Editorial Peter Whiting. Sustainable Development Goals point to how to address post-Covid reforms.

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Photo 70th Anniversary of UN, display of SDGs. UN photo/Cia Pak 2015. flickr cc.

4 June 2020

With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions coming into place progressively throughout our States and Territories, it is not surprising that many are now focusing on steps to recovery. The Prime Minister has announced that the new National Cabinet will replace the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), focusing the new body squarely on job creation. The consensus among State and Federal leaders, the Reserve Bank, and industry bodies is that we cannot simply return to the ‘old normal’, and that reform is required.

Just how should the National Cabinet determine which reform is appropriate, and which projects warrant support? We are already seeing candidates proposed. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has recently announced a five-point Labor plan to stimulate the housing and construction industry.  Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has stated that we need to boost growth on the back of major reforms to strengthen the private sector and deliver an economic dividend to the nation. Victoria’s State Premier sees the majority of reform as being driven by the States, and listed tax, skills training, and infrastructure spending as areas of focus. Clearly, the task of the National Cabinet will be to weigh all the options and develop a clear plan of approach, while seeking to minimise the inevitable tendency to ideological bias.

A good filter to apply would be the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN website considers the pandemic a call for major social and economic reforms:

Leveraging this moment of crisis, when usual policies and social norms have been disrupted, bold steps can steer the world back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals. This is the time for change, for a profound systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for people and the planet.

The Sustainable Development Goals are vital for a recovery that leads to green inclusive economies, and strong resilient societies.

The 17 goals provide a framework for balancing projects. Not only do they contain items seemingly favoured by political leaders like industry innovation, infrastructure, and improvement in educational opportunities, but they also call for the elimination of poverty, reduction in inequality, access to clean affordable energy, and action on climate. If these goals were genuinely embraced by the new National Cabinet, then we could well see reform of a genuine and lasting nature.

In this month’s newsletter, Glenn Banks explains in his article Climate: why we need to focus on increased consumption as much as on population growth another of the SDGs, namely ‘responsible consumption and production’.

Frank Jotzo expresses his concerns that the Morrison government dangles new carrots for industry, but fails to fix bigger climate political problem.

Bruce Duncan, in his article, On resetting our economic compass after Covid-19, explores which economic settings we should follow, citing thought leaders who argue that we can and must increase our care for people and planet.

Michael Keating asks When should the budget deficit be unwound?. He concludes that the biggest risk to recovery would be premature action to reduce the deficit. He cites The Economist with the quote: “rich-world governments will make a big mistake if they succumb to premature and excessive worries about deficits”.

Giles Parkinson, in his article Gas lobby seizes Covid moment, but declares war on Australia’s future, is highly critical of the recent fuels policy advice provided to government.

The SDGs are not merely aspirational goals for poor countries. They represent a balanced set of goals for the world, for rich and poor, to pursue to 2030. Indeed, it is indeed rich countries like Australia who need to do the heavy lifting for some of the goals, such as action on climate, responsible production and consumption, and reduction in inequality. The National Cabinet would do well to have the SDGs clearly in their sights as they begin the task of post Covid-19 recovery.

For something quite different, we publish Lisa Bright’s review of My Cry is to all that Live: voices of Women & Earth in the Gospels by Mary Burke FMM. “From its rich and original iconography, through to imaginary conversations with female characters or nature itself, this book did not disappoint”.

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