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A few good ideas

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Here are some modest proposals for making improvements to Australian life. The emphasis is, most of all, on improving our cities; revitalising public transport; helping Australians live healthier lives; and revitalising education.

Reviving transport

In our larger cities, we don’t solve problems. We go around in circles. We pack more and more people into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. And then we complain that there are too many people for the services provided.

The crux is public transport. Buses are unreliable - even in Eastern Sydney, where I live. They seem to huddle together for company - there will be no 380 buses for half an hour, then there are three all at once - and late buses are unreliable and unsafe for all but the adventurous. But the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, often far distant from buses and trains, are served much worse than eastern Sydney. Thus poorer people subsidise public transport for the wealthier suburbs. We need to realise that every person in a train or bus is another one not clogging our roads or polluting our air.

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The environment

We all agree that pollution is a menace. Rivers, streams and oceans are clogged with cans and bottles which are harmful to fish and animals. Why can’t we have a deposit on beer and soft drink bottles, plastic bottles and cans? A 10 cent return on any of these would make sure most of them were recycled. South Australia does it. What excuse can the other states make?

Australia is so often hit by drought and as I write half of my home state (New South Wales) is still drought-declared.

Most of the rain falls along the eastern seaboard. Why can’t we make it easier and cheaper for houses in this region to have rainwater tanks? Some judicious government subsidies would help a lot. The same goes for better and cheaper solar power. It’s not all that hard.

Government waste

In so many areas, we are seeing the results of big government from Canberra trampling over the needs of people in the cities and rural areas.

Millions are spent on our defence including new planes and ships. A defence force is necessary, but under Howard millions of dollars were wasted on “the fight against terror”. Of course, these expenditures must have been necessary … maybe? Can anyone tell me how all the expensive ads, fridge magnets, and so on, have helped defeat terrorists?

It’s a bit like the man who walked around England sprinkling salt. When asked why, he said “To keep the lions out”. They said to him, “But there are no lions in England”. And he replied, “See? It works”.

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Of course, waste is not limited to Canberra. In New South Wales we are spending millions to persuade people that privatising electricity must be a good thing and the State Government is an efficient enterprise. If it was, we wouldn’t need to spend public money advertising it.

Using our most precious resource: our children

If we are ever going to have a smarter society, we have to see education as an investment and not some kind of luxury. University costs our students far too much. Young people won’t go into teaching, for example, when they have to study for years, paying out money in all directions, to then go onto a lowly teacher’s wage.

We don’t really use the imagination and energy of young people. I’d like to see some competitions to really use kids’ competitiveness - provide some prizes and publicity for the best ideas for revitalising education. And education doesn’t just happen in schools!

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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