“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there”
According to Paul Kelly  “the issue is whether Abbott and Hockey can hold their budget strategy together. Obviously, the Senate onslaught of 2014 will not be repeated. Yet the jury remains out on how much damage will be done in parliament”.
It is this paper’s contention that the present government is guilty of the most unforgiveable of all political crimes. It has failed to offer the people a vision! It insists it has a plan but fails to articulate it. It assures us it has a direction but continuously changes it. It states that it cares for society’s most vulnerable yet consistently denigrates them. Political writers, academics and pundits continue to be critical of most actions that the government is taking largely due to an apparent lack of vision. Each announcement is looked upon an isolated issue rather than as a building block towards the realisation of a grand vision for the country. The government of South Africa has survived more than twenty years on a grand vision.
Each policy statement made by the present government, and for that matter the previous government, is an orphan left to fend for itself in the great Australian policy orphanage where positions are likely to move 180 degrees in the opposite direction if the going gets tough. Given the about-faces over the last 18 months, it doesn’t take that long for people to work out that those entrusted to run the place are taking them on a path to nowhere propelled by little more than a desire to retain power. This is what commentators like van Onselen, Kelly, Black, Kohler and many others appear to have been alluding to for some time now. According to Kohler, to get Australia’s economic infrastructure stock back to the 65% of GDP that it was 30 years ago would require spending of $150bn. But bringing infrastructure above the line would be “too visionary” in his words.
A government preaching austerity and blaming a 'clueless Opposition' for its problems after 18 months in government just doesn't hold water. The public are entitled to ask, as should the clueless Opposition: “Where are you taking us?”
Except that their opposition is so weak, the present government would be reeling.
Lack of vision.
The public cannot be expected to come to grips with the nuts and bolts of every policy decision. They would prefer to hang their faith on an overarching vision that they can accept as the direction for Australia with which they are comfortable. It is unlikely their vision would be for a security state or as a leading actor in the war on terror as is being offered up at the present time in order to protect our way of life which is becoming increasingly absent any discernible direction. Not only is there no vision for the people, but also no vision for back benchers, front benchers, business, labour or anyone else. As a result the motivation for career politicians defaults to staying in power, manifestly obvious to both public and commentators given the '180’s' that the government has engineered over the last 18 months.
Social cohesion rather than divide and conquer.
Former Reserve Bank board member and respected academic economist Warwick McKibbin, writing in the Australian Financial Review indicates that social cohesion is the goal not necessarily largesse to those most favoured. Recognising the harm in a divide and conquer mentality (e.g. Battlelines), the McKibbin thesis has the makings of a grand vision for the country. Instead, we presently have an adversarial approach to government i.e. to disrupt, destroy and disengage rather than to invest and grow.
A vision must be underpinned by trust.
Kelly³ raised the issue of trust as the core problem with this government in a recent article in the Australian. Our research suggests that the trust problem didn’t start with the present government – it just continued unabated. Kelly quotes pollster Mark Textor’s work for the Business Council of Australia reported by CEO, Catherine Livingstone in her presentation to the Canberra Press recently. According to that study “the public is deeply worried about the nation’s direction and condition, recognises the need for reform but has a profound distrust in the ability of the political class to make it work…. an increasingly troubled community, more ready to accept but distrustful of the political class and its ability to implement change on an even handed basis”.
Our findings support BCA conclusions 100%. Of course to be accepted, trust in those proposing the change is imperative. It is not there at the moment so the entire system is in limbo.
No discernible strategy really means no vision.
The conclusion Textor reaches is that "the Abbott government has no discernible strategy to manage the economic challenges, just a government talking with reference to silos about the budget deficit or welfare or parental leave." We would go further. What the BCA report fails to say however, and also what Kelly fails to make clear is that the government has no vision about where it wants to take us all which is why the “silos of favour” are forever attacked and will continue to be attacked. It is more than just a big picture; it is a vision for us all to grasp and then buy into for the good of the nation as well as ourselves.
It is harder to fight a big idea than a specific policy and the government just doesn’t get it.
