ANDREW CARSWELL: Anthony Albanese desperately wants his blue collar voters back. But it’s smoke and mirrors

Andrew Carswell
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Anthony Albanese desperately wants Labor’s blue collar voting base back. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)
Anthony Albanese desperately wants Labor’s blue collar voting base back. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Kevin Rudd lost them. Julia Gillard never connected with them. Bill Shorten lied to them.

But Anthony Albanese desperately wants them back. In fact he is staking his re-election on the fact they will cast off their growing scepticism and come running home to papa. Back to the Labor camp whose left flank has spent more than a decade ridiculing them, alienating them, and eventually ignoring them.

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That’s all they have heard from Labor.

So blue collar workers are right to be bemused.

They’ve become used to Labor passionately supporting them from the campaign stage, only to wage war against their core beliefs, passions and way of life when in office.

They’ve been the spurned lover, as Labor packed up, left town and shacked up with an inner-city lover, only to drag themselves back home when the sauciness soured. Tail between their legs.

Having long taken blue collar workers for granted, now they are all for them. Because there is an election to win, and this cohort may just be the key to staving off the terrors of minority government. And saving Albanese’s skin.

This sudden re-embrace of blue collars is evident in the myriad of policy announcements, backflips and budget posturing in recent weeks, that are aimed purely at shoring up the ‘Straya vote.

But while there are some great book titles amongst the announcements — A Future Made in Australia, Future Gas Strategy — the contents page and introduction are a little devoid of detail and substance, written by politicians consumed with a looming election, not by leaders keen to fix genuine problems within the economy.

It’s all hollow. It’s all a mirage.

Because judging by the headlines, manufacturing is cool again. Minerals are back in the good books. Heavy industry is all the rage. Diesel utes are top of the pops. How good is gas!

So long as you build the things the Government likes, such as solar panels, wind turbines and batteries. So long as you dig up the minerals the Government likes, such as . . . well, the things that make solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.

Everyone else can get stuffed. Old manufacturing can die in a ditch.

But be assured, there are plenty of jobs in this new realm of manufacturing. Well, there will be. That’s why “future” is in the title. Just you wait.

The Government’s strategy is to pick winners in the niche sectors it likes, believing that workers will be happy to trade their annual pay of $150,000 plus generous entitlements working in a coal mine, to build solar panels for a mere $80,000 a year.

This “modern” strategy is a gross misread of modern blue collar workers; no longer underpaid factory workers, unionists, with a socialist bent, but cashed-up, ambitious, capitalists.

The Albanese Government’s last-minute embrace of gas is yet another attempt to win them back. It is a bone thrown to the resource States of Western Australia and Queensland where voters have long understood the importance of gas, not just as an energy source, but as an export giant.

It is no coincidence that Labor is in deep trouble in those two States.

For almost two years, the Government has been ignoring the science on the importance of gas in the clean energy transition, chasing inner-city votes with an all-electric energy policy that the rest of the country could clearly see was going to lead to higher electricity prices and less reliability.

But despite the name, this is yet another good intentioned policy that is all pastry, no filling.

The Future Gas Strategy is not a strategy at all. It’s a commitment to gas and its role in reaching net zero.

No plans to unlock more supply. No plans to get more gas to States that need it most. No plans to rein in a Victorian Government that denigrates emissions from gas despite its heavy reliance on brown coal. No plans to invest in renewable gas.

Australia needs more gas. For many an inconvenient truth. But nonetheless, the truth.

Just like we need a strong manufacturing sector that is globally competitive, encouraged to innovate and empowered to create jobs. Just like we need our critical minerals out of the ground, processed at home, and shipped overseas to fuel the clean energy transition and underpin our future prosperity.

All great things. Crucial things.

It’s just that the policy mechanisms to ensure these “future” strategies actually live up to their name, are limited and flawed.

Short term cash splashes and narrow tax credits won’t fix structural problems in the economy caused by poor policy settings.

But hey, as long as blue collar workers like the sound of the policies.

They didn’t like the sound of Chris Bowen’s fuel efficiency standards that would render a Ford Ranger extinct. It’s why you don’t hear about it anymore.

And they certainly didn’t didn’t like the sound of the Government’s Nature Positive policy. It’s why it was shelved.

The world is suddenly their oyster. A red carpet, rolled out for blue collars.

Name your price and your policy. Because the Government is clearly willing to pay.

Andrew Carswell is a former Morrison government political strategist.

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