What's *actually* the difference between Labor and Liberal?
Updated: May 13
Wondering what the actual difference is between the two major parties in this country? Wonder no longer! Every election, the masses will start talking about how the majors are 'just as bad as each other' or 'no different,' and while this may be true on a couple of issues, when deciding how to vote (and don't forget about preferential voting, smaller parties, and independents!), the most important thing is that voters understand the difference between our two preferred parties.
The big difference in the fundamental beliefs and values of these two parties is where they came from and their biggest donors. Donors is an easy one - Liberal donors are largely big businesses, developers, and mining and resourcing companies, Labor's donors are most significantly unions. One big difference here is that Liberal donations come from corporations, and Labor's come from groups of workers. Parties do change, evolve, and take money from different groups depending on the members and the political and social climate, but it's a good place to start at least.
The Australian Labor Party was formed by unions, and was always a party for the working class Australian. Labor largely believes in big government, meaning citizens should be able to rely on the government to support them, and is generally a supporter of publicly owned assets and state-funded services. It was Labor goverments that introduces superannuation, Medicare, and Centrelink. Labor governments are generally supporters of government-owned assets like power stations. This means that energy prices can be subsidised and controlled by government, instead of a corporation that can essentially set the prices as high as it wants. The Labor Party has a greater focus on community and collectivism (and this focus becomes stronger the further left you look on the political spectrum).
The Liberal Party was founded on a laissez-faire belief. This is a French term that translates literally to 'let it be,' and results in a hands-off approach to governing. In contrast to the Labor values of collectivism, a Liberal government is all for individualism. This is the basis of their push to reduce state-funded services like Medicare and Centrelink. The Liberals are big on free trade and privately-owned assets, so to use power stations as an example again, a Liberal government would push to see stations owned by corporations, that often end up being international companies (because traditionally, they will pay the most for the asset).
Now you may have noticed the economy didn't come up at all in those short synopses. That's because it's a pretty contentious issue and both parties are pointing fingers when it comes to which is the best economic manager. The Liberal Party is known for strong economies, but does that really go any further than a marketing phrase? The basis of a healthy economy is the availability of jobs, employment rate, and wages. It makes sense - the more people earning a fair and decent wage, the more they will spend, which means more money coming in for businesses, etc. That's how a healthy economy works. There are many issues with how we measure all of these things, for example, a person is classified as 'employed' even when they work just one hour a week, so keep that in mind when you read unemployment figures.
The Liberal Party's measures for economic success is often about government spend. It is a common Liberal Party promise to deliver a 'surplus' in the budget. But a government budget isn't the same as a household budget. When a household or an individual has 'spare money' or a surplus, it often goes into a savings deposit to later be spent on a splurgey purchase, holiday, or house. A government doesn't actually have any genuine need for a surplus. The federal budget and every cent spent by the government (from MP's wages to public transport) is taxpayer dollars, and taxes are for improving our lives and our community. Millions in unspent taxes does not benefit a country. Labor prefers to spend on services for the community - keep in mind that these funds are our taxes and the idea is that they are spent on services we should use.
Speaking of taxes, 'what's the go with tax cuts?' I hear you ask. It's very consistent with the above - the Liberals are all about cuts, which is underlined by a belief that we should all hold on to more of our own money (especially the most wealthy amoung us). The Liberals are all for free trade and privately-owned services and assets, so have less need for taxes. Labor is about everyone contributing their part and ensuring that the public has shared ownership of assets. Of course, in this election, Labor has also promised to retain the tax cuts already promised by the Liberal government, so any advertising you see from the Liberals this election claiming that you'll pay more taxes under Labor is not true - this change of tact from the Labor Party is predominately because they want to win an election, and also could be attributed to the fact that we have been under a Liberal government for 12 years and high-income earners have become accustomed to a certain taxing scheme. Nobody likes change after all!
In closing, a prominent, non-economical, difference between progressive and conservative governments (and it should be noted that on a political spectrum, Labor is closer to the centre than the left, but is the more progressive of the two) is how active they are on social and legislative change. Typically, progressive governments are implementing new legislation that reflects society moving further into the future, whereas conservative governments will push to retain the same, or even regress society. While our two major parties are both fairly close to the centre (though under Scott Morrison, the Liberals have become more socially conservative), this contrast can be seen more prominently if you look to the more radical parties like the Greens and Pauline Hanson's One Nation.
How do the two parties stack up when it comes to the issues most important to Cheek followers?
When reading the following tiles, please remember to do your own research and understand that this is a very simple and short synopsis that is part of our Liberal vs. Labor mini-series. Don't forget to look into all candidates in your local area, including smaller parties like the Greens and independents. Because Australia has been under a Liberal-National government for the past 12 years, we are often comparing what the Coalition has done to what Labor is promising to do if elected. We have published resources on independents and the preferential voting system - please take a look before heading to the polls!