The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Oh! For Fuch's Sake! Where's the vision?

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Lack of Vision, July 2015.

Yesterday, on the ABC's "The World Today" program we heard this lament from the former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett:

"We are a country without a vision. We are a country at the moment that is terribly complacent."

"If I was to ask you or any of your listeners, 'Where do you think the politicians of today want to take Australia by 2050?' do any of us have any idea at all?" 

"There is no vision." 

"The media keep looking for simple solutions because it's today and their cycle is 24 hours and the political class have more obviously than any time I can remember, simply given in themselves to that 24 hour cycle."

Following this year's Budget, former leader of the Coalition, John Hewson, made this observation about the Budget's lack of cohesion on the ABC's "RN Drive" program:

"You've got to step back and take a longer term view. A lot of these issues are very significant structural challenges."

"Aim to double national productivity by 2025; then go through the various areas of policy, one of which is the Budget, the others are tax, education, training, industrial relations, science and technology, and pull these various strands together such that realistically we could hope to double national productivity - then you'll get your jobs and you'll be able to restore growth."

Back in March 2010, former Prime Minister, Paul Keating observed on the ABC's "RN Breakfast":

"You wouldn't trust this mob [the Coalition Opposition] with a jam jar full of 5 cent bits."

"If Tony Abbott ends up the Prime Minister of Australia, you gotta say, God helps us. God helps us." 

"Truly an intellectual nobody and has no policy ambition. Is that all there is? You know the song 'Is that all there is?' I mean is that where we'd be? Really?"

"Where is the thought out position? A conservative party can have a thought out position. The fact is that Abbott does not have this."

Paul Keating's prescient observation five years ago is being seen in stark reality now as both former conservative leaders Jeff Kennett and John Hewson have attested.

"And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest." Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer

Roosting chickens

As a concerned citizen, I once again submit a strategic planning template for the Government (and the Opposition) to follow at a macro level and, at a micro level, have provided two solutions in specific policy areas.

The Macro Plan

1 - The Vision

Before they embark on anything, the party and all its politicians need to be able to clearly articulate its philosophy.

What is the party's guiding philosophy?

If the politicians are struggling to come up with an answer, which would be a real problem but not a surprise, then they need to answer these questions first:

What do you believe in?  What values do you hold dear? Why did you enter politics?  What is it you wanted to achieve? Where do see the nation being in ten and twenty year's time?

These should not be difficult questions to answer and therefore the guiding philosophy of the party should reflect these answers and thus be very easy to describe.

From this a clear vision for the nation can be articulated.

2 - The Policy Agenda

Based on this vision, the policy development then takes place to implement it and should proceed as follows:

Ask the following questions:  Where are we now?  Where are we going?  How do we get there? 

a) - Where are we now? 

This would be an audit of the current situation in every area of government responsibility.  

Clearly there have already been any number of reviews conducted in many portfolios and so it should not be too difficult to answer this question.  Indeed, one would think that if there were any decent "debate", the current situation in each portfolio would be all too clear.

b) - Where are we going?

Then based on the current position, the party would need to determine the objectives it would want to achieve in each of these government areas of responsibility in line with the party's vision. 

This would be a three-step process:

Step 1 - within each portfolio, prioritise the objectives into the following categories: those you "must achieve"; those you would "like to achieve"; and those you would "love to achieve". 

Step 2 - consider the budget situation and what needs to be addressed in the financial portfolios of Treasury and Finance, namely how to deal with the structural problem of the Federal Government's budget.  That is, too much committed expenditure (over allocated in the good years of the last decade) and not enough revenue in the future to pay for it.  

Depending on the budgetary circumstance, step 2 may impact greatly on step 1.  It may well see all the "love to achieve" and even "like to achieve" objectives postponed and may even require a re-examination of all the "must achieve" objectives in each portfolio, to re-prioritise those objectives across all portfolios leaving only the ones which are the most important to implementing the party's vision.

Step 3 - takes the final prioritised list of objectives following step 2 and proceeds with the "can achieve" objectives.  This is not an excuse to do nothing due to "budgetary constraints"; this is a realistic assessment of what is achievable given the current financial situation.

