By Mehroz Siraj
With all certainty, 2011 was a major year in Australian politics. The debates, discussions and policy frameworks that took place at state and federal levels last year, shall go a long way in defining and reflecting Australia’s socio-economic progress, or the lack of it thereof, throughout the rest of this decade.
Amongst all the socio-economic turbulence of industrial action and the hullabaloo over the carbon tax, one thing that journalists and other intellectuals missed out, was the penetration of irrationalism and a lack of intellectual and policy depth within the echelons of power.
The past year, was a wasted opportunity, when it came to initiating a positive change in modern Australia’s culture of political debate.
Political debate on all major issues confronting our nation today remain completely dogged and guised under the clouds of stereotypical conservatism, that has inhibited our ability to look beyond the opinion polls and the tabloid media.
Over the last few years, most legislations and laws passed by the federal and state parliaments have completely ignored the bigger picture of where Australia would be in the next fifty years.
They focused on short term sloganeering which is casting a detrimental blow to the economic opportunities and welfare requirements of millions of ordinary Australians.
The slogan of getting budgets back into surpluses is perfect example that explains this point. Unlike the American model, the Australian economy is not used to sustaining astronomical amounts of deficits that are then balanced out through domestic and international borrowing of money on interest and credit.
In the post-war era, all Australian governments have looked up to be having budget surpluses at the end of each financial year. However, the nature of the debate around surpluses and taxation reforms has changed markedly since the early years of the Hawke-Keating era of Australian politics.
Back then, the rationale was that they enabled governments to prepare strong and long-term fiscal and monetary policies.
They enabled the government to have stable financial agreements with the states, while important services in infrastructure social welfare could be well funded on a continuous basis in order to keep the overall economy and inflationary pressures in check.
However, unlike these rationalist arguments of the earlier decades, the entire argument of maintaining budget surpluses has been nothing more than chest thumping political rhetoric, that too in a recession when sustainable deficits are bearable so that money is spent to assist struggling individuals and famailies.
This logic has perhaps been lost on Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and the state current state governments across the country. Over the last few years, just in the name of posting budget surpluses, critically important funding on essential infrastructure projects has been slashed. Because of these funding cuts and the inability to control inflationary pressures competently, the overall costs of living for ordinary Australians have gone up astronomically.
Over the last few years, rentals, for example have gone up by more than 30 to 40 per cent across most suburbs in Melbourne and Sydney.
In Melbourne itself, the new suburbs, such as Wyndham, Caroline Springs, Melton and others, whose populations have significantly increased over the years, have been lagging in infrastructure development, mainly because of the state government’s persistent delays in allocating spending and budgets.
The much promised railway line extensions in Melbourne have been long delayed and a more expensive public transport ticketing system, the myki, is being imposed on ordinary Melbournians with the full support of the state government.
What defies rationalism is that these actions of our federal and state governments actually go against the lessons of history and the theories of economics and sociology.
For example, historical evidence and research suggests that boosting immigration numbers and keeping government spending and deficits steady at feasible levels, is the best way to ensure economic and job security during a recession.
Local research is showing that the initiatives of the political establishment that seeks to defy these logics of economics and sociology is proving disastrous for Australia.
Low business confidence and the high business costs in Victoria and NSW have led to thousands of job losses and corresponding industrial actions by workers.
Victorians, in particular are fuming against their state government and the Gillard administration for not intervening into the economy in order to save the jobs that the private sector is now shedding by the thousands.
This irrational approach, along with the failures of the authorities to facilitate companies through incentives, in order to keep the jobs running will go a long way in undermining Australia’ s reputation as a safe place to do business and bring investments, which could have critical impact on the nation’s future.
Public calls have been made to the federal government to address the issue of the country’s growing unemployment crisis and declining levels of productivity, but the response so far has been zilch.
Much like the professionals, the agricultural sector too is up in arms against the state and federal authorities on the issues of mining, extraction of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and the increasing take over of Australian food production by foreign firms, which can put our own food security and hard earned export earnings at risk.
According to a January report in the Sydney Morning Herald, more than 10 per cent of Australia’s total farmland is now foreign owned, mainly because the mining companies buy off these lands for exploration purposes. The potential harm that these mining practices could cause to the quality of the food we produce in Queensland and NSW, cannot be ruled out.
Also, the connection between extraction of CSG and the spread of carcinogenic compounds through water supplies, has been confirmed by many studies in the United States.
In case all or most of the pending requests for extraction of the CSG are approved by the Queensland and NSW governments, a public health epidemic and food hygeine crisis cannot be ruled out.
While it is good to see that the O’ Farrell government has finally tackled this issue of mining and CSG extraction by launching a parliamentary inquiry into the entire situation, it is equally important to raise the question that why did the Keneally government not address this issue before?
It is equally important to ask the other state governments that why have they not tackled the issues of rising unemployment and increasing foreign ownership of Australian farming lands?
The Gillard government too has failed in taking this country in the right direction.
The serious lack of rationalisation in Australian politics has been an issue that has been largely missed by the mainstream media and the political establishment at most levels. The socio-economic consequences of this have been great.
Unemployment is heading north, business investments are becoming more risky, skilled migration is in doldrums and the mining sector is eating away other divisions of the economy and its profits are not being well distributed across the board, which is unfair towards ordinary Australians.
The urgent need of the hour, on part of our social institutions and its managers is to balance the equation before it is too late.
It should be understood by the Gillard and Abbott teams that rationalized politics is the only way forward for the country and that scaremongering and resorting to negative politics is not going to do any good, neither to these politicians, nor to Australians.
It is time that our politicians move away from petty war mongering politics and start to kick start a rational debate and strong policy making on the important issues that Australia would have to confront in the 21st century.
The writer is Melbourne based journalist and founder of the upcoming online magazine, Australian Affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org