In 2022, Labor Gave Us Hope. What Happened?
In the 2022 Federal Election the Labor party won 77 seats, beating the Liberal government’s 55 retained seats. The victory marked the end of a poorly received government led by Scott Morrison, and seemed like a step forward for Indigenous representation, racial and gender diversity, social activism, and climate action. But was it all a lie? Journalist Ky Stewart reflects on Labor’s first full year in government.
Many of us were drawn to Labor because they promised big on easing the cost of living crisis, making housing affordable and rent fairer, tackling climate change, and because of their close alignment with the Greens, who saw a record amount of votes in 2022.
Fast forward to over a year into Labor’s leadership, and it seems like public trust and support for the party is slipping. A recent national Newspoll from October 30 to November 3 2023, which sampled 1220 Australian voters, showed a dramatic dip in support for Albanese and Labor. As the poll reported, Labor only has a 52-48 percent lead over the Coalition, making it the slimmest lead reported by Newspoll since the 2022 election. This puts Labor at 35 percent of the primary vote, while The Greens remained steady with a 12 percent primary vote and the Coalition climbed two percentage points, to 37 percent. The poll also showed Anthony Albanese’s ratings sitting at 52 percent dissatisfaction, with a net approval of -10. That’s uh, not great.
Some are attributing Labor’s slump to the defeat of the Voice to Parliament referendum and failures to reduce cost of living pressures. Labor’s public image has taken a proverbial beating of late, too, with news story after news story reflecting on Labor’s inadequate response to Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Calls for the government to do more to face our current climate emergency head-on have been growing louder as well. A year flies by (I’m still trying to read the book I got gifted last Christmas) but the Newspoll results nod to the fact that people are feeling lukewarm on Labor and their ability to fulfil the promises they made back in May 2022.
Let’s see where the Labor government currently sits on major issues facing the nation and if their policies stack up with their actions.
Climate Change And The Environment
Perhaps the biggest promises Labor made during the campaign run was around climate change. The party advocated heavily for a target of net zero emissions by 2050, with a reduction of 43 percent by 2030, and pushed their ‘Powering Australia’ campaign to nudge Australia towards renewable energy. Labor introduced the Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022, which legislated the emissions reductions targets. This bill, alongside amendments to the Safeguard Mechanism (a Liberal policy which puts a limit on the emissions amount from big polluters, making them buy offset credits if they go beyond the limits) are what Labor said would “end the climate wars”.
From the get-go Labor’s climate targets and policies were criticised by activists and scientists alike for being in breach of the Paris agreement. The Greens, who advocated for an emissions reduction target of 75 percent by 2030, said the Safeguard Mechanism will be ineffective given the “danger that new coal and gas projects pose”. According to the Australia Institute, there are 116 new fossil fuel projects on the Federal Government’s annual Resource and Energy Major Project list in 2023. If they all proceed, they will collectively add 4.8 billion tonnes of emissions to the atmosphere by 2030. The same report noted the proposed Safeguard Mechanism would only reduce these emissions by 86 million tonnes, which is less than 2 percent of the total emissions.
Although Labor promised to reach net zero emissions by 2050, in 2021-2022 Australia produced 422 million tonnes of coal resulting in 1.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s just for one year. Tanya Plibersek, Federal Environment Minister, has approved four new coal mines or expansions that will have an estimated 147 million tonnes of lifetime emissions. At the end of last year, oil and gas company Santos was approved to proceed with their major coal gas project in the Pilliga, despite fierce Gomeroi opposition. This will not only destroy sacred land but threaten endangered species, running the risk of releasing methane into the atmosphere and leaking into the Great Artesian Basin, which is the most significant hydrogeological system in Australia. It’s also one of the largest and deepest artesian basins in the world.
Many believe Labor’s climate response just isn’t good enough. Recently, 36 Australian environmental law experts, led by Jacqueline Peel, pleaded to Plibersek in an open letter to address the gaps in Australia’s environmental laws. Two Torres Strait Islander Elders, Uncles Pabai and Paul, are currently taking the government to court for failing to prevent climate change and protect the Torres Strait from rising sea levels. In the most recent Lowy Institute poll, the Labor government received only a 5.3 ranking (out of 10) for ‘managing Australia’s approach to climate change’. Students recently went on strike against climate inaction, calling on Labor to stop relying on fossil fuels. (Actually, this activism may have just worked.) It’s clear that people are frustrated with Labor’s timid climate response.
Indigenous Issues And Voice To Parliament Failure
In his victory speech, Albanese committed to the Uluru Statement From The Heart in full, including enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and addressing First Nations policies previous governments shelved or watered down. Many applauded his dedication to wanting to improve the lives of Indigenous people in Australia.
