Federal Election 2019: Meet the Centre Alliance

Summary

Website: https://centrealliance.org.au
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/centrealliance/
Previous names: Nick Xenophon Team, SA-BEST (sort of – it’s kind of the local branch)
Slogans:
Making sure South Australia always comes first.
Themes: South Australia.  Common sense and the sensible centre.  Quite a reasonable mix of actually centrist policies.  Mild action on climate change, pro-penalty rates but also pro-small business, offshore processing of refugees, but with much more oversight and make it more efficient and increase our intake.  You could do far worse.
Electorate:
Upper House: SA
Lower House: Barker, Grey, Mayo
Preferences: Once again, we are given no hint of the Centre Alliance’s true leanings.  They advise voters to put them first and ‘Now place at least the numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in your preferred order for remaining parties or groups.  If you choose, you may continue numbering other groups in your order of choice.’
Previous reviews

Policies & Commentary

The Centre Alliance takes an interesting approach to web design.  Their front page contains an autoplaying – but blessedly silent! – video banner, with the various candidates turning to smile at the camera and being introduced, followed by the slogan ‘Making sure South Australia always comes first’.  It’s very cheesy, but endearingly so.

The way they have set up their sub-menus, however, is going to drive me to drink.  (Barossa Valley wine only, though, or maybe McLaren Vale.)

I’m going to quote their opening statement in full, because I think it covers their main themes.

Centre Alliance (formerly known as Nick Xenophon Team) is a grass roots party that believes in working constructively and respectfully across party lines to achieve strong outcomes for South Australia.

We judge all policy on its merits and we are always guided by what is in South Australia’s best interests.

We believe Australians are fed up with the adversarial politics of the major parties – where striking a blow against the other side and claiming the high ground is more important than working together for the national good.

Centre Alliance believes in a common sense approach. We do not rely on unions, big business or special interest groups to fund or direct our operations.

We are all about listening to communities and solving problems from a non ideological perspective. 

Centre Alliance stands for:

  • Responsible, transparent and accountable government
  • Australian industry
  • Nation building endeavours

So we have common sense, grass roots, community, independence, South Australia and Not Being A Major Party as strong themes here.

That banner is driving me mad, flickering out of the corner of my eye as I write.  Let’s scroll down to the FAQs, where they tells us that it’s not a waste of your vote to vote for them, and that they don’t have costed policies because they see their primary role as ‘being the watchdog against waste and a promoter of dynamic and practical ideas for the country.’  They cite the following achievements:

The party, both before and since the name change, has achieved a huge amount since being elected, including government prioritising the purchasing of Australian goods and services; ensuring Australian standards are being met on all government projects; protection and compensation for whistleblowers; Carly’s Law, which protects young people from online predators; the introduction of mentoring programs to boost apprenticeships; funding for the Port Augusta Solar Thermal Plant; funding for SA’s life-saving Proton Therapy Centre; increased country road funding; better health facilities for the Adelaide Hills; funding for community radio, independent and regional publications and journalism cadetships. And this doesn’t include our relentless work to ensure we maximise local content and jobs for the Future Subs and Naval Ships and the valuable committee and advocacy work and watchdog role all parliamentary members carry out. 

Very SA-centric, as you might expect, and possibly taking credit for things that were not entirely down to them, but it shows you where their interests lie – in promoting SA industry and infrastructure, and in fairness overall.

They have, God help me, forty policy principles.  Let’s see if I can divvy them up into themes and not be here all day.  The grants are in and I have the morning off, but I was hoping not to spend it entirely on one political party…

Health and Ageing

The Centre Alliance believes that ‘high quality, easily accessible health care is a fundamental right for all Australians’.  They want to focus on preventative care, and on enhancing GP clinics.  They want more money to go into chronic illnesses, and better telemedicine, and they want to maximise efficiency and eliminate waste.  They also want to bring back the 30% private health insurance rebate to encourage participation and take pressure off public hospitals. (Wait, did they get rid of that rebate just when I could finally afford health insurance?  I mean, I’m ideologically against the rebate, but I’m selfish enough to feel a bit miffed by this.)

The Centre Alliance also want to address mental health, particularly by funding preventative mental health measures, though they don’t say what these are.  They are concerned about drug and alcohol abuse, and view drug abuse as primarily a health issue, so they want well-funded rehabilitation with a clear transition into skills and jobs training.  I’m a little concerned about this bit, though:

Drug trafficking legislation should be modified to allow authorities to rapidly and simply seize assets of those involved in trafficking and distribution
.

