Labor MP Ed Husic has called for the dizzying array of policies his party took to the past two elections to be vastly simplified, saying the kind of complicated tax changes the ALP had previously run on can only be argued from government.
Admitting to a ‘‘backflip’’ of his own – coming after what he said was a period of reflection after stepping down to the backbench last year – Mr Husic said Labor had to ‘‘shake things up’’ to avoid another term in opposition.
‘‘We’ve gone to two elections with lots of big, bold policies, probably too many to count,’’ the Member for Chifley told The New Daily.
“We can safely say we’ve tried the experiment, and we’re now in totally different waters with the pandemic.
“We can’t afford to be the generation of Labor politicians that couldn’t get it together to win government.”
Chalking up 10 years in Parliament this week, Mr Husic said he has changed his tune on a number of Labor’s recent stances.
Not the policies themselves – negative gearing reform, winding back franking credits – but on how the arguments are prosecuted.
Immediately following the surprise May 2019 election loss, Mr Husic said he still thought the strategy of Labor’s ‘‘100 positive policies’’ was solid.
Now, after spending that intervening period on the backbench (he gave up his spot in Labor’s shadow ministry to make room for Kristina Keneally), he has a different view.
‘‘Check the times we’ve gone from opposition to government. There’s been three pre-conditions to win – a popular leader, a core set of policies we can count on one hand, and a climate that was right for what we were arguing for,’’ Mr Husic said.
‘‘We need to be mindful of that going into the next election, because we probably won’t be able to fund a broad policy agenda, given the way the pandemic has ravaged the economy.”
Mr Husic still wants to see action on franking credits and negative gearing, which he said were ‘‘draining the economy’’, but said Labor might not win an election campaigning on those.
‘‘We tried ‘100 positive policies’, and we get mired in explaining these things when people are focused on the big picture – their health, their jobs,’’ he said.
‘‘On things like franking credits, there’s a lot we can do, but we can’t make it the centrepiece of the campaign strategy.
‘‘You’ve got to be respectful of people and work through it, and the best place to do that is government.’’
He admitted his comments were ‘‘a bit of a backflip’’, in what he called a ‘‘mea culpa’’ following the election loss.
‘‘Pre-pandemic, I didn’t think we should walk away from those policies … but the environment we’re in now, plus learning from history about arguing big tax changes from opposition, we have to think hard about what we focus on,’’ Mr Husic said.
‘‘You’ve got to fight for the things you believe in. But in a crowded space, there’s only so many things you can fight for.’’
Talk of a ‘popular leader’ comes at a time of lagging opinion poll results for Anthony Albanese, and questioning of the party’s direction from the likes of shadow minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
Mr Husic praised the work of both men, but said the pandemic should give Labor pause to think hard about its future.
‘‘The danger for our side is we think we can elbow a vending machine and a Bob Hawke pops out. We think someone with messiah-like ability will just come along,’’ he said.
‘‘Leaders need to work on it. Anthony has been leader only a short amount of time. It took Kevin Rudd a while to build that popularity. It’s a work in progress, but having said that, we need to be mindful of those pre-conditions I outline.’’
On the claims of his ‘‘great mate’’ Mr Fitzgibbon that Labor could split in two, riven by efforts to appeal to both inner-city progressives and suburban blue-collar workers, Mr Husic was equivocal.
‘‘Modern parties need to be able to get support across a wide range of people. It’s certainly the case that you do build constituencies and they have competing claims, but the Liberal Party is no different, and they make it work,’’ he said.
‘‘I think we can reconcile those differences. We have to. But Joel is reminding us we can’t win in urban centres alone. We have to fight harder to win support in regions.’’
That final point is something Mr Husic, representing the outer-urban western Sydney seat of Chifley, has thought about a lot.
He wants to see Labor look beyond energy and climate, to broaden its appeal to the type of blue-collar manufacturing workers in his area – with a discussion about international trade agreements a big part of that.
‘‘Some workers would question why we sign up to so many trade agreements and whether the claims about those agreements stack up. I don’t think we should feel pressured to sign up to agreements just to sidestep political pain,’’ Mr Husic said.
‘‘The Coalition hammered us on modelling for climate change, but they can’t show modelling for trade agreements. We haven’t seen much movement in jobless numbers, wage growth has been sh-thouse, and underemployment is soaring.
‘‘I’m sceptical of signing agreement after agreement with little evidence they’ve delivered for workers.’’
Mr Husic expected some colleagues to take umbrage at his remarks, but said he felt compelled to speak as both major parties began looking toward another election – potentially as soon as October 2021.
‘‘We’ve got to shake things up and take a different approach. I don’t want to just hope things fall our way, or be the stereotypical politician who won’t say things or press for change,’’ he said.
“People respect you arguing your case and trying to convince them. I don’t want to be a papier mache politician.’’