Labor Government

18 Feb 2004 archivespeech
A speech examining the philosphical underpinnings of the state Labor Government.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Today, I want to examine the philosophical underpinnings of the state Labor government. I note that it subscribes to this so-called new Labor and Third Way philosophy which has been made fashionable by Tony Blair and, because of his success, has been adopted by several state Labor governments including the governments of Carr, the Carr-clone Mike Rann, and Mark Latham who has even put pen to paper on the topic. Many people might say `What is it?' Good question. Accord¬ing to the editors of a book called Left Directions: Is There a Third Way? it is a new approach to socialism. It is described as a compromise, a search for a middle passage between commitment to socialist concern for equality and community and an acceptance of capitalist market society and private property as the basis for liberal democratic freedoms.

Capitalism is no longer viewed as something to be fought against. Not only is capitalism accepted as a permanent part of the social and economic landscape but also the market society is praised for its productivity, its dynamism and its capacity for innovation. The individualistic thrust of market society is accepted and made the basis for government policy. The role of government is seen as an active one of cooper¬ation with market forces to produce optimum outcomes.

Anthony Giddens, who is a leading British theorist from the London School of Economics-a left-leaning institution-states: Government has an essential role to play in investing in human resources and infrastructure needed to develop an entrepreneurial culture.

I note that Carr and Rann's own speech writer, Bob Ellis, cynically said that the Third Way is: . . . the same old values but bright new methods for a new, changed, international world; these values did not involve the right to keep your job when profiteers wanted to sack you.

 What we recognise in the mantra of the Third Way of this government from the book's description is social investment strategies based on equality of opportunity, limited by the need to stress inclusion as a key community principle, improving the quality of public education, sustaining a well-resourced health service, promoting safe public amenities and controlling levels of crime. A lot of the rhetoric of that statement is reflected in some ministerial titles and new structures set up by this new government.

One of the questions the book seeks to answer is whether the Third Wave is, in fact, neo-liberalism. In fact, Adelaide University's Professor Clem MacIntyre asks the question: is it simply the adoption of a neo-liberal platform by a Labor government desperate for electoral success? If we look at the antics of Treasurer Kevin Foley, he is certainly a man with a mission. I suspect he covets the title `the world's greatest treasurer'-which formerly belonged to Paul Keating-in his pursuit of his personal holy grail, the AAA credit rating. He has a history of cynically misrepresenting budget positions. In 2002-03, there was supposedly a black hole of $62 million. The Liberal Party was later vindicated in that it was, in fact, a surplus of $22 million. In the meantime, the black hole was used to justify increases in government taxes and charges and directives to keep budgets tight.
In 2003-04, we saw a whole range of taxes and charges increased in the budget, which wiped out the effects of commonwealth funding cuts to South Australians, supposedly necessary to assist the government's budgetary position. Late last year, we saw the Treasurer try to discredit the Liberal Party's deputy leader with allegations about previous accounting practices in the Department of Human Services, which I suspect was to blunt Dean Brown's attack on one of the government's worst performing ministers.

 The Treasurer's many attempts at high drama to excite somnolent accountants have been discredited by independent authorities, including the Auditor-General, Access Economics, and his own mid-year budget review. In his media release of 22 December 2003, the Treasurer described himself as being `like Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello', which is interesting in itself. It goes on to list a number of areas `Mr Money Bags' (as he was called in The Advertiser) has had to backflip on his short leash policy (something like $71.1 million). This demonstrates the inadequacy of the government's budget process in terms of planning. Against a background of additional GST revenue (which is easy money for the states) and windfalls from property taxes, he has managed to upset the left and the `True Believers'. So what does this government stand for? I would like to know where the Premier and the other ministers-and, indeed, the caucus-stand when it comes to the Treasurer having thrown out all of Labor's great philosophies.