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Natural disaster fund could be Gillard's easy path to glory

  • 31 January 2011

In Eureka Street on Friday, UnitingCare National Director Lin Hatfield Dodds wrote that the Government’s proposed flood levy represents precisely the approach social justice principles dictate. But she also described it as a one-off response that won’t improve our ability to cope with natural disasters in the long-term.

Being prepared for natural disasters brought on by radical climate fluctuation is part of what former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’. The fact that he did not have the courage of his conviction, and virtually gave up on it, does not mean that serious preparation for the effects of future climate fluctuation is now beyond us.

There are simple strategies that can go some way to addressing this particular challenge, including making the flood levy a permanent natural disaster fund, as suggested by the Independent MPs who hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

In fact the politics of the situation make it much easier for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to make the levy permanent. It could be a rare example of reform that she and her government can be proud of for years to come.

The current government has form in failing to legislate for reforms needed to improve Australia’s readiness to face future challenges. The Henry Tax Review was almost totally ignored.

Gillard is not alone. Most prime ministers in recent years have lacked the political courage necessary to legislate for reform. They have focused on government for the short-term, with the aim of being re-elected at the next election. They have considered it politically foolhardy to enact legislation that involves short-term pain for long-term gain.

Part of the problem is caused by the myth that electability is paramount. Contributing to this is the attitude of many Australians, who look askance at leaders who are focused on the long-term, as it’s likely they are serving with one eye on their own political legacy. We think of them as deluded by a false sense of their own grandeur. 

Yet that is not necessarily a bad thing. A politician wanting to make his or her mark on history will surely do what it takes to pass reform legislation. It doesn’t do any real harm to have former prime ministers acting like demigods, but it does a lot of good to have ‘courageous’ legislation successfully pass through parliament.

The economic reform begun during the Hawke-Keating years is a good example. Hawke