We can do it better

It was probably co-incidental that the Australian Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Sydney around the time the NRL and AFL finals were occurring. CPAC originally advertised the conference would be at Luna Park — until Luna Park claimed they had never had a booking. The Conference was then ‘relocated’, together with claims of discrimination, to a secret venue (which was the International Convention Centre) so that protestors wouldn’t know where to mobilise. The protestors found out and chose to protest rather than watch the football, but that's another story.

One of the 'headline acts' at CPAC was Nigel Farage, of the Brexit movement. He was 'ably supported' by some people with a link to the Trump end of the Republican Party as well as the usual suspects comprising of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the 'talking heads' behind SkyNews' night-time opinion shows and some of the more conservative Australian political figureheads.

The Saturday Paper was at CPAC along with Crikey and the mainstream media outlets. Strangely enough, most of the mainstream media didn't give CPAC a lot of attention. Maybe the football finals were perceived to be more important to most Australians? However, The Saturday Paper did pay attention. They had a long conversation with the former Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) for 17 years, John Roskam.

Roskam told The Saturday Paper that the IPA was established in 1943 with sponsorship from BHP, Coles and the Herald and Weekly Times (owned at the time by Rupert Murdoch's father). 20 or 30 years ago, the IPA had sponsorship from a number of the ASX's top 100 companies. Today it has no ASX100 companies as sponsors and relies on some 8,000 private subscribers. Politically, Roskam admits that the IPA is now closer to the Liberal Democratic Party than the Liberal Party, despite a long list of former IPA staff that have subsequently become Liberal Party members of various state and federal Parliaments.

A contributing factor to the IPA’s political realignment is the belief amongst some conservatives that economic reform by the previous Coalition Government stopped after the disastrous reception to the Abbott/Hockey 2014 budget which would have implemented a
co-payment for Medicare; cuts to legal aid, including for Indigenous Australians and domestic violence victims; targeted family tax benefits and pensions; and a 20 per cent cut to university funding. It raised the pension age, capped redundancy payments, sought to raise prices under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and broke an election promise of a paid parental leave scheme, among other swingeing cuts. It was wildly unpopular and bits began falling off it almost immediately, either abandoned or defeated in the senate.

Roskam acknowledges that “the IPA is pushing against the mainstream, certainly in the case of economics”. He notes that to the extent it still has political influence, it is more with fringe players on the right.
Current Liberal Party Federal Vice President Teena McQueen was a speaker at CPAC and claimed it was good that all the 'lefties' in the Coalition had been voted out of Federal Parliament, presumably because it allows the Parliamentary Liberal Party to drift further to the right. Although shouted down by past and current Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party identities who chose to watch the football rather than attend CPAC, it demonstrates that there are differences of opinion, even within political parties.

It was also probably co-incidental that Crikey's Guy Rundle wrote an opinion piece the same week suggesting that the current Government is not progressive enough for those on the left. Rundle makes the point that while there is now a somewhat more realistic target for emissions reduction, Australia has re-joined the international community and the October economic statement was going to remove a number of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison excesses and perceived rorting, there were still a number of the Coalition's policies that are seen to be detrimental or regressive to the politically progressive that have been allowed to remain in place unchallenged.
But the uncomfortable fact is that Morrison wasn’t jacking up anti-protest laws, and Labor is. And this raises the hard-to-deny fact that Albanese Labor is getting a substantially free pass on a lot of stuff that is different in intensity, but not in type, from Morrison-era antics.

This is disturbing because Labor is getting away with substantial continuity on a range of issues — mandatory detention, First Nations incarceration, now the environment — with qualitatively less outrage than was applied to the Coalition. That leaves those on the sharp end of these policies in some ways in a worse position than they are under an explicitly hostile government. The smooth, efficient and compliant process that Labor is bedding down can completely obscure some of the horrors going on.
A month or so ago, we published They seem to have a plan where we suggested that the Albanese Government is working through a program and not everything that any individual wants will ever come to fruition. However, that doesn't mean that there should be no adverse commentary on the government and the program at all.

As has been shown in the discussions that are still occurring around emissions reduction, the government has mandated an emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 which is significantly higher than the former Coalition Government's 26 to 28%, others claim that 80% by 2035 is not only possible but responsible. It can also be argued that Australia's treatment of refugees either travelling to Australia by legal means (including boats) or held in endless detention on Nauru hasn't changed for the better since May 2022. Generally the workers in service industries, traditionally female, lower paid and part of the the ALP’s historical base, are still undervalued for the work they do.

Regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea that all the Liberal 'lefties' were voted out of Parliament or the emissions reduction target should be 80% or higher by 2035, the problem is that there is little room for criticism and commentary when it is commonly suggested that if you're not 100% in favour of us — you are against us. There is always room to do better. Sometimes the way to bring a fresh idea to the table is to challenge a group that you fundamentally believe is on the right track by adversely commenting on the status quo.

To start a conversation about doing it better, ideas need to be brought to the table and considered rather than dismissed out of hand because it might imply criticism. Guy Rundle and John Roskam remind us criticism is often a valuable lesson in life.

What do you think?

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