If the final list of "can achieve" objectives does not reflect any reasonable implementation of the party's vision, then you need to re-visit step 2 and re-prioritise and re-direct current spending and/or alter the current revenue sources (yes, change taxes if required - re visit the dusty pages of The Henry Tax Review) to meet the party's philosophical objectives.

Once determined in principle, these objectives should then be set out over a nine-year period (three terms).   

That is, having clear and measurable objectives, regarding outcomes and expenditure, for each 3-year term of government, and each individual year within each 3-year term. 

c) - How do we get there? 

This is where the party outlines in detail the strategies it intends to employ to achieve those objectives over the short, medium and long term.

The implementation phase is the most critical.

The key objectives should have comprehensive strategies developed that are well thought out and debated within the party and without, to ensure that the best implementation process will be employed.   

They should be clearly articulated in detail on a website (subject to any genuine commercial in confidence issues) and advertised in the press (using party funds) with the theme:  this is what we are intending to do over the next year, 2 years, 3 years and if you are happy with those results, re-elect us and then we could implement stage two over years 4, 5 and 6 in the second term, and if happy again, re-elect us again, and we could implement stage three over years 7, 8 and 9.

Then the communication strategy, which so dominates our current political process, would be driven by the guiding vision of the party and would explain to the public, cohesively and comprehensively, what you are intending to achieve and why - rather than responding every day to whatever the 'issue du jour' determines.

If elected, the agenda is clear and your task would be to implement the strategies outlined with great commitment and enthusiasm.  The communication strategy would then be to convey to the public how the implementation is progressing and what changes, if any, needed to be made.

Obviously, over time, circumstances do change and therefore the objectives and strategies would also change, so it wouldn't be a static process. However, this approach would see an honest, straightforward and clear agenda for all to see and judge.

THAT is how you develop a plan for the nation.

Two specific policy solutions. 

1. Health

The Vision: Dream Big

We want Australians to be the healthiest people in the world.

Set Goals:

To achieve this we need to separate out preventable disease from non-preventable disease.

Our goal will then be to eliminate 100% of all preventable diseases and channel our resources into researching and treating the non-preventable diseases.

How to eliminate preventable disease?

Five key areas to focus on:

1. Smoking  2. Excessive alcohol consumption 3. Poor diet and lack of exercise 4. Vaccinations 5. Undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems.

For example on smoking:

13% of Australian adults (and too many teenagers) currently smoke, or about 2.6 million people.

Our goal will be to decrease that percentage by 0.5% (100,000 people) per year so that by 2041 no Australians will be smoking.

Take Action:

(1) We will assist smokers to quit by making all approved products (patches, gum etc) as well as counselling etc, available to smokers (via their GPs) for no charge under Medicare so that there is no financial obstacle to quitting smoking.

(2) We will financially dissuade smokers by imposing a 10% price increase on all tobacco products every year and that money will be used exclusively for the health budget (initially to pay for the costs of implementing the point above).

(3) We will increase the current communication measures (advertising campaigns etc) to encourage people to quit.

Similarly structured strategies would be developed for alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of exercise, vaccinations and mental health. 

Could you imagine if we were able to eliminate all preventable disease? Could you imagine if we freed up our health system to focus purely on researching and treating non-preventable disease?

Could you imagine the massive benefit to the health of our population, let alone the massive benefit to the financial cost of funding our health system?

"Yes, that's all very well in theory, but what about the short term? How are we going to fund the system properly today?" ask the smug accountants from the back of the room, desperately clutching the 2015 Intergenerational Report.

This is a no brainer.

We increase the Medicare levy by 0.25% per year for the next 12 years, taking it from 2% to 5% and channel all that additional income into the health budget. All current exemptions and penalties (Medicare surcharge levy) will continue to apply. 

2. Age Pension

The Vision: Dream Big.

We want Australians to be financially self reliant in their retirement.

Set Goals:

By 2050 all Australians will be able to fund their retirement via their superannuation savings.

Take Action:

The superannuation contribution levy will increase by 0.5% per year for the next 21 years (paid for 50% by employees and 50% by employers) taking it from 9.5% to 20%. 

The funds accumulated will be available from 60 years of age but only as an annuity.

Could you imagine how the Australian social landscape would be transformed if we were to achieve this goal?

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