The lost chance. The LNP had the chance to make a difference in its first six months but it sat on its hands. They had been warned. Back in October 2013, writing for the Australian, Janet Albrechtson made the following observation:
“Tony Abbott has a massive opportunity to right the ship by pushing the reset button on entitlements.” …. Then continues: “More to the point however, is what will we be saying about the Abbott government three or even six years from now and whether the opportunities afforded by a major victory are taken?” So is it a leadership issue that we are dealing with in 2015?
What are the qualities of a great leader?
What are the Australian people looking for – indeed hoping for? No matter which side of politics, their expectations are remarkably consistent. Prior to the 2013 election, Australian Opinion Research8 asked a representative sample of 5360 Australians 18+ what were the most desirable qualities of any future Australian leader? The results appear below:
What are the most desirable qualities for a leader according to all those surveyed are in order:
Liberal Fencesitters (%)
Placing Australia’s interests above all others
Prepared to take tough decisions despite criticism
Prepared to admit when wrong
Excellent Manager of Finances
Concerned for the weaker members of society of society
It is unlikely that any politician of the left or right is seen by the pubic as epitomising these characteristics today although there may be some who could.
Following this 2013 ranking, the image of each of the Opposition leader and the then Prime Minister were rated by the Australian Opjnion Research respondents in terms of those same traits identified as most important in a leader. The results for Rudd and Abbott were as follows:
So immediately prior to the 2013 election, Tony Abbott was seen by LNP Fencesitters (swing voters) as:
- Less honourable than Rudd
- Not as strong as Rudd
- More calculating than Rudd
- Less trustworthy than Rudd
- More arrogant than Rudd
- Less intelligent than Rudd
- Less positive than Rudd
- More likely to be out for himself than Rudd
- More likely to sell us out than Rudd
Whether these perceptions were real or imagined, true or otherwise, the LNP was still ahead of the encumbent Labor government by several points on a two party preferred basis lending credibility to the view that the public were voting Labor out of office – not for the Liberal leader.
The issue of trust continues to be a real roadblock for achieving anything in the present climate and unless there is some sea change, it is unlikely to go away any time soon irrespective of the current bout of “tradie love" on display. The present round of generosity superficially at least, is more likely to lead to a 'grab it while you can' attitude from its beneficiaries rather than regarding it as some positive development toward a direction for the country.
Notwithstanding the preceding, if anybody had followed the advice offered by Malcolm Turnbull in his speech to the International CEO’s Forum in Melbourne four years ago, we may not have been in the predicament we are now facing. Moreover, the Turnbull speech hinted at some kind of vision for the country, albeit economic in substance rather than sociologically driven. Here are some key points made by Turnbull that are being put forward by leading commentators today such as McKibbin6 and Kohler’s5 when commenting on the recent budget:
“Let me turn to the current boom. We all understand it is being driven by rapid growth, urbanisation and rising living standards in Asia (particularly China and India) which have expanded the global appetite for resources and other commodities. Leaving aside the contentious matter of how resources should be taxed, which has been discussed extensively over the past year, several related questions arise from all this:
- The lesson is that the global economy is changing more quickly than ever before, often in quite unexpected ways. There is no room for complacency because the next shift may present adversity rather than opportunity.
- And how can public policy make our economy more flexible and structural adjustments less disruptive?
- What should we do with the large boost to national income we are currently experiencing – should it be saved or spent – by the public or private sector and over what time horizon?
- How long will the current boom persist, and how will Australia’s economic prospects look at its conclusion? It seems very likely that a fairly large part of the recent gains will be relatively short-lived. The next year or so may be as good as it gets.
- On balance, I believe that the time has come for Australia to create a new (additional) sovereign wealth fund.
- Needless to say investments in infrastructure should always be subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. The investment rules for such a fund would need to be very clearly articulated with a strong and accountable governance regime. The Future Fund is a good precedent.
- Treasury papers calculate that the resources boom generated revenue windfalls of approximately $65 billion during Labor’s first three years. Of course every cent and more was spent. Treasury also projects another $30 billion will be tipped into the coffers by the boom in 2011-12 – but when Wayne Swan delivers the 2011-12 Budget on May 10, you can safely bet every cent of that will be spent too.
- I believe that a project of this kind would be very much in the spirit of the times. As the unhappy retailers constantly remind us, Australians are reducing debt and saving more. We know that our good economic fortunes are in very large measure a consequence of developments in other countries and we know that the world we live in is not becoming any less volatile or more predictable.
