The last months of 2017 were dominated by the political uncertainty arising from Federal Parliament’s dual-citizenship fiasco, which threatened the Government’s majority. With this issue still unresolved, and the forced resignation of Barnaby Joyce as National Party leader, it seems that the media’s preoccupation with personalities is set to dominate the national debate in 2018.
Coupled with this, key policy debates have been reduced to sloganeering, around issues such as corporate tax cuts, renewable energy “targets”, non-existent “carbon pollution”, Trump-bashing and “gender equality”.
For small business – the driver of the Australian economy in terms of both innovation and employment – it seems that no one is speaking their language or recognising their deep concerns, despite lip-service from politicians on all sides.
Rural Australia, once the foundation of Australia’s economy, is now dominated by debt and by farmers working for virtually nothing; and dependent on off-farm income, usually from wives or children, to survive.
The result is a radical disconnect between the preoccupations of the “elites” who dominate the national media, corporate Australia, the political class and much of the education system, from the concerns of mainstream Australians.
Most Australian families are preoccupied with job security (or the lack of it), finding a home and paying the mortgage, the corrosive impact of pop culture, the corruption of language through terms like “fetus”, “abortion” and “euthanasia”, and the safety of children in a culture saturated with drugs and porn.
One consequence of the 24-hour news cycle and the preoccupation of the media with personalities, so much a feature of the Canberra press gallery, is that serious issues facing Australia are either trivialised or ignored.
Three pressing issues spring to mind.
The rise of communist China as both an economic powerhouse and a political force is one of the great events of the contemporary world. It is undoubtedly true that this has been facilitated by the international trading system which has given China unprecedented access to world markets.
Yet China’s relationship with the rest of the world is profoundly asymmetrical. Although democracy is regarded as the sine qua non of civilisation, the Communist Party of China has conducted not one popular election since seizing power in 1949.
China is a leader in cyber-espionage, the principal backer of North Korea, and is using economic, diplomatic and military means of projecting its power globally.
Its present leader, Xi Jinping, has amassed more power in his own hands than any previous leader since Mao Zedong, the psychopath who ruled China with an iron fist from 1949 until his death in 1976.
For Australia, the most pressing issue is the growing Chinese presence in the South China Sea, and in the island states of the South Pacific.
Yet our Government’s response has been equivocal and token, at a time when what is called for is a major expansion of Australia’s naval presence in the South China Sea to back up our regional allies, and a serious effort to provide financial support to poor island states including Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, which are being bought out by sophisticated Chinese “aid”.
A major issue within Australia is energy security.
Australia as a nation is blessed with an abundance of coal, oil and gas resources, most of which is exported overseas.
Despite this, the east coast of Australia faces a looming energy crisis in both gas and electricity, with shortages not seen for at least 50 years, and soaring prices which are hurting businesses as well as Australian families.
How did it get to this point?
The short answer is that Australia’s energy policy has been captured by extreme environmentalists who began in the 1970s with successful campaigns to stop the development of Australia’s hydro-electric potential, falsely claiming that it would destroy Australia’s pristine wilderness, and now extending to halting the development of both coal and gas resources, as Australia’s contribution to stopping climate change.
Skilfully exploiting fears of global warming, they have build powerful support within both the Liberal Party and the ALP, to the point where neither the Government nor Opposition will put forward a coherent strategy to re-establish Australia’s energy independence.
The third issue is the push for “gender equality”. In a country which adopted the principle of “equal pay” policy decades ago, and has effective anti-discrimination legislation at both state and federal levels, the campaign for “gender equality” seems to most people incomprehensible.
However, behind it is a very serious campaign, originating in the Greens and the Human Rights Commission, to destroy the biological distinction between male and female, and to impose gender ideology through the education system, radically undermining the role of parents in sex education.
Until these issues are faced squarely, Australia will continue to drift aimlessly towards the precipice.
Peter Westmore is publisher of News Weekly.