What should be Australia’s path to the future?

Illustration by Emma Machan/ABC News
By Joe Montero

A great deal has been written about where we might head to in the post pandemic world. Is it a return to the past or forward towards something new?

The political elite wants to return to the past. This is nonsense. It won’t happen. The landscape has changed. How much, we don’t know yet. What we do know, is that that economy, already characterised by rising inequality, destruction of decent jobs, and the deterioration of conditions for those out of work, is worse than it was. We know that global warming is already hurting the economy and brings the prospect of much worse, and it is likely we have entered an era of ongoing pandemics.

The return to the past push, is the intention to maintain the course of rising inequality, destruction of decent jobs, and the deterioration of conditions for those out of work, to which fits in ongoing failure on climate. This is the bottom line. It is about more for the privileged and less for everyone else and pretending this is the way to lift the whole of society, through the trickle-down effect.

That this is so pervasive among the political leadership shows the extent to which the privileged have a grip on the economy and political institutions of Australia. And the growing transparency of this grip is destroying the legitimacy of both.

If the latest Essential poll is anything to go by, most Australians have little or no trust in what politicians say, that traditional media tells the truth, and the declarations of official institutions. This is how 2021 is ending. The Essential pollo is not an aberration. Other polls are revealing the same emerging pattern.

Image by Dionne Gain

Along with declining trust comes rising anger. This comes from real life experience. People are hurting and the pandemic has brought this home forcefully. What they understand is that the powerful have let them down and don’t like it one little bit.

There are two reactions to this changing mood. One is that it is a threat to ‘our democracy,’ and ways to restore Australia’s faith in it must be found. To this way of thinking, change is a threat to the existing order and must be stopped.

The other reaction is that the changing mood has a real base and can be a force for positive change.

Dissatisfaction connects to demanding an end to problem policies and calling for alternatives. Foremost, in today’s context, is a shift from what is broadly termed neoliberalism to a fairer system of economic management. Australia wants a move towards putting the needs of people in first place, rather than the bottom line of private corporations.

The pandemic proved how we depend on each other, and that better results come by working together. The pandemic also brought home that our world is changing fast. There can be no going back to the past, and there must be new and innovative solutions to the problems of the day.

Whether it’s the handling of the vaccine rollout, the failure of action on the Royal Commission into the banks and the industrial scale tax avoidance industry, or the failure on climate policy, refusal to act on the mounting allegations of corruption, it adds up and Australia feels betrayed.

There is an emerging crisis of political leadership, which is eating away at the support base of the major political parties, and this is affecting the young most of all.

Australia is starting to see that those in charge of government and its related institutions do not work for them, do not listen, and that appeals for better are a waste of time. and there are early stirrings towards the building of a new political movement from the ground up, of organised Australians, seeking to capture a voice and bring about a shift in the balance of power.

The times call for a redefinition of democracy, extending past the right to cast a vote every few years and then being ignored outside election campaigns.

Real democracy is about sharing in the voice in the making of decisions all the time, and the capacity to hold leaders accountable. If existing institutions are a barrier to this, they should go, and more suitable institutions take their place.

To become a force, the grand vision must be tied to practical measures helping us walk along the new path.

Among these would be a re-examination of what should be the government’s priorities, elevating the wellbeing of the population as the true measure of success into first place. This would include ensuring that each has a decent standard of living and opportunity for a good life in all respects, and that no one is left out. National income must be distributed more evenly, and appropriate public intervention in the market exist to ensure the above.

Rights come together with obligations, and it follows that those benefiting from what society provides should contribute something back, according to their capacity to contribute. The existing tax system must be replaced with one based on capacity, puts an end to the tax evasion industry, and provides the means to invest in building the future.

This future depends on shifting from a highly monopolised private economy, to one where there is a growth of both the public and social economies. The public economy means direct government intervention. The social economy means an economy, generally localised and operating democratically, to realise shared social objectives.

The implication is that there must be a shift from an economic dictatorship in the hands of a few, to a democratic economy in the hands of the majority, and that this will be the engine for the rise of a new democratic political power.

Australians would then have reason to have faith institutions and those who operate within them.

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