- Nonetheless, according to the forward estimates, we are many years away from being debt-free, despite the resources boom. Indeed, Treasury estimates the Budget will not return to structural surplus until 2019-20 – more than a decade after the brief downturn the Government uses to justify its profligacy, and despite windfall revenues from the highest sustained commodity prices in history.
Coming Clean with the Australian People
Clearly Turnbull’s 2011 speech on coming clean with the Australian people would have been a step in the right direction if our research is anything to go by. The results of the Australian Opinion Research (AOR) pre-election survey 2013, explain Textor’s BCA findings in some depth.8
It needs to be noted that this paper is not taking sides. The public felt no more trusting of the Labor government in 2013 than they do the Coalition today. The Australian Opinion Research survey involved responses from a representative national cross section of 5360 Australians 18 years and over and recorded the following somewhat alarming findings inrelation to trust in government and other major institutions:
- 79% of people believe that people generally are feeling more and more powerless against big corporations and special interests groups which may also explain why…
- 75% of people believe that most politicians are more concerned with corporate interests than they are with the people who elected them and when it comes to mining…
- 62% believe some well-known politicians take their orders from corporations and the same percentage (61%) believe that some well-known politicians take their orders from the unions
- Only 16% believe that the government will do the right thing by the people as far as coal seam gas is concerned.
- 67% of those surveyed believe that doctors are frequently influenced by the marketing and PR from drug companies to recommend drugs as the best solution to a problem a patient reports.
- 46% believe that “Big Pharma” is corrupt and has far too much influence over the medical profession.
- Only 16% of people believe that there is absolutely no risk attached to GMO foods and …
- 65% believe that local markets are springing up around the suburbs in many western cities as people react against the takeover of the food chain by major supermarkets.
International Policy – Beware of foreign entanglements.
Malcolm Fraser’s recent book Dangerous Allies speaks of a need to review our relationships with our great and powerful friends and to focus on our own backyard. Even veteran reporter Robert Gottliebson13 has joined the debate What was once a necessity (to attach to the major power) became an ‘insecurity’ and is now a liability according to Fraser. Australian Opinion Research findings again provide strong support for Fraser’s conclusions delivering the following barbecue stoppers from its 2013 pre-election survey of 5360 Australians:
- 46% of those surveyed believe (which is more than who don’t believe) that in recent years Australia has allowed itself to become entangled in the American war machine which could have serious repercussions for our relationship with China.
- 43% believe the USA (which is more than who don’t believe) largely controls Australia's foreign policy and
- 34% believe the Wikileaks report (which is more than who don’t believe) that indicates some Australian union officials have been identified as foreign intelligence assets. (42% don’t know).
- 63% believe that the government spends most of its time trying to keep the truth from the people. And perhaps even more alarming…
- 79% of Australians believe people are feeling increasingly powerless against big corporations and special interest groups
- 60% of respondents believe we should treat the US and China equally in all dealings.
Australia has a great story to tell as a modern generous nation despite the ever increasing pressure to think only of oneself and one’s own interests. Two years ago Australia was ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit #2 inthe world in terms of the best country in which to be born.
The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2013 rated Australia the second best country in which to be born.
Australia is also the most generous when it comes to minimum wages.
Australia is also more generous to its people than any other nation based on its minimum wage. According to an OECD report from May 2015, it takes less hours work at the minimum wage in Australia to cross the poverty line than any other country with a minimum wage system.
Hourly minimum wage before and after taxes, 2013, in US dollars at purchasing power parities and nett minimum wages.
Weekly working hours needed at minimum-wage to move above a relative poverty line, 2013
As Warwick McKibbin notes given the present level of uncertainty, “uncertainty damages economic growth because it reduces investment. Global uncertainty is high. A core role of government is not to increase this uncertainty and where possible to enable individuals to manage uncertainty when markets fail to do so.” 6
Vision requires a strong belief in a future direction and an ability to take the public with you. With that, individual policies become less important. Without, individual policies are a ready target for all detractors.