The Voice to Parliament was indeed a significant milestone in Albanese’s career, just not in the way he’d hoped. Instead of being remembered as a Prime Minister who successfully led a referendum for Indigenous recognition, he was left with a country torn in half by racism and confusion.
The Voice to Parliament debate put Indigenous people under the microscope, opening us up to racism, vitriol, and abuse. As the Voice loomed closer, support for Albanese and the referendum began dropping off, with some voters expressing that the Voice became too strong a focal point for the government, and that more attention should have been given to the cost of living and housing crises.
Since the Voice to Parliament defeat, there’s been a great deal of silence from the Labor party about what they intend to do next to pick up the pieces for First Nations communities. They haven’t shared any strong commitment to rebuilding relationships with First Nations communities, and are yet to create policies to help address the housing, health, education, and welfare inequalities Indigenous people still face today. Albanese has rejected the idea of a First Nations treaty (something many Indigenous people were calling for instead of the Voice to Parliament). Many Indigenous people felt betrayed.
Since being elected, Labor has introduced policies that are in diametric opposition to their public promises around supporting First Nations people. Indigenous communities, especially those in rural areas and in the Torres Strait, are at extreme risk of bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change. Despite saying that she cares about conserving Australia’s “land and sea” and that “no one knows this land like First Nations communities”, Tanya Plibersek keeps approving new gas and coal mines to be opened and operated on Indigenous land. Albanese, meanwhile, wore a Rio Tinto shirt with his name on it during a press conference. Rio Tinto being the same company who committed to the Voice to Parliament after blowing up a sacred 46,000 year-old Indigenous site in Juukan Gorge in the western Pilbara region, multiple times.
The Labor government is yet to implement the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody of which there have been 557 deaths since the report was handed down. Instead, Labor reintroduced Intervention-era policies like cashless cards and alcohol bans in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, despite being urged by residents not to.
Labor’s Response To Palestine And Israel
Before Israel launched a full-scale attack on Gaza resulting in enormous civilian casualties and an expanding humanitarian crisis, the Labor party appeared to be in support of the Palestinian movement to end Israeli occupation.
Israel is widely considered (including in reports from the UN) to unlawfully occupy Palestinian territories in various forms, including the Gaza Strip. (For more context on this history, head here.) And just a few months before Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Labor hardened its language around the occupied Palestinian territories: Labor started referring to West Bank settlements as “illegal” and the territories like Gaza as “occupied”.
So when Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong and PM Albanese publicly supported Israel’s “right to defend itself”, public outcry and anger followed. (It’s worth noting, too, that the UN Special Rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territory, Francesca Albanese, rejected that Israel has any right to claim ‘self defence’ from a threat “emanating from a territory it occupies”.) Labor leaders also refused to call for a permanent ceasefire. In response, The Greens staged a walkout of the Senate with Senator Mehreen Faruqi calling the Labor party “heartless, gutless, cowards”, and the Coalition “morally bankrupt when it comes to Palestine”.
Cutting off medicine, food, water & fuel to the people of Gaza is not self-defence.
Deliberately carpet-bombing hospitals and schools is not self-defence.
— Penny Allman-Payne (@senatorpennyqld) November 7, 2023
In the face of what is widely being called a genocide in Gaza, where the IDF has now murdered 4000 children & left millions living in rubble without food or water.
We should never forgot Labor couldn’t even call for a ceasefire or stop sending military equipment to Israel.
— Max Chandler-Mather (@MChandlerMather) November 3, 2023
The Greens aren’t alone in their criticism of the Labor government over their response to Israel. Some Arab and Muslim communities in Australia have said they’ll never vote for Labor again. Others have called Labor’s response to Israel a “return of the ALP’s White Australia racism”.
— MUDRAT (@MUDRATau) November 20, 2023
Labor is haemorrhaging support amongst younger voters over Gaza (and other policies). Good piece by Alex McKinnon https://t.co/hxdY6OertK
— Ben Eltham (@beneltham) November 26, 2023
After previously abstaining from voting, Australia finally voted in favour of a ceasefire along with 152 other countries at a United Nations General Assembly emergency session on December 13. The vote follows pro-Palestine rallies across Australia and intense internal pressure. Since then, more than 200 current and former Australian elected representatives from across the political spectrum signed an open statement to support an immediate, permanent ceasefire and end the Israeli occupation.
