Building the Labor legacy

Maybe it’s  time for Labor and Julia Gillard to start thinking about their legacy rather than retaining government.((Note the supposedly incompetent Whitlam government’s enduring legacy: – ending conscription and getting out of Vietnam, recognition of China, legal aid, Medicare, no fault divorce and the Family Court, Federal Court, administrative law merits review system, abolition of tertiary education fees. ~KP))

They won’t of course, because hope springs eternal. But if they did, what reforms should Labor introduce that would produce lasting positive change? Here’s my list:

  1. Restore to the States and Territories the ability to levy income tax by way of a surcharge collected centrally by the ATO but whose amount would be determined by each State. This was recommended by Ken Henry in his tax review but ignored by everyone.  I think it’s the central reform of Australia’s governance. Restoring this power would be conditional on the States agreeing to abolish stamp duty (which currently collects approximately $12 billion in total for the States) and contributing 25% of the estimated $8 billion annual cost of the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme.((I note that Ross Gittins and Tim Colebatch both agree with my assessment of the Gillard government’s current dubious position on the NDIS. ~KP)) My rough estimate is that a State income tax surcharge of around 3% for a person on average income would be adequate to meet those conditions. How much more any given State would choose to levy would depend on its government’s assessment of the optimal mix of low tax and excellent infrastructure and services.((Although implementing this policy would certainly be a big immediate electoral negative for Labor, the objective reality is that it’s hard to conceive of a more propitious time to introduce it, as Stephen Koukoulas demonstrates here and here. It simply requires Labor to accept that it isn’t going to win and concentrate on doing what is right rather than populist. ~ KP))
  2. Implement the Finkelstein review recommendations for media regulation. Being required to publish retractions or apologies for false and misleading stories is hardly draconian, despite the hyperbole of News Limited.
  3. Create a tort of serious invasion of privacy as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission (with strong protections for freedom of speech).
  4. All political advertising to be subject to regulation for misleading and deceptive conduct (analogous to the position for businesses under Australian Consumer Law).
  5. Create a national commission (cf Productivity Commission) to analyse and publish regular reports on responsible levels of debt/deficit/surplus for both the Commonwealth and all States. This is a longstanding suggestion of Nicholas Gruen. Such a body would have no power to require its recommendations to be adhered to, but independent analysis might at least restrain some of the more absurd hyperbole of people like Tony Abbott screaming “debt and deficit” when in fact Australia’s debt is the lowest in the developed world and not a matter of concern on any rational view.
  6. Increase the powers, independence and resources of Infrastructure Australia and task it with producing independent “value for money” assessments of all proposed infrastructure projects (Commonwealth and State) over (say) $5 million.  Again this body would not have any determinative powers (which rightly belong to elected governments) but would greatly improve government transparency and accountability.

Apart from being sound policy (in my view at least), all these measures are ones for which I reckon the Gillard government could muster Green and Independent support to get them enacted.  They are also measures which any future government (especially one led by Tony Abbott) would find very difficult to repeal once enacted.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Mark Beath
11 years ago

Whitlam reforms also included the Trade Practices Act and tarrif cuts which is interesting given its economic reputation.

11 years ago

None of this stuff is ever going to happen.

I’d actually put at the top of the list the creation of a federal equivalent of the NSW ICAC.

It won’t happen because the current pollies know that they’re corrupt, and aren’t likely to try and stop it.

We’re still taking our cues from the US and the UK, which are extremely corrupt and unequal.

Something that would really make a lasting and useful legacy for Labor would be for them to say “F*ck the US. F*ck the UK.”

We really don’t get any benefit from the wars that the US engages in. We don’t have big defense contractors here, all we get is the refugees. We have negligible trade with the US or the UK.

Stop the corruption.

paul walter
paul walter
11 years ago

Hopefully one idea they will NOT follow up on is the vicious stuff re internet censorship. As the cartoon points out, they seem hell-bound on obscuring the better things they do with the sort of surveillance rubbish that seems to be mooted just recently.

11 years ago

Right idea, and a good selection of suggested reforms.

Also, a government unpopular for its “pragmatism” (translation: cynicism) only stands a chance of electoral survival if it abandons that modus operandi, rather than amping it up in desperation, as they all seem to do.

paul walter
paul walter
11 years ago

They are beyond comprehension in their recent behaviours, Alphonse. What is driving the nonsenses of the last twelve months or so?

murph the surf.
murph the surf.
11 years ago
Reply to  paul walter

With the impending correction to the misdirected mining investments ( say 2 years? ) probably leading to a sharp slowdown in the economy why risk losing even some voters?
How can the ALP avoid being unelectable if the Libs inherit a financial disaster which is way beyond their control and we have a UK style contraction?
So more reforms aimed at opening up the economy and removing tariffs .
Agree with points 1,5 and 6 – they intertwine so should be done together.
For all that I do still think that debt needs extremely careful management and there are so many self interested forces pushing agendas it would be hopeless to try and think there would be much independence in some of the decision making.

Nicholas Gruen
11 years ago

The sad thing is that everything on your list could have been easily managed by the Hawke Government. None of them are really hard to sell (like serious tax reform is.) Malcolm Fraser promoted the first reform, and since states wouldn’t do anything with it for a good while, it would be a one day wonder in terms of the politics. But I can easily imagine these guys disappearing without trace trying to defend the basic Finkelstein idea of having to retract wrong allegations.

I’m not so sure legislating to outlaw misleading conduct in politics is so easy. Is there any jurisprudence on it. I wouldn’t fancy being a judge making the relevant decisions – given that the job of a politician is to ‘spin’ and to that extend mislead. Not so easy drawing the line methinks.

11 years ago

It’s quite true what all of you are saying. These “bold” and “radical” ideas would, while arousing a storm of protest from the usual suspects, actually indicate to the public that they had a clue and were interested in both governing and making a difference. It would help their long-term electoral stocks.

But it’s never going to happen. By all accounts, that can be put down to the “Sussex street machine” of NSW Right fucktards that are more interested in defeating the left than they are in maintaining government.

I would have thought that returning income tax power to the states would have been a retrograde step. But if Ken Henry thinks it’s OK, well he demonstrably knows a lot more about economics than me and I trust him so I’ll go along with it.