Managing politics

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 30-Mar-2017


Let’s base our actions on evidence.

Do you, like me, wonder why politicians persistently behave in ways that seem to be in obvious conflict with facts and evidence?

Have you also wondered if other countries do better and how we could improve our politicians’ actions?

We see behaviour that refuses to face facts in response to climate change, energy supply, communications, social welfare and education. This leads to poor outcomes for us all.

Politicians claim that tax cuts, especially for business, leads to greater prosperity for all.

However, economic and business experts point to a complex combination of factors that affect international investment, the creation of jobs and the maintenance of social infrastructure.

Comparable countries to Australia show no correlation between lower taxes and improved economic activity. Treasury reports suggest minimal impact.

At the time when catastrophic fire conditions in New South Wales were more severe than ever previously recorded the treasurer, Scott Morrison, flaunted a lump of coal in parliament, exhorting us to burn more of it.

At the same time, the government wants to prop up the Adani coalmine with $1 billion, apparently feeling the need to step in because investors know that coal is a doomed industry.

Governments of other countries and private investors are moving away from coal at an accelerating rate.

Meanwhile the electricity market regulator AEMO operates to maximise prices for energy suppliers rather than to stabilise supply.

So why do politicians act like this? I see two significant drivers, ideology and money.

We all have our own ideology, arising from our core values. Sometimes this blinds us to facts.

Although we have manipulated many aspects of nature especially in fields such as health, agriculture and transport we have failed to recognise the complexity of the whole system and we now see nature responding to our interference and lack of understanding of the consequences of our actions.

If you believe that unbridled market forces will ultimately look after everyone you may resist the evidence of increasing disparity between the rich and poor and the damaging fluctuations of the marketplace.

Although governments, banks and economists confidently prescribe actions to manage the economy the results are generally unpredictable and the various experts have widely differing views about what should be done.

The second factor is money. Private and corporate funding of MPs, political parties and political advertising permeate our society.

Who can forget the effect of the mining industry’s multi-million dollar advertising attack on the proposed mining super profits tax?

Politicians work hard at a difficult job, requiring long hours, many skills and personal and family sacrifices.

They should be amply rewarded with salary and expenses, but repeated scandals over the use of expenses by many MPs shows that the present rules are inadequate, leading to abuse and public contempt for politicians.

Do other democratic countries manage their politics better than we do?

When Norway had a resources boom it taxed profits and established a sovereign wealth fund from which all Norwegians now benefit.

In managing the election process in 2010 the Norwegian government funded 74 per cent of political parties’ income. In election campaigns political advertising is banned from television and radio and candidates are limited in their spending.

So how should we try to improve outcomes from our political system?

A fact check unit staffed by independent researchers could check the facts behind claims made by MPs and publish the findings. This would be helpful to MPs and voters.

Party funding must be controlled and accountable. I propose that parties be taxpayer funded for votes received, as happens now, and other funding should be restricted to party membership fees and clearly reported fund raising with no single donation from any individual or entity to exceed a figure such as $1000 per year, reported in real time.

The AEC or another independent body should supervise and publish all funding. Any gift or paid invitation to an MP must be pre-approved. Privately or corporately funded political advertising should be subject to similar oversight.

Politicians will not like these suggestions but if we build support for them between now and the next federal election we may see some changes for the better.

Pat Horan is a retired academic who clings doggedly to a belief in evidence-based action towards a better society.


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