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The light's not shining

By James Cumes - posted Friday, 18 March 2011

With its long tradition of constitutional, democratic government and its elections, parliaments, judiciary and the rest, New South Wales looks as though it is well governed. For the most part, a better-than-average public service should see to that.

However, even such a mature government as that in NSW or parties as old and as plausibly well tried as Labor and Liberal do not take easily to revolution; and it is revolution that we have needed ever more urgently since 1969 in the "premier" state of NSW and in the Australia of which New South Wales forms such a vital part.

Right now, in 2011, we are at a point similar to 1932: back then, we had staggered through the 1929 NY Stock Market crash and the financial and economic collapse that followed. Three or four years were spent trying to understand it and remedy its results with a minimum of pain and – yes – a minimum of "revolution". By 1932-33, depression and social misery compelled acceptance of revolution – constitutional and peaceful, of course, in accordance with American – and Australian – traditions but revolution nevertheless.


There's a topical parallel. Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. We in the West have spent trillions of dollars trying to rescue, revive or keep on life support financial institutions we should have proclaimed dead long before they arrived in hospital. Now the tsunami they have left behind is ready to engulf us and must be confronted. Revolution is the only course.

Do the contestants for power in New South Wales show any sign that they acknowledge this? Do Labor, Liberal, Green or other parties show any sign that they inhabit the financial and economic world in which we ordinary folks must live?

It is not as though they have not had time. It is not as though the issues are trivial or marginal. The issues have crept up on us ever more insistently over more than a quarter of a century: indeed, as far back as 1969 when the well-conceived policies of the post-war years began to come apart. Those issues were as fundamental as interest rates, knowing what they could and could not do and knowing how to harness them for the good of the country and its people rather than for a plutocratic minority and as an encouragement to speculative frenzy.

A fundamental creed was that raising interest rates "fought inflation" – all inflation. It didn't of course. Consumer-price inflation – and stagnation – increased; but the true believer persisted stubbornly in his belief. He still does. Even the central bankers do, fifty years later.

The rate of consumer-price inflation did fall eventually – in the 1980s; but it did not fall because of hikes in interest rates. It fell largely because we got a massive range of consumer items from abroad at bargain prices. The United States did it and we thought it was a great idea. We gutted our industries to get our inflation down – except of course inflation in industries which were not gutted because their products could not be produced offshore. That zoomed upwards, ever upwards.

We moved away from being a mixed economy of public and private enterprise with a strong public bank to keep the money-merchants honest. We embraced deregulation, privatisation and globalisation. Politically, we moved so far to the right that the left disappeared and the Labor Party gloried in it.


The Leader of the NSW Labor Government hasn't shown much understanding of such things; nor has the Leader of the Coalition Parties or the Greens. Debate on such fundamental issues simply does not and, it seems, will not take place.

Instead, each tends to counter petty accusation with petty accusation; to seek to elevate, not their substance as statesmen, but their "image" with the voting public; and to enhance their place in the party hierarchy.

That is at the State level. Much the same distinguishes Canberra.

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About the Author

James Cumes is a former Australian ambassador and author of America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-Destruction of a Superpower (2006).

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