My definition of maturity is the ability to be resolute in doing something challenging now which will improve our lives in the future. Unfortunately for future Australians, Abbott’s Liberal National government is completely lacking in this maturity. In opposition, Abbott’s team spent six years bashing Labor for taking on challenges to improve our future. In government, they have advocated a ‘me, me, me, now, now, now’ approach to their policy agenda, appealing to the electorate’s most selfish, short-sighted, immature instincts.
Abbott is no doubt pleased today to find that this approach has got him into power. Becoming PM was all he ever wanted. But what about the future? Whether he likes it or not, while he stands still and looks back, time rolls on towards the future. The problem for Abbott is he only ever thought as far as the election. As far as the moment where he could display his daughters dressed in white and declare himself Prime Minister. But what next? Next, I’m interested to see how Australia’s future will judge the Abbott government. A future he apparently gave no thought to.
An immature government that only thinks of itself and seems incapable of worrying about anything that might happen more than a week in advance is a very dangerous government. Josh Bornstein suggested in the Guardian this week that Abbott won the support of the electorate by scaring them into believing Australia was facing many crises. But these crises were concocted. I think he makes a good point. Unfortunately the Labor Government failed not only to play down Abbott’s boy-who-cried-wolf-claims, but even backed some of them up by going along with the idea that there was a cost of living crisis (when there wasn’t). On top of this, Labor failed to back up its own economic credentials in delivering an economic success story, not a crisis. And Labor also failed to persuade the easily frightened electorate of the long term benefits of the Carbon Price, while Abbott successfully persuaded them of the short term costs (which didn’t eventuate). Of course, it wasn’t exactly easy for Labor to get their positive message across, given the barrage of publicity Abbott was gifted from every news outlet in the country, including the ABC, while so-called-journalists offered zero scrutiny of Abbott’s messages of doom. The media loves a crisis, whether the crisis exists or not.
The ridiculous and tragic part of this tale of ‘crisis’ propagated by Abbott is that there is a real crisis looming. Climate change. Yet Abbott convinced people who were all too willing to be deceived, that climate change is just a big over-reaction by alarmists, and that the Carbon Price hit on their electricity bills was the only thing they had to fear.
But what now? The future is still coming, and climate change isn’t going away. Abbott is still promising to replace Labor’s Carbon Price with the unpopular Direct Action policy – the world’s most expensive government tree planting exercise, which no expert has been able to prove will have any discernable impact of Australia’s carbon emissions. Labor’s Carbon Price is reducing emissions, and Abbott is scrapping it, without even explaining first how, logistically, his government will plant 20 million trees with a 15,000 strong ‘Green Army’. This lack of foresight into the future is going to become a huge political mess for Abbott. And covering it all up isn’t going to help either. Not when the Climate Commission is now an independently funded Climate Council, which is dedicated to keeping reports like the latest climate predictions from the IPCC front and centre in the community’s mind. Abbott might like to think his buddies in the media will cover up climate change for him, but what happens when more and more engaged Australians flood to social media, independent Australian media and international press to find out the truth for themselves? What happens when even the doubters and deniers start to notice temperature records being broken on a monthly basis? When the predicted sea rises start to affect beachside property in Sydney, and not just small islands which are currently out of sight and out of mind? Abbott can’t hide from the future forever.
It’s actually difficult to find a policy area where Abbott and his colleagues have given any thought to the future. But what happens when they have to come face to face with this future? A future just around the corner?
In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”. This is the sort of future thinking that Malcolm Turnbull deployed when he said “25 megabits per second will enable anybody in residential situations to do everything they want to do or need to do in terms of applications and services”. He should have added another word to that sentence. Today. But what about tomorrow Turnbull? Wouldn’t the best idea be to future-proof Australia’s broadband network, so that it doesn’t rely on old rotting copper infrastructure? Shouldn’t you look to the future and expect megabit needs to increase exponentially as technology improves? Or is the future not of your concern?
This week Pyne floated the suggestion that he will again cap university places, and he would also like to see the removal of the student amenities fee. (Abbott has backed quickly away, although it’s clear the policy change is still on the table). Characteristically, Pyne explained his concerns were that Labor’s demand driven tertiary education sector (in other words, a huge increase in the number of Australians with a tertiary education, many first in their family to gain a degree) was going to have a negative influence on the ‘quality’ of Australia’s tertiary education sector.
Apart from the fact that Pyne is breaking a pre-election promise to not re-introduce caps, it’s clear his perception of a ‘quality’ education is a ‘scarce’ education. Like a Porsche owner bemoaning the number of other Porsches he sees on the road, as evidence of the lack of ‘status’ accorded to him by spending a small fortune on a car. Pyne doesn’t want just ‘anybody’ to have a tertiary education. Especially not those who are first in their family. No, only the privileged few should have access to a quality education, presumably to maintain their privilege and to squash social mobility and aspiration. But this sort of thinking reveals the lack of foresight Pyne has about the benefits to Australia of lifting the number of the population with tertiary degrees. Pyne needs to understand that the point of a university degree is not to add a qualification to your resume, to frame a piece of paper on your wall, a piece of paper lots of other people don’t have. The point of educating more Australians is to have more educated Australians. To have a highly skilled population. To improve productivity. To increase innovation. To better Australia’s competitive advantage against other developed economies with ever increasing numbers of educated adults. But this is a future goal, something Pyne obviously cares little about.
And what about Abbott and Bishop claiming for years that they can turn around asylum seeker boats and send them back to Indonesia? Did they consider what they might do in the eventuality where the Indonesian government won’t have a bar of this reckless plan? Or did they just think they’d worry about that later? Later is here. Or look at Abbott’s cutting of Australian Research Council funding, which will stifle Australia’s future scientific advancements and strangle the economic benefits of a high-tech economy. How about Abbott’s preferences for road infrastructure, over funding for renewable energy technologies to eventually replace polluting vehicles. It’s all about now and what Abbott thinks he needs to do now, to win power now. Abbott cares only about himself. He doesn’t even seem to care about his daughters’ futures. It’s fairly clear even the election in 2016 is way too far away to have any effect on Abbott’s current behaviour. This is good news for those hoping for a #OneTermTony. The future is not going to look kindly on Abbott’s government. Abbott should have thought about this. But thankfully, he and his team don’t have the maturity, nor the intelligence, to notice.Follow @Vic_Rollison