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Unions in time warp with a jobs plan that ignores hard economic lessons

But the thing that really galls is that ordinary working people are being swindled. Promised that there are no trade-offs. Told that the solutions are easy. That we can solve this inflation without taking anything away from anyone, other than a few mining magnates.

Our new Treasurer is enamored of telling us that we want him to be frank with us. And alongside his recent economic statement, he laid out in black and white the fact that none of these challenges can be waved away without cost. So, the jury is still out on whether our new government intends to buy into the fantasy of the ACTU’s (rear) vision.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers believes the jobs summit will bring together people with fresh ideas on how to maintain the strength of the employment market.Credit:James Brickwood

But there are some worrying signs. One of their first acts as a government was to raise taxes on foreign investment. Their rhetoric has been disturbingly wishy-washy on immigration. And we’re yet to see how it manifests as government policy, but the specter of “buy Australian” still looms large following the campaign.

All of these measures make Australia less, not greater. They appeal to our basest, most misinformed instincts. A kind of populist nativism. And, ultimately, they’re wrong. In the long run, far from helping, they in fact hurt the interests of working people.

I see unionists daily commit the “lump of labour” fallacy, opposing immigration on the mistaken basis that it would undermine wages and employment. This ignores the fact that, in addition to being workers, immigrants are also consumers. That means they also raise demand, which raises wages and employment. Ditto the gains from trade and foreign investment.


Australia’s greatness has been built on its openness. This openness to the freer movement of capital, goods, and people has radically improved our standard of living, including at the bottom of the income distribution. We need our government to provide leadership on this; to lean against our counterproductive tendency to look inwards as a nation.

The answer to a decade of ineffective and illiberal government is not to trawl up the ineffective and illiberal policies of the past. A modern progressive movement recognizes that capital and labor can be complements instead of substitutes. If the unions can’t get with the program, perhaps Labor needs to think about its post-union future.

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