Flashpoint | After the Election: Problems, Possibilities, Policies

7 June 2022

Political scientists spend a huge amount of time and energy attempting to predict the outcome of national elections, sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong. However, far less time is spent reflecting on what the decided outcome will bring in terms of politics and policies. Having now determined that the ALP holds the majority in the House of Representatives, we can now engage in this reflection in a meaningful way. In certain policy areas, relating to climate change and indigenous policy for example, the government has already begun to implement its intentions. However, in other areas, such as social and health policy, there is a need for stronger powers of prediction as the policy intentions of the ALP have been communicated with less emphasis. And of course, overarching all of this is the new political palette of federal politics, which now includes stronger hues of green and teal, which might complement or conflict with the traditional red and blue of federal politics.  

Dr Adam Hannah
Health and social policy

In 2019, inequality was a key focus for Labor. With the bitter memories of that unexpected defeat still in mind, the Albanese government emerges having studiously avoided ambition in the areas of health and social policy during the 2022 campaign. As a matter of electoral strategy, it is difficult argue with victory. And yet, this is a government tasked with managing the aftermath of an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Our state hospital systems face major resourcing challenges. We were also reminded during 2020 that the national government can meaningfully reduce poverty and economic inequality where it so chooses, and at least some portions of the electorate are keen for the more expansive social democratic program offered by the Greens.  

However, it is likely that Labor will hold to its more incremental plans. On health care, they have proposed to invest $135 million in 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics across the country. With six of the eight states and territories in Labor hands, it would also not be surprising to see additional hospital funding from the Commonwealth.

On mental health, Labor has pledged to continue the additional funding which began under the Morrison government, including a reversal of recent funding cuts for rural telehealth. The expansion of Medicare to cover dental was a centrepiece of the Greens campaign. However, Labor cut its own dental plan for pensioners after 2019, despite the parlous state of public dental care.

On child care, Labor’s policy is more substantial, ramping up subsidies across the income spectrum – this will do doubt be welcome given the high and increasing costs of childcare in Australia. At the same time, it declined to makes its goal of increasing parental leave to 26 weeks a campaign promise.

It has also continued to refrain from making any clear promises on raising the rate of JobSeeker, despite consistent and strong public support for doing so. On housing, Labor’s focus has remained on the ‘demand’ side, with its proposals likely to drive house prices up further. While some additional people will becomes home owners, increasing wealth inequality and housing stress for renters will remain.

A final challenge is the management of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, legislated in 2013 towards the end of the Gillard government. While a landmark in the expansion of disability services, the program is highly complex. The Coalition government’s focus often appeared to be reducing costs. The incoming Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, was a strong advocate for the scheme during the Rudd-Gillard years – beneficiaries will no doubt be hoping for a renewed focus on effective management and improved outcomes.

Dr Liz Strakosch
First Nations Policy

The ALP rides a wave of progressive energy into government, and a great deal of this energy is generated by its commitment to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. In his victory speech, Albanese promised to take the Uluru proposed constitutionally enshrined Voice to parliament to a referendum early in his term. In doing this, he faces the twin challenges of Australia’s notoriously strict threshold for constitutional change, and a likely hostile opposition leader in Peter Dutton. On Albanese’s side, though, is widespread public support and the political sophistication and experience of Linda Burney as the Minister for Indigenous Australians.

And while it might seem like raining on the progressive parade, there is also the long and bitter legacy of broken government promises on treaty and political negotiation with First Nations in this country. This makes it harder to see the ALP commitment as a unique or definitive national turning point. What matters is what comes next.

While the Uluru Statement is taking up most of the attention in First Nations policy, there is a great deal of remedial work to be done. Since the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission by Howard in the mid-2000s, Indigenous policy has been characterised by instability, mismanagement, hierarchical policy making approaches and paternalistic (or outright coercive) policies.

This is the product of a grim bipartisanship – while it might seem like Labor and the Coalition are naturally opposed on this issue, in fact the Gillard and Rudd governments were enthusiastic proponents of the Northern Territory intervention and welfare quarantining. The 2015 Indigenous Advancement Strategy was a disaster for Indigenous affairs, leading to government mismanagement, Indigenous distrust and the rapid defunding of the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector. It remains in place.

