Politicians' attacks won't fix world woes

POLITICAL discourse in Australia is increasingly strident.

Enjoy Christmas; the 2013 federal election campaign will start in six months. That election will be a brutal affair, raw and personal.

When it comes to winning elections and governing the nation, what divides us as a nation is highlighted, rather than what unites us.

No one wins elections by pointing out similarities to their political opponents.

For much of Australia's political history, an overlapping (small ``l'') liberal consensus was the basis for social co-operation.

Divisive issues threatening that consensus were gently removed or adapted.

This foundation for social co-operation is being fractured by emerging political dynamics.

The dynamics driving change include fear and uncertainty.

Change itself gives rise to economic and national insecurity.

Some Australians ask: ``Why are we talking so much about an Asian Century as the basis for our future well-being and prosperity?''

Asia is after all, the place of historic fear and threat, intimidation and vulnerability met by xenophobia and paranoid behaviour - witness our reactive responses to refugees and foreign investment.

In 20 years, the three global mega-powers will be China, India and Brazil.

Australia's geo-political future is uncertain. Our comfort zone will be tested.

Scenario analyses for the global economy is uncertain.

Europe has to dramatically change its social and economic fabric. Voters are weary and wary of the one-trick policy pony - austerity. Options, innovation and hope are evaporating.

The US might avoid the ``fiscal cliff'' but faces the long haul of debt reduction and expenditure constraint that some analysts argue will not see significant sustainable prosperity emerge until 2020.

Smart people in the US are writing learned tomes about why the US _ the once-great mercantilist power of the world economy is now the victim of free trade and globalisation, rather than their champion.

This is a public discourse in Australia that will get louder and shriller.

Then there are the two-three speed economy impacts in Australia's regions. The high Australian dollar impacts now requires Reserve Bank intervention as it is caught in a currency devaluation by the US aimed at securing the competitiveness of its labour-intensive manufacturing sector. This US strategy makes Australia the loser by default and the national interest can't be solely measured by online shopping and overseas travel advantages.

Australia lacks the political and policy maturity to do something about real domestic issues - the rate and coverage of the GST, cost of living pressures, high labour and production costs, a lack of productivity and slow progress in responding to or indeed understanding the impact of a rapidly ageing population.

`'Brown'' environmental challenges in urban and coastal landscapes are highly visible, but not to environmental activists.

Securing sustainable energy platforms are reduced to hyperbole.

The accessible social media platforms add to the fracturing of the liberal overlapping consensus with ``megaphone politics''.

Social media enhances democratic pluralism by promoting diversity of ideas and values but seemingly reduces our politicians to populist puppets rather than representatives inclined to attach their political futures to predictable public policy development.

Voters need reassurance and incentives to re-establish an overlapping consensus when a range of factors threaten the comfortable status quo. Knowing what to do requires political leadership and an action agenda.

Politicians abusing each other remorselessly is not a substitute for not knowing what to do.

Dr Tony McCall is a senior lecturer at the school of government, University of Tasmania.


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