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We need a bold agenda

2020 was a year unlike any other in living memory, a year where nations across the globe were ravaged by COVID-19. Australia did not escape its impact, with some communities bearing the brunt far more than others, but it avoided the worst of the pandemic because of the professionalism of our public services and the strong leadership of our state and territory leaders.

After COVID, we will need a rebuild that ensures a more resilient and better future. Across the world, everyone knows that will require a stronger, bolder state. The question is who it delivers for and how?

We must not repeat our folly after the Global Financial Crisis, to assume a revived Keynesian social democratic consensus. The threats of illiberal national conservatism and a revived neoliberalism remain real. We see it manifest in far right extremism and attacks on our rights at work. Both will rely on the power of state intervention to achieve their ends.

As progressives, we must act to ensure we rebuild with fairer foundations. It has been a lost decade for many, and it will only get worse unless we change course. We need to face up to interconnected challenges of climate change, growing inequality and the erosion of democracy.

But this last year has revealed to the wider public that there is an alternative and what is stopping it is actually the political will. To build back better for all Australians, we need a Labor Government.

Winning means learning the lessons from the 2019 election but equally we cannot fight the next election as if it was the last or other elections of the past. If Labor wins, it will be nearly forty years since the election of the Hawke Government. That compares to thirty years between the formation of the Curtin and Whitlam Governments. Labor can learn from the past but must never be a hostage of nostalgia. We do not live in the worlds of 1972, 1983 or 2007.

Building a pathway to victory means Labor does need to appeal to regional Australia, to blue-collar workers and communities of faith but our coalition needs to extend beyond that. We must not forget women in outer suburban areas, middle-class multicultural communities in the middle rings of our major cities, younger Australians who entered the workforce after the Global Financial Crisis or those with a tertiary education in precarious work. A broad coalition requires a credible agenda that addresses the everyday problems they face and the aspirations they have for their communities.

It is an agenda that needs to protect the community’s health and lets no one slip through the cracks. It requires full employment to creates good secure jobs for all in the industries of the future, affordable and quality early childhood education, quality care for those who are vulnerable that is not left to the whims of the market and fixing super so every Australian has a comfortable retirement.

It is an agenda that does not forget First Nations people or newer arrivals. An agenda that embraces the Uluru Statement unconditionally, takes concerns about racism seriously and acts to address lack of representation in all our common institutions.

It is an agenda that does not ignore the geopolitical challenges in our region or the urgency of tackling climate change. Abandoning a focus on climate change, as some within our own ranks might urge, risks a pincer movement by moderate Liberals and Greens on either end as we see at a state level. Instead, we need to see the economic opportunities in a post-carbon future and grasp them while ensuring no communities are left behind.

A danger is we become distracted and obsessed with posturing cosplay that treats class as a fixed cultural identity. Self-serving vague critiques that come down to “the vibe” and platitudes and rehashed arguments from fifteen years ago do not offer a plausible alternative that will cut through to a public disconnected with politics. It will not change votes or deliver a good life to the communities that rely on Labor Governments. Instead, it only creates space for wedge politics and hard right culture warring.

Our focus should be on providing bold but credible solutions that unite and energise all the wings of our electoral coalition. Rather than an illusionary centre-ground that will get pushed around by news mastheads, Labor needs to capture and hold the common ground, the shared instincts of Australians for a good society.

That common ground has optimism but is deeply worried about insecure work and climate change. It does not want an Australia fractured between the haves and have nots. It wants universal public services that are not driven by profit and to have faith that our public institutions are accountable.

Too many Australians depend on a Labor Government for a better future and we must not let them down. By claiming and holding that common ground, we can win and rebuild a better country for all.

Osmond Chiu is the editor of Challenge


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