A Voice to Parliament and a new economy. Can we do both?

The details for the Voice To Parliament have been released by the Prime Minister, and it’s three simple changes to the Constitution, but already, conservatives are circling the wagons and claiming that that it’s a document that has kept Australia safe since 1901 and is too precious to change.

But it’s an exclusionary document; it was founded on a racist agenda from yesterday and Australia is now a far more sophisticated society than when it was founded in the early part of the twentieth century. There is some resistance from within the Indigenous community, and from different sides of the political spectrum – Senator Jacinta Price has suggested it does nothing to address disadvantage, so she’ll actively campaign against it, while Senator Lidia Thorpe has suggested a Treaty and a truth telling commission should come first. But surely governments can work on more than one issue at a time: why not implement a Voice To Parliament and address disadvantage at the same time? The two processes are not mutually exclusive.

The problem with constitutional recognition of the Voice To Parliament is that it has to be decided – through a referendum – by a system that ignored those rights in the first place. But 250 Indigenous leaders and elders from all around Australia have requested this voice, and it’s because of this reason that it should be supported, and should offer a clearer pathway towards a Treaty and reconciliation.

The state of the economy is becoming more dire and, once again, the Labor Party finds itself in government at a time of severe economic problems. They were in office during World War I, The Great Depression and World War II; the oil crisis in the early 1970s; the 1983 recession; the world recession of the early 1990s; the global financial crisis from 2008; and now, the pandemic economy and massive government national debt.

The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is laying out the economic narrative of the difficult circumstances. The Treasurer needs to be in control of the politics of the economy, as well as the economic output: it’s not just a case where some fine words and Shakespearian delivery can make all the problems go away. Different narratives need to be provided to the electorate; the business community; bankers, the money markets; the share markets. And if any of those areas decided that Chalmers is not up to the job, he’s going to be in for a rough ride over the next parliamentary term. We think that he is up to the job, but which economic levers will he use?

His job – and Labor’s – will be made easier by the current performances of the Coalition, which is finding the transition from government into Opposition quite difficult. And recent opinion polls are also confirming how poorly the Coalition is travelling, who seem determined to ignore the messages they received from the electorate at the May federal election – to paraphrase James Carville, ‘it’s the climate, stupid’.

Peter Dutton refused to support Labor’s Climate Change Bill, assuming that forcing them to deal with the Australian Greens – just like Labor did in 2009 and walked away with nothing – would create mayhem, and the Coalition would reap the political benefits on yet another carcass of a discared climate change policy: anything to kick start the climate change wars.

The only problem: the Greens supported Labor’s Bill and will pass it in the Senate. Dutton was defeated on ideas, on policy, and on politics. If this is the best the Coalition can do, they might be in for a long stint in Opposition.

Anthony Albanese, while he was Opposition leader, declared he would be constructive and support the government wherever possible, especially during a pandemic crisis. Constructive, not de-structive.

Today, Anthony Albanese is Prime Minister. There might be lesson in here for the Coalition, if only they are brave enough to look for it.

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