Hi all. I wrote this to my Federal MP, Graham Perrett, in response to a survey he distributed. There was a bit of effort involved, so I'm going for a bit more mileage here. Cheers.
Dear Mr Perrett,
I write this in response to the survey your office distributed recently entitled, "Your Views, Your Vote." I appreciate your attempt to obtain some information about the views of constituents, but felt the survey was inadequate and I could not complete it with any integrity. However I will attempt to address your twelve points, as well as make some remarks about things I feel are of critical importance but which the survey did not include.
Disclosure: my vote or my preference has gone to the ALP in every election I've had the privilege to be a part of. I will never close my mind to swinging though. I'm born Australian and am 42 years old, male. In my youth I was briefly a member of the Australian Democrats.
There are two things on your list which I do not feel belong there, not because they are not important but because they are outside the Federal jurisdiction. They are "Improving local traffic black spots" and "Upgrading local Community Facilities." Like all the twelve items on the list, it's hard to make any comment about them anyway without knowing what is meant by them, or in other words what your government would propose to address them. But by putting them low on the list I would be providing information that could be used to demonstrate that I (as a data set) give them a low importance, which is not true.
There is a theme which disturbs me in this weight toward local issues which strictly speaking should not concern you. The space for extra comments is specifically entitled, "Other Local Issues of Importance to You." With respect, shouldn't you be concerned about federal issues? There is no mention at all of international issues like nuclear disarmament, climate change, poverty, terrorism and war. There is no mention of environmental issues like retaining and expanding forest, ocean wilderness and biodiversity. Terrorism? Foreign aid? Immigration? Am I to assume these are not important to you? These are at least concerns of your sphere of government.
Notes on your own twelve issues:
1. "Supporting Australian Jobs." Of course jobs are important, but apart from other things listed (building infrastructure, supporting business, investing in health and education etc), what on earth do you mean? I will assume you do not mean "supporting Australian jobs" which could mean protectionism and racism. In any case, before I knew what you had in mind policy-wise, I cannot support this point at all, but that does not imply that I do not think that jobs are a first order priority.
2. "Supporting local small business." I am a small business owner myself, so once again of course I think they should be supported. But do you mean spending public money on more expensive local goods when the nation could be saving precious revenue and appropriately supporting workers and economies overseas, including developing economies? That would be going against sound free trade principles, as would any economic 'protection' of local business. It might help our local economy temporarily, but a healthy global economy is of a more fundamental importance.
One simple way government (though again not Federal) could support small businesses without costing a dime is to allow us to have a modest sandwich board on the street outside the premises advertising our stores. Not a sexy policy - merely a small reduction of bureaucracy - but it would help us more than many a hair brained scheme.
3. "Modernising our schools." Education is the most important "Nation building infrastructure" there is. By modernising our schools I hope you mean increasing teachers' wages, reducing class sizes and supporting good infrastructure (halls are fine, but they should be shown to be needed). And I hope you do not mean 'modernising' in the sense of making schools and educational institutions even more vocation-based and less citizenship based. Our society is built on the dual free realms of economics and politics, and it is education for the latter that has suffered with the loss of Greek, Latin and the classics, which for hundreds of years was the ethical training ground for citizens and leaders, and a very effective one too. Please keep Shakespeare a strong element of the English curricula for this reason. It is equally important to me as an employer that my staff can comprehend and use language creatively and are familiar with the ethical complexities of life as whether they have 'vocation skills' or can recite some canon of state-sanctioned values. But once again I have no idea what you mean by 'modernising'.
4. "Assisting first home buyers." I have no idea why this is on your list. For one thing such targeted government largesse is merely absorbed by the market, giving a lift to housing demand hence prices for everyone. It's not clear to me that making home finance easier is not also increasing the pool of potentially vulnerable mortgages. In my understanding of the World financial situation that should still not be seen as a good thing. But if you want to throw some money around in order to help people, including people dreaming and hoping to buy a first home (I am one of these incidentally), the obvious target is dental. If you provided dental (means tested I guess to a reasonable level) you would help everyone up the 'ladder of opportunity' at every rung. (Please excuse the reference to the Latham election - 'ladder of opportunity' remains a good metaphor.) A dental bill can be a big whack - indeed can be a dream breaker (or at least dampener) and a demoraliser. It would not interfere with the economy unduly, would help very broadly, would result in a healthier, more productive population and accelerate the upward mobility of any number of Australians. "Assisting first home buyers" is quite absurd and I'm sure you are aware of this.
5. "Strong economic management." Obviously this is high on the list, but I would assume that it would be an abiding priority, uncompromisingly so, regardless of the surveyed priorities of the electorate. Hitler had 'strong economic management' and modern economic management is about interfering as little as is advisably possible. So once again, what do you have in mind?
6. "Improving local traffic black spots." With respect, being a federal parliamentarian is an enormous responsibility, even if you are a backbencher, requiring cognizance of many issues, many of which involve very high stakes. Making roads safer and hence reducing the road toll is an ongoing priority of state and local government which has my full support, but if I thought you were spending time on it I would be forced to assume that you have no idea what your job is, and hence are not doing it.
7. "Nation building infrastructure." This is another important area and it does affect my vote. Indeed it is an area that I think Howard failed us in terribly. I still want to know what you have in mind, but I will assume because they are independently on your list that it might involve investments in schools, hospitals, solar technology and building a broadband network. Yes please. In general I am supportive of investment in these things which support our entire economy. I would add transport infrastructure and national forest. Obviously we can't have everything at once, which means you need to spend judiciously. I'll add the note here that for my money every policy proposal should have attached a bureaucracy-reviewed cost-benefit analysis, with a triple bottom line, so that different proposals can be properly assessed. But overall, the ALP Government don't do too bad a job of prioritising infrastructure spending. (Thanks.)
