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Lately, it seems that Canberra can only agree to disagree. So, I’ve taken the liberty of forming three policies that could pass without complaint.
Don’t let anybody tell you that journalists aren’t useful members of society. When we function well, we can do two things: explain to our readers what politicians want, and explain to politicians what our readers want. Today I would like to do the latter. Ladies and gentlemen in Canberra (Washington, London), it would be great if you could stop navel-gazing. We know you think you are frightfully interesting and important, gods in your own mind, but we would prefer you to do the job we’ve elected you to do. Hear all that rumbling in the distance? That is the sound of anger. You might know by now, as Mel Brooks said, that the people are revolting, but maybe not that it is very simple to do something about that.
What we would like you to do is get your priorities straight, stop the childish bickering (Tony Abbott, I am looking at you in particular) and get to work. And this is how that work should be done: you see a problem, you find a solution, you go and talk to your colleagues of other parties, you find a compromise and you put that into practice. That is all there is to it. Not hard, right? In politics, you call that bipartisanship. In most households, we think of that as common sense. Yes, you disagree. So what? In real life, people disagree all the time. But we get over it, because we realise that we’ve got two options, as the slightly twee saying goes: we can be right or we can be happy.
Guess what most of us prefer.
Just to help you out, I have gone through your party programs, “platforms” and “policies” (we have to talk about language one day, but let’s focus on content for the moment). The first thing that struck me, Liberals and Nationals, was that your plans for Australia’s future are exactly the same. They are even worded the same, and presented in the same sequence online. Your colours are different and the Nationals add something about farmers, but basically you seem to want the same things in life. This is good! This is not just bipartisanship, this goes much further than that. Why are you not the same party and get it over with? Yes, you have different names for what you are (“The Coalition Government” versus “The Turnbull Government”), but that is a detail. What I also like, is that most of your election policies are things that everybody can agree on. “Keep illegal guns off our streets”, “Support Australia’s surf lifesavers”, “Support veterans and their families”, “Help families with diabetes”. Having aims that only an axe-murderer will have problems supporting looks like a unity ticket in the making to me. Well done!
What we would like you to do is get your priorities straight, stop the childish bickering and get to work. You see a problem, you find a solution, find a compromise and put that into practice. That is all there is to it. Not hard, right?
Now, I thought that if the three of you can just agree on most issues, then you don’t need the votes of crackpots like One Nation and David Leyonhjelm and you can stop worrying about the Senate. Great idea, right? So, this brings us to Labor. There is a lot of stuff in Labor’s “platform” that is very detailed, like wanting to put a ban on something called “motelling” for FIFO workers. Detail is fine, but not if you use it to start a disagreement. So what can you see eye to eye on? First of all, there is Labor’s “commitment to fund urban rail infrastructure”. The Liberals and Nationals are in favour of that too: $50 billion is being spent on road and rail projects, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for schemes as diverse as WestConnex, the Gold Coast Light Rail, the Flinders Link and the Townsville Eastern Access Rail Corridor. Yes, of course, ideologically some people are more in love with cars than trains, but all of you realise that public transport is part of the solution. Win number one. See how easy this bipartisan caper is?
Let’s do another one. Energy. Labor is eager to develop an electricity modernisation strategy, and has a goal of 50% of Australia’s electricity being generated from all renewable sources by 2030. The Libs and Nats are saying they aim to “double large scale renewable energy in Australia over the next four years” and pledges that “more than 23% of Australia’s electricity will come from renewable energy by 2020”. This, we can work with. 23% is more than nothing, and in the ten years between 2020 and 2030 we can strive for the remaining 27%. Politics is a work in progress and this is a good start. Then we’ve got domestic violence. And what do you know? You are all against it! Labor talks about “a national priority”, the Coalition says it has started “a national campaign”. Amazing!
Yes, you disagree. So what? In real life, people disagree all the time. But we get over it, because we realise that we’ve got two options: we can be right or we can be happy. Guess what most of us prefer.
Lastly, with thanks to the colleagues of ABC News, a few other instances of harmony and consensus. The Coalition wants an income tax cut for middle-income earners and a cut in the company tax rate for businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million. Labor “is not going to stand in the way”. Success! Labor and the Coalition also agree on parts of the superannuation tax concessions, both wanting to increase the tax for people who earn more than $250,000 a year. Labor is “open” to the Government’s proposal to cap tax-free pension phase accounts at $1.6 million. Again: result! And so it goes on: you all like “health-care homes”, whatever they are. You think that family benefit payments need to be reformed and that some family tax benefits should be scrapped altogether. You are even trying to keep Gonski alive, although with different amounts of money. Behind closed doors you don’t argue about the reality of climate change. There is even a common aim, to cut emissions by 5% by 2020. Neither of you support a moratorium on coal mines, and you support the continuation of the forest agreements. See how this works? You want to fix mobile phone black spots and talk to the agriculture sector about the backpacker tax. You like the idea of a 1,700-kilometre direct rail freight line from Melbourne to Brisbane, loans to drought-stricken farmers and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
In the past, Australian politicians have managed to agree on massive plans that changed the face of the nation. Post-war migration brought 4.2 million migrants to the country between 1945 and 1985, and 6.7 million by 2007. The Snowy Mountains Scheme put hundreds of thousands of people to work, while millions found homes in newly built suburbs. The remaking of this country was only possible with politicians working together, treating the country as a family and acting as responsible parents. You can do this again. I’m sure you can. And it would be good if you could keep us, the public, posted on the work you are doing and the goals you have reached. That would give us back our faith in politics. And you can stop yelling and sneering at each other and start doing something useful. What do we want? Bipartisan politics! When do we want it? Now!