Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Part 8: Responding to the Challenge of the Greens: Progressive Policy Making in the Real World

The End of the Party? Labor History and the Rise of the Greens.

Responding to the Challenge of the Greens: Progressive Policy Making in the Real World

On the policy front, Labor must use its greater expertise and experience of the realities of policy making to actively highlight the areas in which The Greens’ policies produce outcomes contrary to the Party’s purported progressive aims. There are numerous instances of such contradictions that the ALP can choose from in this regard within The Greens’ voluminous policy papers. One particularly egregious example can be seen in The Greens’ Higher Education policy that commits the party to:
"Abolish fees for educational services at public universities for Australian students and forgive HECS debts and FEE-HELP debt incurred at public universities.”
Even on the face of its own internal logic, the impact of this policy is deeply regressive. If one accepted (against 20 years of evidence to the contrary) that HECS fees discouraged those from lower socio-economic backgrounds from attending university, the effect of forgiving the outstanding HECS debts of those who attended university regardless is to deliver a massive financial windfall gain to those individuals who were not in fact discouraged from attending. The practical effect of this policy would be to deliver around $20 billion in windfall gains to the professional classes of doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants, for no public benefit.

Responding to a similar proposal to forgive student loans that was floated in the United States the name of economic stimulus, Justin Wolfers, a much lauded Australian-born economist at the Wharton School asked:
“If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades.  The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts. So my question for the proponents: Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?
 Conclusion: Worst. Idea. Ever. And I bet that the proponents can’t find a single economist to support this idiotic idea.”
This is but one example of the outcome of The Greens’ policy prescriptions failing to live up to their progressive billing. Similar arguments can be made regarding the outcomes of The Greens policies in areas including Solar Feed-In Tariffs, local planning controls, refugee policy, opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and the termination of the ANZUS treaty to name but a few examples. In this way, highlighting the perverse consequences of The Greens’ policies rather than engaging in personal conflict with their members and supporters, offers Labor a road map for competing for the support of progressive voters without risking a repeat of the damaging divisions and animosities of the past.

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