Why does Australia go through cycles of public policy boldness and timidity? The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the Australian political system has much more tolerance for policy innovation than appeared to be the case on the evidence of the previous twenty years. As another election approaches, though, the signs are that both major parties are keen for a return to policy caution. In Who Dares Loses: Pariah Policies, Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen explain the political constraints on policymakers and the ways in which they are changing.
The obvious comparison to the policy urgency of COVID-19 is climate change, where successive governments have failed to rise to the challenge. Framing climate change as an emergency won’t make any difference to the web of interests that has prevented an effective response from Australian governments. However, climate change is one of a series of issues where the major parties are less than frank with voters. The need to raise revenue to deal with such policy problems, as well as social inequality, has to be front and centre.
Labor took some modest tax proposals to the 2019 election but hasn’t dealt with the underlying problem: Australian’s tax system relies too much on personal and corporate income. This book suggests alternative sources of revenue and spending reforms. In addition, it examines the limited debates over welfare, Medicare and public broadcasting.
Some of these ideas have been around for decades. Others are the product of new technology. What they have in common is that they are good ideas that have become pariahs when it comes to government action.