There are promising signs that the Albanese government is listening to Indigenous organisations’ calls for change in the government’s way of operating in this space. They have pledged to abolish the racist CDP program, and also the loathed Basics Card (although, they shouldn’t get too much credit for this, Labor having introduced it in the first place). They also are showing initial movement to securely fund remote Homelands, which have been caught in a Federal/State fight over funding responsibility.

But again, as with all government action in this area, words are worth much less than actions. So often governments denounce existing arrangements in Indigenous policy and promise a new dawn – and all that really happens is an extension of government authority over Indigenous lives.

Professor Kath Gelber
Gender and the federal election

The outcome of the federal election resulted in record high numbers of women in the federal parliament, and in the federal cabinet. It remains to be seen whether this increased presence will translate into policy change, but given the outlook of many of the successful women candidates, there is some reason for optimism.

Among non-major party members of the parliament, the Independents were the leaders in this regard. Of the 10 independents with House of Representatives seats, 9 of them are women. There is one woman from the Centre Alliance (SA), and one of the four Greens elected to the lower house is a woman.

The proportion of women candidates nominated for the House of Representatives across the country was approximately 40%. The number of women candidates elected was often higher. In NSW, 24 men were elected and 23 women. In Victoria, 20 men were elected and 17 women. In WA 6 men were elected and 9 women, and in SA 7 men were elected and 3 women. The numbers were close in Tasmania (2 men, 3 women), ACT (2 men, 1 woman) and NT (1 each). The outlier was Qld in which 25 men were elected and only 5 women. (There were no non-binary identifying candidates elected.)

Prior to this federal election, the International Parliamentary Union ranked Australia 57th globally for the number of women in parliament (47/151 = 31%). Now Australia will have 62 women, roughly 42%, which will mean we will rank approximately 22nd globally.  The new federal cabinet has a record number of women – 10 out of 23 positions, with women holding many highly influential portfolios including Environment and Water, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Finance.

There are added aspects of diversity. There are two Muslim ministers in the government, and Linda Burney became the first Indigenous woman to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

The question of whether this representation will result in different policy outcomes is complex. The new government has pledged to take action on a range of issues important to women, including climate change, free TAFE, clean energy, addressing family violence, affordance housing, more secure work, universal childcare and women’s rights at work. They have pledged to implement in full the 55 recommendation of the Respect@Work Inquiry into Sexual Harassment. These are all issues that many women care about.

Many of the teal Independents also put addressing sexual harassment, and sexual and gender based violence, front and centre of their campaigns – along with climate change, and the establishment of a national integrity commission. The fact that the government has won a majority will limit their direct influence, but it is highly likely they will be an important part of the conversation on many issues that women care about, including broader economic policy and the reduction of the deficit.

Associate Professor Matt McDonald
Climate Policy under Labor- What can we expect?

Climate change clearly played a significant role in the 2022 election. Ultimately, the Labor Party’s ‘less-ambitious-than-2019-but-still-better-than-the-Coalition’ electoral platform on climate change seemed to pay off. But now that the election is done and dusted, what can we expect from the Labor Government?

Labor’s ‘Powering Australia’ policy announced in the lead up to the election involved a commitment to 43% emissions reduction by 2030. It also included a plan to invest in renewable energy and associated storage capacity, the development of an electric vehicle strategy, and an upgrade to the electricity grid, among other things.

The emissions reduction target is a way short of what many on the expanded cross-bench would support, but new Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen has already played down the need to revisit this target. The Government will be pushed on this by the Greens and independents, and the Senate configuration will mean the Government needs to keep the Greens onside. But it’s more likely this will manifest in substantive policy development and follow through to meet and better targets, allowing more ambitious future targets.

In diplomatic terms the Labor Government has already been spruiking its commitment to climate action. Labor has won support from the US and the Pacific, but so far that’s largely for not being the Coalition. If international momentum continues to build on climate action, expect international pressure on the government to ramp up its ambition over time.

Fossil fuels, especially coal, is likely to be the big issue for the ALP. With increasingly cloudy future prospects, alongside strong public and international opposition to new coal projects, Labor’s could be under significant pressure if it cannot square away its rhetorical commitment to climate action with its continued suggestion that coal and gas have a future in Australia’s energy mix and exports.

Watch the recording of our Flashpoint panel After the Election: Problems, Possibilities, Policies on our YouTube channel: