Thursday, July 22, 2010

Social policy issues and the Federal election

image courtesy of Pro Bono News

With the exception of immigration, asylum seekers and population, social policy issues have not figured as election issues in the first week of the Federal election campaign.

Other than the Greens, the major parties have largely ignored systematic social policy development, preferring populist policies to win over certain constituencies, and/or engaging in a type of opportunistic bidding war, with the purpose of being seen to be doing something.

In the case of Labor they have continued with social policies originated by the Howard government that have strong ideological and conservative roots, such as the Northern Territory Intervention and compulsory income management for all Australians in receipt of welfare payments. Labor has expanded these paternalistic policies despite growing opposition and a lack of evidence to support their supposed benefits.

There is no better example of social policy opportunism than Tony Abbott's announcements on mental health and education. Despite being in power for 10 years, during which time the mental health crises worsened, the Liberal Nationals are now trying to convince the electorate that they will do something about mental health. Why did they not do it when they were in government? Given their record on mental health when in government this cynical opportunism is breathtaking.

Despite record growth in public funding of private schools under both the Howard Liberal National Government and the Rudd-Gillard government, Tony Abbott will give even more taxpayer funds to those wealthy families who send their children to private schools.

The online resource clearinghouse Pro Bono News is keen for social policy issues to have a higher profile during the election and is currently developing a Social Sector Manifesto to present to the three main political parties.

The Manifesto will identify the types of social policies and social action that require a higher priority from the political parties. An online survey is being used to gather views on social policy issues.

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