The speech I would like to hear

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Sunday, 15 June 2014 18:30 by Ken Wolff

Last year on TPS I posted a blog ‘What happened to leadership and conviction?’ and bemoaned the fact that modern politicians are so poll-driven, rather than seeking to drive the polls by driving the policy debate. This year in a number of posts, ‘Whither the Left’, ‘Bringing Gross National Happiness into play’ and ‘The wonderful world of the economic rationalists’, I have also raised alternative approaches for Labor. (This piece can also be considered as Part 4 of ‘Whither the Left’.)

I thought rather than simply be critical, or make suggestions from the sidelines, I should put my words where my mouth is and actually come up with a speech I would like to hear.

Here is the speech I would like to hear from Labor as a step towards government. I am not a speechwriter, but this provides the gist of what I think should be said.

It is basically a political speech that could be used by Labor, generally taking the more moderate, more pragmatic approach to the issues raised in the earlier articles. It does not go into policy detail (that will have to come later) but can be seen as the philosophical introduction to the actual policies. It aims, as I have suggested previously, at changing the tenor of the economic debate.

Leading the way

Good evening to all of you, the members of this great nation, Australia.

We are each a member of a single nation, and like members of any organisation, we share its good times, we share its hard times, and pull together through thick and thin.

We have a great nation. It can and should be better.

We founded Australia as a nation in 1901 based on a great democratic tradition that brought ordinary people into the political process, even into the Parliament itself.

We did not have elites born to rule us and we did not need them. We described ourselves as the ‘land of the fair go’ and believed every one should have the opportunity to live the life they chose.

Most importantly, we believed everyone was equal. Anyone could aspire to be a Member of Parliament, or even Prime Minister.

Anyone could aspire to the vocation they wanted, based only on merit, not their background.

Everyone could aspire to create a better world for their children.

Where we were born, or to whom we were born was not meant to be a consideration.

At different times, not everyone was included in the vision but over time our vision of Australia became more inclusive. Our forebears knew then, as we know now, that our nation can always move forward, always be better than it is.

Now is one of those times when we need to take another step forward to aspire to an Australia that is greater, fairer, and more caring of its people.

It is time to address some of our current weaknesses and move forward. Not ignore them — as the current government is doing — and drift backwards, losing the gains our grandparents made, abandoning the aspirations of the nation.

There is more than enough evidence that there are still areas of weakness in our social and economic institutions.

Our economy is losing low-skilled jobs, so education and training, and re-training, are becoming more important, not less important.

Our population is ageing, so more needs to be done to encourage active ageing, allowing people to continue to contribute to our society, whether that is in employment or volunteering. The only answer the current government has is to increase the pension age.

We are losing manufacturing industries and more needs to be done to encourage the industries and jobs of the future. The Coalition government simply watched it happen. At the last election, it promised a million new jobs knowing full well that was no more than normal growth as it had been for the previous decade — it was a promise to do nothing, which is exactly what the government did.

And despite our nation increasing its wealth for a generation, inequality in our communities has increased. That needs to be addressed, not ignored, as this government would have you believe.

I know some will react by saying nothing can be done unless we have a strong economy.

That is self-evident.

But what is the point of a strong economy:

— if school children are being left behind because their schools do not have sufficient resources

— if people are dying because our hospitals are overcrowded and under-resourced,

— if people are working but still earning barely enough to survive,

— if our nation is in flames from the effects of climate change.

Every year we delay addressing these things, is another year that will add to the cost of rectifying them in the future. Another year that will actually weaken our economy.

Our future economy will not be strong if we do not have enough tradespeople and graduates coming out of our TAFE colleges and universities.

Our future economy will not be strong if people are sick for longer because we failed to provide adequate health services.

Our future economy will not be strong if we are spending more and more on the ravages of bushfires, of more frequent droughts, of rising sea levels, because we did nothing now.

A strong economy also needs quality infrastructure. The Coalition will cry ‘debt’, just like the boy who cried wolf. But it is the same type of debt that you go into when buying a home. You finish up with an asset that is worth more, that can be passed to your children. It is the same for the nation. If we have to borrow to provide essential infrastructure, it is for the benefit of the nation as a whole and enhances our nation both for us and for future generations. Quality infrastructure boosts national productivity and national wealth, and that flows into higher government revenue to improve education and health and all the other services we need.

A strong economy requires the merging of the work of our scientists and researchers with that of enterprises and entrepreneurs to improve products, create new products, and new processes for producing them. That will not happen if, like the current government, we continually reduce funding for research.

It will require us to identify and improve the services we can provide to other nations, just as we already provide educational and engineering services.

A strong economy requires skilling our workforce and having managers working smarter. It requires high quality students coming into the workforce, bringing new skills and new ideas. It requires all parties listening and sharing and working together, at the enterprise level, the industry level and nationally. And in these times, internationally.

