Social scientists have sought to measure the degree of upward income mobility (the ability of low-income people to rise up the ladder over time) and found that some nations perform better than others on this criterion. Looking back over recent decades, Australia emerges as a more mobile (less "sticky") society than the United States, Britain and Germany. This may be because successive Australian governments embraced more social activism than the US and Britain but did more to cultivate an open and flexible economy than Germany. This is the past. The future is much less clear.
The Howard Government has made a mockery of the environment and heritage portfolio, turning it into little more than a pork-barrel buffet. But who would have thought that things would stoop to the level where the federal Environment Minister would use environment laws against the environment. This is precisely what occurred on Wednesday when the minister announced that he was using the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to block a wind-farm development at Bald Hills in Victoria's South Gippsland, supposedly on the grounds that the wind turbines would threaten the survival of the endangered orange-bellied parrot.
With evidence now appearing to suggest that the quality of care in corporate childcare centres is markedly lower than elsewhere, the Government will need to act to discourage any further domination of long day care in Australia by the corporate chains until it can be shown that the quality of the care they provide is comparable with the community-based and independent private centres.
Our state and local governments have also been cowed by the cultural and economic momentum of the marketing industry and their squadrons of boosters and lickspittles in the media. In the relentless drive to attract advertisers' dollars into supporting public facilities and events, the guardians of public morals have lost their way, blinded by the glitter of corporate culture. But it is time to call a halt and demand that "community standards" be defined once again by the community instead of the advertising agencies and brand consultants who see public decency as little more than an opportunity to flog us more stuff.
According to the Prime Minister, Indigenous history should be taught as part of the "whole national inheritance". He also indicated that his Government is willing to "meet the Indigenous people more than half way" on the road to reconciliation. On the basis of these statements, one would expect the Howard Government to have sought to promote the conservation and understanding of Indigenous heritage. It is part of our "national inheritance" and, as such, is surely deserving of equal billing with our colonial and post-Federation history. Apparently not.
A recent Australia Institute report found that drug strategies should be treatment-orientated so that to ease the punitive burden on users we need to discourage people from using drugs and provide those who do with effective treatment. It also found that drug law enforcement is incapable of putting a significant dent in illicit drug markets, particularly when compared to the likely patterns of drug use and harm under the treatment-focused alternatives.
Can Labor reinvent itself as a social democratic party, or as a party with a progressive political stance that distinguishes it in a substantive way from the conservatives? Its recent history provides a few signs that it may be able to do so. Among the thinkers in the party there is an incipient recognition that the old model can no longer serve the interests of the party or the nation.