I just happened to watch part of federal opposition leader Bill Shorten’s speech to the New South Wales Labor Party Conference, held at the Sydney Town Hall this weekend1. This was unusual for me because, in recent months, when a politician appears on television and opens their mouth, I tend to hit the mute button on the remote. This is what I did when Senator Eric Abetz appeared this morning. His malevolent drone has always annoyed me almost as much as his antediluvian views on almost everything2 about which his church allows him to have an opinion.
Anyway, as I said, I watched most of Shorten’s speech and the one feeling I had was ‘About bloody time!’ Not only have the Labor Party taken guidance from the results obtained by Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, in realising that trickle-down economics a failure, but they also realise that the populace knows it is a failure. The floundering about of Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison telling everyone that inequality is not increasing and that everything is just peachy, tends to make you think that Morrison either does not know what is happening or is trying to pretend inequality is not rising. Morrison’s assertions were directly contradicted by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, who simply stated: “Well, it’s risen”, in reply to a question from the ABC asking if inequality was rising or getting better in Australia. Lowe did distinguish between wealth inequality, which has risen rapidly in the last five or six years because of rises in asset prices, and income inequality, which “has drifted up a little bit”3. Who would you believe, Morrison or Lowe?
The ‘About bloody time!’ feeling had the same ring to it, at least in my head, as the ‘It’s Time’ slogan from the 1972 Federal election. The result of that election changed Australia from a nation stuck in the middle of the 20th century, to one where we became a part of the late 20th century. We recognised China, established what became Medicare, instituted the supporting mother’s benefit, ‘granted’ equal pay for equal work to women (as much as a government can do), abolished the death penalty, established the Law Reform Commission, instituted the Family Court and non-punitive divorce laws, established needs-based funding for schools, made university education free, cut tariffs by 25%, established what became the Productivity Commission, established the Trade Practices Act, established what would become the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, established the National Sewerage Plan to connect suburban homes to sewerage, reduced the voting age to 18, provided the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory with senate representation, replaced the British Honours system, passed the Racial Discrimination Act, drafted the first Commonwealth Land Rights legislation (passed by the subsequent Fraser government), established the National Gallery, established the Council for the Arts, established the Heritage Commission, set up the Australian Film and Television School and granted independence to Papua New Guinea. All that in three years.
Australia is in a similar predicament as it was in 1971; it is now stuck in the late 20th century and policy paralysis indicates things are not going to change soon. We need to do something quickly before we become permanently entrenched in such a timewarped backwater. We need to do something about addressing climate change. If we do not, we will eventually be looked on as a pariah by most of the rest of the world and it would only be a matter of time before sanctions followed, whether they be governmental or popular boycotts. It is only the idiotic purchased politicians who think they can disagree with the science5. We need to allow same sex marriage. This is being obstructed by the religious nutters in the parliament, who will lie through their teeth to prevent it happening. Most people know that the idea of a plebiscite6, and the even more ludicrous postal plebiscite7 are simply delaying or obstructionist tactics to at least slow down the process, at best to prevent it somehow. Both are non-binding and parliamentarians are not obliged to follow the result, so will have a free vote in parliament anyway, something which they could, and should do, now, but they are prevented from doing so by their religious nutter colleagues. Shorten has promised to have a referendum on the establishment of an Australian Republic, asking a simple question on which he seemingly cannot be outmanoeuvered as then head of the Republic Movement, Turnbull, was outmanoeuvered by then Prime Minister Howard in the 1999 Republic Referendum.
I have never seen Shorten so animated as he was delivering this speech. This made it clear to me that: it’s time to get serious about dealing with climate change; it’s time to legalise same-sex marriage; it’s time to have a proper vote on a republic; it’s time to get Australia into the 21st century; it’s time to stop deluding ourselves that people will be satisfied with crumbs from the tables of the rich. It’s time, again.