The Australian Government’s 2020/21 Federal Budget and the Opposition’s Budget Reply Speech have been celebrated as a long-awaited, clear contest of ideas.
The C0VID-19 pandemic recession has changed the rules. Record spending and long-term debt have been accepted as the price of economic ‘life support’. But, there are fundamentally different prescriptions for the path to recovery.
Author and journalist, George Megalogenis, describes it as a contest of ideals:
“The (Liberal/National Party) Coalition stands for incentive and reward for effort. Labor is the party of the safety net and active government.”
Megalogenis reports that for the Coalition, the recovery will be driven by business. He quotes the Prime Minister as saying the massive spending is for this year only. “It’s not used as an opportunity to bulk up all sorts of public spending for years and years, employing more and more public servants.”
The Labor Opposition, on the other hand, sees the Government’s unwillingness to take direct responsibility for vital services as a blind spot that leaves behind many ordinary Australians who are excluded from economic prosperity through no fault of their own. Labor opts for a government safety net.
Child care is a case in point. Lack of affordable child care is the single greatest barrier to workforce participation for young families, especially women. Labor pledges to make quality, affordable child care universal. Similarly, Opposition policies favour making work more secure, lifting the level of income support to the unemployed, and shifting the emphasis from private provision of services in aged care and in higher education.
In short, the contest of ideas goes to incentives versus safety nets, private sector versus government as primary service providers.
These political differences of substance are in contrast to disquiet with indistinguishable policies in ‘small target’ elections, or populist policies from focus groups and social media fads, or political in-fighting and ideological mavericks with policies serving sectional interests, not the common good.
Hence, the contest of ideas across the political spectrum is welcomed as a genuine choice in Australian democracy. But, is a choice of credible alternative policies the best we can do? The challenge is whether we can bridge this legitimate divide with policies that lift the standard of public debate and allow for new ways of working and intelligent compromises.
Sadly, there are few avenues to bridge this gap.
Big, definitive and diverse ideas are one thing. Finding workable solutions and making them a reality is another.
It requires expertise in informed, collaborative problem-solving. Not quick fixes or partisan answers, but fresh ideas and practical solutions drawn from well-managed analysis of research and evidence, critical thinking and insights from diverse points of view. It is not enough to generate bright ideas. It is necessary to make these answers to complex issues ready for implementation.
This means being connected to the people, organisations, skills and know-how to put solutions into action in a timely way.
One not-for-profit organisation well-placed to serve this need is the Eidos Institute Ltd. Eidos has a track record as a pioneer of collaborative problem-solving and expertise as an impartial broker of ideas and action across diverse interest groups, with credible results.
Eidos aims to improve the way Australia’s complex social and economic challenges are solved. From the contest of ideas to building support for new insightful solutions ready for implementation, it is a job worth doing.
In the vernacular, Eidos has a mission to help make big, innovative ideas ‘shovel-ready’.
Narelle Kennedy serves as Chair of the Eidos Institute Ltd, see website at www.eidos.org.au
George Megalogenis, ‘The contest of ideals we’ve been waiting for’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10th and 11th October 2020.