Despite the attendance of Paul Keating, and plenty of invocations of Bob Hawke, the Labor of the Hawke-Keating years was little in evidence at Labor’s election campaign launch. Anthony Albanese presented a platform heavy on manufacturing, nation-building, better pay and conditions and an expansion of the concept of universal care to aged care and childcare. This was old-school Labor stuff, much of which could have been heard in the 1970s — but with two crucial modern twists.
Most of all there was a return to government banking — right in front of the prime minister who’d sold off the Commonwealth Bank, Keating himself.
Labor’s help-to-buy housing scheme — in which the government would fund partial equity in new homes (40%) and existing homes (30%) for a maximum of 10,000 low and middle-income applicants a year — will in effect return the federal government to mortgage financing, albeit via equity not lending, and in a limited form (in 2021 there were around 140-50,000 first home buyer loans). Applicants would able to buy out the Commonwealth’s equity when they choose to. Returns from the scheme — which would see the Commonwealth part-own a substantial stock of property — would be directed to social housing construction.
The scheme will merely add more Commonwealth-funded demand for housing without adding supply, although the one positive design element is that it significantly incentivises the purchase of new housing rather than existing housing stock, meaning applicants could save 10% of the purchase price of a home if they opt for a new build.
To address the supply side, Albanese also announced a state-local-Commonwealth housing supply council, thought that promises little more than talk about land supply.
It’s an old-fashioned, economically irrational solution — and likely to be popular exactly for that. It was also of a piece with Albanese’s pitch for a nation that, as he incessantly reminded us, “can do better”.
His five-part pitch centred on energy investment, including a new commitment to expand electric vehicle charging stations across the country; more investment in manufacturing — including $1 billion to be spent on value-added manufacturing in areas like lithium and nickel; more and more independent infrastructure investment; addressing the gender pay gap and improving tertiary education, including by using local procurement in Commonwealth infrastructure investment; and Labor’s ‘care’ package involving already-announced support for aged care and child care, plus an outbidding of the government on reducing PBS costs, with all PBS scripts to be capped at $30.
Albanese also led off at the very start with a commitment to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Commencing his launch with a commitment on Indigenous reconciliation, recognition and treaty reflected that, while economically old-school, this wasn’t the 20th century Labor Party on display.