Albo might have said, it’s time to tackle inequality

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“We’ve allowed ourselves to become the meat in a sandwich torn between Trump’s schizophrenic US and Emperor Xi Jinping’s China seeking redress for the vile humiliations of the European colonialists,” writes ROBERT MACKLIN.

SADLY, it seems, we’re going to allow this loathsome pandemic to bare our self-inflicted wounds without grabbing the opportunity to heal them. And this applies as much to our economic and societal defects at home as to our international deformities.

Robert Macklin.

In between splutters, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg parroted the party line to parliament as laid down by his Prime Minister – once the COVID-19 horror is more or less under control, it’s back to business as usual. 

The old Newstart returns, industrial relations gets a milder form of Work Choices; rip-off privatisation makes a comeback across the board; and lots of money will be spent supporting a two-horrible-airlines policy. Well, no surprises there.

On the Labor side, there was another “vision statement” from leader Anthony Albanese but virtually nothing concrete, merely an easy assertion that JobKeeper and JobSeeker will need to continue beyond the September guidelines. It reminded me of the evening sea mist that often passes through Tuross like a ghost and fades away to nothingness.

In a sense it was understandable. A polite chap, Albo, and very aware that there’s a sensitivity abroad about becoming too political during the battle against the pandemic. But he could easily have framed an alternative manifesto as an invitation to Scott Morrison and his legions to join in remaking the battlefield once the unseen enemy had been defeated.

He might have said that the time has come to tackle the rising inequality in a society that used to pride itself on the notion that equality of opportunity is the Australian way. And the sensible move might be to enlist the cohort of women such as Sally McManus and Michele O’Neil, who are running the trade union movement with good, well-thought-out ideas for improving productivity, participation and job security; and who co-operated so well during war.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Caricature: Paul Dorin

He might have congratulated Morrison for accepting and responding to the medical experts, thus revitalising the role of science and empirical evidence in dealing with complex issues. And it would be a small but logical next step to tackle the even more threatening issue of climate change. 

But it’s no good Albanese setting an ambitious target for emissions reduction without charting a path to achieve it, one that not only employs coal miners in better jobs but brings prosperity to the regions that depend on them. It didn’t need to be too detailed but it should be headed by a committee of experts (chaired by a Ross Garnaut figure) and include some of the more level-headed MPs from the major parties.

The international issues are easily identified and soluble with a similar non-partisan approach. Somehow, we’ve allowed ourselves to become the meat in a sandwich torn between Trump’s schizophrenic United States and Emperor Xi Jinping’s China seeking redress for the vile humiliations of the European colonialists.

Surely, the only sensible response is to leave the sandwich, let them rage at each other while we (and NZ) develop a much more congenial group of friends and neighbours in the Pacific and south-east Asia with whom to trade, tour and develop agreements. 

We wouldn’t ignore the big guys in the neighbourhood, but by working together we could get a much better deal with each of them. 

Sure, we’d need a very active foreign service, and a well-balanced aid regime. But at least it’s preferable to being in a sweaty wrestling ring with a pair of half-trained heavyweights carrying clubs. 

And after all the horrors of bushfires, hailstorms and this hideous pandemic, at least we’d have an inspiring goal to aim for.

robert@robertmacklin.com 

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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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