Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Human rights in Australia - An Open Letter to Federal Labor

I have been a proud supporter of the ALP since 1972. I think the Rudd government is doing a great job responding to the GFC, but the current drift away from social equity as a guiding principle for public policy will see rusted on Labor supporters like me drift away from the party. At the time of the ACT school closures I wrote to the party about the risks of allowing econometrics to underpin public policy directions. You end up with outcomes skewed against the least advantaged. In the short term, it might appeal to yuppie ‘wannabees’ who sell their vote to the highest bidder, who distrust all governments, and who think public policy should be all about raising their disposable incomes, but you will alienate your base over the longer term, during a period when the right will be circling the wagons. The sudden spike in funds pouring into Coalition coffers should sound the warning.

It is clear Federal Labor is pitching to the so-called ‘aspirant’ mob in marginal seats who measure everything through the prism of ‘what is in it for me’, but it is a too cynical for me and I no longer want to be associated with the party. I expect Labor to stand for social justice and human rights and I’m afraid the drift away from these core values is corrosive and disillusioning. It is not just about being good managers of the economy, which I believe Labor is achieving with great aplomb. For example, the ABC 4 corners last night on the plight of carers for disabled in our society should make public policy makers hang their heads in collective shame! The Minister’s performance was weak and uninspiring.

Another great concern to me is the Deputy PM's strategy on school performance. The American school system is inferior in every way to our own, and that includes the NY paradigm. If you want to adapt lessons from successful countries look at the Finnish system. It is clear that the way to get improvements is through initiatives that genuinely support professional development, decent remuneration and other incentives, smaller class sizes and strategic mentoring of classroom teachers by the brightest and best of the teaching profession. Forget the corporate ‘Darwinism’ of the Americans. Facilitating comparative school performance information for public consumption is one of the most egregious scenarios I can contemplate.

A further example is Labor’s cynical approach to the indexation of APS and ADF retiree super pensions. From my perspective this is a broken undertaking with dire consequences for many families. Again, I detect a narrow econometric approach at work that fails to factor the cost-benefit of retirees under less economic duress, their contribution to voluntary social work and the downstream economic benefits of increased expenditure on goods and services and GST from their improved incomes. Get a grip...

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