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Thursday 22 June 2017

Broken Windows

A Prager video I saw some time ago (How to Fix the world NYPD style) proposes a foreign affairs strategy to make the world safer by punishing rogue states and petty dictators as soon as they step outside the widely accepted norms. It relies on "Broken Windows Theory" , that "maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening." The number of broken windows in and around any community is an indication of the health of the community. In law abiding communities a broken window will be repaired quickly, as the owner has confidence that enforcement is thorough and a breakage is not likely to recur.  Whereas in communities without adequate enforcement, a broken window will be left broken given the investment in repair is likely to be wasted.

Looking around our Australian community I see many broken windows. Symptoms of disorder and lack of action on simple obvious and agreed social and political problems.

1. Economic Management
  • Our country is borrowing money to meet its operational expenses, and this is projected to continue. Quite simply either spending must be cut or taxes raised.  Both parties accept this, yet like the Lilliputians cannot come to terms with which combination of approaches they will accept.
  • Our energy market is not working. The introduction of unreasonable RET's by federal and state governments has caused dramatic in creases in electricity prices crippling our industries, burdening households and even causing blackouts. I happen to believe the federal RET should be scrapped to let markets operate. Australia will not make one iota difference to the global temperature increase by 2100. Lets not lose jobs, lose markets and industries for symbolism. But of course there is the government's recent Finkel report that proposes a rather complex system to distort the market.  There are serious flaws in the report and the political problems for the government if it proceeds with the recommendations are also serious. Nevertheless any decision is better than leaving the status quo! 
  • Foreign investment. Australia values foreign investment and encourages free trade. This has been and remains a major cornerstone of our success. Yet there are some countries that want to enter our markets when they do not offer reciprocal rights to our investors. That is not balanced trade and we should simply make reciprocity as a pre-requisite for investment in Australia.

2. Governance
  • Our legislative processes are held to ransom by a handful of senators. The senate must be reformed. A majority of Australians can see that governments cannot operate when a handful of senators can veto any legislation. This does not makes sense in a modern democracy.
  • Political donations. The machinations of interested parties in garnering influence with politicians is as old as time itself.  Currently such patronage can occur behind the scenes and even where mandatory reporting is required it is delayed. At the very least all political donations by any person or party must be made public immediately when they are made. With today's technology this is a simple website updated by the party receiving the donation within 24 hours of its receipt. Of course it requires more, but this would be a start.
  • The demarcation between State vs Federal responsibilities has been blurring for decades. Education and Health used to be State responsibilities now they both have a hand resulting in constant blame shifting and State governments seeking ever more Federal hand-outs. Similarly the re-distribution of the GST revenues from a high GST collecting state to one with poor collections is a constant and source of justifiable State-Federal acrimony. Sorring out these issues is long overdue and highlights our legislators' failure to do their job.
3. Values
The core foundations of an open society include freedom of speech and a free press. Both of these are being corrupted and no action has been taken to redress them.
  • Freedom of speech.  In recent times the  Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has taken direct action to repress freedom of speech using the Racial Discrimination Act.  All parties acknowledge that action taken against Bill Leak and QUT students should never happen in a free society. Yet they tinker around the edges without changing the very law that made it possible. The problem is not only the specific cases, although for the victims it has been very serious indeed. The problem is that in order to avoid such cases, the free press is muzzled. For example legal action against Bolt has suppressed justifiable in depth scrutiny of some indigenous issues. The recent moves to skirt around the edges by changing the procedures under which the laws are managed by the AHRC is a total cop-out. A bad law must be changed.  
  • Journalistic standards. A free society depends on a vibrant free press to identify and shine a focus on political shenanigans. However it will only do so if journalists do their duty to report rather than advocate. In recent times our free press has gradually formed into opposing teams of commentators skipping over facts that do not support their 'position'. They are then more focused on amplifying dissent rather than informing and encouraging understanding and accommodation of alternative views. It is time that journalism turned into a profession with all that it encompasses. A code of ethics, professional standards, a body to register professional journalists, and yes to take an active role in adjudicating on failures to comply with standards. In short like a certified accountant or a lawyer, a Professional Practicing Journalist should be required to be accredited by its professional standards body, and face the risk of being de-registered and barred from practicing journalism if they failed to uphold agreed professional standards of journalism. 
  • Public broadcasting. Our public broadcasters the ABC & SBS do not reflect the wide range of views held within the Australian communities. How could they when there is not a single right leaning presenter/producer of a news commentary show on either of these platforms. It is no surprise that they have been losing audiences.  Redressing this is much overdue.  In a free society the Public Broadcaster has an especial responsibility to provide unbiased, accurate, and comprehensive information, analysis and commentary to all members of the society it represents. If it cannot do that then it should be sold.

4. Social Cohesion

  • Taking care of the needy. A healthy society will raise taxes from its citizens and take care of its disadvantaged. Under our free enterprise system it will not do it by re-distributing wealth from the hardworking to the disadvantaged but by providing equal opportunity to those who start life with a disadvantage. Social cohesion requires that all taxes and the spending of these taxes are perceived as benefiting the society as a whole. Australia has seen major challenges in ensuring this balance. The strain of high migration levels, high welfare payments to even the middle class and inequitable distributions to special interest groups are engendering resentment in many disadvantaged citizens.
  • Integration of immigrants into Australian society. The cultural mix of new migrants and the migration rate must allow all new migrants to integrate into Australian society. Australia has an exceptional record, having accepted and integrated large numbers of migrants from all parts of the world. However recent higher levels of migration and from communities with different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds is causing serious problems. The current focus on Muslims is not only due to worldwide Islamic terrorism but also due to the rapid increase in numbers of people with a very different culture and values. Without doubt migration has greatly benefited Australia and will continue to do so. It is the rate of migration that presents as a challenge to social cohesion and needs to be addressed with some urgency. The government needs both to limit number of new migrants, especially from dissimilar cultural and socio-economic background, and enact policies to ensure that communities are given every assistance to integrate into Australian society.

Stop Shilly-Shallying

Frustration with the lack of action by mainstream parties has driven the electorates to the parties at the extremes. However any rise in their representation will only make governing even more difficult.

The lesson from the Prager video was simple. Where the broken windows are repaired community standards are enforced, the community recovers and prospers. So too our Australian society will prosper but we do need governments to stop shilly-shallying and start repairing the broken windows.

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