We have a new national government and a new set of ministers. And, as I sit here grappling with a particularly pleasant bout of COVID, I have been reflecting on my hopes for this incoming government.
We always have hopes for new governments – even if we know that most of our hopes will inevitably be washed away in a sea of political expediency and populism. And there is always a heightened expectation when there is a change of government, and this time around is no different.
My first hope for our new government is that they take a moment to reflect on what the true messages were from the Australian electorate during the 2022 election. Fundamentally this election was a call for change.
Change in terms of real action on climate, a more diverse and inclusive leadership style, less political spin, greater accountability and transparency, and an enhanced focus on integrity. These are challenging, but ultimately not unreasonable expectations and my hope is that this new government genuinely embraces these expectations rather than trying to evade or distract from them.
My second core hope is that the new government takes meaningful action and proactively drives positive and focused national change. From my perspective, there are four core priority action domains building on signals from this new government and the electorate.
Climate Change – this was the first election in our history where climate change was the key determining factor and this topic must sit at the heart of any new government agenda. What we need as a nation is to move away from rhetoric to deliberate, tangible and urgent action. We need to see 2030 replace 2050 as our real planning horizon and stop ‘kicking the can down the road’ for future generations. We need to embrace the economic opportunity to be a truly regional and global leader in renewable energy and climate innovation while very thoughtfully managing our energy transition in a way that maximises investment and job creation in our most impacted regions. In short, we need a government that is going to lead, set clear direction and actively work with state governments and an already engaged business community to drive genuine change and action.
Economic Development – our new government is inheriting a set of tricky economic conditions including record deficits, rising inflation and global recessionary pressures exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. This will require appropriate short term tactical actions. But the real focus should be on the medium to long term economic future of our country. We need a plan to grow and diversify our economy and invest in growth sectors such as biotech, space, defence, renewable energy and technology. We need a national skills strategy to identify the future skills Australia requires, supported by appropriate skills development programs and a focus on targeted skilled migration. We need to place greater emphasis on issues such as regional development, reducing bureaucracy, accelerating digitisation, and connecting more effectively with Asia. Balancing short and long term economic priorities is never easy, but this is a true legacy the best governments leave behind.
National Security – a topic that is clearly a priority for our incoming government given the increased power and positioning of China in this region. But it is apparent the Australian electorate rejected the campaign’s anti-China rhetoric. So, what we need is a clear eyed but more nuanced relationship with our largest trading partner – a relationship based on maintaining civil and constructive dialogue at a leadership level, and one that effectively balances social, economic, political and defence considerations. In addition, we need to establish a very deliberate long term alliance strategy with key global, Asian and Pacific nations and actively nurture these relationships and not take them for granted. We need a government that will drive and accelerate the national cyber agenda and commit to smartly, and with focused urgency, building a 21st century defence capability and underlying national defence industry.
Social Infrastructure & Inclusion – the new government has signalled that this will be a priority and we certainly need to tackle some important issues in this domain. Front and centre should be the health and human services agenda and topics like housing affordability, accessibility to childcare, aged care and Medicare, and the financial sustainability of our NDIS program and our health system more broadly. This agenda should be underpinned by proper digital, funding and workforce reform and a clear focus on prevention rather than reactive action. Importantly, this government has also signalled that it will drive a more inclusive leadership agenda. On this note, it is very welcome, though well overdue, to see the strong representation of women in the new parliament. It is also pleasing to see the elevation of the Indigenous agenda as Australia will be a better and more complete place with proper recognition and appreciation of our Indigenous culture and voice.
This is an ambitious agenda and one, even as an inherent optimist, I know is not possible to achieve in full. But my final hope is that this new government will at least have a go, not be unduly deterred by inevitable obstacles and criticism, and seek to enact this change agenda in a transparent and inclusive way with the Australian people.
Hope may not be a strategy, but it does give us a reason to keep moving forward and that is enough for me, for now.