Friday, August 30, 2013


Enough I say . . . Enough!

Four weeks of campaigning and still no one's dealt with the real issues that face Australia.

This was the way the ski-season looked at the opening (News Limited photo)

And why not?

"Too hard," perhaps? "Might cost us votes."

The real issues faced by the country aren't being addressed, as this column for the Canberra Times makes clear . . .


While I spent last weekend effectively chained to my computer, plucking out yet another column about this seemingly interminable election campaign, my wife and daughter were skiing around the mountains. The pack was a bit icy but, at that stage, there was still plenty of cover and they enjoyed zinging around.

They won't be going back this weekend. There's been no snow for more than a week and, after this week's heat, it's beginning to look as if the season might already be over. The snow depth chart shows an abrupt plunge to nothingness at what should have been its midpoint.

If the climate is changing this will represent the biggest threat to our prosperity – and yet no political party appears ready to grapple with what this will mean for our future. Kevin Rudd has watered down emissions trading so dramatically that it's difficult to believe he was ever genuinely more concerned about climate then the prospect of losing votes in marginal seats. Tony Abbott doesn't seem to understand the science. And the Greens?

The word on the street is that next week their campaign will begin personally targeting the Liberals ACT Senate candidate, Zed Seselja. The party’s former Territory leader viciously unseated Gary Humphries, horrifying many genuine liberals. The respected psephologist Malcolm Mackerras now gives the Green candidate Simon Sheikh (whose own campaign has been bedevilled with questionable irregularities) a 20 percent chance of taking the seat. He has a better feel for the dynamic than I, nevertheless it’s difficult not to suspect this over-estimating Sheikh’s chances by 19.9 percent.

Seselja will gain a third of the vote and be elected. As it was once, is now, and shall be for evermore; one Labor, one Liberal. But no Holy Ghost.

It appears inconceivable that the Green vote won’t recede nationally. After all, even Labor’s now campaigning against the minor party, even though it’s preferences will prove crucial in winning a number of seats. Although Julia Gillard proudly proclaimed she led the “workers party” (before the workers got rid of her) this was always a faux fight, designed to shore up her own position rather than appeal to a broader constituency for victory.

Labor, now obsessed with its own internal leadership wrangling, has incrementally abandoned the attempt to present itself as a party that can appeal to the wider electorate. Policy was forgotten in the return to Kevin Rudd as a messiah that could lead the party to at least minimising the scale of defeat. Now that his popularity is collapsing the policy bankruptcy is becoming evident. It’s not that Abbott offers a refreshing alternative – it’s that Labor has ceased to represent anything much at all. Climate change is simply one of the most obvious demonstrations of this.

There’s always a strong journalistic temptation to jump on the latest outrage/debacle/offence to social decency and condemn it. Shrilly. It doesn’t take much to whip oneself into a lather and loudly condemn the latest policy failure. Nuance is lost. Unfortunately, and particularly in the heightened atmosphere of an election campaign, so much that is truly vital for our future is lost, chaff discarded along the path to the latest headline.

Amongst the thousand or so e-mails I received this week came one from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. I haven’t seen it reported; indeed, I’d be very surprised if it’s been picked up anywhere. Much easier to report the Treasurer’s attack on opposition costings. This lends itself to the most facile form of journalism: “Chris Bowen said”, “Joe Hockey says”. By the end we know less than we did at the beginning. Perhaps we should all learn addition and subtraction, rather than rhetoric.

The AMSI report notes – horrifically – that staff not trained in the subject teach a third of maths classes. Our graduation rate in mathematical science is, for men, just half that of comparable OECD countries, while for women it’s barely a third. The decline since 1995 has been precipitate. This is the real scandal. Yet what does either party offer as a response? A platitude about how ‘important’ and ‘vital’ teaching is, yet no real measures to actually address these issues.

It would be so easy to commit to establishing a national research centre, or reducing university fees for important subject areas. (You probably already know what sort of courses these are, but, just as a hint, if you think journalism’s included amongst them you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.) Education is vital for the future. It’s also a policy area that government can directly affect.

Instead the politicians are busy promising more benefits for everyone (like maternity leave (the only difference is the size of the give-away package); extra government spending (on areas like defence and disability); and no rises in taxes (both sides are promising effective repeal of carbon taxes). Hey! It’s magic!

It’s also rubbish. Enjoy the last of the snow while you can. The summer’s likely to be a scorcher.

1 comment:

  1. One advantage of climate change is over time Canberra will not be sustainable....