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Sustainability is not a dirty word

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The trouble with the discussion or debate on raising or lowering trade barriers in Australia is that it is conducted without any notion of what constitutes the national good. Policy development, though calling it that is to over-blow the process, is done within an ideological vacuum.

Policy development with respect to manufacturing or agriculture is undertaken with short-term and most often self interest as the driving force rather than long-term vision and planning.

Where does Australia want to be in 10, 20, 50 years? What sort of infrastructure is required to sustain a population of 35 – 50 million people? How should we manage water, education, health, and food production?


What percentage of mining profits should be returned to the state to ensure projections of future requirements can be met in terms of fulfilling state responsibilities toward a growing population?

What should be the role of the state in Australia toward managing and providing the services listed above?

What sort of framework should the state create and maintain for the pursuits, activities, jobs and welfare to take place within? What should be the extent and strength of this framework? How self-reliant should the state be in providing for these needs?

These are the questions that should guide our planning processes.

The private enterprise model adopted in Australia to provide many of the services and infrastructure previously employed by the state has failed. It was enthusiastically embraced, following the love affair with Thatcher by conservatives in the West. Greiner, Keating, Howard, Costello, Rudd, Swan and Gillard have been and are songbirds for the private sector assuming state responsibility. Governments in Australia and the West more generally have leapt at government shedding responsibility.

They felt that less responsibility would lead to lessened possibilities of criticism. For example, when power failed or trains ran late. The notion was seductive - power without responsibility for the functioning of the state, offered all the perks of office, without the electoral difficulty of accountability.


But this model has not worked. The private sector has refused to take responsibility for failure of the public services they own and manage, tollways being a case in point.

Howard and Costello pushed the Keating model, resulting in emaciated public schools and a bloated private school sector. Universities and the CSIRO have been forced to lower or compromise standards. Apprenticeships are no longer provided by the state. Dental services for pensioners and the poor barely exist.

The basic infrastructure for commercial undertakings, other than the mining industry, is run down, inadequate for future growth and causing current productivity decline.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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