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Courting disaster: now and in the future

By John Harrison - posted Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Two examples of how reactive short-term political thinking damages our long-term national interest emerged at the weekend.

The first was the decision by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to rush home from China to take up the opportunity to appear on television in the wake of Cyclone Ita.

We all remember Anna Bligh’s Queenslander speech during the 2011 floods; and Campbell Newman has sought to reprise that speech during subsequent natural disasters.


Never mind the fact that Newman’s own statement of the four pillars of the Queensland economy: tourism, mining, construction and agriculture are all inexorably bound to the Chinese economy. Never mind that every other State Premier was on parade in Shanghai  (note Shanghai, the commercial capital of China, not Beijing the political capital). And never mind that competent cabinet colleagues such as Townsville-based David Crisafulli could capably manage any natural disaster. (Management of self-inflicted disasters such as relations with the legal profession and the medical profession is another matter).

Newman’s trip to China coincided with the release of a Newspoll which showed him in trouble in his own electorate of Ashgrove, and a two party preferred vote of 52%, down from 62% when he won the election two years ago. A net loss of some 30 seats was predicted.

So Campbell Newman opted for the short term fix: the need to be seen. Not necessarily doing anything, just being seen, but not sharing the limelight with the PM and his fellow premiers on their North Asia pollie pedal.  The long-term interest of Queensland demanded that the Premier stay in China.

Recent data from the Australian Food and Grocery Council says that Australia’s share of China’s agricultural market has fallen by half in the past 20 years as more nimble and aggressive competitors such as Chile, Indonesia and New Zealand have wrapped up their efforts to sell food to China - a place with one quarter of the world’s population.

Ironically, that same weekend Treasurer Tim Nicholls launched his selling of asset sales program, giving Queenslanders a choice between asset sales, increased levels of tax or reduced services. Of course, economic growth, growing the pie, would generate a larger revenue base for the Queensland government.  This does not appear as one of the options in Treasurer Tim’s online asset sales game.

The second example was Joe Hockey’s earnest desire, expressed on the ABC’s Insiders for a national conversation about the pension age, and the entitlement of aged people to government support. Strange but true the previous government had set up an Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing, led by the indefatigable Everald Compton. Part of the brief of this panel was to carry forward the national conversation about these very issues. The panel was located in Treasury - Joe Hockey’s department.


When the Conservatives came to power last year, they axed the panel; one of the very sources of the national conversation that Hockey is now so desperate to have. It was, according to the Prime Minister, one of those unnecessary committees established by the previous Labor government. Indeed, material generated by the panel is no longer available on the Treasury website. This kind of short-sighted stupidity, arising exclusively from partisanship, also damages the national interest.

What is the solution? In the short term, the solution is to move to longer parliamentary terms, so that the temptation for politicians to opt for the quick partisan fix is reduced. The long term solution is to vote out those whose default position is the short term solution, and replace them with people who will always take the long-term view.

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About the Author

Dr John Harrison teaches journalism and communication at The University of Queensland. An award winning journalist and higher education teacher, he is at the forefront of the development of new ways of learning using digital mobile media.

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