Three very different articles today have a gelled a few ideas in my head – Miranda Devine on Noel Pearson, the Fin’s “Economists charged over cybercrimes” and the Sydney Morning Herald’sreport on Barry Jones’s Press Club suggestions for new rules for musical chairs (sorry, factions and preselections).

Devine talks about Pearson’s comments on Tuesday night about how “the expectations that any healthy community takes for granted – that children will be brought up safely and well, of mutual obligation between citizen and society, of public order and safety – have collapsed in welfare-dependent indigenous communities as an epidemic of substance abuse and passivity takes hold.”

She writes: “Pearson was struck by Lee Kwan Yew’s belief that Singapore’s success was ‘really a credit to the mothers because he got them to understand the importance of maths and science. If you can get the mothers behind the kids, and hopefully the fathers, [you have] an important resource for improvements in education’ – then adds Pearson’s remark that the biggest opposition he faces is from bureaucrats.

The Fin talks about naughtiness by economic consultants ACIL Tasman.

Jones mutters into his beard about how quotas of winnable seats and frontbench positions should be reserved for federal Labor candidates who eschew factions under a 10-point victory plan. A real barbecue stopper, that. 2007 should be a shoo-in for the ALP.

When did Labor last have some really big ideas in opposition? I’m going to be really controversial here. I reckon it was 1972, under Whitlam. The “drover’s dog” factor won 1983, not policy. Hawke, Keating and Peter Walsh then rose to the economic challenge.

Yet talk is that one of the papers in question in the ACIL matters was a Latham Labor big bang tax plan that ended up in the public domain, leaving everyone rattled.

Big bangs make noise, startle the insecure – but are also useful for clearing away blots on the landscape. Like the welfare industry – industry, note, not lobby.

I hate to agree with Robert Manne, but his comments on The Latham Diaries in the current issue of The Monthly are spot on. “At the centre of [Latham’s] political vision was his admiration for Keating’s pro-market revolution and his audacious, Napoleonic political style. Yet already he differed from Keating in two main ways. He was sceptical of Keating’s top-down centralism and his uncritical support for the welfare state. And he realised something that Keating could not see, that his government had been destroyed through the force of a new social condition Latham identified as ‘downward envy’, the ‘old Australian’ resentment at the supposed special favours bestowed by the state on ‘minorities’.”

Social capital is an elusive beast, but it is one worth trying to capture and breed. Pearson’s suggested policies for Indigenous Australians should be adopted for other disadvantaged communities.

Look at the mental health debate. The same self-help, mutual responsibility arguments that Pearson speaks about could play an important role there. Social policies require social solutions – and the right public policy. It’s not an either/or issue. Politicians can’t fix things by themselves. Neither can poor dumb sods – or the people who try to speak for them.

The statist approach is dead. We need a new mix. Poor old Latham tried to work on this from the political. He gave up his big bang ideas and then gave up on the ALP.

But we shouldn’t give up, as those “expectations that any healthy community takes for granted” Pearson talks about are at stake here. Labor should return to solving the problem. It’s a little more relevant than how you run your preselections.