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An ambit claim for the Ruddfest 2020

By Valerie Yule - posted Tuesday, 11 March 2008

An ambit claim could be put in for Kevin Rudd and his 2020 summit - that a fair Australia can also be prosperous. That is, Australia Fair would still be able to Advance.

“Fair” means fairness in opportunities, fairness in rewards, and fair dealing.

This is an ambit claim because “fair” cannot be set out in legal terms. It arouses fears of a “nanny state” and of unrealistic idealism, among those who see the human world as being necessarily a jungle - with dogs eating dogs in a way real dogs do not.


Nevertheless, when conditions are perceived as fair, public morale is high, and people willingly join together in work and in facing emergencies such as those of climate change and resource shortages which are ahead of us. They can co-operate as well as compete in innovation and enterprise.

A government can work for fairness through the speeches it makes and the visions it sets, and by the fair laws it makes and the injustices it removes.

The ambit claim for Australia Fair can be applied to the ten Ruddfest topics for the April 19-20 Canberra Summit. Since all topics link together, every topic discussion needs to be headed with awareness of Australia’s three major challenges and emergencies. Otherwise, the separate discussions can be blinkered.

Foreign debt

Australia’s nearly $600 billion foreign debt is still increasing and is now nearly half our compulsory superannuation savings. It is not fair to future Australians to continue ignoring the immense costs of what is being done now to run up the huge current account deficit. Australian prosperity could suddenly pop, like the bubble it is, once we can no longer borrow to pay the growing interest or are called upon to repay capital.

Ways to reduce this huge public debt can include encouraging Australian-owned industries and enterprise; and encouraging Australians to buy Australian products and so reduce our imports. Banks can be discouraged from foreign borrowing we cannot afford, and turn to encouraging, rather than discouraging, small domestic savers to provide capital. There are long-term benefits to reducing the continuing stream of foreign takeovers of profitable Australian businesses that are then asset-stripped with the profits sent overseas.

But it is not fair to prosper at the expense of the poor in developing nations. Rather than import their goods produced by cheap labour, we can aid them to become sustainable themselves with fair wages and conditions.


Climate changes and looming resource shortages

It is not fair to future generations, or to ourselves, to waste the resources of the earth by consuming to excess - “conspicuous consumption" - with short-life products. By using these we waste at every stage, by increasing greenhouse gas emitted in their production, sales and wasteful disposal. The fastest ways to cut carbon emissions are to cut wasteful practices and reduce waste. Businesses can, instead, produce goods and services that are really needed: which have quality, can be repaired and have no deliberate obsolescence. These products should incorporate innovations to mitigate and cope with all the emergencies we are beginning to face.

We can conserve non renewable and barely renewable resources rather than exploiting them to their limits: from fossil fuels to forests and food sources. Buying water rights can be unfair as can carbon trading, with its profits and dubious offsets, which allow some to continue emitting.


It is not fair for the Australian government to fund pro-natalist policies, for two main reasons - national and international.

The national interest is that it is not fair to risk our own future living on the world’s driest continent. Population growth already threatens land conservation, forests, our unique wild-life, water supplies, livability in cities, and even the farmland need for our food.

Certainly, population growth stimulates mass markets, housing construction and rises in property values, but these profit just a few: the general public suffers because of debt and housing shortages. Subsidising rental accommodation for young couples only drives property prices up further. Growth here, as in all our future goals, must be for quality rather than quantity.

The international reason to stop boosting our fertility is that it disgraces Australia by being an example of our selfishness. The world’s population was three billion in 1959, now it is six billion, heading for nine billion by 2050. Many countries are under stress through rapid population growth too great to be solvable by seasonal labour or even mass immigration into Australia.

Australia can set a better example with a “Right to Reproduce”: one child each, that is, two per couple, with every child given a fair chance to grow up healthy, with old age security. This will remove the two big practical reasons for the poor to want large families.

Social injustice

The list of social injustices to remedy is long. I mention only four.

Cut the strangling costs of liability insurance, and its restricting consequences for community life and services, and replace the civil litigation that it makes necessary with no-fault aid for severe injuries, and penalties imposed by the state for severe and repeated negligence. The unfairly high costs of litigation, and threats of litigation, can be greater than can be borne by individuals, small companies and the economy.

Unfair income gaps increase when those with the power to set their own salaries use that power irresponsibly.

Low income gamblers could be given a chance they do not now have for profitable savings as a surer route for upward mobility.

And investment in Australian industries encouraged rather than negative gearing for investment properties which results in increases to the wealth gap.


Governments can promote a healthy population, one that is able to cope with challenges and that makes less demand on medical and welfare resources.

Free dental care for lower-incomes is a basic necessity.

Alcohol (PDF KB) is a major factor in juvenile brain damage, psychiatric illnesses, violence and crime. The liquor industry can be encouraged to grow by diversifying into other production, and discouraged from growing by increasing liquor outlets and increasing its youth market by marketing sweet alcoholic drinks.

Social advertising can use positive, rather than negative, psychological messages to divert peer pressure away from antisocial behaviour and showing off, and encourage healthy activities and entertainments.

The arts and media can assist in stopping prevalent harmful and ignorant childcare practices.

Housing must include outdoor opportunities for children’s free play.

An explicit aim of education must be to learn lifelong leisure interests and hobbies.


Diversity must enrich Australia, not fragment it. No school segregation must be allowed that can breed future social conflict, as is happening at present; all schools must share, join and exchange with each other.

To be fair, all government schools must be endowed to the same degree as the wealthiest private schools. (Now there is an ambit claim!) The poorest need more help than the privileged. To be fair, the inevitable inequities of classroom chances must be complemented by opportunities for self-help, including online and TV Open Primary School and Open Secondary School, and trials of innovations to make literacy easier for those who find it very difficult.

Public assets

There should be no more sales of public assets, not even Medibank Private. Its sale would trigger a rise in premiums.

Trial the possibilities of other government “public enterprises” to compete with some essential but costly private businesses, such as a national online estate agency, and a new government bank for savings deposits and loans only. This would encourage the private businesses to keep their charges down.

There are better ways of raising finance than murky Private-Public Partnerships, or by selling our national assets so that governments lose control over natural monopoly infrastructures. This has happened with banks, which legally prioritise shareholders above the public interest, and Telstra which is unruly to try to regulate. Government bonds would be a better way to raise finance.


Fourteen measures are needed for fairer and less costly elections. See here. We cannot afford the present undemocratic and expensive practices.

Parliamentary behaviour

There should be fines for politicians misbehaving in the House. Politicians should pay for by-elections when they have resigned for no serious reason after having been elected.

Open government

This is of world-wide importance. In a country governed “by the people for the people” no commercial-in-confidence deals are desirable for any government business. Freedom of information need only be restricted to sensitive defence matters. Information requested can be posted online, so others need not inquire separately. Government bills and legislation that have been passed can also be listed online for the public to see what our legislators are doing.

It is a fine and democratic thing to have a big talkfest, but afterwards, there are risks of sliding into one of the seven deadly sins, accidie, sometimes weakly translated as sloth or laziness, for fine enterprises of great pith and moment, whose “currents turn awry and lose the name of action”.

The flood of Big Ideas must be grounded for action. It is imperative for public morale that the first real specific actions out of the Ruddfest must take place within the week following.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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