Hewson's View | March 16

While our politicians continue to be mostly absorbed by themselves, and continue to play the short-term, opportunistic, populist, mostly negative ‘game’ they call a political ‘profession’, so many of our key policy challenges have been left to drift, with what are becoming disastrous consequences.

PLAYING POLITICS: While politicians play games, issues such as education, health and energy languish in a policy vacuum. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

PLAYING POLITICS: While politicians play games, issues such as education, health and energy languish in a policy vacuum. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

Just this week we heard of three – the collapsing standards in our schools, the rapidly growing queues at our public hospitals, and the ‘gas crisis’.

This week we heard that our schools are ‘off the pace’ in science. This follows evidence in recent weeks that we still have declining standards of literacy and numeracy in our schools, despite the considerable amounts being spent.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, with responsibilities being shared not only by teachers, schools, and education authorities, but also parents. Unfortunately, community discussion of these issues often degenerates into a ‘blame game’, rather that a constructive assessment of the challenges and responses.

Regarding comparisons made between our schools and those in say Singapore (where education has been the number one national policy priority), it’s important to note that in selecting teachers the Singaporeans ensure that they take from the top 30 percent of the graduating class. We don’t!

Moreover, we significantly underpay our teachers, and don’t afford them the social status that their profession deserves.

Mounting queues at public hospitals for emergency services is a problem they should have seen coming, with the rapid ageing of our population, the rising cost of health insurance, with private hospitals focusing on elective surgery (avoiding emergency services).

Health budgets are rapidly moving into crisis territory, where services are being rationed, and its is hard to see how quality can be maintained without significantly more funding, and private hospitals picking up some of the emergency load.

The ‘gas crisis’ stands as a monument to misdirected energy policy. The major industry players were ‘encouraged’ to spend some $250billion in the development of the industry, but were able to commit 100 percent of the gas to exports, reserving none for our domestic market, and they won’t have to pay any tax on their ‘real profits’ for a decade or two.

As gas is a significant national asset, policy should have reserved some of the gas for our domestic market, and ensured that revenue flowed to the benefit of our whole society, not just a few multinationals.

As a consequence we face a significant domestic gas shortage, with prices already skyrocketing, putting at risk many industries, including paper and glass, that are heavily dependent on affordable gas supply, and now risking many thousands of jobs.

These are only three of examples of policy neglect and failure that extends across most areas. Is it any wonder that we have Hanson and others attracting electoral support as voters are rapidly losing trust in major political parties and processes?

A majority of voters have been left to struggle trying to make ends meet in their daily lives, disenfranchised from their political system.

Voters justifiably expect their politicians and bureaucrats to focus on good policy, and to deliver good government, to address challenges, to solve problems, to plan well into the future.

 – John Hewson


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