The real problem with the Intergenerational Reports is the original plan to base them on projections of current national policies forward for 40 years. The one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that current policies will not remain unchanged for 40 years. There are some useful numbers in the latest report but most of them have been published elsewhere.
Under Swan as Treasurer the AGR was absurdly optimistic because it was written in the middle of a boom. Under Hockey we get pessimism because we are in a decline. But the reality that big choices, such as on energy use, will need to be made in the next decade, are effectively ignored.
Imagine there was an IGR written forty years ago, in 1975. That was before computers took over, long before mobile phones and the internet, and while unions still dominated the national workforce. How useful would that have been?
The part of the 1998 Charter of Budget Honesty legislation that produced this five-yearly waste of time and money should be repealed. (Probably the whole lot should go.) There is a much more useful task that should be performed.
Joe Hockey likes to talk about having a conversation with the Australian people. By which he means he argues his case for cutting expenditure on the poor and middle class while protecting all the handouts to the wealthy people who vote liberal, and we all agree.
The conversation we should actually have is about what sort of Australia we want to exist in 40 years time.
The most obvious issue is population. In every year for the past decade the government of the day (both ALP and Coalition) has decided, without conversation with the Australian public, that we should set an immigration target that will see us reach around 40 million people by 2050. Over that decade we have imported more than two million people. This is not inevitable or even rational.
It happens because primitive economics teaches that population growth is a good thing automatically, and most political operatives fancy themselves as economists. And vested interests, such as property developers, pay good money to have high growth policies adopted by political parties.
With a birth rate of less than 1.8, babies per woman our population in any given future year is entirely dependent on government action on immigration. Why not have a conversation to set a figure that could be recognised as the result of national consensus and then maintain policy accordingly? The simple answer is that the Australian people have a different number in mind to that of the small number of people who own our political parties.
Another obvious matter for 40-year discussion is energy. Does anyone seriously thin we will still be driving around in petrol driven cars and relying almost totally on coal for electricity in forty years time? We already have some limp-wristed targets for "alternative" energy production but these seem to be based on the idea that this is a moral issue and it would be nice to 'save the planet'.
It is time to treat this issue as one of national security and economic survival. The end result cannot be known now but we can start a complete transition in energy production and use with a clear goal in mind.
Perhaps less obvious are questions on home ownership and working hours. Home ownership rates are hard to analyse due the long-term nature of ownership achieved long ago, and conflicting data. But it seems conclusive that rates are declining and ownership is commenced later in life. With the current investor-driven housing boom these trends will probably strengthen.
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