Backing rapidly but cautiously away from the CDP, we come to what by now appears an oasis of sanity on the ballot paper – the Australian Labor Party.
On their policy page they inform me that ‘The Gillard Government has a comprehensive agenda to take Australia forward’. Normally, this would be reassuring, but I must confess in my current fatigued state it fills me with forboding. A quick glance through their site (which works, incidentally, and is markedly free of rude remarks about the Coalition) shows that they have more policies than anyone, even the Greens. I’m not even going to pretend I can cover all of them, and will try to just pick out the more interesting ones.

Labor, or at least Victoria’s branch of it, appears to have learned from the fiasco in 2004 that landed us with Steve Fielding as a Senator. This time around, they have actually put Greens second on their ticket, which pretty much renders their other selections moot. Still, you might be interested to know that directly after the Greens come the Democrats, Senator On-Line and the Carers’ Alliance. The bottom five parties on their ballot are the Liberals, Christian Democratic Party, Climate Sceptics, the Citizens’ Electoral Council and One Nation. Given what my personal ticket looks like, I can only approve of this arrangement.

Onto their policies. Major policy categories are Better Health and Better Hospitals, School Reform, Increasing Superannuation to 12%, Tax Plan for our Future, Strengthening Australia (this could mean anything but I have a dreadful suspicion it involves refugee policy), Building Better Regional Cities, Cleaner Power Stations, National Trade Cadetships, Rewards for Early Movers (to sustainable energy, judging by the image), Connecting Renewables, Cleaner Car Rebate, Protecting Workers’ Entitlements, and Draft National Disability Strategy.

Minor policy categories – or at least, policy categories that don’t make the front page – are Better Start for Children with Disabilities, Prevention of Suicide, Supported Accommodation, National Broadband Network Coverage, More Doctors and Nurses for Emergency Departments, Supporting Families with Teenagers (which makes teenagers sound like a terrible disease or affliction, but is actually about making sure parents still get rebates / parental support for older teenagers, not just young children), Tax Breaks for Green Buildings, Clean 21, Koongarra Protected Forever (more or less speaks for itself – Koongarra will be restored to the Kakadu National Park, in accordance with the wishes of the Traditional Owner), Delivering for Seniors, My Super, Labor’s Plan for Small Businesses, Empowering Local Schools, Reward for School Improvement, Healthy Start for Schools, Australian Baccalaureate, Online Diagnostic Tools, Performance Pay, Cadet Work Experience, Science for Australia’s Future, Innovation, Creating Opportunity / Requiring Responsibility (sounds like this would be unemployment policy), Modernising Welfare, Historic Reforms for Australia’s Not-for-Profit Sector, Closing the Gap (indigenous policy), National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children.

Actually, there is a lot of stuff there that I’d like to read about but I really don’t think I can get through all of it.

I’ll start with health, and the first thing I can’t help noticing is that there is no mention whatsoever of the Coalition or the previous government. And also, that the page loads quickly and doesn’t crash my computer. Much classier than the Coalition, on both counts. They do have a brief set of achievements, but I think you’re allowed to do that.

Basically, they are trying to nationalise hospital care (funded nationally but run locally), because rising costs make this increasingly unworkable for the states. They want to put money into more sub-acute hospital beds, shorter waiting periods for elective surgery, a 24-hour GP hotline, a personally controlled electronic health record ‘for every Australian that wants one’ (a nice touch, that – privacy is clearly something that has at least crossed their minds), and they want to train a lot more GPs and nurses (the AMA will hate that – they have traditionally controlled how many medical students they are willing to train in Australia to ensure that there are always jobs for doctors). No mention of dental care, unlike all the small parties!

As for mental health, I’m afraid you only get help if you are suicidal (which is about the way it works now, although even being suicidal isn’t always enough) – or at least, that’s the only policy they have that relates to mental illness:

Suicide is a tragedy – for individuals, for families, and for communities in which someone has taken their own life. More than 2000 Australians take their lives every year. A re-elected Gillard Labor Government will redouble our national efforts to prevent the tragedy of suicide in order to reduce the tragic toll it imposes on individuals, families and communities.

