A "new year" isn’t really necessarily different to the old. It's just an extension. Think of Syria, the Great Barrier Reef, Centrelink. Nonetheless we all think we get a new start in the new year, and that how we move forward from here, in February, can be more or less unencumbered by anything that happened in say November or December. It gives us a sense of direction. So what has this new start been able to offer up so far?
Competition and innovation for one.
Anything which is new or clever is given the gloss of innovation, which is presumed to be good, while competition is a proxy for efficiency and strength. Although the NDIS roll out seems to be suggesting that innovation and competition in the social services will result in a higher caseload for workers and uncertainty for service users. And in retail now we are looking at lower wages and global online competition: fast fashion.
Another feature idea of the year so far has been the idea of choice. Do we the Australian people want to fund homelessness services or public housing? Do we want jobs or good work conditions? Do we want Family Tax Benefits or childcare, or the NDIS. Of course these are all false dilemmas. But it's surprising to have to explain yet again how childcare can be the crucial start for young children at risk of getting left behind, and that their families need an adequate income and a safe place to live as well.
And then there's the search for scapegoats and saviours. It's not new to this year, but it seems to be sharpening up. We might soon be blaming Muslim immigrants for house prices - for example - rather than the tax rules and many years of government inaction.
In the same way, you might have noticed the definition of a welfare cheat in some political media has now become anyone who has, maybe, been overpaid something by Centrelink. Yes, there's been a strong community driven pushback to the process and inaccuracy of the "robo- debt" exercise, but there's no-one yet asking why so many errors or discrepancies exist in the first place nor why the mechanisms of the payments system connect so poorly to the everyday realities of the people it deals with. So even when the scapegoating doesn’t work, it can still be a distraction.
And if we look as far as the US, we can now see the media described as the enemy of the people. Perhaps the very idea of accountability is under attack and is about to be written off as an obsession of some distant elite, as the creator of problems.
In our 2017-2018 pre-Budget submission we pointed to the big issues facing Australia and the world, and the importance from an Anglicare Australia perspective of government looking to deal with those issues progressively and inclusively: Re -committing to the idea that no one is left behind, that every body counts, that we are stronger and better together.
In that submission we talk about dealing with growing inequality, the uncertain economy, the impact of climate change, and the need to work together across our class and social divides. And how they give rise to lots of issues that people across the Anglicare network are all too well aware of: the increasing insecurity of work, the crisis in homelessness and unaffordable housing, the shocking inadequacy of income support, and the growing barriers to inclusion faced by people who find themselves outside the (more or less affluent) mainstream because of who they are, where they live, or what has happened in their lives.
Australian citizens need their governments to face up to the challenges we are facing over the next decades. Not just the politics of the next year or two. And then find a way we can work together on dealing with them.
Of course, Anglicare Australia isn't alone in saying this. Ken Henry, ex-head of Treasury, has just been making this same point from an economist's and banker's perspective: pointing to tax reform, climate policy, our ageing demography and the need for infrastructure as areas where the political parties simply won't agree. Of course his 2010 tax review famously suffered precisely from the kind of "trench warfare" he described the other day.
A lot of the new year has been about partisan politics rather than good governments. It can make for entertainment, but it's not always good policy. Think of how successful Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's personal attack on Labor Leader Bill Shorten is seen to be. And who can remember that it came in a debate about the impact of a government bill on people living on low incomes?
And that's why clean coal is such an exemplar of the year so far. Because there is no such thing. Literally. The lump of coal taken into Parliament House as a prop for Question Time this month was coated in plastic. Otherwise the Treasurer would have got his hands very dirty indeed. But it was a way of dressing up a political priority as a solution to a bigger problem, one that will have consequences generations down the track.
We can't let the politics and entertainment industry tell our story. We all need to find a way to talk about the society, the world, we are trying to create. With more housing, job opportunities, care when we need it, education, as a part of that.
However, I'm not so sure that's come through in the new year so far....