which is reasonable. They would like to replace monetary foreign aid with assistance in building infrastructure and training workers in those countries, which I actually think is a good idea. And they are worried about our trading reliance on China, which is fair, though given that China is our biggest neighbour, we are going to be stuck with this to at least some degree.
Also, can I just say, I thought I was imagining this animus against foreigners, but I’m really not. The word foreign appears a *lot* on the APP website. I don’t think they hate foreign people as individuals, they just think they are… foreign. And a bit suspicious. And maybe taking resources that should be ours.
Anyway, on we go.
I’m not going to run through the many really random policies they have under State Issues. They are pretty eclectic and I figure I can save them for a State Election.
Their Energy Policy and Phone / Broadband Plans are the sort of specific that suggests that someone has had a run in with a telecom company recently and wasn’t happy with the outcome. It’s especially amusing because you start off with a bunch of policies to reduce energy prices (including regulating feed-in tariffs and strengthening the ACCC to investigate and punish companies involved in price manipulation), and then all of a sudden it’s about phone data.
- Make it illegal to have expiry dates on data purchased on phone/internet plans
- Unused data to be carried forward indefinitely
I’m not saying that these are bad policies. Just that they are oddly specific.
Last but not least, superannuation, which seems to be about preventing people from using superannuation as a cunning place to stash their money while avoiding tax. I do like their policy about not taxing contributions to superannuation funds, however.
And that’s about it.
I think the Australian People’s Party are right to regard themselves as centrists; they do care about social security and the environment, but they are also pretty concerned about the budget and fiscal responsibility. I feel like they are not so far from the small-l liberals of yesteryear.
Overall, this is a party with some generous instincts, which are marred by a persistent fear that people might get something that they don’t deserve. And, regrettably, the people they seem most worried about defrauding the state in this fashion are Foreigners.
Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively
Hmm, it’s surprisingly hard to find a song that themes well with this group. That’s the trouble with reasonably sane centrist parties – they just don’t give you a lot to work with, whether it be rage, delight, or disbelief. This is probably not a bad attitude in a political party, mind you, even if it does make it hard to select a Eurovision song that suits their brand.
Or maybe that’s because I prefer my Eurovision songs ridiculous, and centrist parties are the political equivalent of the white-clad, wind-machined power ballad about coming together in spite of differences – a ballad that does, admittedly, contain some nice ideas, but is, when it comes down to it, a bit disappointing…