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Friday, May 05, 2006

Kim Beazley's Think Tanks

As Barrie Cassidy observed this morning on ABC 702, if Kim Beazley read The Australian over breakfast this morning, he would have found a heck of a lot of people trying to give him advice.

The first piece of advice came from ALP President Warren Mundine and frankly, it's a stinker, and follows on from the dumping of the so-called `Private Schools Hit List'. Now, I've always maintained that this was a decent policy that was poorly sold. Yes, a number of extremely rich private schools stood to lose money out of the deal, and so they should have done. But a number - as large or larger - of needy schools stood to benefit enormously. The party's mistake was in emphasising the schools that would miss out rather than those that would benefit. It's difficult to say just yet, but it sounds like the policy may not have changed so much - just the way it is being sold. This is a good thing.

Mundine's advice? Don't only throw out the hit list - but pay parents to send their children to private schools. This is utter madness. The obfuscatory mantra of `choice at all costs' (for which read `we'll fund our preferred option to the eye teeth and let all the options we don't like go to the dogs ... to give the public choice') has leached into so many areas of public policy, from education to industrial relations, and Labor should not buy into it. Celebrating the idea that parents `sacrifice their lifestyles' to send their children to private schools inherently implies that public schools are the lousy option that nobody really wants to take, and that public schools, their staff, and the quality of education they provide are necessarily inferior. If the ALP genuinely wants to give people choice, undermining a public education system that does not need this sort of kick in the nuts is not the way to do it. Bravo to Beazley for giving this idea a short, sharp knock on the head.

The second piece of advice comes from Unions NSW chief John Robertson, and several other union leaders, who cast doubts on the performance of Stephen Smith as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations. This is, I suppose, a reasonable point, and Robertson is not the first to make it. Beazley has repeatedly emphasised his belief that industrial relations will be the issue that makes or breaks the Labor Party in the next election. However, to compare Kevin Rudd's performance in relentlessly pursuing the party's other major pending issue, AWB, Smith inevitably comes up short. I doubt that average Joe - even average Joe who has been following the industrial relations issue with some level of interest - could name him in a line-up. And though Smith has been articulate and convincing when he has spoken out, this lack of profile can't help but be a problem.

Many remain disgruntled with the decision not to designate Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations as a sole position to allow the holder (Smith or otherwise) to concentrate on it. This would also alleviate the impression that the position is a `part time job', and elevate the importance of industrial relations as a portfolio - not to mention the equally important issues of industry and infrastructure, which Smith also holds, and which will be crucial in prosecuting other issues such as the skills shortage. Though Beazley has ruled out moving Smith, at least dividing his portfolio would seem a smart and logical move.

All in all, I imagine this constitutes Kim Beazley's third piece of advice for the morning :)

7 Comments:

At 12:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need an industrial relations attack dog - who?

 
At 4:33 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

Lindsay Tanner, perhaps? One commentator (I can't remember who) suggested Julia Gillard, but I don't know about that - apart from anything, I can't see Beazley giving a potential leadership contender the party's biggest issue to play with.

 
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