I seem to recall that they had legislation like this in the US, and it tended to capture the assets of innocent family members (and has also been used as a fundraising device for local law enforcement).  It also increases the incentive to find people guilty of drug crimes whether they are actually guilty or not.  So yeah, not in favour of that one.

The Centre Alliance has a brief policy on disability, centred on respect and ensuring that people with disability can live fulfilling lives.  They want to evaluate the rollout of the NDIS to ensure it achieves maximum benefits (ha), and they are worried about respite for families. Not terrible, but it’s pretty brief, especially when compared to their policy on the Ageing population.

The elderly also deserve ‘to be treated with respect and dignity and assisted where needed by government and the wider community’, and the Centre Alliance wants to peg utility cost increases at no greater than the CPI for pensioners and self funded retirees.  They are against an increase in the pension age, but they do want to encourage older Australians to stay in employment or volunteer work, without penalty to their pension.  Oh, and this is nice – they want volunteers to be automatically covered by insurance, as they certainly ought to be.  The Centre Alliance also wants to make sure aged care is of a high quality, with more transitional accommodation.

Families, Children and Education

The Centre Alliance wants more funding for Early Childhood Education, especially for child care centres run by local communities.  They are big on Gonski, and take credit for increased funding to Australian schools.

They are worried about cyberbullying, and are very big on the Carly Ryan Foundation and Carly’s Law.  They want to prevent cyberbullying through education in schools, and they want to make sure that there is a robust complaints process so that victims and witnesses of cyber abuse can raise concerns easily.

On Family Violence, the Centre Alliance wants uniform laws across Australia and a federal body that ‘investigates the circumstances surrounding every fatal family violence incident, with a particular focus on systemic failures in the lead-up to each incident’.  This sounds like an excellent idea.  They also want an evidence-based national awareness campaign, focusing particularly on how our cultural environment contributes to family violence.  They want better funding for safe houses, counselling, case management and legal support, and they want rehabilitation of perpetrators.  And they want school programs focusing on respect and safety in interpersonal relationships.  This all sounds very reasonable to me.

Energy and the Environment

The Centre Alliance’s policy starts with the following statement:

Climate change is real and poses a huge challenge for our environment and economic future. Australia must stick to the Paris agreement, which involves reducing greenhouse gases by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030.

This must involve a smart energy mix that provides affordable and reliable baseload power, and electricity grid stability. It also involves making sure we have enough gas for domestic consumption, instead of the current situation where Australian gas is being sold overseas at half the price it is here.

Look, I’d like a more robust target, but at least they agree that climate change is real.  The Centre Alliance wants an Emissions Intensity Scheme and a quick move to cleaner and more affordable energy.  They want more research into renewable energy, and I think they are worried about the infamous Chinese Solar Panels, because they don’t want import of ‘substandard and unsafe products related to renewable energy’.  Given that they are also into Australian Made, this is unsurprising.  And also fair enough.

The Centre Alliance wants the government to identify and preserve our best agricultural land, protect groundwater, and implement an emissions trading scheme.  They are worried about vehicle emissions, and they want to ensure that environmental and community groups can pursue legal action under environmental legislation.

Water, Agriculture, and Food Security

The Centre Alliance tells us that agriculture is vital not just to rural Australia but to the entire country.  They want to make farming more profitable through research and development in order to ‘enhance the skills and decision makers of farmers’. They are also concerned about food security.

They want strong competition laws, clear country of origin labelling, and an end to ‘punitive AQIS charges on small exporters’.  They want stronger anti-dumping rules for imported produce, and for more super companies to invest in agriculture.  They like the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and they don’t want state governments to impede the delivery of drought support.  Sounds like there is a story behind that last one, but I don’t know what it is.  They are a little wishy washy on live animal exports – they want strict controls on it, would rather processing happened here, and want to ensure that animals are treated in accordance with our standards, but they aren’t actively ruling it out.

The Centre Alliance also wants better labelling around GMO products, and they want to protect farmers who are trying to be GMO-free from contamination.

On water security, they want to strengthen the national framework for managing water resources.  In particular, they want to encourage storm water harvesting, and say that ‘States which were early adopters of water-efficiencies must be acknowledged in any federal scheme.’

