When I read the paper each morning and listen to the news each evening, it is hard not to feel depressed at the direction our democracy seems to be going. Although the current federal government is the worst in my memory, which is a great disappointment after the elation of having the first Australian female prime minister, my concern is broader than that and many of the criticisms I have would apply equally to the current opposition. If it is indeed true that we get the government that we deserve (and as I will outline later there is some truth in that) it is time we had a good look at ourselves.
Maybe the problem is that I have expectations that are too high – but I’ll let you be the judge of that. So what then are my expectations of government? (For simplicity’s sake I’ll confine my comments to my expectations of the Federal government. I would willingly concede that with our three tiers of government we are over-governed – but that is rightly the subject of another debate.) My expectations are that government should:
- Help us cultivate a just and equitable society.
- Promote a robust economy with high employment and opportunities for those desiring to make a contribution.
In support of this goal I want government to:
- Develop infrastructure necessary to achieve the above aspiration
- Facilitate appropriate research
- Support a strong educational capability (even though this is largely the province of the states)
- Promote a flexible, productive IR regime
- Minimise intrusion and obstacles to business activity
- Have a long-term view that doesn’t seek to opportunistically exploit the economy in favour of current voters but prejudice the opportunities for future generations
3. Provide reasonable support to those unable to contribute and support themselves because of poor health, disability, age or whatever.
4.Provide a defence capability and develop strategic alliances to help us counter the most likely threats to our national security.
5.Manage our natural resources for the ongoing benefit of our population and ensuring that future generations are not unduly disadvantaged.
6.Ensure a reasonable transfer of funding to the states to enable a proper standard of state-based services to be achieved.
Maybe I have missed something and I am sure you will draw my attention to any omissions.
So I have given you some understanding of what I desire of the Federal government. It might be useful if I also elaborated on what I don’t want.
- I don’t want them to bribe me for my vote. I want the government to promote policy that is good for the long term welfare of the country. I don’t want them to target various demographics for little purpose other than maximizing their vote.
- I don’t want them to spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on issues that don’t concern the majority of us. The recent debate about gay marriage was a case in point. I have no concern how adults choose to lead their lives provided they don’t impinge on the rights of others. I have a number of gay friends and whilst it is reasonable to have their relationships given some legal status the majority of us wondered what the real issue was when more and more heterosexual couples are avoiding the institution of marriage. Anyhow, concentrate on the issues of substance.
- I don’t want governments interfering unduly in my life. I don’t want them to legislate to discourage me from eating fatty foods, blowing out candles on birthday cakes or curtailing my ability to say what I believe in case it might offend some poor sensitive soul.
Whilst I am on a roll here’s a few more things I want.
- I want governments to be comprised of people who are well-grounded in the real world. I resent being represented by people who haven’t had a real job in their lives and have made their way into politics from student politics, union representation and being so called “political advisors”.
- I want politicians who will tell me truthfully what’s going on and not resort to the obfuscation of the “spin doctors”.
- I want politicians who personally believe in something and don’t just passively toe the party line.
There is a lot more I could say but by now no doubt you’ve got the “drift”. (I might not have many readers but the few I have are intelligent!)
How then do I believe our democracy has deteriorated to such a state? It is largely because we have unwittingly reinforced many of the above behaviours. Too many of us expect to be rewarded by the government, provided with some sort of handout and we vote accordingly. Politicians cultivate minority groups and marginal electorates by the promise of such largesse.
Then to add to the problem because we have only three year terms the vision of politicians is curtailed proportionately. Under the current federal government we have had five successive budget deficits. The excess government spending has been financed by borrowing. The majority of this borrowing was to finance such government largesse. A budget deficit is not in itself a concern if the borrowings bought substantial assets to the benefit of the Australian community. Apart from a few school halls, purchased often at exorbitant rates, we have little to show for these borrowings but are confronted with a burgeoning debt that we and our successors must service. It is too easy for governments to buy short term approval but with long term consequences.
If we have a short term “get what I can” ethos, it is difficult to blame governments for making such short-sighted decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, the current state of the Australian economy is very good compared to most other countries. It is however deteriorating. Our debt liabilities are increasing and we have few off-setting assets to show for it. If we were to extrapolate this performance for another twenty years then we would be closing in on Greece and Italy whose economies have deteriorated alarmingly because politicians have bowed to the short-term populist demands of their constituencies without any concern for the long-term impact of their decisions.
It is a hard ask I know, but next time you vote don’t put too much weight on how you will benefit personally but give some consideration to how the country might fare in the longer term and what legacy or burden you might want to leave for your grandchildren.