It requires people being supported in their work and feeling a sense of achievement in what they do. From the highest to the lowest paid, every role is essential — a CEO relies on a cleaner as much as an airline pilot relies on an aircraft maintenance worker.

It requires that those who are not working have other ways of maintaining their self-esteem. Without that they will not become productive workers when the opportunity arises, or effective volunteers if they are already retirees. Each requires that sense of belonging and of being able to contribute to our society.

What the other side won’t tell you is that the economy is about people. An economy is not something that exists in a vacuum. It is the product of the effort of the people.

There is no economy without you and for that reason you should feel part of the economy.

And people deserve to benefit from their part in maintaining our economy. They need to feel they are receiving a fair share of the national wealth they have helped create.

A strong economy should provide for the people. They should feel included and secure. They should know that government will help in those times when they need help; that the government will help when transitions are taking place in our economy and in our lives as a community.

A strong economy should create wellbeing for all of our people. People should feel happy and satisfied, not just in their work but in their lives. That is the ultimate aim of a successful economy. And that cannot be measured just in dollars and cents.

At present Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the main measure of our economy but it simply adds together the value of all the products and services we provide.

For example, a house that is destroyed in a bushfire adds twice to the GDP: once when it was first built, and again when it is rebuilt after the fire. But GDP takes no notice of the loss of that house, nor the devastating impact that loss had on the family that occupied it.

GDP also takes no account of damage to the environment — although the costs of rectifying that damage will be considerable. It takes no account of the depletion of our natural resources. Yes, some of that is necessary for our economy but we also need to be mindful of future generations and what resources we will be leaving for them. We must find the right balance between the economy and our environment, and to do that we need to look at our economy differently.

It is time we included other measures of our economic progress, because, in reality, GDP only measures our economic activity — GDP would count the money spent rectifying environmental damage as a plus, something that adds to GDP. That seems a strange way to measure the strength and sustainability of our economy!

There are already new measures available and being developed. Some focus on wellbeing. Some take account of the costs of achieving GDP growth.

My government will examine these and see which we can use in Australia, which will genuinely measure our progress as a people and as a nation.

To make the economy work at its best we need a strong people bound together. People are not bound together by a philosophy that encourages greed or promotes every man and woman for themselves. We must maintain our traditional ethos of the fair go and of helping a mate.

I believe Australians are bound together by our sense of fairness, by our sense of equality. We need to build on that.

As a government we will also be honest with you and explain what we intend doing and more importantly, why we are doing it. It is true that sometimes government decisions can cause difficulties for some, although of benefit to the nation as a whole. If we all understand why such a decision has to be made, then both the government and the people can ensure that our sense of fairness comes into play to support those who lose out until the wider benefits become apparent.

We will bring a different focus to the role of government:

We will focus on food security, not just agriculture as an industry. That will include underpinning the food security of other nations through our agricultural exports.

We will focus on our social strength, not just social security as a means of making welfare payments. We will strengthen the role of communities and people in supporting their neighbours.

We will focus on wellbeing, not just health. We will include active ageing and the vitality of our communities.

We will focus on the best use of our workforce, not just employment. That means skilling our people, but also encouraging innovative management approaches and innovative businesses, both small and large.

We will focus on environmental sustainability in which climate change is a critical but not the sole part. We will include what needs to be done to maintain our river basins and ground water so that communities and enterprises will also have access in the future.

We will focus on the breadth of our economy not just individual industry policies and ensure an approach that adds to our future strength.

We will focus on energy security. That will mean looking across all our energy sources, not individual sources and their associated industries in isolation.

But our main focus will be you, the members of our Australian nation. All of our decisions, including our economic decisions, will be made against the underlying principle of what can best improve the wellbeing of our people.

We have reached this point because of the inaction and wasted opportunities of previous Coalition governments who believed in so-called ‘trickle down’ economics: the belief that greater national wealth would benefit all — but that has not always been the case. They provided tax cuts instead of providing infrastructure for our future, for our children and our grandchildren. Yes, we all like tax cuts but if they cost us better schools and hospitals, if they cost us the NDIS and a future-proof fibre network, are they worth it? It only makes it more difficult for our future generations to maintain a strong economy and a strong society.

We must always remember that the decisions we make now are not just for ourselves but for our children, our children’s children and their children. We want them to enjoy life in Australia as we have done and not pass to them something in which they find only sacrifice to save the nation. If we do not take the first steps now that is what they will face.

We may not have time to complete the job but at least we will be able to say to future generations, we started the job, we did our best, and we have strengthened our nation enough for you to build on and continue making it a great nation, a nation always moving forwards, that can hold its head up in all the councils of the world.

We can achieve this. Labor will lead the way.

We will … [then follows the policy detail.]

What else can you add to the speech?

What else should a left-of-centre party (Labor) be saying to win votes?

What can be borrowed from the radical Left?

What do you think?