OPINION

Government favouring spin over substance | Hewson's View

DIFFERENT WORLD: John Hewson says to most Australians our politicians seem to operate on another planet. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

DIFFERENT WORLD: John Hewson says to most Australians our politicians seem to operate on another planet. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

To anyone genuinely interested in good national government, the increasing focus on the "colour and movement" of the politics, rather than policy substance, should be of considerable concern.

Challenges are not being met, nor problems solved, and urgent issues are just being left to drift.

It is all short-term, there is no vision, little strategic thinking - opportunities are being squandered.

Our national interest is downplayed in favour of special interests and mates seen as important to gaining or keeping government.

Of course, much of this is being played out in the Canberra Bubble, where the day-to-day "cleverness" of the politics has become the end game. Oppositions are to be "wedged", or belittled in Question Time. Much of the media are players in the game, happy to bounce from one announcement to the next, one stunt to the next, simply accepting that tomorrow the government will move on to another location for yet another announcement or event.

However, to most of the community, our politicians seem to operate on another planet. People don't have time to focus on politics/government, preoccupied in meeting the ever-rising costs of living, to secure their work, to educate their kids, to grapple with the uncertainties of the virus, and so on. At best, they may become somewhat interested as the election approaches and they recognise the need to vote.

The Morrison government has been very skillful in exploiting this environment. It is reactive, not proactive. It focuses on spin and marketing - the big announcement - little concern to follow through. It exaggerates, obfuscates, or simply lies, about issues and the significance of their responses. It ducks responsibility, scrutiny, and accountability. It ignores market realities. It boasts "values" and the supremacy of the individual and their freedom, but doesn't enforce them, showing little empathy and compassion, or concern about a loss of moral compass.

These points are exemplified across most policy challenges. To cite a few. How can it be that, after nearly 250 years, our nation has still not ensured proper recognition of the First Australians, in the Constitution, with a Voice and Truth telling, and by way of a Treaty, and importantly, effectively addressing their disadvantage? The pathway was provided several years ago by the Uluru Statement from the heart.

On climate, Morrison poses the faux question, as he did in his pre-G7 address this week: "How we succeed and prosper in this new 'net zero emissions economy', without putting at risk our resources, manufacturing and heavy industries, the jobs of Australians, especially in regional Australia, without imposing higher costs on families and how we keep the lights on, and not surrender the economic advantages that Australia has had, is where our national interest lies".

A convenient fabrication of the climate challenge and opportunities, consistent with his religion-based denialism, his inaction, and somehow an attempt to excuse our global position as a climate "laggard".

The reality is that an effective climate response would avoid the alarming costs of inaction; expand and clean up our resources, manufacturing and heavy industries; create many new businesses and hundreds of thousands of new jobs, including across the regions; not necessarily impact adversely on families; ensure cheaper and more dispatchable power; and see our nation achieve expanded economic advantages as an energy and climate technology superpower, and as a global climate leader. It's all about vision and fair transition.

Similarly, in key social policy areas including health, child and aged care, mental illness and the NDIS, just throwing more money at them as they did in the recent budget, to tick a box for electoral expediency, without the essential structural reform, just kicks the issues further down the road, while creating serious funding challenges for the future.

Similarly, we persist with a very complicated, inequitable, inefficient, and unsustainable structure to our federation and tax system. Our education and training systems are not fit-for-purpose and ensure we continue to slide down the global league tables. The opportunity to reform our university sector has been ignored in COVID, research underfunded, and little done to improve our capacity to commercialise our world-class technology and innovation.

The government boasts of its success in recovery from the COVID pandemic. However, it has done little to sustain recovery much beyond the next election, and we are left particularly vulnerable to a significant pickup in inflation, and to managing the debt overhang.

These are just a few of the more important examples of politics-driven policy neglect that will work to constrain our future standard of living for decades to come.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Government favouring spin over substance | Hewson's View first appeared on The Canberra Times.