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What matters after the election is decided



After a plodding election race the stewards have called for a photo. But it looks more likely that Turnbull will be able to form a government. If so, he will need to address the interlocking challenges we face in order to leave our children a world of possibility.

Turnbull and Shorten both equivocally celebrate victory. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonThe hope will be muted because both major parties promised little or nothing to address them. But we can take heart that there is certain to be an independently minded senate that can consequently strike down bad policies, and keep asking what kind of an Australia we want.

Most election commentary focused on the economy. But the most important challenges facing Australia are about relationships, and first of all about the way in which we act to vulnerable and disadvantaged people. This is the thermometer by which we measure the nation's health.

In particular the government must address the fractured relationships between Indigenous Australians and the descendants of those who have occupied their land. The dealings of government with Indigenous people has been top down: solutions devised in Canberra to problems identified in Canberra are handed down to people whose faces are not seen and whose voices are not heard.

This is important, not only because the plight of Indigenous people is a festering wound but because the lack of respect here will certainly characterise the government's dealings with other vulnerable people: the unemployed, poor immigrants and the homeless.

Governments cannot force respect, but they can and do embody disrespect. We have seen this disrespect most evidently in the treatment of people seeking protection. Its fruits can be seen in Britain and the United States.

The second challenge is to give high priority to the needs of the environment. To hand on to our children a world fit for human beings we need to look beyond our own immediate needs and convenience. To tolerate the development of new coal mines and coal fired electricity plants would be a sign of a government's dereliction of duty.

The wider environmental effects of agricultural, town planning and mining proposals need to have a high priority when granting approval. But above all the rhetoric of the government must consistently reflect the magnitude of the danger that threatens our descendants, inviting Australians to treat it as a national priority.


"Turnbull promised to get down to business immediately after the election. But it cannot be business as usual."


The third challenge concerns our relationship to the wider world. Brexit and Trump are symbols of the fragility of the relationships that bind nations together and of the bitterness and prejudice that follow their breaking. The challenge is to build cooperative relationships based on mutual respect. The greatest test of respect will continue to be posed by global movement of peoples in response to war and persecution. If each nation withdraws into itself and walls itself behind xenophobia and racial and religious prejudice as Australia has done in its relationship to asylum seekers, the legacy we leave our children will be bitter. They can expect a world where conflict and fear are the default position.

The final challenge is building an economy that will serve all Australians in the face of these and other challenges. It comes last because the relationships that constitute the economy must be set within and serve the relationships that constitute the common good.

Turnbull promised to get down to business immediately after the election. But it cannot be business as usual. The disengagement from the major political parties demonstrated in the election reflects a growing recognition that the economic ideology accepted by both parties enriches the few and deprives governments of the revenue needed to invest in the common good.

Any government that defends this system by ignoring the excesses of the financial and banking industries, penalising the most vulnerable and unpopular groups in society and failing to invest adequately in the health and education of Australians will breed greater popular alienation from party politics. The signs were evident in this election campaign — the Medicare scare was effective, not because it is true, but because people saw that it was the kind of thing that governments will do. The reaction against economic ideology will be intensified as technological developments in artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing cut white collar employment in the same way that globalisation affected blue collar jobs.

In order to build an Australia in which all Australians can have self-respect, are connected to society, and live decently, the economy must be seen to entail a social bond by which wealthy corporations and individuals contribute substantially to the building of the community.

If education and healthcare, central to the future of Australians, and the transition to a low emissions economy (including the support for communities previously relying on mines), are to be adequately and prudently funded, the government will require more revenue. This must be largely provided by the wealthy by removing concessions and by taxes on land and wealth.

