A Few Comments on Current Issues

There is a lot happening in the world, and this week, instead of devoting my essay to a specific topic I am going to indulge myself by making a few comments about current issues.

Let me first make a comment on the Recognition Referendum debate. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition joined this week in hosting a meeting of indigenous representatives to try and navigate a way forward. As I have written previously, whilst hoping something useful comes from this initiative I still harbour strong doubts that a significant proposal can be fashioned that can gain broad support. In a letter to The Australian, researcher Anthony Dillon, who has an indigenous background, was brave enough to point to the “elephant in the room”. If as a result of this process we make laws to provide support to our indigenous population how can this be successfully progressed without some agreement on who might be included under the umbrella term of “indigenous”? This concept already poses problems with some indigenous groups claiming a right to make such determinations on a reasonably arbitrary basis. When we look at those who profess to be indigenous it seems a very disparate lot. We have some obligation to those who preceded us in this land and we shouldn’t shirk it, but it is important to identify them properly and fairly.

There has also been a move, promoted predominantly by Noel Pearson, for whom I have tremendous respect, for an indigenous council to advise the government on the impacts on indigenous people of proposed legislation. At first sight this might seem to be a reasonable proposal. However it seems to me to miss the point of representative democracy. It would become unmanageable if every special interest minority group insisted on its own dedicated representatives or to have its own elected council to petition parliament. As well more and more indigenous people are being elected to parliament which would seem to ensure the indigenous point of view is heard. That is not to detract from the many non-indigenous representatives who are also well-informed on indigenous issues.

It is hard not to comment on the Royal Commission into Trade Unions. Labor supporters have maintained that this is a bloody-minded intervention to discredit the union movement, and by association, the Labor Party. But an objective look at the revelations the Royal Commission has elicited would leave any fair-minded person concerned. To begin with the thuggery displayed by the CFMEU who seem to it is above the law makes a reasonable case for its deregistration. The revelations of employers making secret deals with unions at the expense of the members they purport to represent is also concerning. For some officials, the role of being a union organiser seems more about promoting their political ambitions than the welfare of their members. It is to be hoped that the businesses that have transferred large amounts of money to unions for very dubious reasons should also be held to account. Journalist, Grace Collier, has been vigorous in warning us about such practices for some time. The evidence being uncovered by the Royal Commission reinforces her concerns.

But we need to be careful here. There are many in the union movement that would put their personal aspirations ahead of the welfare of their members. Some would do whatever they could to promote their ambitions to be Labor members. I spent a lot of my professional management career in trying to negotiate enterprise agreements promoting the productivity of the workplaces I managed. I know union officials that would never have compromised the welfare of their members in such negotiations and I know officials that eschewed political careers to continue to progress the welfare of their members. There is undoubtedly corruption in the union ranks and that must be stamped out. But some union officials act honourably to enhance the welfare of their members. We need such people to protect the welfare of those with little power in the workforce.

And if we are to have a discussion about ambivalent values and human welfare then what about Greece? The Greek government initiated a referendum to have the population vote on the terms of a settlement with the European Union.  This seemed to me to be an act of brazen defiance by the Greeks, thumbing their noses at the legitimate obligations they owed their creditors. The Greeks voted to reject the terms of settlement. Surprisingly this act of grand chutzpah (an appropriate Greek epithet) might have paid off, because the EU is currently considering another Greek offer! But commentators suggest the terms may now be even more stringent than what was rejected. This is all beyond my ken! (My limitations as a commentator on current affairs must be pretty obvious to you all by now!) And it was a little disconcerting to hear a senior member of the Greens maintain that Greece’s parlous financial position is a result of their austerity measures and that they (and Australia as well) would be better placed if we only spent more!

If we want to discuss the fundamentals of democracy, Greg Rudd had something interesting to offer again this week. In an article in The Australian Greg argued for some major changes to our electoral system. One of Greg’s assertions is that politicians refrain from making the difficult policy decisions because they are motivated to keep the electorate on side to preserve their careers in politics. As he points out self-preservation is often a more potent driver than national interest. Among other things, Greg advocates that politicians be allowed to serve no more than two terms. He aspires to break the hold on Government of career politicians. I suppose his ambition is to ensure that politicians are more representative of the general population and that they might be stimulated to do the best for the nation in the limited term he proposes. Perhaps under such circumstances we might have a more intelligent conversation about broadening the base of GST, investigating negative gearing and having a proper debate about superannuation.

If you knew Greg you would believe that he is a very pragmatic guy, but it turns out that he is even more idealistic than I am! (That is not a criticism!) The best of luck to you Greg in this noble endeavour and feel free to post more of your arguments in favour of improving our democracy in commentary on this blog site.

I once watched a documentary on sea birds. I might not be a trendy environmentalist as I explained in a recent blog, but I do have a genuine interest in the natural world and its welfare. I was slightly amused to see some of the birds having difficulty to land. These birds kind of alighted in a controlled crash. In attempting to land they did a somersault or two but finally righted themselves as if nothing had happened. It was enlightening to know that this species of feathered Kamikaze pilots was called an Abbot’s Booby. I was slightly put off by this revelation because, before that I thought that an Abbot’s Booby was Barnaby Joyce. Mind you I like Barnaby. He talks plainly and often reverts to good old home spun wisdom. It was hardly surprising (especially after having read Greg Rudd’s piece) to see him differing with the Government on the decision to open a coal mine in his electorate. The Government seems convinced by the scientific evidence that this mine can co-exist with agricultural interests. But Barnaby, no doubt needing to appease his electorate, has yielded to a more visceral compulsion than reason might seem to dictate, supported by such fanciful notions as food security. Whilst I have a great admiration for those who work the land, we often allow romantic notions about the vital roles that farmers play distort our logic. The Productivity Commission, for example, has cast considerable doubt on the approach by successive governments to drought relief which has merely artificially propped up many marginal rural enterprises at considerable cost to the taxpayer with little prospect of long-term viability. Environmentally, good farmers can be ideal stewards of the land. On the other hand they can have disastrous impacts. I know from work I have been associated with in the past, for example, that contamination of the reef lagoon with sediment has had even a worse impact on the Great Barrier Reef than the run-off of fertilisers. The offending sediments are caused by soil erosion largely due to over-stocking and poor land management practices by pastoralists. Although it seems that there will always be tensions between miners, pastoralists and farmers, the best outcomes occur when they learn to co-exist productively. In an era when we have great concerns for the viability of our regional communities, such communities can be made more robust by promoting a diversity of industry. In my own region I would instance Biloela and Emerald as centres that continue to thrive in the face of a more general decline of regional communities. Both centres are based on a combination of mining and traditional rural industries. But a National Party politician in a traditional, conservative, rural electorate would find that a hard message to sell.

They are just a few thoughts I had about current issues when I sat down to write this week. No doubt many of you will disagree and I would be delighted to hear your comments.