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Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 1)

We have always thought of ourselves as the lucky country: Young and full of enthusiasm for what the future holds. Chock-full of pride for what we have achieved thus far in many fields from sport to science. Indeed, we have much to be proud of.

We live in a land of abundant resources: Of copiousness mineral reserves and a growing economy; a rich diversity of multiculturalism with a high standard of education and a health system that serves us well.

We can claim by virtue of our First Nations people the oldest continuous living culture on earth.

But something is wrong.

Allow me to pause for a moment and ask a question: How have we come so far given the things we have stuffed up along the way and are still doing today?

When you think about it some stuff-ups go back a long time and others are more recent.

Nonetheless, we have an abysmal record. The building of the Snowy Mountain Hydro was undoubtedly a major achievement but our current efforts on energy policy are an abject failure.

I will go back as far as I can to take a look at what was said about past policies; the Menzies, Whitlam, Hawke, the Howard years as well as look at the current efforts of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

In my lifetime I have and still, am witnessing some disastrous policies that have come from both sides of the political fence. Some have been the result of a naked lust to implement policy simply to satisfy a craving for ideology. Others are as a result of the consequences of economic ignorance.

The right would argue that some policies have taken us further away from the Liberal ideals of small government, equality of opportunity and freedom of contract.

It was 2006 when the Institute of Public Affairs published a paper titled “Australia’s 13 Biggest Mistakes”.

Contributors were: Richard Allsop, Chris Berg, Jason Briant, Scott Hargreaves, Alan Moran, John Roskam and Louise Staley.

This is a link to the original document and some further explanation as to why these 13 were chosen. Reading it will give you an insight into the conservative mindset.

I would though, given that the Liberal Party has morphed into an extremist party with extremist views, question just what the authors’ point was at the time and just how many of the current government’s stuff-ups they would include, if indeed any, today.

One wonders why they wouldn’t have included the Vietnam and Iraq wars, for example, or the NBN.

In any case, it makes for some interesting political history. And please don’t be put off by the fact that it is an IPA publication.

13. Invention of Canberra (1908)

At 13 they list the invention of Canberra and question its existence.

“No wonder Canberra is the last bastion of belief in the transformative power of Government.”

12. Patrick White Wins the Nobel Prize (1972)

“The Nobel Prize commendation said that White ‘for the first time, has given the continent of Australia an authentic voice that carries across the world’. Duly anointed, the author was able to establish the now-crowded space in which authors act as the self-appointed conscience of the nation.

Meanwhile, the insult implicit in the commendation—the notion that without White we are a literary terra nullius—was politely ignored. For the agents of the new culture, there was too much to be gained.”

11. Federal money for science blocks at non-government schools (1963)

“This was the beginning of federal aid for private schools and the beginning of the end for the possibility of a student-centred system for funding schooling in Australia.”

10. The Release of Cane Toads (1935)

“A cane toad is notoriously difficult to eliminate by such methods, and not even backing a ute over one will guarantee its demise. Instead, the RSPCA recommends euthanasing it in the freezer.”

9. Publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859)

“Published in 1859, On Liberty is one of the foundation documents of modern liberalism. Its arguments for freedom of religion and freedom of speech were radical and enormously powerful. On Liberty was compulsory reading for colonial politicians in Australia—and there was a tendency to think that if Mill said it, then ‘it must be true’.”

8. The Labor Party Split (1955)

” ‘The Split’ kept the Liberals in power and kept Labor out of power during the 1950s and 1960s.”

7. Immigration Restriction Act (1901)

“The effect of the White Australia Policy was in limiting of the Australian imagination, a common rejection or fear of the foreign and unknown, which pervades many aspects of Australian life today including trade, culture, religion and the adoption of new technology.”

6. WA Town Planning and Development Act (1928)

“The upshot has been a progressive and accelerating reduction in land available for housing. This is often conducted in the name of preventing sprawl, even though barely 0.3 per cent of Australia is urbanised. Most importantly, it has brought a vast increase in prices. In real terms, since 1973, a standard housing block for a new house has increased by between two-fold in Melbourne to a staggering ten-fold in Adelaide.”