Given that business as usual for the government denies this need, a humbled government forced to negotiate with the senate is the best hope of encouraging a discussion about what matters. If Turnbull does form government, as seems likely, we may hope that his initial frustration will lead him to recognise what really matters and set him free boldly to pursue it.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Election 2016, Malcolm Turnbull



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Existing comments

Just one quibble, Andrew, re this: “Most election commentary focused on the economy.” No, it didn’t. The six starkest economic realities are these: 1. The Abbot Opposition in 2013 identified 23 problem areas in Australia's economy under Labor which it promised to fix. 22 of these have deteriorated since 2013 – despite a steady global recovery. One has stayed the same. 2. Jobs measured by hours worked per person are at the lowest level since 1993. 3. According to Treasury, deficits have increased by a factor of 4.7 over 2013 forecasts. 4. Gross debt is up 52% since the last election; net debt is up 64%. 5. In September 2013, Australia’s economy was the best-performed in the world. Some say the best-performed the world had ever seen. 6. It fell to 3rd ranked in 2014, 9th in 2015, about 12th now and is sliding further. Most of the deterioration appears due to the Government facilitating the shift in wealth and income towards the top end, including tax avoidance. Can anyone point to any serious analysis of these facts in the mainstream media? There has been none. Had there been, the Coalition would have lost in a landslide.

Alan Austin | 04 July 2016  

You obviously do not understand how to write a truthful article well for you completely ignored all of labour's policies which clearly gave us a plan for the future this is a typical piece of subterfuge given by a thoughtless liberal.

Harold Hodson | 04 July 2016  

Andrew, Would that you had a political party and were standing as its PM! I would have utter confidence in your leadership of a values-driven nation that faces the huge challenge of embracing human dignity while living in a complex world.

vivien | 04 July 2016  

Well said Andrew. The fact is the major parties still don't get it! I have to agree with Alan. We live in a society where one's comfort as measured by worldly possessions rules hence the empathises on the economy to the exclusion of other indicators like the state of the environment. Our climate is changing for the worst, species are endangered or becoming extinct, not to mention the disaster that is the Great Barrier Reef. Do we hear anything about these looming issues? not in your life! Growth, growth and more growth is the mantra we hear. I live in Canberra but I am amused each night by the Ten Traffic helicopter report of accidents and grid lock on Sydney's congested roads. I wonder why do people choose to live there - or in our other overcrowded and almost unlivable cities! We have to wake up before it is too late. On the positive side, the people have spoken-but are our politicians listening?

Gavin | 04 July 2016  

It seems that one thing is certain after the election. We are destined for a continuation of the childish politics of the last 10 years from all major parties. This democratically and socially destructive behaviour will be made much worse when the rat-baggery that the electorate in some parts of the country has embraced rises to its collective feet in the senate. When Australia accepts the lies of the Labor Party, the blackmail and corruption of the trade unions, the greed and lack of compassion of the Liberal Party right wing, the election of Hanson, Lambie and Finch to a taxpayer funded life long pension, the inane rantings of the Bolts and Joneses of this world and a press uninterested in anything other than ratings and a Walkley award, then the country is truly buggered. What a shambles we have made of this poor fella our country.

john frawley | 04 July 2016  

Hear! Hear! Alan Austin! Why couldn't the ALP (or the Greens or NXT or any Independent) have made these points during the election? All in their own way followed the Tony Abbott three word slogan approach.. The ALP settled for two words "Save Medicare". To support this they had to create a straw man who had "a policy to destroy Medicare". (This was a lie. The Coalition had no such policy but the brazen nature of the claim resulted in wall to wall coverage) This straw man gradually lost his stuffing until he came to resemble the true situation - the Coalition's attitude to universal health care (Freeze on GP rebates, cuts to hospital funding, diagnostic efficiencies etc) was "threatening to undermine Medicare by stealth". I don't want to underestimate the intelligence of Australian voters but when they see so graphically the Coalition's preferential option for the wealthy (e.g. huge tax cut to big business) and their "let them eat cake" attitude to the poor and the less well off, I can understand why they decided to support "anyone but Scott Morrison" the most incoherent blustering Treasurer any PM has ever had.

Uncle Pat | 04 July 2016  

'to leave our children a world of possibility'. Conflicts between people generally arise when there are differences in colour, creed, or race. The conflicts are accentuated when there are also differences in education, and wealth. Creed or religion is not usually a cause of such conflicts but it often divides the two sides and acts as a rallying cry to deepen the divide. This is one of the great failures of religions, that they refuse to recognise that each response to God's Universal call is only THEIR limited and narrow response, and that other responses are equally valid, though tailored to cultures other than 'ours'. Only when all religions are so understood and respected can we hope for peace and harmony among coming generations.