(Come, now, Centre Alliance.  You know full well that the reason Adelaide got into rainwater tanks early was because the tap water tastes so awful…)

They want to address waste throughout the Murray Darling Basin, and they want infrastructure grants for irrigators.

Social Issues

Nick Xenophon may be gone, but the Centre Alliance’s concerns about Predatory Gambling live on.

Targeted gambling reform is urgently required. We have the world’s highest per capita gambling losses and level of problem gambling. Our governments are totally out-of-touch with the overwhelming community desire to rein in the damage caused. 

They want to implement pokie reforms, limiting spends to $1 per spin and losses to $120 per hour; they want to get rid of sports betting ads and end micro-betting on sports events; and they want to remove ATMs and EFTPOS access from venues with pokie machines.  Also, they feel that state governments are way too reliant on revenue from gambling taxes, which, if true, can’t be helping.

And now I feel an irresistible urge to find out the betting odds for the Centre Alliance in the coming election. But I shall restrain myself, because I think they are absolutely right on this, and don’t deserve mockery. (I know, when has that ever stopped me before?)

The Centre Alliance recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of the land, and acknowledge and respect their relationship to the land.  Their first policy is that ATSI people need to be consulted and engaged with the process of developing any Indigenous Affairs policy, so well done on that.  They want to provide more funding to Close the Gap, and provide constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Nations.  They also want to consult with individual communities to develop micro policies and programs to meet the needs of ATSI people.  Overall, it’s a good platform, that seems to centre on listening to the people affected by it, so well done them.

The Centre Alliance is also worried about affordable housing, which needs to be ‘tackled head on’.  But not too head on – they would modify negative gearing to encourage creation of affordable housing stock, but nor remove it entirely; they would discourage foreign investment; and of course find ways to remove the red tape that is the bane of small political parties.

The Centre Alliance wants to be tough on crime, because ‘inadequate penalties not only insult victims and their families, they continue to put the community at risk’.  This is slightly alarming, but they aren’t actually Darren Hinch.  They want victims to have more of a say in the plea bargaining process; they feel that the mental impairment defence is being abused in some cases; and they want prisons to be more effective at rehabilitation.

You know, these guys are rather sweet.  Even when they are being tough, they are nice about it.

They are worried about terrorism, and want to put better resources into counter-radicalisation strategies ‘so young and susceptible people are not brainwashed by extremists’.  Said extremists are to be locked up.  Interestingly, they don’t want to strip dual nationals of Australian citizenship:

Rather than stripping Australian citizenship of dual nationals involved in terrorism, which could allow them to retaliate against Australians overseas – they need to be brought back to Australia and locked up for community safety.

That’s actually not a terrible policy, and is probably beneficial to everyone involved.  I also appreciate that they want the government to have sufficient power to ‘deal with terrorists in a way that is effective and not counter-productive’.  Not counter-productive is indeed a good plan.

Employment and Business

The Centre Alliance believes that ‘High levels of workplace participation and productivity are the key to achieving a strong and prosperous economy, particularly in the small business sector. This needs to be set in a framework of mutual fairness.’  They acknowledge and respect the role of unions (or at least of ‘responsible unions’), and they don’t think it’s fair to cut penalty rates at a time of low wage growth.  They are particularly annoyed that some big businesses have been paying a lot less for weekend penalty rates than small businesses.  And speaking of small businesses, they want the government to reduce red tape (this should be a small party drinking game), as well as reducing taxes for small businesses in their first two years and exempting businesses with fewer than 15 employees from payroll tax.

The Centre Alliance is also very concerned about subcontractors not being paid, particularly in the construction industry.  Also, I have learned a new phrase now,  phoenixing activity, which refers to creating a new company to continue the business of a previous company that was liquidated to avoid payment of debts.   I don’t understand how this is even possible, Clive Palmer (and also, I’m terribly disappointed that I’ve already used Rise Like A Phoenix and can’t use it again).  Anyway, they want to close loopholes allowing this.

I will say this for Centre Alliance – I think they’ve actually come up with a genuinely centrist set of policies here, that considers the needs of both workers and small businesses.  Well done them.

The Centre Alliance thinks that superannuation needs to be a lot more transparent, and also that we should increase the superannuation guarantee to 12% right now.  They would also like to recalibrate tax breaks ‘so the greatest benefit is directed to those with the least savings, and a reduced benefit is enjoyed by those with very high superannuation savings’.