5. The Uniform Tax Cases (1942 and 1957)

“One of the greatest fallacies of Australian politics is the claim that the Constitution is difficult to change. What is usually forgotten is that a referendum is only one way of changing the Constitution? Another way the Constitution can be changed is by the decisions of the High Court, and successive Court judgements have completely subverted the balance between the Commonwealth and State governments. The 1983 Franklin Dams case was a clear demonstration of the willingness of the High Court to abandon federalism as a constitutional principle.”

4. The Montreal Olympics (1976)

“The huge funding of sport has also undoubtedly increased the pressure applied to governments to fund other special interests, such as the arts.”

3. Wireless Telegraphy Act (1905)

“The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1905 inaugurated the century-long comedy of errors that is Australian media and telecommunications policy. The sector of the economy that has been characterised by some of the most rapid technological innovation has, at the same time, been cursed by governments concerned more with their own power than with the demands of consumers.”

2. The Harvester Judgement (1907)

“The Court took evidence relating to the cost of living at the time, and declared that a wage of 2 pounds and 2 shillings for a six-day working week would enable a man with an average-sized family, to live in ‘frugal comfort’, thus effectively establishing the basic wage.”

1.The End of the Reid Government (1905)

“It seems more likely that by giving up on key parts of their agenda in 1904–05, the Free Traders condemned the ideals of free market liberalism to the wilderness for decades to come.”

Next post deals with the Menzies era.

My thought for the day

People need to wake up to the fact that government affects every part of their life and should be more interested. But there is a political malaise that is deep-seated.


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  1. whatever

    Perhaps you should examine the real meaning of Donald Horne’s “Lucky Country” phrase, which you quoted in your opening sentence.

    “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

  2. Wam

    8 Sadly the split allowed workers to put god and the common good before themselves. They are still ‘splitting’ unless a star drags them back or a conservative goes too far.

    7 Lord, I would have thought ‘two Wong’s don’t make a White’ would have applied but the IPA are apolitical????

    5 the high court cannot change the constitution, lord. If asked, it can interpret it.
    The high court showed its political bias when it ruled a political decision in a foreign country can overrule an Australian birth. This was to avoid the awkward position of an asylum seeker woman giving birth to an Australian.
    ps I loved the judge in 1942, who said the states were free to refuse the commonwealth grants.

    Your thought – why? We are rich as long as someone is poorer and welfare dole bludgers fit the bill. Newstart is generous to the beliefs of conservatives. Funny that none of my right wing mob are in the ‘pensioner’ category, despite their use of the word, they are all on government pensions.

  3. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. a few comments:

    13). One of the other proposed locations for the national capital was mooted as Armidale NSW. However, the local burghers rejected the idea because “it would upset their life style”.

    11). The DOGS case stands as the greatest indictment of Australia judges educated in state schools. In over 50 years since this judgment, the imbalance in government funding to private schools providing child minding sevices has resulted in the few being overfunded at the enormous expense of the many.

    10). The release of the leather footed grazier after about 1820 brought the feral cloven hooved animals into a fragile environment that Aborigines had managed and farmed successfully for millennia. The cost of cleaning up this on-going disaster is being borne by government rather than the perpetrators.

    6). Decentralising government jobs into urban regional centres would reduce the metropolitan overcrowding and consequent pollution, traffic congestion and rising health costs. Every re-located government job creates about 3.5 new private sector jobs, so 100 decentralised government jobs, each supporting Mum, Dad and two kids, relocates 400 persons. Then the 350 new private sector jobs relocate another 1400 persons, for a total of 1800 persons. So, a local economic boom is created in regional communities supplying these “new settlers” with the necessities of life in the open spaces, clean air and uncongested urban regional centres.

    5). The other way to change the Constitution is to follow the Garfield Barwick example with the two Senators for each Territory and simply ignore the Constitution because it is an inconvenience.

    2). The Harvester judgment was a step towards a fair inclusive egalitarian Australia that the monied Establishment has been fighting ever since.

    @JL: Don’t forget to mention Menzies stellar war record.

  4. Pingback: Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 3): Whitlam - how does history judge him? - » The Australian Independent Media Network

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