Robert Liddy | 04 July 2016  

Indeed, it's how the economy and its raison d'etre is viewed and portrayed. I reckon the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, nailed it last year in an article in The Age. He described the government as preoccupied with, devoted even, to the care of economy, describing it in terms one might use of a frail elderly relative or a vulnerable new baby. Concern for the actual elderly, newborn or other real people with needs the economy should serve is harder to find in their pronouncements.

Julia Nutting | 04 July 2016  

Excellent reflection and one I totally agree with. Thank you Andrew.

Margie Abbott | 04 July 2016  

In general I agree with your sentiments Fr Andrew, but there is much in this election that resonates with votes for Brexit and Trump: confused and frightened (and a few selfish) people who think they are or will be left behind by rapid change and innovation. Thus the swing was not really to Labour but to the "others". Labour lied to them and the Libs just were not honest enough, failed to get the message across, or were mistrusted about looking after the most vulnerable (which I believe is legacy of Abbott`s 2014 budget). But you did make one big mistake, Father, and that is that we should not be talking about what the nation "wants" but what it can "afford". We urgently need reform of health and education services (and tax and industrial relation) because we cannot just slosh more borrowed money about ; Labour has made reform politically very difficult so what will now happen is no reform plus no money = rapid decline of services! There is also no point in attacking overseas investment since we will desperate need it; nor little point in attackling "clean(er) coal" or gas that replace very dirty coal until there s a definitive consensus to go nuclear or hydro. The real target has to be major reform paid for by reducing middle class welfare, which currently allows relatively well-off people to maintain intergeneration wealth while being subsidised by the government (us!!). We are in a pickle!

Eugene | 04 July 2016  

Well said, Andrew! You've hit the nail right on the head! John Magee

John Magee | 04 July 2016  

Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.

AO | 04 July 2016  

I think your problem, Andrew, is that you are a decent, sensible, honorable man. That, almost inevitably, disqualifies you to give advice to most of our political class, who, in my late father's words, are 'unmitigated bounders' and who only think of their short term political survival. There were - in the not so distant past - politicians with economic nous, long term vision for this country and a sense of social justice. Their names were Hawke and Keating. On the opposite side of politics was one of the best Prime Ministers we never had, Peter Costello, who did have those same characteristics, sadly shunted aside by Howard, who should have gotten out of his way and given him a go. I have no faith in the former in limbo Minister for Health Susan Ley. I think she and her colleagues were planning to fatally weaken, if not abolish, Medicare and leave us with a health system similar to that of the USA. Shorten and Labor called them out for their big lie. Remember Howard who did not mention bringing in the GST? No wonder MT was petulant: he was called out. Ah politics!

Edward Fido | 04 July 2016  

I'm actually encouraged by the outcome of this election. Both Shorten and Turnbull have accepted that an increased proportion of the electorate have rejected them both and have committed to understanding why. Turnbull has acknowledged that the Mediscare was believed and believable because of the trust deficit flowing from Abbott's blatant lies about what he would not do to health and education. Chris Bowen (on Q&A last night, well worth watching) articulated the need not only to explain to people the imperative of reforming the economy, but also the need to assist them to respond to the detrimental side effects. The power of the diverse Senate should ensure that every proposal by government (whether Coaltion or Labor) will have to be explained and justified. We might even see some Opposition or Cross Bench initiatives being taken up and properly debated.

Ginger Meggs | 05 July 2016  

Yes... People before profit... there is a reading where what unites the Hanson supporters, Trump supporters and Brexiters is their experience of the darker side of neoliberalism. But, Andrew, your list is not complete. Lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people are missing,.. We _need_ full legal recognition of their love and their relationships, and we need the churches to lead the way.

DeC | 06 July 2016  

If Donald Trump were visiting a golf course here, he'd probably be chuffed by the Leave votes cast against the major parties.

Roy Chen Yee | 06 July 2016  

Andrew, thank you for your thoughtful reflection on the election. The social fabric of Australian society needs to be reinforced when it is strained, and you have wisely reminded us of this crucial factor. The divide between the privileged and the strugglers has expanded too wide; we need to close the gaps in our society and to build cohesion from both sides of the divide. There is no time for throwing stones at each other, unless we drop them in the waters which separate us to build a causeway.

Peter | 08 July 2016  

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