The Government will invest $276.9 million over four years to:

* Provide more services to those at greatest risk of suicide – including psychology and psychiatry services, as well as non-clinical support to assist people with severe mental illness and their carers with their day-to-day needs.
* Invest more in direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention, including through boosting the capacity of counselling services such as Lifeline and providing funding to improve safety at suicide ‘hotspots’.
* Provide more services and support to men – who are at greatest risk of suicide, but least likely to seek help.
* Promote good mental health and resilience in young people, to prevent suicide later in life.

So yeah. Not too bad on health, but mental health is more or less a big black hole.

Moving forward, as you might say, to Education, they want to invest in schools, which is all very well, but I’m not sure about how they are going about it. For example, they want to reward high-performing teachers with bonuses – but since the grounds for ‘high performance’ include student achievement, this is clearly going to advantage teachers who work in more affluent schools, or, more properly, disadvantage teachers who work in suburbs where many students may start school not speaking much English. And I’m not sure how special ed would fit in here. I can, in any case, see this policy leading to schools in poorer or more migrant-friendly areas having trouble keeping teachers, who realise they can do better in more affluent schools. I can’t see this benefiting students much at all. On a similar note, they want to reward schools that show the most improvement in school attendance, literacy and numeracy performance, year 12 attainment and results and post-school destination. I think this would potentially work better and more fairly, but I’ll let Andrew add his opinions in the comments, since I’m sure he’ll have some.

Other policies include a national curriculum (everyone seems to want this, so I think it will happen – though I am sure everyone will fight about what goes into it), an Australian Baccalaureate program, intended to be an internationally recognised qualification similar to the IB, online learning diagnostic tools, and a program for professionals from other sectors who are interested in moving into teaching that provides shorter, specialised and intensive teacher training of around 8 weeks duration. This is an interesting idea, but I’m not sure how well it will work. They also want to make schools more autonomous, or rather, they want to give the school community more say in how things are run. This could go well or badly and it’s really hard to say which it will be (I admit, I can’t help thinking about all the Creationist school boards in the USA). Finally, children from low-income families (which are receiving government funding) will have to undergo a health check before starting school. This phrasing is rather punitive, but it appears the actual goal and outcome of this would be to make sure children from lower-income families actually get the health checks that their parents might not be able to afford to give them, and that any health risks or learning difficulties are identified.

(I hate to say this, but in some ways I actually preferred the CDP’s education policy.)

Under taxation we do start getting a bit of Coalition bashing, but the basic idea is that they want to promote their Minerals Resource Rent Tax, and also increase everyone’s superannuation to 12%. These are both good things and get a pass from me. Strengthening Australia, however, has no real content and just general things about strengthing ties with the US and other countries and being a voice in the world community.

In a blatant come-hither to the National Party’s voters, the ALP promise to “invest $200 million to help build up to 15,000 more affordable homes in regional cities over three years and relieve pressure on our major capital cities, so that Australia can grow sustainably”. This would probably work better if they also creted jobs in said cities; however this policy is very brief and looks as though they are about to announce something and then extend it, so I can’t tell you much about it.

They have a bunch of clean energy policies – ‘tough new emissions standards for all new power stations’ (how tough is something they leave to our imagination, but they do need to be Carbon Capture and Storage-ready). They are also providing incentives for existing power stations to become cleaner – no penalties for not doing so that I can see, which shows up the scare-mongering from the Climate Change Sceptics and their friends for the lie that it is. Though they do point out that everyone will have to reduce eventually, and by doing so now, it will be cheaper. They want to connect more households to sustainable energy, and provide rebates for people building green buildings. They are also requiring new cars to be more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, and of course they have the famed ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme, where you get a $2000 rebate for scrapping your old, climate-unfriendly car, which you can use towards buying something a bit less evil. They also want to invest in an innovative manufacturing industry to reduce pollution and fight climate change. This sounds like a very positive step to me and is, amazingly, an environmental policy that I don’t think the Greens have. But I might be wrong – the Greens have so much environmental policy that I could easily have missed something.

