MB writes: I’ve asked a number of the contributors to our discussion at Avid Reader around the CPD’s Pushing Our Luck to write up some of the themes and thoughts from the night. Second cab off the rank is Miriam Lyons. I’ve extracted the first section of Miriam’s introductory chapter to stimulate some discussion among LP commenters. In a further post, I’ll publish an edited extract from some of her critique and suggested directions:
The 2013 election season feels disturbingly familiar to anyone who was paying attention back in 2010. One Prime Minister replaced with another on the back of bad polling? Check. New Prime Minister waters down a controversial tax and creates a big hole in the budget? Check. Last-minute plan to stash asylum seekers somewhere out of sight and off the front pages? Done. Opposition leader promises to axe the tax, stop the boats, and balance the budget, and then makes those same promises, over and over again? Yep.
This may seem like a strange time to be publishing a book of progressive ideas. Our public debate is not a civilised contest over policy options but a bare-knuckle boxing match between populist politicians, and the political tide seems to be turning against attempts to put long-term social goals ahead of short-term individual ones. But the contributors to Pushing Our Luck argue that, despite appearances, we have not yet reached the peak of Australian progress. Building a society that is more fair, sustainable, prosperous and cohesive than the one we live in today is not just a nice idea, but an achievable one.
The title of this book is both an invitation and a warning. An invitation to take the courageous steps necessary to make a good country into a great one, and a warning of the consequences of coasting on the back of past achievements. The fear that Australia’s good luck will run out if we push it too far can be so paralysing that we fail to make the most of it. The following chapters show that, in many cases, we’re running down our inheritance, neglecting public assets that took decades of cooperation and hard work to build. We’re drifting towards two-tier systems in health, education, welfare, and workplace relations. Australians have never been asked if we want to prioritise the wellbeing of the wealthy, healthy and highly skilled and leave everyone else on the margins, but that is where we are headed. The authors of Pushing Our Luck show that the political constituency for a different approach is strong, and would have many practical advantages. They also spell out what’s required to make our good fortune last well into the future.
Australia is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. We rank near the top of the United Nations’ Human Development Index, based on our levels of health, education and income.[i] The Economist Intelligence Unit rates Australian newborns as the second-luckiest babies in the world.[ii] It’s time to decide what to make of our status as the rich kid on the block. Do we want to be the world’s Gina Rinehart – eyes only for the next quarry, squabbling with the kids over the inheritance, lecturing those less fortunate on why they deserve their fate? If our nation were on its deathbed, with the extended family gathered around, what would we be proud of, what would we regret? Would we be passing on a rich legacy, like Norway, or would we have frittered it all away, like Nauru? Would we wish we’d spent more time and effort on the things that really matter?