Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Advancing Australia Ideas for a better Australia is a 130mm x 196mm, 145 page booklet containing articles from many expert thinkers and edited by Amanda Dunn and John Watson. The Foreword to the book is written by Michelle Grattan AO, Professorial Fellow of the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra. She has been a member of the Canberra parliamentary press gallery since 1971.
Her contribution was written before the Federal Election in May 2019 and it seemed clear that she was expecting a change of government. The title given to her essay was, The end of uncertainty? How the 2019 federal election might bring stability at last to Australian politics. Whatever her beliefs she writes, ‘campaigns can count, and upsets can come, as happened dramatically in 1993’. She warns that, ‘whichever side wins in May, the incoming government will inherit a bitter, sceptical, exhausted electorate’ (iii).
The book is then divided into eleven chapters, with each promoting the ideas of three or four writers all of whom are Professors at Australian universities or Directors of well-known organisations.
Chapter 1 covers issues about what major parties should do if they win government (and even if they don’t). Carol Johnson suggests that if the Liberals win the 2019 election it may be time for them to rethink their economic narrative, that the challenges of 21st century Australia may require them to draw on some of their earlier, social liberal perspectives. Frank Bongiorno proposes that a Labor Government would occupy a political centre that the coalition had foolishly vacated.
Chapter 2 contains four articles expressing views about Australia’s popularist influences, workplace challenges, fair taxes and planning for the next recession. Professor of Economics at UNSW Business School Richard Holden believes that a recession is overdue and that unorthodox approaches might be necessary, measures such as quantitative easing as an example. He also puts forward a proposal pursued by New Economics Equality Initiative at UNSW called the ‘green stimulus’ plan, a list of significant environmental expenditures that would be documented and ready to implement immediately. He states that preparing for a financial crisis is harder than for a mere recession.
In chapter 3 the chronic problems in Medicare and private health insurance are covered with Stephen Duckett asking if it is time to ditch the private health insurance rebate and whether more visits to the doctor means better care. Jane Hall, Professor of Health Economics, proposes a rethink for the A$20 billion-a-year Medicare System floating an idea of ‘bundled payments’ to GPs who would have control over all the services that a particular patient would need with their specific medical problem.
Education is the focus for chapter 4 with articles from Tim Pitman and Peter Goss. Comparisons are made between the policies of the two major parties with a definite Labor bias. In chapter 5 moving climate politics beyond ideology and into action is the theme suggesting that we can be a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, if we just get on with it. Concerns on the extinction of Australian species are also raised and readers are provided with ten recommendations to help ‘staunch the wound and maintain Australia’s wildlife’ (66). Five writers contributed to these two essays.
In chapter 6 Eddie Synot discusses The Uluru Statement, Mark Kenny the Republic and Alex Reilly asylum seeker issues. The writers suggest that there still remains a deeply ingrained and negative attitude towards indigenous people and their experiences in Australian society and until this issue is solved the Republic aspirations will remain a ‘difficult project burdened with overblown hopes’ (75). A history of asylum seeker policies is also provided in this chapter, again with a particular political bias.
Chapter 7 delves into ways that a future Australia can build a safer, more equitable society. Peter Whiteford shares his opinions on the more than A$10 billion spent on social security and welfare and the so called ‘zombie measures’ applied in the past, with a suggestion for immediate priorities and beyond. Bianca Fileborn gives her thoughts on gender-based violence while Liam Elphick shares his ideas on marriage equality focusing on what next for LGBTI and rights in Australia, outlining key areas for reform.
The title for chapter 8 is Securing the Nation without Fear or Favour and Damien Manuel suggests seven ways the government can make Australians safer – without compromising online privacy. Greg Barton promotes the idea that National security is too important to be abandoned to the politics of fear.
The final three chapters cover areas concerning Managing the China relationship, Australia’s place in a turbulent and rapidly changing world, the culture wars within politics, manipulation of the ABC, people power concerning population, migration and regional Australia with contributions from Tony Walker, Susan Harris Rimmer, Chris Wallace, Denis Muller, Liz Allen and Stewart Locke. These writers bring their expertise from their higher education in disciplines of law, history, journalism, social science and sociology. All are leaders in their respective fields and bring thoroughly researched and logical perspectives to their topics.
Throughout the reading of this book I had the impression that most of the writers strongly believed that after the May election there would be a new philosophy in Australian government as many in their contributions highlighted what a Shorten government would do for our future. When comparisons of policies were discussed most of the writers appear to favour the Labor perspective. With the election not going as predicted I wonder if Melbourne University Press was a little premature in publishing this book before the election results were finalised. It seems an embarrassing miscalculation on their part.
The statement on the back cover of this book reads, ‘Politics in Australia is in a dire state. We have the diagnosis, but what’s the cure?’ There are some very good and logical ideas presented in this publication which any government could benefit from perusing when looking for a way forward i.e. a cure. To obtain the most value from the ideas in this book I recommend one article at a time to allow for absorption and analysis.
I believe the contributors to this book are all associated with the organisation The Conversation which works with academic experts to inject evidence into public debate. They publish commentary, research and analysis from Australian universities and the CSIRO so readers can be assured of the validity of the information presented.
This book is one of those publications and regardless of the bias is a serious read for anyone who closely follows Australian politics.
Edited by Amanda Dunn & John Watson
Melbourne University Press