8. "Investing in solar technology." I trust you mean R&D, and subsidised solar only so much as it is helpful to the R&D process. The objective is to render solar power cheaper per kilowatt than coal-burned power, after which, even if it is not achieved for another 40 years, all the arguments about reducing carbon will become redundant. So yes, I support a small tax on carbon (of some form), which should directly fund R&D in solar. This would be a sensible long-term investment and would not (with a small tax) affect the economy too much. Massive forced carbon reduction will essentially make us all poorer and less able to deal with any climate (or other) problems that arise. But yep, good solid investment in solar R&D would be smart. In my opinion going solar will be a marked advancement of civilisation.
9. "Building better health services." Look, I can see with education and health that the federal ALP is trying to shoulder in on state issues. That's fine and I'm open-minded. I do wish we could see less f***ing around and more hospitals built though. What we've been witnessing for the last decade is grossly cynical. So yeah, this is high on my list. But add dental - this should be gold-star Labor policy that helps people whilst helping the economy, and that does not merely distort the economy. Thanks for Medicare, by the way (I have never made a claim, and hope I never need to - it helps the health of our whole economy).
10. "Keeping workplace laws fair." Yep, I think they're pretty fair at the moment. I'll make one point though. I've worked for very small businessmen (less than 5 employees) all my life and have recently (about eighteen months) purchased a business of less than 5 employees (presently 3). I'm not sure where the line should be drawn but it is clear to me that with very small businesses employers should be able to sack a person because they don't like them. If an employee can say, "You can't sack me as you have insufficient grounds" in the context of an intimately small business, it could quite simply kill the business. This would be true to a decreasing extent even with larger businesses, incidentally, and should not be ignored for some ideological reason. Now I am a very fair and generous boss, who gets on very well with all my staff and would hate for any of them to leave, but I am sensitive to some of this workplace stuff. If a union official could come in and tell me I'm not fulfilling some regulation, even when my staff are paid above ward and everyone is happy, that would simply be annoying. I don't mind having to obey some rules - there are plenty of reasons why a small businessman might not want a stranger poking around, taking time, distracting staff and going through business information. Quite clearly it would not be helping the economy. Helping the economy results in jobs, and impeding the economy costs jobs. On this basic principle the Conservatives have it right, and I do suspect you know this. If your advisers aren't clear about this, sack them now.
11. "Building a national broadband network." Aren't you guys on to this? We voted for it. If this fell through I would be extremely disappointed. This is "Nation building infrastructure" as surely as good rail, ports and bridges. Not rolling out faster broadband will keep Australia less competitive. No brainer.
12. "Upgrading local community facilities." Like traffic, I'm not sure what this has to do with you. Are you offering us a pork barrel? But sure, I'd love it if you threw some money at the local soccer clubs. Then again, I'd prefer you stuck to your own responsibilities. They are formidable, after all.
As I indicated in the beginning there are a number of other things that I would hope my federal MP might be concerned about. I'm not trying to be exhaustive but here are four which I think are very high priorities.
1. Foreign Affairs. I dearly want my government to follow Europe in building our contribution to the United Nations to 0.9% of GDP. It has become increasingly in Australian interests to eliminate abject want in the world, for security, for the long-term economic well-being of all, and for the environment. It also seems like a good old Australian "fair thing", given that such a large portion of our wealth is due to our mineral-luck, to pay our fair share to the global efforts. In terms of our specific aid programs the best benefit in my opinion comes through helping the development of education in our region, and especially the education of women.
2. Forestry. One of the simple, constructive and profitable (in the long term) ways of bolstering the health of the environment is to maintain and expand forest cover. There should be R&D into appropriate species and appropriate ecologies for different areas, chosen for growth (carbon sinking), and product (timber and bee products to begin with). This will also add value to the estate. Meanwhile all old-growth logging must cease as unsustainable, unprofitable and dangerous to our country's biodiversity, as well as being a major carbon emitter. The national forest strategy is inadequate at this time.
3. End the War on Drugs. It is absurd. The cost of the War on Drugs, financially and in human lives, does not even begin to justify any dubious benefit we get from it. Here's your money saver, and revenue raiser. There will be benefits in policing as well, including community relations with police. There will be many other gains, with almost zero loss. Many lives would be saved.
4. Individual liberty, including the liberty to make mistakes, is critically important. If there is a general policy theme which regularly disturbs me about the ALP at both state and federal level, it is the tendency to want to regulate our personal lives with restrictions and censorship. Our freedom is the engine of our affluence, creativity, responsiveness to change and happiness. If you don't understand, please read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. He remains essentially correct. But a good example right now is the effort to censor the internet. It won't work technically, and hence will only work for the already compliant, it will be expensive, it will come back to bite you politically, and it's wrong. Please stop giving the opposition good reasons to keep calling you 'socialists'.
I do apologise for the length of this 'constituent feedback' but I have tried to stay brief. I respect your job and wish you the best in it. I can only imaging how difficult it must sometimes be, especially negotiating the jagged edge between political reality and conviction. So best of luck, and if I ever do communicate with you, even if it is in passionate criticism, I do so with respect for the position you are in.
PS. I have started reading your novel, The Twelfth Fish. I'll let you know what I think of it.