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Policy, privatisation on agenda for Labor love-in

Politics

The state’s Labor MPs will tomorrow descend on the Barossa for a strategy meeting that Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas says will provide the foundation for a new policy platform he hopes can propel the party back into government.

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The ALP caucus’s annual retreat, colloquially known as the “love-in”, will see all 27 of the party’s MPs from both houses formulate a strategic direction for both policy development and exploiting what Labor’s leadership believes is the Marshall Government’s Achilles heel – privatisation of SA’s rail system.

An agenda for the caucus gathering obtained by InDaily shows members will gather at the Barossa Novotel for a day of briefings and brainstorming sessions, including a briefing from electoral data analyst Paul de Sciscio on “data drill down on federal election [and] target state seat overlay”, highlighting how the federal result in SA could impact on the state vote in 2022.

He will also highlight “rail privatisation hotspots”, suggesting a continuation of Labor’s strategy to campaign in areas affected by the Government’s decision to sell off train and tram services, while also detailing other “key issues” including jobs, education and health.

State secretary Reggie Martin will address the meeting on “money and training”, while deputy leader Susan Close will give a presentation on policy development titled: “The roadmap for 2022.”

MPs Emily Bourke and Leon Bignell will address “community engagement”.

“The ‘love-in’, for lack of a better term, is a good opportunity to get the whole caucus together to talk about high-level issues,” Malinauskas told InDaily today.

“Clearly our strategic direction is being discussed, but with a particular focus on policy process.”

He said he’d now concluded a gruelling year-long ‘Labor Listens’ project involving a “comprehensive and thorough community engagement across all 47 seats in the state”.

“I’ve been everywhere,” he said.

“We’ve done those forums in everything: town halls, street corners, shopping centres and pubs… and the next period, and we always said this would start in the second half of this year, would be policy.

“We’re pretty determined to start that process earlier than what would traditionally be the case – we think work needs to be done and done properly, and leave plenty of time to engage with the community and campaign on the policies we put forward as we get closer to the election.”

Malinauskas’s pledge to eschew a small target strategy comes as his predecessor Jay Weatherill oversees a review of Labor’s disastrous federal campaign, which has been criticised for detailing contentious financial policy – particularly franking credits reform – well before polling day.

But Malinauskas insists “policy development shouldn’t just be responding to what a focus group says is topical”.

“I think it would be really disappointing if the lesson out of the last federal election was ‘don’t do policy’,” he said.

“One of the things we’ll go into a bit of detail on tomorrow is the process we’re going to adopt in terms of policy development.”

He said the community engagement process was a useful venture in terms of identifying areas of importance, ensuring “we’re in a much better position now to turn our minds towards policy development than if we’d done this 12 months ago”.

But the gathering will also canvass hard politics.

“The other key strategic discussion is how we approach dealing with the Government’s big privatisation agenda,” the leader said.

“I think this is a huge vulnerability for the Government – political leaders, premiers and prime ministers, get in a lot of trouble when they promise one thing and do something totally the opposite.”

He argues national and international experience suggests it is not just unpopular politics but “bad policy”.

“It’s the wrong thing to do,” he said.

Labor insiders contacted by InDaily believe the mood of the meeting will be upbeat, in contrast to last year’s in the shadow of their first election defeat in a generation, with Malinauskas insisting today there is a broad perception that “this Government lacks a direction for the state”.

“And we’re determined to provide an alternate vision come the next election,” he said.

“The sort of discussions we’re having tomorrow are important, but we also acknowledge we have a huge task in front of us – defeating a government after one term is never easy… but we don’t see a government that’s in the process of earning re-election, which makes our work on policy all the more important.”

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