Public ideas that will endure after May 21

“Liberty, Fraternity and – what was the other word?”

That’s the title of Barry Jones’ Jim Carlton Integrity Lecture 2022. It’s about how equality has dropped off the Australian political agenda this century, and the importance of putting it back on.

He goes well beyond usual criticisms of neoliberalism. He explores the public ideas that have seen the enlightenment project come under sustained attack:

… a retreat from reason; rejection of facts and expertise; the rise of populism, snarling nationalism, tribalism, and conspiracy theories; a fundamentalist revival and hostility to science; a failure of ethical leadership; deepening corruption of democratic processes; profound neglect of the climate-change imperative; and the triumph of vested interests.

This is what happens when we drop fraternité and égalité from the agenda but leave liberté in central place. He lists 6 political perversions of “freedom”, including the freedom to make stuff up in political argument and to deny the reality and threat of climate change.

He goes into the various dimensions of inequality – the usual two on income and wealth, and another four, including gender and education, that often get overlooked.

At the end he lists ten “priorities for our time”, an agenda that reveals Jones’ deep understanding of the complex interactions of political, social and economic systems. It’s an agenda that implicitly criticizes the way governments, universities and policy advocates classify and categorize policy areas, without respecting the interconnectedness of systems.

You can hear Barry Jones as the principal guest on last Sunday’s Roundtable program: How equal are we in Australia? Others are economist Mikayla Novak and Alison Pennington from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. They generally agree with Jones, but Novak asks if all dimensions of inequality that have arisen in recent years are necessarily undesirable: there is good inequality and bad inequality. If inequality arises from people’s choice that should not be of policy concern. If one person chooses to be a Trappist monk while another chooses to develop a prosperous business, such inequality should not be of concern to policymakers.

Novak’s distinction is valid, but she doesn’t point out that what has grown in Australia is not “good” inequality but “bad” inequality – the inequality that results from inherited privilege, rent-seeking, political connections, speculation encouraged by our tax system and political corruption. She is author of Freedom in contention: social movements and liberal political economy.

In referring back to his Jim Carlton Integrity Lecture, Jones regrets that he didn’t cover housing. But he’s a bit tough in that self-criticism: it’s amazing that he managed to confine himself to just ten policy points. If one follows those points a good housing policy flows without the need for specific mention.

Fred Chaney on the state of politics

Former deputy leader of the Liberal Party and senator who served for 16 years, Fred Chaney, has written a letter to the editor deploring the current state of federal politics in Australia and supporting his niece, Kate Chaney, who is standing as an independent in the “safe” Liberal seat of Curtin that covers Perth’s prosperous northern suburbs: I was deputy leader of the Liberals. The Party I served has lost its way.

The media has tended to focus on his assertion that the Liberal Party is held hostage by extremists (an observation with which few independent observers would disagree), but his letter is about much more than that. His concerns are with “the whole system of government”. They are about democracy in Australia. He goes on to write:

They relate to the lack of accountability in government, the blatant pork barrelling, the use of public monies for party electoral advantage rather than the public interest, the pursuit of immediate political advantage rather than the long-term interests of the country, the daily focus on politics rather than good government, and the way the government is reactive rather than forward looking.

“The game of politics has overtaken the primary task of providing good acceptable government” he writes.

He also has a 10-minute segment on ABC Breakfast , where he covers his theme about our elected representatives being more concerned about the game of politics than about pursuing the public interest. He also goes into the moral shortcomings in our current polity, and the weak positions of so-called “moderates” in the Liberal Party. They may be fine people, but they have failed to stand up against the extremists, and have failed to raise their voice against blatantly immoral policies. There is no point in re-electing “moderates” because doing so will have no effect.

He concludes with an issue close to his heart, indigenous rights, specifically the government’s rejection of the proposal in the Uluru Statement for a referendum on an indigenous voice to parliament.

You can read more about Kate Chaney and her policies – policies that should hardly be in contention for anyone concerned with good government and responsible economic management – on her website. The Zoe Daniel interview to which he refers is also on ABC Breakfast: People want politics done differently.