The milk, the whole milk and nothing but the milk: the story behind our dairy woes



A dairy cow grazes on the lawns in front of Parliament House in Canberra in 2015, as part of an industry event.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Andrew Fisher, University of Melbourne

The plight of Australia’s dairy farmers is on the political agenda this week, after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson narrowly failed in her Senate bid for a minimum milk price. But getting fair payment for their goods is far from the only challenge dairy farmers face.

Pressure has been mounting on the industry for the past decade. Existing milk alternatives are growing their market share, helped by a rise in veganism and public concern around animal welfare. The agriculture sector is under pressure to reduce its contribution to climate change, and technology advances mean milk may one day be produced without cows at all.

All this has been compounded by devastating and prolonged drought. So here’s the full story of the hurdles farmers face, now and in the future, to get milk into your fridge.

Dairy cattle at milking time at a farm in Rochester, Victoria.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Fluctuating farm gate price

The rate at which processors pay farmers for milk is known as the farm gate price. The prices are not regulated and are set by market forces.

In 2016 the milk price crashed when Australia’s two largest dairy processors, Murray Goulburn and Fonterra, lowered the price they would pay from about 48 cents a litre to as low as 40 cents.




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This dramatically cut the incomes of milk suppliers. The number of dairy farmers in Australia fell by 600, or 9% over four years. This exit has been exacerbated by drought.

Since then, the farm gate milk price has increased and in 2019–20 is expected to be 51 cents per litre, due to a weaker Australian dollar and demand from export markets. But forecast global prices for butter, cheese and whole milk powder this financial year remain below that of previous years.

Methane, and milk alternatives

Methane and other livestock emissions comprise about 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its land use report in August, changes must be made across the food production chain if the world is to keep global warming below the critical 1.5℃ threshold. For beef and dairy livestock, this means changes such as land and manure management, higher-quality feed and genetic improvements. Meeting this challenge cost-effectively, while improving productivity, is no small task.




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Technology may help in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cows, but it also threatens to replace the dairy industry altogether. Advances in biotech may enable liquid analogous to milk to be produced through bioculture systems, without a cow in sight.

Elsewhere, the rise of plant-based alternatives derived from soybeans, almonds, oats and other sources threatens traditional milk products. This can partly be attributed to increasing numbers of people adopting a vegan diet.

Farmers must overcome a host of challenges to deliver milk to consumers.
Paul Miller/AAP

Taking calves away from cows

For a mammal to produce milk, it must usually become pregnant and produce offspring. Female calves generally go into a farm’s pool of replacement animals, while male dairy calves are sold.

Pure-breed male dairy calves do not naturally lay down a lot of muscle and so do not generally make good beef livestock. Many are sent to the abattoir for slaughter, typically between 5 and 30 days of age. This practice has prompted welfare concerns and means the industry must carefully manage the handling and transport of vulnerable young calves.

Potential solutions include artificial insemination of cows using only semen that will produce female calves. The use of this technology is limited because it reduces conception rates.

There is also growing public concern about the separation of cows and calves not sent to the abbatoir. The calves are typically taken within the first 12-24 hours and reared together in a shed, where they are fed milk or milk replacer. This is thought to maximise the amount of saleable milk and minimise disease transfer from cow to calf, particularly Johne’s Disease. However, recent research has found little evidence to support these practices.

Research has shown that calf-cow separation in the first day of life causes lower distress than abrupt separation at a few weeks of age or older, when the bond is stronger. This is not to say that early separation is not a concern. Rather, in the face of consumer demands for certain ethical standards, simple fixes may be hard to implement.

Topless animal welfare activists protest in Melbourne in February 2019 to raise awareness of what they claim is cruelty within the dairy industry.
Ellen Smith/AAP

The message for consumers

Challenges to the dairy industry will take time and effort to address. Some, such as drought, are out of farmers’ control. Dry conditions and high cost of water, fodder and electricity have forced farmers to cull less productive dairy cows, leading to a decline in production.




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The pressures, and associated debt, create intense stress for farmers, increase family tensions, and have negative flow-on effects throughout rural communities.

Putting aside the political push for a regulated milk price, the key message for dairy consumers is clear. If we want our milk produced in a certain way, we must pay a fair market-based price to cover the costs to farmers of fulfilling our wants.The Conversation

Andrew Fisher, Professor of Cattle & Sheep Production Medicine, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Drought and climate change were the kindling, and now the east coast is ablaze


Multiple large, intense fires are stretching from Australia’s coast to the tablelands and parts of the interior.
AAP Image/Supplied, JPSS

Ross Bradstock, University of Wollongong and Rachael Helene Nolan, Western Sydney University

Last week saw an unprecedented outbreak of large, intense fires stretching from the mid-north coast of New South Wales into central Queensland.

The most tragic losses are concentrated in northern NSW, where 970,000 hectares have been burned, three people have died, and at least 150 homes have been destroyed.

A catastrophic fire warning for Tuesday has been issued for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Shoalhaven and Illawarra areas. It is the first time Sydney has received a catastrophic rating since the rating system was developed in 2009.

No relief is in sight from this extremely hot, dry and windy weather, and the extraordinary magnitude of these fires is likely to increase in the coming week. Alarmingly, as Australians increasingly seek a sea-change or tree-change, more people are living in the path of these destructive fires.




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Unprecedented state of emergency

Large fires have happened before in northern NSW and southern Queensland during spring and early summer (for example in 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002, and 2018 in northern NSW). But this latest extraordinary situation raises many questions.

It is as if many of the major fires in the past are now being rerun concurrently. What is unprecedented is the size and number of fires rather than the seasonal timing.

The potential for large, intense fires is determined by four fundamental ingredients: a continuous expanse of fuel; extensive and continuous dryness of that fuel; weather conditions conducive to the rapid spread of fire; and ignitions, either human or lightning. These act as a set of switches, in series: all must be “on” for major fires to occur.

Live fuel moisture content in late October 2019. The ‘dry’ and ‘transitional’ moisture categories correspond to conditions associated with over 95% of historical area burned by bushfire.
Estimated from MODIS satellite imagery for the Sydney basin Bioregion.

The NSW north coast and tablelands, along with much of the southern coastal regions of Queensland are famous for their diverse range of eucalypt forest, heathlands and rainforests, which flourish in the warm temperate to subtropical climate.




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These forests and shrublands can rapidly accumulate bushfire fuels such as leaf litter, twigs and grasses. The unprecedented drought across much of Australia has created exceptional dryness, including high-altitude areas and places like gullies, water courses, swamps and steep south-facing slopes that are normally too wet to burn.

These typically wet parts of the landscape have literally evaporated, allowing fire to spread unimpeded. The drought has been particularly acute in northern NSW where record low rainfall has led to widespread defoliation and tree death. It is no coincidence current fires correspond directly with hotspots of record low rainfall and above-average temperatures.

Annual trends in live fuel moisture. The horizontal line represents the threshold for the critical ‘dry’ fuel category, which corresponds to the historical occurrence of most major wildfires in the Bioregion.
Estimated from MODIS imagery for the Sydney basin Bioregion

Thus, the North Coast and northern ranges of NSW as well as much of southern and central Queensland have been primed for major fires. A continuous swathe of critically dry fuels across these diverse landscapes existed well before last week, as shown by damaging fires in September and October.

High temperatures and wind speeds, low humidity, and a wave of new ignitions on top of pre-existing fires has created an unprecedented situation of multiple large, intense fires stretching from the coast to the tablelands and parts of the interior.

More people in harm’s way

Many parts of the NSW north coast, southern Queensland and adjacent hinterlands have seen population growth around major towns and cities, as people look for pleasant coastal and rural homes away from the capital cities.

The extraordinary number and ferocity of these fires, plus the increased exposure of people and property, have contributed to the tragic results of the past few days.




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Communities flanked by forests along the coast and ranges are highly vulnerable because of the way fires spread under the influence of strong westerly winds. Coastal communities wedged between highly flammable forests and heathlands and the sea, are particularly at risk.

As a full picture of the extent and location of losses and damage becomes available, we will see the extent to which planning, building regulations, and fire preparation has mitigated losses and damage.

These unprecedented fires are an indication that a much-feared future under climate change may have arrived earlier than predicted. The week ahead will present high-stakes new challenges.

The most heavily populated region of the nation is now at critically dry levels of fuel moisture, below those at the time of the disastrous Christmas fires of 2001 and 2013. Climate change has been predicted to strongly increase the chance of large fires across this region. The conditions for Tuesday are a real and more extreme manifestation of these longstanding predictions.




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Whatever the successes and failures in this crisis, it is likely that we will have to rethink the way we plan and prepare for wildfires in a hotter, drier and more flammable world.The Conversation

Ross Bradstock, Professor, Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong and Rachael Helene Nolan, Postdoctoral research fellow, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: does monetary policy work any more?


Richard Holden, UNSW

In its quarterly statement on monetary policy, released today, the Reserve Bank of Australia declared its preparedness to “ease monetary policy further if needed”.

This suggests the bank still thinks monetary policy – in this case lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy – could help “support sustainable growth in the economy, full employment and the achievement of the medium-term inflation target”.

But in the wake of the bank last month lowering the official interest rate to a record low and the current somewhat sad state of the Australian economy, many commentators have speculated that monetary policy doesn’t work any more.




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Is that right?

There are a number of variants of the “monetary policy doesn’t work” argument. The most basic is that the Reserve Bank has this year cut rates from 1.50% to 0.75% without any improvement to the Australian economy.

This is a textbook example of one of the classic logic fallacies known as “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (from the Latin, meaning “after this, therefore because of this”). Put simply, it assumes the rate cuts have had no effect and doesn’t account for the possibility things might have been worse had there been no cuts.

Things might have been even worse. We’ll never know.

It also ignores what might have happened if the RBA had cut sooner. Again, we can’t know for sure. It is possible, though, to make an educated guess.

When to cut rates

Had the Reserve Bank acted, say, 18 months earlier to cut rates, it would have signalled that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was indeed lower than desired, the sustainable rate of unemployment was more like 4.5% than 5%, and most importantly that it understood the need to act decisively.

That would have sent a powerful signal.

It would also have ameliorated the huge decline in housing credit that pushed down housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne by double digits. That, in turn, would have prevented some of the weakening in the balance sheets of the big four banks that has occurred (witness this annual general meeting season).

All of this would have pumped more liquidity into the economy and put households in a much stronger position, likely leading to stronger consumer spending than we have seen.

Bank pass through

One gripe both the Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg have had with the banks is their failure to fully pass through the RBA cuts.




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It is true there is a problem with banks not being able to cut deposit rates below zero, and as a result having less scope to cut mortgage rates, which are majority funded from deposits.

But there are, of course, other ways monetary policy can work. The leading example is quantitative easing (QE). This is where the central bank pushes down long-term interest rates by buying bonds. At the same time this expands the money supply, thereby adding some upward inflationary pressure.

There is little reason to believe such measures won’t work.

The power of free money

Perhaps paradoxically, the closer interest rates get to zero the more powerful those rates may end up being.

To put it bluntly, if someone shoves a pile of money into your hand and asks almost nothing in return, you’re likely to use it. In fact, you would be pretty silly not to.

Suppose your mortgage rate really goes to zero – as has happened in Europe.

You might decide to redraw that and spend the money on a home renovation or some other productive purpose. Or you might decide to buy a more expensive house.

Such spending provides an economic boost. The effect is all the more pronounced if people expect interest rates to be low for a long period of time. Aggressive cutting coupled with quantitative easing – which lowers long-term rates – signal just that.

But not only monetary policy

Just because monetary policy still has some effect at near-zero rates doesn’t mean we should pin all of our economic hopes to it.

A near consensus of economists have argued repeatedly for the use of more aggressive fiscal policy – including more infrastructure spending and more tax cuts.




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Indeed, Philip Lowe has raised eyebrows by speaking so forthrightly on this issue. That doesn’t make him wrong, though.

There is little doubt the Reserve Bank should have acted much earlier to cut official interest rates. There is also a very good chance it will need to begin to use other measures such as quantitative easing in the relatively near future.

All of that says the Australian economy, like most advanced economies around the world, is in bad shape.

But it doesn’t mean monetary policy has completely run out of puff.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want more jobs in Australia? Cut our ore exports and make more metals at home


Trucks taking iron ore from mines in Western Australia where it will probably be shipped overseas.
Shutterstock/Inc

Michael Lord, University of Melbourne

Australia could create tens of thousands of new jobs and generate many billions of dollars in export revenues if it turned more to manufacturing metals rather than exporting ore to other countries.

That’s a finding of our report, From Mining to Making, released by the Energy Transition Hub.

As international climate action accelerates, there is a need to produce goods without the carbon emissions. The report describes opportunities for Australia to use its exceptional wind and solar resources to make zero-emissions metals.




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The need for metal

Demand for metals is set to grow, not least because of their importance in nearly all renewable energy technologies. Wind turbines are made from steel, copper and rarer metals such as cobalt and neodymium. Solar panels and batteries use metals including silicon, lithium, manganese, nickel and titanium.

As the global economy tries to reduce carbon emissions we must change the way metals are made. Metal production is energy intensive and accounts for around 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Herein lies Australia’s opportunity.

Australia is already a major source of the world’s metal. It is among the top three exporters of iron ore, bauxite, lithium, manganese and rare earth metals.

A small proportion of these metals are refined domestically, but most are shipped overseas in their raw mineral form. For example, we found Australia converts less than 1% of its iron ore into steel.

By exporting raw ores, Australia is selling non-renewable resources at the lowest point of the value chain. Processed metal is worth much more than ore.

Metal needs energy

Many metals are made through electrically-driven processes so we can reduce carbon emissions by switching to cheaper renewable electricity.

One example for this approach is Sun Metals, near Townsville in Queensland. The company built a 125MW solar farm to supply a third of the energy required by its zinc refinery. It is now considering adding wind power and battery storage.

Similar opportunities exist with the production of other metals such as manganese, copper, nickel and rare earths.

Another angle for Australia is to make specialised metal products with higher profit margins. Element 25, in Western Australia, plans to produce high-value manganese metal using an energy-efficient process developed with CSIRO. The company says a 90% renewable energy mix could lower production costs and help it compete with Chinese producers.

Renewable energy could even relieve Australia’s ailing aluminium industry. The owners of three of Australia’s existing aluminium smelters said they were “not sustainable” with current electricity prices. Could cheap wind and solar energy provide a lifeline?

The usual objection is that aluminium smelters need a steady power input, not variable solar and wind energy. But, new technologies enable more flexible operation, allowing smelters to react to market conditions, while relieving pressure on the grid during peaks in demand.

Steel production presents a different kind of problem. It uses so much coal that it accounts for 7% of global emissions. But new steel can be made without coal.

Many steelmakers around the world use an alternative process, called direct reduction, fuelled by natural gas. This technique reduces emissions by about 40% and can be modified to run on pure renewable hydrogen, enabling production of near-zero emissions steel.

At least five companies in Europe are actively pursuing hydrogen-based steel production as part of their efforts to eliminate emissions. So far there are no similar plans in Australia despite this country’s unrivalled wealth of iron ore and renewable resources.

The jobs boom

Zero-emissions metals could become a major export industry. Our report explores a scenario in which Australia could double the value of its iron and steel exports to A$150 billion by converting just 18% of currently mined iron ore into steel using renewable hydrogen.

This would be a welcome boost for the national balance of trade, counteracting any reduction in coal exports due to climate and energy policies among Australia’s trading partners.

Making this amount of zero-emissions steel requires a huge amount of renewable electricity – almost double the total electricity generated in Australia in 2018.

But this demand for renewable energy is part of the point – Australia can do this, most of our competitors cannot due to their greater energy demand relative to land suitable for generating renewable energy.

A successful zero emissions metal industry would bring many thousands of steady jobs, often in regional areas with higher unemployment. It could also support towns such as Portland, in Victoria, and Gladstone, in Queensland, where metal producers are already the chief employer.

The market for zero-emissions metals is likely to be enormous. Until recently, emissions embodied in materials have been neglected. But this is changing, as hundreds of the world’s largest companies commit to reducing the emissions of their supply chains.

For example, car makers Volkswagen and Toyota are aiming for zero-carbon production.

In September the World Green Building Council challenged the global construction sector to ensure all new buildings have net-zero embodied carbon by 2050. Such public commitments are a strong signal to manufacturers everywhere.

Make it happen

Zero-emissions metals could be one of Australia’s most significant new industries of the 21st century.




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To make it happen, our report recommends governments acknowledge this opportunity by creating a National Zero-Emissions Metals strategy, committing serious resources to ensure it succeeds. This strategy should identify and evaluate Australia’s best opportunities within the metals sector.

If we don’t do something then, as South Australian Senator Rex Patrick put it, we’ll just continue to “export rocks” and let others reap the benefits from developing technologies to process them.The Conversation

Michael Lord, Zero Carbon Researcher, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nuance and nostalgia: Labor’s election review provides useful insights and inevitable harking back to Hawke


Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.




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The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.




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The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done



Bill Shorten may or may not have been able to beat Malcolm Turnbull, but the review makes it clear the ALP failed to adapt to a new, tactically-astute prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The messages for next time from Labor’s 2019 election post-mortem are clear. Have a better strategy. Have a stronger narrative, fewer policies, greater emphasis on economic growth. Have a better leader.

Obvious. Incontestable. Just, as a package, devilishly hard to achieve.

The review by Labor elders Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson identifies the plethora of reasons for Labor’s unanticipated failure. It doesn’t pull punches and contains sensible recommendations.

But no prescribed remedies can guarantee success, in a game where how the other side operates is as important – and can be more so – than what your side does. And that’s apart from the general climate of the times, these days characterised by uncertainty and distrust.

Political success comes from judgement and planning, but there’s also the lottery element. We’ll never know whether Bill Shorten could have beaten Malcolm Turnbull if he’d still been the prime minister in May. Turnbull would say no. Many of the Liberals who ditched Turnbull would say yes. Everyone would agree with the review’s conclusion that Labor failed to adapt when it suddenly faced a new, tactically-astute Liberal PM.

The review’s release was much anticipated, as though it marks a watershed. It doesn’t. It’s sound, well and thoroughly prepared. But it was never going to say how policies should be recast. It leaves the hard work still to be done, and that will be painful and prolonged.

While there’s been much emphasis on Labor’s big taxing policies, the review stresses they were driven by the ALP opting for big spending.

It says “the size and complexity” of the ALP’s spending promises – more than $100 billion – “drove its tax policies and exposed Labor to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor has long believed in both the policy desirability and the political attractiveness of large dollops of money for education and health in particular.

Beyond a certain point, however, the value of ever more dollars becomes questionable, on both policy and political grounds. Is the community, for example, getting the return it should for the funds put into schools over the past decade?

One can assume – and Anthony Albanese is signalling – Labor will throw around fewer dollars next time.

The review doesn’t target the controversial policies on negative gearing and franking credits. But they’ll be watered down or dumped.

Albanese, speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, said of the franking credits policy: “When you’ve got to explain dividend imputation and franking credits from opposition – tough ask”. He recounted talking to a pensioner worried about the policy – although pensioners would have been exempted and she’d never owned a share in her life.

The franking policy should have had a protection built in to avoid hitting genuinely low-income retirees while still catching wealthy people who’d rearranged their affairs to have little or no income. Shorten was advised to change it, but refused. On Thursday he said “were the universe to grant reruns” he would “take a different position on franking credits”.

It will be a lot easier for Labor to deal with these tax measures than with climate policy.

The review says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability. Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Indeed. The summary just highlights the complexities for Labor in working out its revised climate policy.

Anthony Albanese has already put the policy, whatever its detail, into a framework of its potential for job creation as the energy mix moves to renewables.

It’s part of his broader emphasis on jobs and growth (accompanied by his pursuit of improved relations with business, never again to be labelled “the big end of town”).

It’s possible increasing public worry about climate change could help Labor at the next election, if the government’s response is seen as inadequate. That won’t, however, make it any less imperative for the ALP to have a better pitched policy than its 2019 election one, which was too ambitious, lacked costings, and was conflicted on coal.

This segues into Labor’s problem juggling its “progressive” supporters with its working class suburban base, to say nothing of those in coal areas. Taking one line in the south and another in the north didn’t work. The unpalatable truth may be these constituencies are actually not reconcilable, but Labor has to find more effective ways to deal with the clash.

Notably, the review points to the risk of Labor “becoming a grievance-based organisation”. “Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests,” it says.

This is an important warning in an era of identity politics. But again, Labor is in a difficult position, because its commitment to rights, non-discrimination and similar values will mean it attracts certain groups and has to be concerned with their problems. It’s a matter of balance, and not letting itself become hostage.

Grievance politics, looked at through a positive lens, is a way of identifying wrongs and injustices and seeking to rectify them. But it is also in part a reflection of the wider negativity infecting contemporary politics, amplified by today’s media.

That culture can add to the problems of a centre left party trying to sell an alternative.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler recently noted that on the three post-war occasions when Labor won from opposition, it had immensely popular leaders (Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd), visions for the nation and superior campaigns.

Whitlam sold a sweeping new program in tune with the changing times. Hawke promoted “reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction”. Rudd was welcomed as a fresh face embracing concern about climate change. Albanese has boldly dubbed a series of his speeches (the first already delivered) “vision statements”. But “vision” is an elusive elixir, apparently harder than ever to come by.

Winning from opposition is a struggle for Labor. This makes it crucial to have a leader who can both reassure and inspire swinging voters. Unfortunately out-of-the box leaders don’t come often; in reality, a party has to work with what it has got.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.