Labor Party Policy
Like other social democratic parties, Labor tends to believe that government is generally a positive force in the community and that it is the responsibility of governments to intervene in the operation of the economy (and society in general) to improve outcomes. Labor believes that the government should ensure that all members of society receive a basic income in order to have a "decent quality of life". Labor also believes that the government should ensure that all members of society are able to access quality and affordable housing as well as education and health services .
Taking these objectives into account, like most social democratic parties around the world, Labor has embraced more free market principles since the beginning of the 1980s. For example, Labor supports and implemented the dismantling of trade barriers and deregulation of industry. However, the party argues that it made these changes more moderately and with greater concern for those made worse off from these changes than the Coalition would have. Labor's policy shift has had critics from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The left says that Labor has abandoned its traditional base and values and that its policies are indistinguishable from those of the Coalition. The right argues that Labor doesn't embrace enough neo-liberal economics and that it is sticking to a tired, union-dominated ideology. (NB the ideological differences here. JW)
Since the 1970s and 1980s Labor has supported multiculturalism and generally is more likely to approve of higher immigration levels than the Coalition.
Labor is the primary supporter of issues that affect indigenous Australians such as land rights and supports a formal apology on the issue of the stolen generation.
Labor is also more likely to support additional rights for gay and lesbian people and it is a stronger supporter of equal opportunity legislation than the Coalition.
Labor MPs are more likely to support pro-choice positions on abortion and euthanasia, but the party almost always provides MPs with a conscience vote on these matters.
Many MPs use this option to take a pro-life position, and the ALP has traditionally had a "Catholic Right" element (since Roman Catholics in Australia were traditionally working-class and thus inclined to support Labor) which continues to defend socially conservative positions on the family, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality; however, its influence has declined somewhat.
Many of the more socially liberal positions which often characterise the party today reflect the transformation of the ALP begun in the late 1960s and early 1970s under Gough Whitlam from a party dominated by the socially conservative working class to a party drawing a large slab of support from the new socially liberal middle class.
Internationally, Labor generally believes in multilateralism, but is often more critical of Australia's relationship with large international powers like the United States and historically the United Kingdom than the Liberal Party. However, many members of the Labor Party, especially those affiliated with right-wing factions, are strong supporters of the alliance with the United States. This support is also official party policy. However, Labor opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq (though it did support the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan).
Labor also supports a greater level of Australian integration with Asia than the Liberal Party, but this distinction is starting to narrow with increasing Liberal Party support for stronger Asian relationships, especially with Indonesia.
Liberal Party Policies
The Liberal Party is generally an advocate of economic liberalism and support of free markets. However, during the Menzies era the party was quite interventionist in its economic policy and maintained Australia's high tarriff levels. It should be noted that at this time, the Liberal's coalition partner, the Country Party had considerable influence over the Government's economic policies. Since the 1980s the party has moved further to the Right economically, developing a strong New Right element in its platforms and policies.
Socially, the Liberal Party is a conservative party, although it has a minority socially liberal wing. It generally takes a tough line on law and order issues at Federal and State levels. It has also strongly supported Australia's traditional alliances with the United States and the United Kingdom, sometimes at the cost of relations with Australia's Asian neighbours. In terms of immigration policy, the Liberal Party under John Howard has had the highest intake of migrants (chiefly refugees and skilled workers) in Australia's history, but has also extended the initial bi-partisan régime introduced by Labor of mandatory detention in place for people entering the country without following the proper procedures, usually to claim political asylum.
Liberalism Ideologies (these are not the policies of the Liberal Party, but liberal philosophies ie right-wing, conservative ideologies stemming back to early protectionism in Australia).
Liberalism in Australia has been notably lacking in a coherent philosophical underpinning: it is strongly pragmatic, rather than ideological, defined chiefly in antithesis to Labor. The governments of Menzies, Fraser and Howard differ each other in both social and economic approaches.
In so far as there is a unifying thread running through Australian liberalism, it has been based on:
* Support for private enterprise. Previous Liberal party governments, especially
under pressure from the Country Party to safeguard its agricultural base, have
been interventionist to varying degrees; but the current climate is very much
in favour of deregulation and supply-side economics.
* Opposition to major changes to the Australian Constitution. Once again, this varies: the Democrats, and quite a few Liberal Party members, support an republic. The Liberals and Democrats have shown much more affection for the Senate than has Labor.
* In foreign affairs, loyalty to Australia's major allied partner (the United Kingdom before World War II, the United States afterward), sometimes to the detriment of multilateralism. "Small-l" liberals often tend to repudiate this aspect: the Democrats were strongly critical of both Iraq Wars and Fraser, despite supporting it while in office, has called for an end to the ANZUS alliance.
* Attitudes ranging from mild to extreme antipathy towards the trade union movement.
Again, all these currents are only apparent inasmuch as they are a point of difference with Labor: advancing these ideas to deride Labor as socialist, unpatriotic, or under the thrall of powerful unions.