latham backflip on trees, health

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    Latham backflip on trees, health

    Sid Maher and David Uren
    November 20, 2004

    MARK Latham has dumped key Labor policies and embraced small business, the self-employed and the "upwardly mobile" as he attempts to reinvent the Labor Party and bolster his leadership.

    In a dramatic day-long review of their failed election campaign, Labor MPs junked key policy detail in Medicare Gold, tax, welfare and the controversial Tasmanian old-growth forests plan.

    But the caucus also endorsed a more centrist economic vision, unveiled by Mr Latham last night in his first major statement on economic direction since the party's October 9 election defeat.

    Jettisoning the ALP's traditional preference for public-sector delivery of social services, Mr Latham embraced upward mobility in the workforce and promised the party would be driven by pragmatism, not ideology.

    In a key shift to its approach to the workplace, Mr Latham said Labor had to realise that workers were no longer just people on a job site that could be unionised. Instead he called on the party to make a philosophical shift to embrace "the upwardly mobile".

    "The new middle-class is here to stay with its army of contractors, consultants, franchisees and entrepreneurs," Mr Latham told the Fabian Society in a speech in Melbourne.

    "This reflects the decentralised nature of the modern economy, where flexible niche production has replaced the organising principles of mass production. People have broken free from hierarchical organisations and become agents of their own future."

    Among the election commitments ditched yesterday were key pledges to provide free hospital care for over-75s, an $8-a-week tax cut for people earning under $52,000, and its $800million compensation and protection blueprint for Tasmania's old-growth forests.

    MPs criticised the party's tax and family policy as being too complex to explain to voters, too close to the election campaign. It was also criticised as a vote-loser because low-income earners and single mothers lost money.

    Treasury spokesman Wayne Swan was forced to concede his claim that the Government's $600 family payment was "not real" had been seen as "too dismissive" by voters and had cost the party support.

    Labor's policy soul-searching came as influential ALP figures called for the party to move back to the centre to embrace ordinary Australians.

    Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten warned the federal ALP would be consigned to more election defeats unless it widened its appeal beyond the nation's left-wing intelligentsia.

    John Howard's success was based on winning the backing of ordinary Australians who lived in the suburbs and regions, who were risk-averse and suspicious of liberal social values, Mr Shorten said.

    Mr Latham's former speechwriter, Dennis Glover, said Labor's traditional blue-collar heartland had become "Kath and Kim land".

    A caucus spokesman said the party's decision to pare back its policies was based on the fact it could not be expected to make detailed spending commitments three years out from an election.

    Its statement of policy principles covered tax and family payments, health, the environment and forests.

    The statement said Labor remains committed to a "Medicare Gold-style" policy but has no declaration that free healthcare for over-75s would remain.

    A caucus spokeswoman said the party could not make the commitment "because it's got a fiscal implication".

    Last night, health spokeswoman Julia Gillard was forced to clarify the issue, saying caucus had "resolved to back Medicare Gold and the concept of the commonwealth providing free hospital care for older Australians".

    Additional reporting: Brad Norington,5744,11439816%255E601,00.html

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