The Australian media is quick to criticise our politicians and bureaucrats, and long may that continue. Crikey is quicker than most, so we’re the last to comment on that score.
Despite the constant barrage of criticism, however, the simple truth is that Australia, especially compared to other countries, has been well-served by its federal politicians and senior public servants in the last two decades. Australia is a significantly wealthier society than it was 30 years ago, and both sides of politics should take credit for achieving that. Consider most other developed countries as G20 leaders gather in Pittsburgh this week: mired in recession, with economies that remain sheltered and uncompetitive, public debt at crippling levels. That Australia is such a glaring contrast is thanks to the Labor and Liberal reformers of the 1980s and 1990s, and to the Rudd Government and the Reserve Bank’s boldness in striking early and hard against the oncoming recession.
We’re also a healthier, fairer and more just society than a generation ago.
But there are major problems that remain unresolved. The management of the Murray-Darling Basin has been an unmitigated disaster demonstrating the inadequacies of the Australian Federation. Indigenous health remains a national shame. We continue to ignore the inadequacy of our housing supply.
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Worst of all, our politicians have been entirely unable to face up to the admittedly difficult policy dilemma posed by climate change. Despite the clear benefits of ending carbon protectionism and moving to a low-carbon economy, for which Australia is every bit as well-suited as it is to the world’s current carbon-dependency, it has been beyond the wit and vision of both Labor and the Coalition to craft an effective reform agenda.
As we close in on both the international deadline of the Copenhagen conference and the Government’s political deadline for the November reintroduction of its CPRS bill, the failings of our political class are, for once, painfully obvious. They are failings for which, more than any others, future generations will not forgive us.