[This article was published by the Canberra Times 14 January, p. 19, under the title “Carbon price, wealth creation are critical issues this year”.]
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has declared that 2011 will be a year of accomplishment for her Government. However many people are deeply frustrated that mainstream politics seems oblivious to new and dangerous issues, as global warming tightens its grip and the verities of old ideologies are found wanting. There is a huge chasm between politics as usual and the issues we really should be addressing.
First ought to be an all-of-government program to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. A price on carbon would be part of this, but major, quick and cost-effective reductions can be accomplished through promoting efficiency and good design, of devices, factories and cities. We also need to get serious about promoting alternative energies, and to detach fossil fuels from the public teat. Gillard may come up with something she calls a carbon price, but dont expect it to reduce our emissions substantially, for that would upset the coal industry, the chief sponsor of greenwash policies.
Next could be policies to reduce the economys dangerous dependence on credit, much of it mortgage credit, and to get actual wealth creation firing again. This would require serious banking reform that requires loans to be limited by ability to pay, discourages overseas borrowing and speculative bubbles, and directs credit into productive investment. More competition is not the answer because it only promotes credit binges, as economist Steve Keen has documented.
Our agricultural methods deplete soil fertility and carbon, and for a country whose soils are already thin and fragile this is high folly. We need to convert to farming methods that regenerate fertility, and that simultaneously draw carbon from the atmosphere, a major double bonus. Such methods are the opposite of industrial agriculture, being more labour intensive and better suited to family farming. They can provide employment and restore viability to rural areas devastated by decades of depression. They can be just as productive as industrial farming, and can avoid the chemical and genetic warfare that poisons and corrupts our landscape. Better agricultural methods would also be an important part of restoring our inland rivers to viability.
The free trade fad that has pervaded our policies for several decades has seriously eroded our national security, as we depend on long, oil-fuelled shipping routes and the good will of other countries for food, equipment and military supplies. The economic benefits have been greatly exaggerated, as has been documented particularly for John Howards ill-advised agreement with the US. We need to restore local manufacturing and diverse local food production.
It is long past time when we conducted our own foreign policy and stopped the reflex and demeaning national grovelling to the US. For all its many great qualities, the US too-often behaves in the world as a greedy thug. We should have no part in such activities. This would also make the single greatest contribution to reducing the threat of terrorism, because terrorists would have little quarrel with us.
Immigration policy is in disarray. We should reduce the current absurdly high rates of legal immigration into our fragile continent. If we are really concerned about illegal immigration, then we should deal with people overstaying visas. Asylum seekers arriving in boats are legal, and are small in numbers. They a minor challenge for Australia. A Government with any spine could at any time lay out the facts on immigration, legal and illegal, and counter the talk-back hysteria that has fuelled the current xenophobia. The gross abuses of the legal and human rights of asylum seekers could then cease and Australia could be known again for the decency that we used to have in greater measure.
A huge apparatus of domestic spying has been created, and is still being rapidly expanded, under the guise of countering terrorism. Its chief accomplishment is the destruction of our democratic rights. We have a law that allows anyone to be held for seven days without charge and that forbids them from ever saying why they disappeared from their loved ones. Such a repressive provision has no place in a liberal democracy and it should be repealed forthwith.
Many other issues require attention. We should make serious efforts to reduce the systemic corruption of our politics by prohibiting donations to parties and publicly funding elections, at all levels of government. Governments might then be less enthusiastic about many harmful activities, such as those that spread chemical and genetic pollution and that poison our children and promote obesity and other disorders. We might cease to suffer developer-driven urban sprawl and ugly high rise, and have a chance to build pleasant, liveable, compact and efficient cities.
The ABC could be properly funded and it should be protected from political attacks on its integrity. The charge that the ABC is left-wing comes from fearful and ignorant people who regard well-informed opinions as evidence of a socialist conspiracy. We could set up a national newspaper in parallel to the ABC. These non-commercial media could counter the destructive focus of commercial media on conflict, consumerism and the self-serving policies that support them.
To address the real and critical issues that are overlooked in politics as usual we must move beyond the sterile and false left-right dichotomy of last century. The recent fad for unfettered markets is based on a laughably unrealistic theory, and was fatally contradicted by readily available evidence even before the disastrous market crash that ought to have completely discredited it. We must also root out the systemic corruption that pervades our parliaments, in the form of unlimited financial sponsorship. We must ensure our governments cease to abdicate their responsibility, which is to balance all interests and considerations instead of just listening to well-financed professional lobbyists.
We must transcend politics as usual if we wish to revitalise our democracy and restore Australias economic and environmental viability.