Over 200 current & former Australian elected reps from across political spectrum have signed statement in support of immediate, permanent ceasefire, recognition of Palestine as a state, the end of the Israeli occupation and a reassessment of Australia's relationship with Israel pic.twitter.com/M7UXWKsXfo
— Jenny Leong MP 梁珍妮 (@jennyleong) December 18, 2023
Cost Of Living Crisis
The cost of living crisis didn’t start when Albanese took power, but despite their campaign commitments, Labor hasn’t done a very good job at stopping the issue from spiralling into the shitshow we’re in now. In 2022, Labor promised to reduce the cost of living with cheaper childcare, cheaper medicine, extended paid parental leave, energy bill relief, and free TAFE. In fact Labor MP Mary Doyle won the byelection in a Liberal safe seat in eastern Melbourne on a platform of Medicare and easing the cost of living. It was heralded as a once-in-100-year victory.
More Australians were pushed closer to the poverty line this year, as essentials like healthcare, groceries, and rent become near impossible to afford. Not only are large corporations price gouging to bring in record profits while people struggle to put food on the table and GPs continuing to turn away from bulk billing, Australia’s wages have stagnated and aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living. Australia recently recorded the biggest income decline in the “developed world”. Disposable incomes have hit low points as the inflation rate continues to increase and income taxes continue to rise.
The Labor party continually blames Liberals or the Greens for voting against their cost of living policies like reducing power bills or introducing 60-day dispensing of medication. So when Albanese takes every chance he can to throw his opponents under the bus for not supporting his policies, what are we left with? Mud-slinging from politicians and… cheap ham?
Inherited or not, the Labor government has a responsibility to adequately address the cost of living crisis and how it’s impacting us. Employee households are seeing the biggest rise in living costs, young people are struggling, and people are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. This hasn’t gone without notice. In recent Lowy polls, the Labor government scored its second lowest mark (the lowest being for climate change) for “managing Australia’s economy”, with a score of only 5.7 out of 10. Voters are starting to feel betrayed and leave the Labor party they were once hopeful about while the Greens see a steady uptick as they speak to core demographics Labor have lost.
Wild how a government doing nothing to meaningfully improve the material lives of the millions of people in this country suffering under the worst housing and cost of living crisis in a generation would result in people not loving that government. https://t.co/LuLcxKNOfR
— Stephen Bates (@stephenbatesmp) November 26, 2023
Housing and Rental Crisis
Another day, another crisis. The housing and rental crisis has plagued Australia for several years — and the Labor government has been accused of not doing enough to stop it from worsening. Housing was once seen as a common, somewhat attainable goal. Heck, it was the Australian Dream. Now, the idea of owning a home has become an unrealistic nightmare. If we’re struggling to even pay rent, how the hell are we expected to buy a house?
Earlier in the year, Labor presented their Housing Australia Future Fund (HAFF) Bill which almost tore Parliament apart. The basic premise of the bill was that the government would invest $10 billion into the stock market and build 30,000 affordable homes paid for by the returned investment earnings. Labor claimed that for the first five years the fund would build 20,000 social housing buildings. Labor’s HAFF caused the Greens to side with the Liberal party to block the bill from progressing. The Greens said it didn’t do enough to address the housing crisis and it was a gamble on the stock market. The Liberals believed that people should be using their super to buy their own homes and not using taxpayer money. For the bill to pass, Labor had to guarantee that at least $500 million would be spent per year from the fund, with a minimum of 1,200 homes to be built in each state and territory across those five years. Still, people believe that Labor isn’t doing enough for housing, some say it’s because they don’t want to alienate their rich voters.
And as for the rental crisis, Labor has done shit all. The party has refused to implement a national rent freeze — which would have saved renters over $8 billion — as people struggle to afford consistent rent hikes. Despite knowing that renters are an influential voting block, Labor’s budget left little for renters to be happy about. Although Labor said they’d increase rent assistance by 15 percent, that only translates to as little as $1.12 extra assistance a day. That’s 10 times less than average rents have gone up in the past year. Out of all the issues, it seems like Labor cares the least about renters. Perhaps in favour of keeping big property investors and landlords happy, instead.
In a trend that housing and welfare groups have called “disturbing”, the Labor government has targeted overseas migration with a strategy that links the housing crisis with migration increases. Analysis from SQM Research showed that weekly rents rose $84 per annum when borders were closed during the pandemic. Maiy Azize, spokesperson for Everybody’s Home, said in an open letter to Albanese and Dutton that “Governments have given handouts to investors, allowed unlimited rent increases, and stopped building homes for the people who need them”.
Labor’s always struggled to figure out who they represent but there’s something to be said about abandoning those who have always voted for you in an attempt to appease right wing voters you collected from Liberal’s clammy hands. Although many of the issues we’re faced with today came from poor Liberal policies and leadership, Labor won people over by promising to fix things; to be better. We’re still yet to see many of those promises come to life.
Image credit: Getty