According to McKibbin, core spending programmes should be based on robust revenue stream, otherwise sharp movements in revenue will lead to ad hoc shifts in spending programs or tax arrangements. "Rather than focus on the winners and losers which is what a political budget encourages, the budget should be evaluated relative to the type of fiscal policy that Australia needs to sustain economic growth and maintain social cohesion."
A leader with vision if they so desired, could inspire this country to take risks again; not with cash incentives but with a belief in the nation and what it represents, namely a trust that the leader “has their back” and a desire to protect the uniqueness of this country borne out of a convict population which proved it could make good if it had the chance. We all want to feel confident about moving forward. And, despite all of the rhetoric, Australia is still the fairest country in the world according to the latest OECD data. If we can believe that, it will inspire people to focus on building the nation together. But – first we have to know where we are going and that would appear to be some challenge.
So where is the leader who will tell us!
See also from Checkmate Analytics and Institute for 21st Century Problem Solving:
“Government continues its journey south”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/the-federal-government-continues-its-journey-south/
“Privatisation or how to lose an election”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/privatization-or-how-to-lose-an-election/
“Coalition going south for winter”, https://www.voiceforeason.com/2015/01/20/88/
“The 21st century is as different from the 20th as the 20th is from the Dark Ages”, https://www.voiceforeason.com/2014/09/03/the-21st-century-is-as-different-from-the-20th-as-the-20th-is-from-the-dark-ages/
“USA V China and Aussie preference for neutrality”,http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/usa-v-china-new-poll-confirms-mindmap2012-findings-on-aussie-preference-for-neutrality/
“The Impact of legislative changes over the last five years on childcare and early learning in Australia” , http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/a-review-of-the-impact-of-legislative-changes-over-the-last-five-years-on-childcare-and-early-learning-in-australia/
“Impact of legislative changes on childcare – overview”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/the-impact-of-legislative-changes-on-childcare-and-early-learning-in-australia-overview-of-full-paper/
“Abbott doesn’t need to be liked – Rudd does”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/the-rudd-ascension/
“New survey shows Australians wary of genetically modified foods”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/new-survey-shows-australians-wary-of-genetically-modified-foods/
“Coal seam gas industry has domestic and international hurdles ahead”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/coal-seam-gas-industry-has-domestic-and-international-hurdles-ahead/
“The next three years of Liberal stewardship”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/behind-the-mind-map-and-the-next-three-years-of-lnp-stewardship
“Doctors most trusted but manipulated by Big Pharma”, http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/doctors-our-most-trusted-profession-but-australians-believe-they-are-manipulated-by-big-pharma/
Families will cost the Abbott Government the next election. Checkmate Analytics (Restricted) January, 2015.
(0)George Harrison, Song: Any Road, Album: Brainwashed, 2003.
 “Abbott-Shorten conflicts clear after 2015 budget”, Paul Kelly, The Australian, May 16, 2015.
 “Abbott, Hockey, Rudd, Gillard and Shorten exemplify policy paralysis”, Peter van Onselen, The Australian, May 9, 2015.
 “Democracy under threat as trust in system broken”, Paul Kelly, The Australian, May 4, 2015
 “Budget 2015: Blueprint a winner for Abbott in pubs and polls”, John Black, The Australian, May 16, 2015
 “The Budget’s dirty little secret” Alan Kohler, the Business Spectator, May13, 2015
 “Stakes alarmingly high in Hockey’s economic gamble”, Warwick McKibbin, Australian Financial Review, May14, 2015.
 Survey conducted online through July and August by Australian Opinion Research on a representative cross section 5360 Australians 18+. Reports on this data appear at http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/australians-cynical-about-unions-big-business-and-their-government-representatives/;http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/liberal-national-government-acting-in-sync-with-public-sentiment-on-national-sovereignty/;http://www.checkmateanalytics.com/selling-the-farm-what-australians-say-is-ok-and-what-is-not/
9] Published on: April 08, 2011Speech by Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP to the International CEO’s Forum – Melbourne, April 7, 2011.
 Dangerous Allies, Fraser Malcolm with Cain Roberts, Melbourne University Press, 2014.
 Australian Opinion Research Report
 “Focus on Minimum wages after the crisis: Making them pay”, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, May 2015.
(13) "Australia must wake up to the looming risk in Asia", Robert Gottliebson, Business Spectator, 22nd May 2015