Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Call for a new politics

Australian public policy is not the in best shape. As Ken Henry rightly warned, politics at the pointy end of the political cycle can have ugly results. What he forgot to mention is that politics these days is a permanent campaign. Good policy often happens in spite of, rather than because of, the direction of ministers. As I write, the government is so awash with the windfall revenue of the mining boom, over the top consumer spending and company tax from service sector oligopolies that Lenin himself would have a hard time spending his way into deficit were he to be reincarnated as Treasurer. Discredited and deceased communist leaders aside, there aren't many who could be more profligate or less efficient in their dispersal of the public purse than Howard and Costello. Nicholas Lehmann, writing in the New Yorker said of Karl Rove: "He was never a real conservative, except in the liberal hating sense, because the idea that everyone who participates in politics expects something from government was at the heart of his thinking". The same goes double for the Australian Liberal Party. This is the rawest politics of power and nowhere does principle or good public policy come into it.

What has this handout happy, poll driven brand of "conservatism" wrought?

-$10bn on an ill conceived water plan cobbled together without appropriate consultation with the states, key stakeholders or government departments with relevant expertise. A plan that lacks proper efficiency tests and cost-benefit analyses. A plan that hasn't had the benefit of rigorous modelling and criticism from the Productivity Commision or Treasury. Apparently it's too much to ask that the government makes the costs and trade-offs transparent when they have the option of giving handouts and appearing bold and active. Allowing a market in appropriately constructed rights to set prices and make investment decisions seems like a sensible option. Do the self-professed economic wunderkinds at the top of the Liberal Party not understand this?

-Middle class and corporate welfare on a scale never before seen. From the baby bonus to the private health insurance rebate, from incentives for small business to handouts to the auto industry, there can be little doubt that money is spent on those with the resources to clamour for it. Need and efficiency do not appear to be metrics that are considered relevant. The solution to a supply side shortage of housing stock? Increase demand side price pressure with the first homebuyers grant. Population problems? Keep Australia homogenous, say no to immigration and line the pockets of important voting sub-groups with the baby bonus.

-Irrational and inconsistent responses to climate change. From outright denialism to disingenuous obfuscation, neither party has mapped out a coherent response to climate change. Acting under uncertainty is very difficult, but the resources available to the government to tackle the problem are immense. Australia can lead the world, but I'd but money on the government's response bearing a striking similarity to pork barrelling. I'm thinking handouts of carbon credits to heavy polluters, government co-pays on 'clean' technologies with no cost-benefit analysis and further inefficiencies and gaming opportunities.

-An appalling workplace relations system. With bizarre and inconsistent application of economics principles, more power is doled out to those who need it least. The right to free association is limited. Any mooted economic payoff is tenuous, if not downright illusory.

-The erosion of the rule of law. One would hope that, of all principles, the rule of law would be close to the heart of a conservative government with its share of lawyers on the front bench. Not so. Letting citizens languish in Gitmo for five years without trial and holding people back home without charge is apparently fair game now. The legal system is relatively plastic - it can be reshaped to deal with new problems (for a moment I will allow the erroneous belief that terrorism is a new problem). Instead the Howard government have pulled out all stops in an attempt to increase executive power and reduce legal oversight.

The list could go on and on. The Howard government have little to be proud of since introducing new gun laws successfully in 1996. And the Labour Party, though it might do some things better and will certainly run a tighter ship in its first term, will not step outside the constant electioneering and poll-driven policy formulation.

What to do? I think there is room for a new minor party. The construction of the senate ensures power in many parliaments is disproportionately shared by a small number of minor parties. Unfortunately, the Greens are the only remaining viable force, and they are not an option for economically literate people who shower regularly and have a social policy to the right of Trotsky. The Democrats self-destructed in part due to personality but also because they failed to outline a coherent vision of what they stood for - keeping the bastards honest is a start, but it was never clear to which set of principles the bastards were held. I see an opportunity for a minor party with a face like the Democrats but a more explicit and coherent set of political principles: liberal socially and economically, driven by good public policy and accountable government. A thinking person's minor party.

The details need to be spelt out further - but with sufficient political nous I think a party like this could gain enough of a following to win senate seats from votes in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne.

Perhaps for my next blog entry I will spell out what I would want from this new party.

(By the way, I like the name Libertarian Socialist Democrats - it is highly descriptive of the political dynamic of the party, and, as a bonus, some Greens voters will probably accidentally vote for us on the basis of the initials: LSD).


Blogger C-MAC said...

Nobody loves me :(

Standard response to long post with no photos by Cam - read intro, get bored, skip to Belgie mullet photos.

10:01 PM  
Blogger timboy said...

Hey- I think they are good ideas.

But I don't see how they are inconsistent with much of what is said by the left of the ALP.

I don't think there is room for another minor party at the moment. People are largely disengaged from the political process, so i think it is a matter of taking your ideology, and viewpoint, and pushing it through established political channels.

There just isn't enough interest in grass roots activism at present.

3:13 AM  
Blogger C-MAC said...

Established political channels always moderate these viewpoints. In the US you can build personality politics and push your own agenda as president. And in the house/senate party discipline is not as big a deal. Here you are limited severely by having to keep the party room happy. I think that people are disengaged, I don't think that has to remain always and forever true. There are a minority of people who are disengaged in a certain way, or engaged but disenfranchised by the major parties. They might be able to get you up for a senate seat. And if that happened in a tightly balanced parliament the world would be a better place.

12:23 PM  

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