Australia21 had hoped that when our political leaders returned from the summer break they might feel sufficiently refreshed to abandon the dispiriting politicking which characterised 2017, in favour of a conscientious endeavour to tackle some of the major issues confronting Australian society. After the first sitting weeks the signs are not promising!

So we’ve set out a roadmap to keep our MPs on track through 2018. We urge them to tackle issues that really matter this year, where evidence shows the nation will benefit from apolitical discussion and sensible decisions.

While there are many Non-Government Organisations like Australia21 working in the interests of the nation, ultimately public policy is a matter for our elected representatives. That’s what we elect them for. They have the resources at their disposal, access to immense volumes of data which government agencies collect, and access to worldwide expertise. We need them to abandon name-calling and ‘gotcha!’ politics in favour of respectful and evidence-based exchanges about how to improve life and living for everyone in Australia. Our Parliament is a great institution, a centre-piece of democratic society, with a proud history of social progress. We’re entitled to expect everyone elected to it will strive to be worthy of that honour.

This is not a naive call for bipartisanship. We expect everyone elected to Parliament to come to the chamber with their own values, and faithfully represent the people who elected them. And yes, we expect debate about important issues to be robust and passionate. But it’s not too much to ask that the debate is also respectful and constructive — and where there’s disagreement, that our parliamentarians seek to explore the reasons for the differences and whether common ground can be found.

We ask that the same courtesy and respect is shown to civil society players, including the journalists who seek to inform us about what’s going on and probe the Government’s thinking. It’s not good enough for Ministers of the Crown being interviewed on the national broadcaster to speak over the top of the interviewer with a spray of pre-packaged talking points, dancing around the question until they’ve exhausted the available time. And it’s certainly not good enough for a very senior Minister to respond to a question referencing data from a reputable NGO (not us) with “They’re a left wing think tank. I’ll say no more,” followed by a chuckle.

We all deserve better than that. Let’s debate the substance of the issues, bring forward the evidence which supports our claims, give honest, straightforward answers to reasonable questions and, above all, consider the national interest.

Below are 5 areas of public policy where high-impact improvements could be made very rapidly.

1. Inequality

Where we are now

Australian and global wealth inequality is rising and there’s growing international concern that the central operating narrative of neoliberalism promotes mindless economic growth, and is incapable of dealing effectively with either inequality or increasing damage to the environment. Many argue that the world will need to adopt a radically new economic approach which is fit for purpose, though that’s certainly not being acknowledged widely in Australia at this stage.

In June 2018 Australia21 and The Australia Institute are holding a high level, multidisciplinary Roundtable discussion at Parliament House in Canberra, to stimulate a new national conversation about the role of the economy in Australian culture and wellbeing. A report will be released ahead of the forthcoming federal election, to stimulate discussion in the community about inequality, environmental sustainability and the appropriateness of the current economic model.

Where Australia should be by the end of 2018

Unless we explore the relevance of the current driving economic narrative to the problems that beset our future, we can’t be confident that we’ll be able to solve them.

So by the end of 2018, Australia21 would like inequality to be a central issue in the national election campaign:

  • Recognition by all political parties and the media of the seriousness of the challenge to our future from a continuation with mindless economic growth and the general principles of neoliberalism.

  • Widespread recognition in the community about the need to take urgent action on both wealth inequality and income inequality in Australia.

  • Recognition of the importance of empowering communities and neighbourhoods to rebuild their sense of ownership and responsibility for the future.

2. Trauma related stress