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Reform must continue beyond economics to social policy

By John Brogden - posted Friday, 30 June 2000


At the next New South Wales election, in 2003, first-time voters will have been born in 1985. Picture their world.

In their lifetime, they have known only two Prime Ministers. To them, the Whitlams are a band, not a former Prime Minister and his wife! They have never known the Soviet Union, or lived through the nuclear threat. They have never known war or campaigned for nuclear disarmament.

AIDS has always been part of their lives. Drink driving has never been an option and illegal drugs have been freely available. They have never heard of or dealt with Telecom. They have never used a typewriter and never owned a record player. And they have probably never seen a black-and-white television.

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Their life has been one of constant change. Indeed change has been the only constant. They will cope with rapid change and expect it to be a feature of their lives.

Unlike their parents, they will not receive a free tertiary education. They will be required to make compulsory contributions to their retirement from their first day at work. And they will be required to contribute more to their health care throughout their lives.

The message to this generation is clear – self-reliance is expected and government is for the provision of essential services and the protection of those who cannot provide for themselves. This generation will not hold a nostalgic view of what government used to be like and what it should do for them.

The ownership of public assets, for example, will be less important than the expectation of quality and service. To them, it will matter little who runs or owns the rail system, just that it runs on time, safely and cleanly.

This revolution in the direction of government is the result of progressive, reforming Liberal Governments.

From 1996 Prime Minister John Howard has taken the next step and reduced the role of government to regulator, funder and provider of essential services. Many of the traditional roles of government, such as welfare and employment services are now conducted by the non-government sector.

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The Liberal message is clear – business and the community are better equipped to deliver many government services more efficiently and effectively than the bureaucracy.

In contrast, the Australian Labor Party remains directionless and unable to keep pace with a progressive, reformist agenda. Kim Beazley's stale party is still fighting the last election and fails to realise that fundamental tax reform is now a reality. Labor's light on the hill has extinguished. They have become the true conservative party in Australia, clinging to the trade union movement in an increasingly de-regulated labour market and to class warfare in an increasingly egalitarian society.

David Williamson's latest play exposes Labor's crisis of faith. From "Don's Party" to "The Great Man," Labor has lost its meaning. Where they govern successfully they do so on the borrowed blueprint of liberalism – proved by their unwillingness to turn back the reforms of previous Liberal Governments.

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About the Author

John Brogden is the Leader of the Opposition for NSW and Liberal party member for Pittwater.

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