The NSW Labor Policy Forum recently met to map out how we will produce Labor’s 2015 election policy. The May meting was well attended, and the early address was made by Professor Andrew Vann, Vice Chancellor Charles Sturt University in relation to the importance of education to regional communities. I thought it would be uncharitable to raise the point that every second cleaner I spoke to during my time as a union organiser said that they studied accounting at Charles Sturt and that they hated it and thought it was a rip off… So I kept my mouth shut on that one, discretion being the better part of valour etc. He was really very informative, especially about the need to attract high quality medicine students to the country because the data shows that once a student goes to study in the city, they rarely leave. Dr Andrew Macdonald, the Labor Health Shadow Minister, said that this was a top priority because the cost to hospital budgets of using short-term ‘locum’ staff to cover shortages was enormous.
Transport was the next policy area raised, Labor Transport Shadow Penny Sharpe MLC giving an overview of what the O’Farrell Government is and is not doing to facilitate better transport in Sydney and NSW more generally. She said that cut backs in maintenance and other staff had caused the worse on-time running figures in years, far worse than they were under Labor’s final years in office. She mentioned that the North West Rail Link, a privatised shuttle service with no integration into the City Rail system, was sucking up nearly all the Government’s infrastructure budget. I go the impression that the North West Rail Link is the first step to a privatised Sydney Rail network. (For a some interesting videos on Sydney transport options, and the North West Rail Link in particular, check out the ecotransit youtube channel).
During this discussion I said something to this effect: To win State electorates, under the current funding laws, Labor needs to make a very large number of phone calls and doorknocking visits to targeted voters. It also needs to raise thousands of dollars in small donations from people committed to the Labor cause. A reasonable estimate of the number of people Labor requires is around 500 active members per State seat, approximately 1 activist per 100 voters. No State seat currently has that many active members. To get that many active members in the ALP, transport is an issue around which we can organise, if it is connected to a common, popular, majority value of equality. We need to talk about transport as it relates to fairness and equality especially if we are to overcome the perception that Labor dropped the ball on transport in the previous Government.
This seemed to be well received, especially by Penny Sharpe, who as an experienced campaigner has always supported better grasssroots engagement and participation.
The discussion then moved on to our plan for the Policy Forum itself. The Policy Forum is divided into six Policy Commissions, their terms of reference and their members are here on the ALP website. It was announced that each Policy Commission would be expected to produce a 2-3000 word chapter on their area of policy for presentation in February 2014. The draft chapters would then be released for further consultation and feedback, before eventually being adopted late in 2014 at the ALP State Conference as the Party’s election priorities document.
During general business rank and file member Carol Berry presented some ideas from a branch member from the Illawarra on taxation and Government finances which brought on a discussion from Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley. I reiterated what I had said at our Central Policy Branch debate on this policy area- to wit: Labor may want to embrace various ‘rational’ policies on taxation and the economy of NSW, but until it has the trust of the people that it is driving towards equality and fairness with those policies, then the assumption will be that these policies will hurt ordinary people, because that’s what previous ‘reforms’ and ‘rational’ policies have achieved. Fixing our inefficient, pro-cyclical and regressive, anti-equality taxation system, for instance, is a priority. But we need to make sure people know we are doing it in order to create a fairer and more equal NSW. Nobody has said that sort of thing and made that clear for a long time.
The Jobs and the Economy Policy Commission then met to determine how we would go about achieving this. We resolved to come together again later in May, and that meeting happened last night. We decided to continue our consultations by publishing an online survey that will be promoted to all ALP members and Party units, and to write to various organisations asking them to make a 1000-word submission relating to our terms of reference. Our Commission will reconvene in July to consider the responses to this feedback and begin the process of pulling together a draft policy chapter, with another meeting in October to debate and thrash out the priorities, before a draft is actually written and presented back to the Commission in December. Further refinement will then occur before we present it to the Forum as a whole in February next year. ALP members can participate in any or all of those processes.
I will be responsible for putting together the survey of ALP members and Party units. If you have any ideas about how to do so effectively and which questions to ask, please let me know below. Once again here are the Jobs and the Economy Policy Commission’s Terms of Reference to help guide you.
Jobs and the Economy Policy Commission
The prosperity and sustainability of our State relies upon the NSW Government playing a positive role in managing the economy, effectively using the levers of regulation, investment, taxation and public expenditure to ensure that as Australia’s most mature and diverse economy we realise our potential on behalf of the people of our state.
Labor has always supported a partnership approach between the public and private sectors, working people and employers to ensure that NSW has full employment, good jobs, a strong future and equality and fairness in life outcomes for all NSW citizens.
Terms of Reference:
The Jobs & Economy Policy Commission will seek to provide policy ideas for Labor to take to the 2015 NSW election that will provide a clear economic direction for the state. These policies must be aimed to achieve a growing economy with full employment, good jobs and long term opportunities for investment and equity that will see our state play its leadership role as the engine room of the national economy meeting the needs of our communities in the 21st Century. The Commission will inquire into and report upon:
- The current drivers of economic prosperity in NSW, with particular regard to jobs, public services, investment, living standards, regional communities, gender participation and equality and fairness, including an assessment of how influential these drivers will remain into the future, and whether new drivers of economic prosperity will emerge.
- The quantity and type of jobs likely to be created by these drivers,with a particular focus on knowledge jobs, service sector jobs, green jobs, independent contractors, and small business.
- The economic policy tools that have historically been available to state governments, and how these and any other policy tools should be used in future.
- The composition and direction of state income and expenditure, and the options available to state governments for financing major infrastructure.
- The impact of technological change and globalisation on the NSW economy and jobs for the future.
- The funding options for the infrastructure needed to allow NSW to realise its full economic potential.
- The role of public sector and State Owned Corporations’ procurement in shaping and delivering good local jobs.
The Policy Commission will seek input from key stakeholders within the party and the wider community. The final report of the Policy Commission must embrace Labor values of economic and social equity.
Co-Chairs: Michael Daley, MP; Mark Lennon, Secretary UnionsNSW
Members: George Barcha, George Houssos, Luke Whitington, Rita Malia, Geoff Derrick, Penny Sharpe MLC, Adam Searle MLC.
Convenor: David Hetheringon
At the end of the meeting I walked up to Granville Station to try to get home. Trackwork and ridiculous traffic on the transit bus route meant that it took me over an hour to get to Strathfield, plus about an extra half hour to get to Meadowbank. I reflected on the loss of economic output and amenity for the people who were on my bus, mostly western Sydney residents struggling to get by. I may have posted “Fix it Gladys!” to my facebook before my phone ran out of battery!