After my father was medically retired from teaching, he chose to take a lump sum payout of his superannuation. When he lived longer than expected, he said to me “Pulled the wrong rein there, love.”
Are governments ever capable of, with hindsight, saying the same thing?
So many of the problems we are facing today could be addressed by going back on some of the decisions made in the past if only the government was willing to admit that something is not working as intended.
The Job Active Scheme is one case in point. Introducing a profit motive in unemployment services has been a disaster. Bringing back the Commonwealth Employment Service could not only make the process a lot more user-friendly, it would provide invaluable information to the government about where job vacancies are, skills shortages, identifying areas of disadvantage, referral to and collaboration with support services, educational requirements – and it might actually be able to hook people up with jobs instead of signing them up to ridiculous courses or cutting them off entirely for non-compliance with inflexible rules.
We bemoan the rising cost and deteriorating cover of private health insurance like there is nothing that can be done about it. Had we not sold off Medibank Private, it could have provided a standard that other funds would have had to compete with. The profit it made could have been invested in keeping premiums down.
We complain about rising power prices and the cartel-like behaviour of a market concentrated in the hands of too few players seemingly oblivious to the power we have to control that. We own the resources. We used to own the power generators and distribution network. Instead of the government providing power and thus controlling prices, we handed it over to companies whose aim is to maximise profit. Even so, if the government was truly concerned about energy prices, they could slash them by 10% immediately by making them GST-free to households as they are to businesses who claim the GST back as an input tax credit.
Privatisation and outsourcing was supposed to make so many things better but the reality is that it has led to higher prices, job losses, and poorer service delivery, particularly for those in regional areas.
And then there is carbon pricing which was successful in bringing emissions down and encouraging investment in sustainable practice. Instead of collecting billions from polluters which was redistributed to the community and trade-exposed businesses, we now pay billions for no result and there is no incentive for businesses to change their practices.
Back in 2005, when we still owned half of Telstra, they wanted to move to fibre rather than remediating an aging copper system. John Howard and the ACCC put such roadblocks in their way that Telstra abandoned the idea. Labor valiantly tried to bring the nation’s communications into the 21st century with FttP NBN until Abbott gave Turnbull the instruction to “demolish” it.
Handing over disability and aged care services to for-profit providers has also proven problematic because the government failed to make or enforce an adequate regulatory framework. That there is no required staff-to-resident ratio in nursing homes is a recipe for disaster. As the Royal Commission has shown, staff are untrained and over-worked and unable to provide the care residents need.
When Menzies gave a one off grant to private schools to build science labs, he probably didn’t envisage a time when we would be giving the most elite schools pot loads of recurrent funding to hire Olympic rowing coaches and build sound studios and swimming pools. The rise in public money being handed over to private schools has drained the public system of resources and created a two-tier education system where the disadvantaged must make do with less.
When the Howard government went on its vote-buying spree with tax cuts and changes to negative gearing, capital gains, franking credits and superannuation, not only did they squander the boom and entrench unsustainable budgetary pressure, they skewed investment away from more productive enterprises and made housing unaffordable.
By demonising and depowering unions and stacking the Fair Work Commission with fellow travellers, the Coalition has cut off their nose to spite their face, as unions lose their power to gain wage rises, protect workplace entitlements and secure employment, and to maintain safety standards. Shoddy workmanship in the building industry has become a real problem and tradesmen are brought in on visas that ensure they will remain quiet and compliant.
One of the nastiest political decisions by the Coalition has been to brand people fleeing war and oppression as criminals if they happen to use a boat instead of a plane. Meanwhile, the real criminals are courted by a system that allows them to launder money through buying special visas be they as a gambling tourist or a “special investor”.
The Coalition have deliberately fostered suspicion of “others” be they Muslim jihadis, African gangs, second or third generation Lebanese Australians, Chinese university students, Tamil families. Gays asking for equality have “an agenda” that will undermine society. Unemployed people will be drug tested. Indigenous people asking for some say in their own affairs are engaging in bleeding heart “identity politics”. Environmentalists are anti-job ecoterrorists. Anyone who believes climate scientists is a weak as piss bedwetter.
Why do this? Why divide us? Why seek to marginalise people? Why dismiss people?
It must take a certain amount of ego to run for politics but what seems to be lacking is the actual confidence to be able to say we got that wrong.
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