By MARK KENNY
BEREFT of aspirational politics, our Federal leaders, lacking in inspiration, desperately attempt to lure voters with promises of tax cuts, special projects and other appeals to self-interest. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The problem is not just a national one. Regrettably, a mark of modern politics at all levels of government is lack of aspiration. When combined with the failure of our leaders to inspire, the lack of aspirational goals leaves the future looking bleak. Yet how many humans would want to leave a dreary, depressing and desolate world for their children, grandchildren and the generations to follow?
There are alternatives. The Welsh provide an example. In 2015 their parliament voted to protect the future, to provide for the generations to come and take responsibility for the world they have now and the one that they will hand on. Aspirational legislation was adopted to improve the world in which they live, work and engage as communities.
A simple piece of legislation, the Well-being of Future Generations Act sets out the goals, the dreams and the ambitions of a jurisdiction focusing on a path for the future. It is designed to have legislators and the community “think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach”.
The Australian government offers a thinly-veiled bribe of minimalist tax cuts to ordinary citizens to conceal the huge tax breaks for its mates. Legislators in Wales would be bound to consider the impact of such actions in the broader context. Their legislation commences with a simple overview that requires “public bodies to do things in pursuit of the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales in a way that accords with the sustainable development principle; to require public bodies to report on such action”.
It is more than aspirational. There is a commissioner who is the guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales. The role conducts impact assessments of effective working, involving people in a manner that reflects the diversity of communities, looking to the long term as well as focusing on the present, and to “take action to try and stop problems getting worse – or even stop them happening in the first place”.
It is difficult to make aspirational legislation have a serious impact. A commissioner helps. However, aspirational legislation makes legislators stop and think. It has the advantage of ensuring decisions are not made in a thoughtless, self-interested, politically convenient manner that ignores economic, environmental and social sustainability.
On a recent visit to Canberra, Prof David Pencheon, explained the reality of such legislation. Although enforcement might be challenging, the court of public opinion has a hook on which to challenge a recalcitrant government.
Under his guidance, the UK’s National Health Service has made a significant reductions in its carbon footprint. It has done so at the same time as making savings of billions of pounds for the British health system.
Perhaps it takes some imagination. However, the future does not necessarily cost us the present. On the other hand, without vision, without inspiration and without aspiration, failure to manage the present will cost us the future.
It has been done. It can be done. The Welsh have taken the step. The ACT can make a similar choice. Environmental impact assessments have demonstrated that it can be done in Australia. Now it’s time to seek equitable social, economic and environment sustainability.
Words play a part. Aspirational legislation is not something that has been favoured in Australia. On its own it is not enough. However, coupled with tools such as the Welsh “well-being objectives” that bind ministers and governments as a whole and with appropriate oversight there just might be a chance.
There is a chance – it ought to be adopted in Australia and certainly in Canberra. Call me a dreamer. But for our children’s sake and that of their children, it’s worth a try.