Like most of the other parties, the ALP want to increase educational opportunities in the trades. This seems likely to happen, since both major parties agree on it and seem to have somewhat similar policies – though of course the temptation to make sure your opposition doesn’t achieve anything is a strong one. Hopefully sense will win out. Here’s the ALP policy:

The Gillard Labor Government will ensure that students at school who want to pursue a career in the trades have a clearly defined pathway, equal in quality, value and rigour to more traditional academic pursuits.

From 2012 students from years 9 to 12 will be offered a new National Trade Cadetship as an option under the National Curriculum. This Cadetship will be delivered through their local Trades Training Centre and through other eligible venues.

There will be two streams of National Trade Cadetship available:

1. National Trade Cadetship – Foundation which will focus on essential work readiness skills and laying the foundation for further training; and
2. National Trade Cadetship – Pre-Apprentice which will focus on specific trade or occupation area.

The National Trade Cadetships will be developed by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA), in partnership with Industry Skills Councils and with States and Territories.

National Trade Cadetships will be nationally recognised and will provide credit towards an apprenticeship or further training. ACARA will work with States and Territories to ensure the Cadetships contribute towards state based senior awards, in the same way as other approved subjects under the National Curriculum.

Looks pretty good to me. They are also planning to have structured work experience in the Trades so that students can get an idea of what their apprenticeship would be like ahead of time. All in all, a sound policy.

The claws come out a bit in their Protecting Workers’ Entitlements package. This is not surprising – WorkChoices is and always has been one of the biggest advantages Labor has over the Coalition, and since this actually *is* a point of difference between them, I think it’s fair enough to hammer it home.

The package protects employees’ entitlements through three strong measures:

* The Fair Entitlements Guarantee.
* Securing Super.
* Strengthening Corporate and Taxation Law.

1. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee will protect workers’ entitlements including: redundancy pay (up to a maximum of four weeks for each year of service), all annual leave, all long service leave and up to three months of unpaid wages. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee will be enshrined in legislation.

2. Securing Super will strengthen compliance measures to ensure employees receive their superannuation entitlements.

3. Strengthening Corporate and Taxation Law will give the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) increased powers and strengthen penalties to take action against companies that do the wrong thing. Reforms will be introduced that target ‘phoenix’ company arrangements.

This package stands in contrast to the Coalition, who will rip workers’ entitlements away. Australian employees work hard and deserve to know that their wages, superannuation and other entitlements are safe. The biggest risk to these entitlements is Tony Abbott.

While this is not an area I know much about, it does look like a good policy, and one I’d like to see carried out.

The ALP has a national disability strategy which, to their credit, appears to have been developed in consultation with people with disabilities. Here’s what they say about it:

Draft National Disability Strategy

The Gillard Labor Government has released its draft National Disability Strategy which outlines a 10-year national plan to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation, and create a more inclusive society.

The Gillard Labor Government is committed to ensuring that people with disability are able to fulfil their potential.

The Strategy has been developed in consultation with people with disability, the community, State and Territory Governments and local governments. It outlines a nationwide approach to improving the lives of people with disability.

