Will this election create a fairer more egalitarian society? Not so far, according to an assessment of the social policy options being touted by the major parties.

In fact, on current indications a Coalition victory may make it worse and the ALP just maintain the status quo. After a careful assessment of what was on offer, and scoring the various policies, the results are quite scary. Of the 90-odd social policy areas of need identified, at least 50 are yet to rate any mentions, 15 are negative divisive proposals and only about 30 of the actual policies on offer are possible contributors to social well being.

The list below has been scored in a summary fashion to offer an overview of the net gains and losses of social, rather than individual wellbeing. The low levels of items to be included in major party scores are a general indictment of the lack of social policy relevance in current election agendas. The sum of positive and negative scores indicates the problem: the ALP scored +4.5 in total out of a possible +80 plus; the Coalition didn’t even make it into positive figures with a total score of -10.5.

The selected items do not include those areas that are strictly economic — they are many and much is said on them elsewhere. They covers those initiatives that can undermine or feed into social wellbeing, resilience and social cohesion. In these areas, little is happening and the long list of omissions below is not comprehensive.

The basic scoring criterion was fairness in the standard Australian sense of a fair go for all, which means looking after those who do not share in the good fortune of most others. We looked closely at gender, and indigenous needs, but recognise many missing items from other areas and groups who also miss out on their fair share of public resources: like the creative arts, cultural diversity and other social needs.

There will be many arguments about defining fairness but most would agree that overly large unfair gaps between haves and have nots need good social policy remedies. Research shows unfair inequalities can be toxic to the wellbeing of all and damage social cohesion.

The score has three categories of promises/policies on the fairness of their social impact:

  1. Divisive scare tactics; populist, scapegoating policy announcements or statements
  2. The missing possible social measures that would make Australia fairer to all that are not mentioned by the major parties
  3. The current policy promises that could be seen to have some social fairness impact.
Party identification ALP Coal
Total unfair items -6.5 -13
Missing till late July -1.5 -1
Proposed policy scores +12 3.5
Total fairness score +4 -10.5

I have omitted to score the Greens — while they’ll certainly have influence, the comparisons would not have worked. The Greens have fairness/equity built into every policy; no scapegoats except maybe the odd polluters. Their influence will also be limited to those areas where the major parties disagree and the policies below suggest this is not going to occur often.

The first group includes 15 dog whistle scare items — ‘yes’ scored as -1; a split yes/no was scored at 0.5 if there were mitigating factors. The second covers 10 social policy categories: for example, indigenous issues have had no mentions, with multiple sub items in each which obviously showed no scores as yet. There are 40 or so items, but hopefully more may yet emerge to give the lists more balance.

Group 3 includes the actual policy announcements in areas deemed to be potentially socially positive. These were scored as follows:

  • Undermines equity/fairness = -1
  • Maintain current inequities (no difference) = 0
  • Some positive indication = 0.5
  • Makes it fairer/redistributes = +1
  • Too hard to assess = ?

Too much debt yes
Law-and-order gangs yes
Knives and weapons yes yes
Security yes
Border protection yes
Boat people/people smugglers/Nauru yes yes
Big taxes yes yes
Decrease population yes
“Sustainable” population maybe
Tighten dole yes
Greater pressure to take jobs yes yes
Income management 2011 yes
Income management 2012 pilot NT yes
Boat people queue jumpers yes yes
Total 6.5 13
Return sole parents to PPS
Raise Newstart to adequacy
Revoke welfare to work sanctions
Stop tighter disability eligibility
Participation support for disabled
Address poor indigenous education
Indigenous knowledge not taught
Gender VET in school choices
TAFE and VET equity
Return equity to core aims
Stop major competitive tendering
Extra funding for indigenous programs
Re-introduce equity programs
Reduce controls over skills determination
Tertiary funding
Recognise social value of courses
Encourage post grad for excluded
Fund representative groups
Fund academic research, not just IP based
Equal pay
Support ASU case FW tribunal
Services to cover rises in community services
Ensures states offer extra funding to services
Extra flexibility others carers
Retirement income adequacy
Supplement no super pensioners
Remove rich super tax bias
Women’s health services
Accept program and funding
Midwifery choosing homebirths
Appoint women to new structures
Indigenous respect and rights
Bottom up engagement
Local control over housing
Increased targeted VET places
More funding for indigenous training
Accredited training on cultures
Local employment funding
More funding Indigenous services
Increase PS employment
More input to national curriculum
Cultural training all service areas
Education cost refund maybe minus
Disability school fees plus
Early disability intervention plus
50,000 extra trade training plus
Indigenous retention low/no sport minus
Fix extra pay rich schools minus minus
Family friendly
PPL 6 mth 2012 plus
PPL 18 wks 2011 plus
EOWA – support/fund changes plus
Indigenous constitutional referendum plus plus
Child Care
Extra $6 CCTR
Money for occasional care plus
Retirement income
Super to 12%
Reduce super tax on low income plus
Subsidiser older benficiaries’ work .5
Earn more/keep more .5
Midwives/home births maybe
Defence services health
Aged services home based ? ?
Aged residential services plus
Disability support services plus
Dr nurse emergency training plus
Super clinics plus minus
Mental health suicide plus
Mental health big spend plus
Reorganise admin
Extra beds instead of services maybe
Family payments
FTBA till 18 maybe
Bring forward FTA neutral neutral
Lump BBonus plus
Equal pay support plus minus
40% women on government boards plus
40% women on ASX boards maybe
Use regulation to fix entitlements minus

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey