Australia Day last weekend, coming amid bushfires and drought that will only get worse, exemplified some major conflicts in Australian society which should not be allowed to fester.
They include: national identity; dealing with carbon emissions; the city-bush divide; growing inequality and the government’s role in worsening it; the row over rights and freedoms; and corruption.
Disagreement over the national day, now makes 26 January a day of acrimony rather than the unity it is supposed to engender.
Indigenous people must get a voice and a role in the polity, not mere symbolic “recognition”. Perhaps people identifying as Indigenous Australians should be able to move from the State Senate electoral rolls to an Indigenous roll to elect 12 Indigenous senators. If those senators joined the existing political parties, good. It would increase the Indigenous voice in those institutions.
In any event, some real voice must be given. When that happens, we might have a more suitable date for Australia Day, rather than the reworked NSW Proclamation Day which excludes other states and the Indigenous people who were invaded.
The republic question will not go away. The absurdity of Australia having a foreign-born monarch must ultimately end.
Australia must be able to stand respected in world forums for doing its fair share of carbon-emissions reductions rather than being seen as a cheat. Yes, it will be costly to wind down the $40 billion thermal coal mining industry, but the cost of not doing so will be greater. The rest of the world will impose trade sanctions on countries that do not have a credible emissions-reduction policy.
Prime Minister Morrison’s assertion that it is preferable to adapt to the heating rather than reduce emissions further is absurd. How to you “adapt” to a Great Barrier Reef destroyed by bleaching. He either does not understand the existential threat or applauds it for religious reasons: he will be saved while the world burns.
Australia must seek opportunities in renewables – using renewable energy here to produce metals near the mines rather than exporting the ore and raw minerals.
Doing this will bring jobs and wealth to rural Australia and help heal the urban-rural divide. It might help move stagnant wages. History tells us that wages and living standards rise with new more efficient and cheaper technologies, rather than sticking with graveyard ones.
To date, mining, particularly coal, is seen as a provider of rural jobs and wealth. It is a delusion. Mining is becoming more automated. Jobs are few and the profits go mostly to overseas shareholders. Moreover, the mining giants do not pay their fair share of tax.
Governments must end subsidies to fossil industries and put them where they will benefit Australia, particularly rural Australia, in the long-term. For a start, we should stop the ideological brawl over electric cars. Governments should kick start the transition. Electric vehicles will be cheaper for families to run, reduce city air pollution, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Speaking of subsidies, Governments, particularly the federal government, spend far too much money increasing inequality and inequality of opportunity through the tax system and the private health and private education systems.
Payments to private schools and subsidies and inducements to private health insurance are counter-productive and set up two-tier systems of privilege and disadvantage.
Australia wastes a lot of so-called “education” spending on well-heeled private schools which are already producing good educational results. The money should be spent on disadvantaged school where we would get more bang for our buck. Australia’s objectively tested scores in NAPLAN and PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) are foundering despite extra spending on education.
Private health insurers spend about 14 per cent of their income on overheads, compared to Medicare’s 3 per cent. The insurers cannot control the gap fees charged by specialists. And they are excluding too many procedures.
If we believed in the efficiency of the market, why do they get a massive 30 per cent subsidy through the tax rebate on premiums? Australians would be better off without the private system. If everyone relied on Medicare you could bet that the articulate middle classes would put political pressure on so that waiting lists would fall away.
Also, why are education and health exempt from the GST? Wealthier people tend to spend more money on these things.
The tax system is riddled with perks for the well-off, especially superannuation and tricks that can move income to lower-taxed capital gains. Corporate tax remains full of loopholes despite the best efforts of the resource-stretched ATO to do something about it.
We have allowed big corporations to take the waterways and run a high-immigration Ponzi scheme for their short-term benefit.
The fractious arguments over rights and freedoms help no-one. We should just have a simple Bill of Rights, like that of other democracies – Canada and the US (without the guns) and Europe. Then the institution that best deals with these things – the courts – can slowly build up a jurisprudence which balances the individual’s rights against the state, other individuals and organisations.
Then we have the festering refusal of federal politicians to build a system to police themselves. The latest scandal of doling out $100 million to politically favoured sports clubs should put an end to the fantasy that there is no corruption issue at the federal level. It is compounded by the power of corporate donors, like coal, to force policy in their interests, not the national interest.
Instead, the main ideological targets have been hit with compliance inquiries: unions, single parents and those on employment benefits. There really was nothing to see here. The employment infractions turned out to be misplaced and the single-parent allowance had a 98.5 per cent compliance rate –I dare say a vastly higher rate than corporate tax compliance.
Returning to Australia Day and Australian values. We have strayed from the values of fairness, open-mindedness and egalitarianism and replaced them wealth, selfishness, exclusion and privilege. It has damaged both our economy and our national soul.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 1 February 2020.