A re-elected Gillard Labor Government will take the National Disability Strategy to the Council of Australian Governments early next term

You can download the whole article as a PDF or in an accessible form, which is a nice touch. A nicer touch would be if all their policies had a similar accessible option, of course… (they don’t). In addition to this policy, the ALP wants to provide better access for children with disabilities to Early Intervention Programs. They also plan to provide a $12,000 grant to families of a child with a listed disability (I have not seen the full list, but they do mention all the most common disabilities, and I suspect less common ones will also benefit because there just won’t be too many children to fund) – this can be used for equipment or services. They also want to put a variety of early diagnostic and treatment services on Medicare. This is a good policy, but I do wonder why they haven’t done it already? Of course, that’s the argument about any of these policies, I suppose. Finally, they want to put more funds into supported accommodation and respite, working through community organisations, on the grounds that these are often better placed to know what is really needed and what is available. I’d be interested to know which community organisations they have in mind, however. Peer support groups? Charities? Church organisations? More information is required…

The ALP has quite a nice Seniors policy, which attempts to support both Seniors who want to stay in the workplace and those who want to retire. They want a dedicated Aged Discrimination Commissioner, and peer support for Grandparent carers. They also want to support training for mature age workers in the workplace. The ALP also wants you to know that they have already increased the pension, so please stop voting Liberal already!

They also want the science vote and are promising lots of money for research. I could tell them that they already have the science vote, if my workplace is anything to go by, but we always like to have more money. We’d like it more if you didn’t hold all our NHMRC grants hostage until after the election, since we are well aware that they have very little to do with who is in power and we suspect that the general public doesn’t really care about which government is giving out the NHMRC grants, but we understand that you need to obey the rules and not be seen to be giving anyone lots of money right before an election. Even if it does drive us nuts not knowing whether our funding will continue. But I digress…

The ALP wants to reform welfare by ‘creating opportunity and requiring responsibility’:

A re-elected Gillard Labor Government will modernise Australia’s welfare system – to spread the dignity and purpose of work, end the corrosive aimlessness of welfare and bring more Australians into mainstream economic and social life.

We will create better opportunities and require greater responsibility – building on the reforms we have delivered during the past three years to education, welfare and employment services.

In every step we take to improve opportunities for children, parents and jobseekers, we will match them with clearer responsibilities – to participate in study, training or work, and to make sure that children are getting the support and care they need to develop well.

This always makes me nervous, to be honest. If they really do create opportunities, then that’s fine, but can they be trusted to do so? They do talk a lot about creating jobs, but I have some concerns about how they will handle the disability pension – they used to treat it like the seniors pension, but Howard changed that and made it more like unemployment – more rules, harder to get, more requirements to prove all the time that you couldn’t work, many of which required you to show up in person, regardless of how onerous or indeed impossible this might be with your particular disability. Unfortunately, this is one of the fact sheets I can’t download (Labor’s site is worlds better than the Liberals’, but it still has the odd glitch), so I can’t find out more information. So the jury’s out on this for me.

On a brighter note, they want less red tape in the not-for-profit sector, and they want a national strategy to prevent domestic violence and a better support system for those affected by it.

The final policy, ‘Closing the Gap’, confuses me rather. It has a picture of two aboriginal women in the header, and it sounds like an indigenous policy title, but there is nothing in their wording to indicate that indigenous Australians are involved in this at all:

The Gillard Labor Government will support hard working families, to support the mums and dads who are doing it tough to provide for their kids and get them a good education. Where social norms have broken down, we will work with communities to build stronger families and lift expectations and aspirations.

Rewarding personal responsibility will continue to be a core aim of our programs, recognising
those quiet achievers in our community who demonstrate, day in and day out, the value of hard work, team work and spirit.

We will continue to put the welfare of children at the centre of our efforts, and tackle alcohol abuse, and family violence through the actions outlined in our Indigenous Family Safety Agenda.

Again, I can’t download the full document (they have a weird way of doing these downloads – fortunately, as you have gathered, there is quite a lot of information on the site despite this. But not on indigenous policy, which leaves me with a bit of a question mark on this one.

Policies not mentioned anywhere that I could see were the internet filter, asylum seekers, immigration, or any of the whole ‘sustainable population’ business.

All in all… better than I expected, and more points of difference from the Liberals than I had feared. Which is good, because my preferences have to go somewhere.