The result of the weekend was heartbreaking. It wasn’t heartbreaking because Labor didn’t win but because the Coalition did. By all accounts it was an unpredicted win but to say that the outcome isn’t shocking does have a slither of truth. Labor’s agenda was perhaps the most ambitious it had had in a long time, but the ambition was not consistent and had a gaping hole in it: Adani.
And this is why the result was heartbreaking: it was won over a mine that on best estimates would create no more than 1500 direct jobs.
Adani was not the only factor that led to a Coalition win. The stoking of fear, racism, Bill Shorten’s popularity etc. most certainly played a role. However, the Coalition and their successful prosecution of the ‘jobs or climate action’ dichotomy was a deciding factor, if not the deciding factor. It worked because Labor’s messaging was confused. Labor effectively sat on the fence using various unconvincing excuses to not come out for or against the Adani coal mine. The legal and trade issues stopped Labor from ruling it outright while presumably, the impending climate catastrophe stopped Labor from being for the mine. Undoubtedly the internal divisions within unions and Labor had a role: it is well known the Mining Division of the CFMMEU in QLD were very much in favour of this mine. Ultimately, it was an electoral play that failed – a bid to minimise bleeding votes to the Greens down south while not losing votes up north. It failed on both these fronts, particularly up north. The overall campaign silence on Adani meant Labor implicitly gave weight to the jobs narrative as it presented no alternative vision that would mean employment while taking climate action. It is always challenging to sell big picture policies like what climate action requires, but what Labor offered was not even close to that. So why should we blame Queenslanders for voting so?
The electorates that surround and inhabit the coal basins of Queensland have high rates of unemployment and earn significantly less than the national average. The division of Capricornia which houses the Adani mine base and covers a lot of the Galilee basin is according to the McKell Institute, one of the most disadvantaged in the country. Similarly, the nearby electorates of Hinkler, Wright, Maranoa, Kennedy, Wide Bay and Flynn that cover either the Galilee basin or other basins are all in the most disadvantaged quartile. Many of these electorates are on the verge of becoming the sort of post-industrial derelicts that frequent the North of England. No one cares about complex reforms to dividend imputations or even wage increases when you’re unemployed. This gets to the heart of the problem with the platform – it was not too ‘bold’ as some commentators have attempted to justify; it was not bold enough. As comrade Osmond Chiu correctly identified, the platform represented the uneasy mating of the third way social liberalism with traditional labourism. This created gaps and left Labor floundering on issues like Adani.
Labor could have neutralised the issue with a Green New Deal. It would incorporate a job guarantee that simultaneously offers a radical and necessary climate policy while dealing with anxieties of unemployment. Initiating massive green infrastructure projects funded by proper enforcement of corporate tax avoidance and the sale of bonds is a winning formula. Not only does the policy have a substantial economic grounding, but it would also enable the type of simple populist rhetoric that wins elections. It is one thing to promise jobs like the Coalition did and entirely different thing to guarantee them.
Confronting the issue of funding of a Green New Deal will be an uphill battle. It will be difficult to justify the huge cost of the program and deal with the question “But how is this going to be paid for?”. The prevailing idea that the government is a household where expenses and income must be balanced is an economic fallacy that will need to be taken on: this is the neoliberal framework which all policies have been justified in since days of Hawke. The task will be tough, but this is the only path forward for Labor if it is to confront the climate emergency and be electorally viable to the working class.