I have to say, the Centre Alliance are turning out to be far more economically left-wing than I had anticipated.

The Economy, Manufacturing, and Investment

The Centre Alliance wants to encourage Australian businesses and the government in particular to use Australian-made goods.  They want more transparency about where supplies and ingredients come from, and once again, more effective anti-dumping laws.

They want to encourage Australians to invest in their own country, and discourage foreign investment.  In particular, they want all essential utilities to be publicly owned, and they want capping of utilities prices at CPI.

The Centre Alliance feels that a safe and strong aviation sector is vital, and they also want more investment into research and development. Here are two bullet points that everyone who put in an Ideas Grant yesterday will appreciate, I think:

  • Encourage universities, government agencies and companies to undertake research and development by increasing funding to align with other world leading countries.
  • Improve funding strategies to target specific research goals, increase focus on commercialisation and enable longer term research projects.

To be fair, with our small population, increasing funding to align with other world leading countries may be impractical.  But we could certainly do better than we are doing now.

The Centre Alliance also feels that government procurement needs to think about total economic benefits to the local economy, and not just what is cheapest.  This sounds like an excellent idea.

 

International Affairs

The Centre Alliance wants to restore the $7.6 billion of aid funding cut from our budget in 2014, and work towards a foreign aid budget that represents 0.7% of Gross National Income.  This sounds entirely reasonable to me.

They also feel that our defence policy needs to focus on protection of the nation and regional stability.  And they would like us to be more self sufficient in terms of manufacturing the things our military needs (like… submarines, say?).

Safe and orderly immigration is something the Centre Alliance is in favour of, and they would like to encourage immigrants to move to areas of low population to help drive economic growth.  They also want to be nicer to asylum seekers, but not too nice. Just sensibly nice:

Genuine asylum seekers must be treated with dignity and compassion. The bipartisan support for offshore processing, in order to discourage dangerous boat journeys to Australia, should be matched with an increase in the humanitarian intake to at least 27,000 places per year. However, priority should be given to timely (preferably within 12 months) resettlement to appropriate countries, working together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Above all, Australia must play a key role for an orderly regional solution to this crisis.

However, their support for offshore processing comes with some caveats:

  • Government must ensure the safety and security of refugees in offshore processing centres, including timely health and mental health care.
  • International agencies such as the UNHCR, Red Cross and media organisations should have access to any detention centres.
  • Whistleblowers must be protected for speaking out.

Look, I want an end to offshore processing, because I think at this point it’s intrinsically harmful.  But with the current attitude of our major parties, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  If we have to have offshore processing, this sort of policy would at least make it safer for those enduring it.

Regional Australia

The Centre Alliance wants a more investment in regional Australia, particularly in renewable energies, and encouraging both business and educational institutions to move to the regions.  They want more tourism and arts in the regions, and they very much want to encourage immigrants to move to regional areas.  They even have a plan for a special class of visa for migrants who will move to low population areas to set up businesses.  I can see pitfalls in this last idea, especially if you are worried about excessive foreign investment, which they are, in fact.  The rest of the policy is OK, but not that inspiring.

Government Transparency

It’s the federal ICAC again.  Alongside whistleblower education, stronger freedom of information laws, and more efficiency in government.

And that is that for the Centre Alliance.  I will say, they are very… centrist, actually.  There are a handful of policies there which I think could be really worthwhile additions to our government, mostly in the sense that we will never get my best-case scenario, and these would at least deal with the worst of the current problems.  I don’t live in South Australia, but if I did, they would probably go somewhere a bit above the sensible centre of my ballot.  Lower top third, I think, alongside other parties that have some nice ideas, but don’t really go far enough for me.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

Look, I quite like the Centre Alliance, but they are not precisely the most flamboyant and exciting of parties.  Where Bob Katter is an overexcited parrot, and the Liberal Party is all ostriches with their heads in the sand, the Centre Alliance are more like… Common Linnets.  Which, as it turns out, is the name of the band that the Netherlands sent to Eurovision in 2014, with a perfectly nice, perfectly forgettable song.
Also, the backdrop at the start is black, with dotted lines sweeping away like the lines on the highway, which does kind of seem appropriate for a party that is so very determined to be middle-of-the-road.

Ooh after all that we’ve been through
There ain’t nothing new
Here in the calm after the storm

 

 

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