The Howard Government's vilification of indigenous communities and their culture is another in a long line of morally repugnant diversionary tactics employed by a Government devoid of ideas and scrambling to retain the interest of the electorate. When the history of this Government is written, the events in recent times should be placed side-by-side with the shameful exploitation of refugees, the wicked fear-mongering that followed the Wik decision, the gay bashing in 2004 and the demonisation of drug-users in terms of the most unethical political strategies employed in its decade of power.
We drew out the broad elements of an active social strategy targeted at the major barriers to social mobility ”” children's early development, public infrastructure deficiencies and inequalities of access to employment, health, education, training and housing. If it is to gain public acceptance, such a strategy would need to be preceded by a campaign of public education. The campaign would have three aims. First, it would explain why the proposed strategy would be a worthwhile investment in a better society ”” one more consistent with Australians' sense of fair play.
Community opposition to wind farms is heavily influenced by a network of anti-environmental activists, some with links to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. This helps to explain why apparently independent local opposition groups reproduce the same misinformation and distortions about wind power. The truth is that most wind farm opponents don't like the look of them and don't want them in their backyards. Fair enough (although you have to wonder whether they will like looking at a landscape devastated by climate change). But it would be better if these NIMBY concerns weren't overlaid with layers of distortion and factual error.
Corporate chains - which now own around a quarter of centres in Australia - offer the lowest quality of care on all indicators surveyed, in some cases markedly lower than that provided by community-based centres. Beyond tightening up the centre accreditation processes, as announced recently, the government should consider offering capital grants to new community-based centres. Parents are more likely to enrol their children in higher quality centres, and so this measure should result in children moving from lower quality corporate centres to higher quality community-based ones, without disadvantaging independent private providers.
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.