Peter Whiting.

Posted 28 November 2019.

Many readers will remember the catchy 1972 theme ‘It’s Time’, which thrust Gough Whitlam into government. It focused on the perceived need for change after 23 years of conservative government, and was underpinned by a raft of major policy proposals. The contributors to this month’s newsletter are each in their own way telling us ‘It’s time’ again, not necessarily for change of government, but certainly for change of focus and policy on a range of issues.

Lionel Orchard, in his article, Home ownership, social housing, & progressive housing policy for changing times, makes it clear that we need to change our approach and restore balance between public and private interests in the housing market. He insists that what we are doing needs to change dramatically, and observes that, while change will not be easy, it is critical: ‘The dilemmas are great, while the case for changes in the direction of housing policy can’t be avoided for much longer.

Tim Colebatch, former economics editor and columnist for the Age, points to the need for change in his article, We are way off course for Paris, says World Energy Outlook. He cites the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2019. The agency’s executive director states unequivocally, “The world urgently needs to put a laser-like focus on bringing down global emissions. This calls for a grand coalition, encompassing governments, investors, companies, and everyone else committed to tackling climate change … For this to happen, we need strong leadership from policymakers, as governments hold the clearest responsibility to act and have the greatest scope to shape the future”. While he is speaking of the world contribution, his comments are equally apt to the Australian scene. We need ‘strong leadership’ which acknowledges the time-critical necessity for our government to “act … to shape the future”.

Rowan Ireland, in The Amazon crises & the Amazon Synod (October 6-27 2019), identifies three Amazon crises: the ecological, the human, and the political. He discusses the response to these crises from the recent synod of Latin American Roman Catholic bishops. They called for a cessation of predatory commercial incursions into the Amazon, and a new respect for its peoples and the world environment. Their conviction was that it is now time for an ecological conversion, a call as appropriate to Australia as it is to Brazil!

As if amplifying this call, former Australian fire chiefs across Australia, in an unprecedented news conference expressed their alarm forcefully about worsening climate change and its devastating impact on Australian climate and agriculture, resulting in increasingly frequent and severe droughts and fires. They urged politicians and the public to listen to the science and the evidence of their own eyes, and to abandon ideological blinkers to climate change.

A further serious call for change arises from a startling realisation of how easy it is for our government to commit the Australian Defence Force to foreign armed conflicts, and that, historically, in the view of experts, our participation in the Iraq conflict was against international law. Paul Barratt, former Secretary of the Department of Defence, cautions It’s too easy to take us to war.

He outlines developments over recent decades to illustrate that “the custom and practice of the last twenty years has purportedly taken the power to send Australia to war away from the Governor-General, and placed it at the disposal of junior ministers in the Defence portfolio… This cannot be allowed to stand”. It’s time for us to change this arrangement!

Luke Michael, writing for Pro Bono News in his article A sad & sorry history of Newstart”, laments that the federal government unemployment benefit has not been increased in real terms since 1994. “It wasn’t meant to be this way.” He outlines not only that we now have the second lowest level of unemployment benefits in the OECD, but also the truculent intransigence of successive governments in resisting numerous calls for a substantive increase.

Lionel Orchard observed that, in relation to housing policy, “Neoliberal free market and communitarian precepts continue to crowd out the social democratic case for direct public activity and institution building, in this as in other areas of Australian public policy”. It is certainly time for the neoliberal agenda to be thoroughly cauterised and a more inclusive and egalitarian agenda proposed. As it was in 1972, It’s time for substantial change.

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