10 August 2010

The Lucky Country

The Australia which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott inhabits is indeed a fortunate place.

To judge by the speech with which he officially launched his election campaign, the biggest problems it faces, even after three years of “the worst government in the nation’s history”, is the arrival by boat of a trickle of asylum seekers, and net Commonwealth debt currently estimated at about 1 per cent of GDP and likely to peak at about 6 per of GDP.

As far as one can tell there are only about three countries on Planet Abbott: Australia, Indonesia – a place inhabited by people smugglers – and Nauru, the preferred final destination for the people being smuggled.

This most favoured of countries does not seem to be at war with anyone; indeed, it is hard to discern whether it even has a defence force to go to war with. We certainly don’t hear much about it.

It is a country which can save its way to prosperity – if we can just eliminate wasteful government spending, all will be right with the world. But don’t include middle class welfare under the rubric of “wasteful government spending” – as the political hero John Winston Howard has taught us, you can never have too much of that.

And if the benign climate is changing at all, it is certainly not changing at a rate that would require anyone to act with precipitate haste.

I live in a much more troubled Australia. It is a country which chronically under-invests in higher education, research and development and infrastructure of all kinds, a country engaged in the relentless pursuit of mediocrity. It is a country which has had no productivity enhancing reforms since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2001, and seems unlikely to have any in the foreseeable future.

It is a country in which the core business of government is issuing media releases and pandering to the employed middle class, telling them how tough they are doing it and then crossing their palms with silver taken from that same employed middle class.

It is a country which regards economic success as the only measure of success, and the ring of the cash register as the true measure of economic success.

It is a country that can afford to do very little for its genuinely poor, its indigenous people, its homeless, its disabled, its chronically ill, or those suffering from mental health problems, and in any event which lacks the delivery skills to assist these people even if it wanted to.

It has established a genuinely successful multi-ethnic society (many cultures but one society), but its political leaders dabble in xenophobia for their own political ends.

It is a country whose major food-bowl is in a desperate condition and deteriorating, with associated loss of world class habitat.

It is a country at war, a war in relation to which no-one can define a plausibly achievable desired end-state.

It is a country whose major ally is broke, but which asks no questions about the long-term significance of that.

It lives in a world in which the burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has probably already passed dangerous levels, but no serious mitigative or timely adaptive action is likely to be taken.

Its political leaders are biological marvels. They look like human beings but appear to be single-celled organisms: no brains, no guts, no vision, no spine.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another insightful critique of our political cl'ass'.

Keep up your excellent commentary as it is great to have such a straight down the barrel blog to read.

Denis in Canberra

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Barratt

I've just stumbled onto your blog for the first time. I agree with your assessment. I once worked under your leadership, in the department you headed prior to going to Defence. You were a breath of fresh air. Circumstances in my life are completely different now and I have found myself out of work for about 9 months (not in ACT), horrified by the harsh welfare policies of this government towards people who have lost their jobs. It makes me feel ashamed of my country. If I could afford it, I'd start a blog on that myself. I will keep any eye on your blog from now on. Rest assured many share your frustrations with the deterioration of public administration.


Thank you for your kind remarks. I really enjoyed my time at Primary Industries and Energy - it was a cheerful place, the staff were well motivated, with a deep background on the industries with which they were involved, and a strong empathy with the rural and regional industries and communities.

Paul Barratt