Gough Whitlam was a great PM because he pushed boundaries and drove change with big, new and bold ideas. To honour him, we must be willing to accept and advocate for new and bold ideas that will make Australia a greater, fairer, more prosperous and more equal place to live. Most great policies began life in controversy. Universal healthcare (the child of three Labor leaders – Gough, Bill Hayden and Bob Hawke) is perhaps the most striking example of an idea that was controversial initially but, through both the strength of the idea and the determination of its proponents, became widely accepted as common sense in this country. Tony Abbott’s ideological attempts to undermine it are coming at great electoral cost to him. Lest anyone think the boldness of the mainstream Australian left ended with Gough, it is important to point out that the ALP, and the Australian left more broadly, have not entirely ceased to adopt new and bold ideas. The idea of an emissions trading scheme/carbon tax – a fundamental restructure of the economy in favour of the environment – was one such idea to have come about in the last decade. I hope that in time this bold idea will become as entrenched in our country as the idea of universal healthcare has. Disability Care and the NBN might be some other examples of big, new and bold ideas developed and passionately argued for by the Australian left.
So what are the next great, new, bold ideas that the left should begin pushing for? It is an important question. Certainly the mainstream left is now on board with the idea of marriage equality – again due to the power of the idea combined with the passionate and relentless advocacy of LGBTI activists over the last decade – and will continue to push for it until it becomes law. Ending mandatory detention of refugees is a continuing fight that is being fought by many, though certainly not all, in the left. The idea for an Australian Republic has mainstream support in the left but that support is now disappointingly largely devoid of passion.
This post is about starting a conversation. I would love people to start posting their ideas below and sharing their ideas with Do Not Go Gentle. We should aim to compile a left wing equivalent of the IPA’s policy wish list (which calls on Tony Abbott to be bold “like Gough”). There are many great and powerful ideas out there to promote equality, fairness and justice that only need a social movement to pick them up and run with them. Below I’ve listed a few ideas that I think the left should start loudly calling for. This list is just a start.
- A treaty with aboriginal Australia. This is not a new idea necessarily – Bob Hawke promised some sort of treaty in 1988, though he never delivered. Other settler societies have been built upon treaties, with differing levels of success – perhaps most famously in our region, the Treaty of Waitangi. It is an idea that must be resurrected, built upon and promoted widely in Australia. The current debate around aboriginal affairs revolves around constitutional recognition for aboriginal people. That is an ok start, but the left should start pushing for more radical reform. A treaty to legally to recognise not aboriginal Australia but non-aboriginal Australia is required. Because at the moment the whole damn system is built on an illegal invasion and hence is quite possibly illegitimate. So rather than just recognising the land as traditional aboriginal land, non-aboriginal Australia should ask an appropriate representative body (A re-born ATSIC or an empowered National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples) to legally recognise non-aboriginal presence on the land. Only once such recognition has been granted can we be comfortable that the Australian government does not remain an illegitimate government in the way that the Chinese government is in Tibet.
Why would such an aboriginal representative body sign a treaty? Well a treaty involves a mutually beneficial exchange. Aboriginal Australia would not sign off simply because such a treaty recognise the realities of present day. They would only sign off if the Australian government offered generous compensation in exchange for the legal and legitimate use of the land by non-aboriginals. The details of the treaty would obviously have to be worked out and cannot be pre-determined, but I am thinking that the treaty should involve for example – billions of dollars of investment in aboriginal communities, reparations for the stolen generation, and perhaps most importantly a greater degree of self-rule. A recent proposal to have Senate seats set aside exclusively for aboriginal representatives has merit (which is similar to what they do in New Zealand), as does the idea that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs be directly elected by aboriginal people. Only with such big and bold proposals can be start to right the wrongs of the past and create a genuinely multi-cultural harmonious society.
- Legalise and strictly regulate the manufacturing of recreational drugs. This issue has been discussed previously in Do Not Go Gentle and you can read in more detail about this proposal here, here and here. Drug use and abuse is one of the leading causes of poverty and misery in Australia. Anyone who cared about social justice and improving the lives of the downtrodden must look at this issue seriously. The war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and it costs lives. It is because we allow the black market in drugs to flourish that dangerous drugs are passed around our society. Legalise and regulate and we can significantly reduce the addictiveness and danger of drugs. For example, MDMA in its pure form is hardly more dangerous than Panadol. It is dangerous though when it is watered down with random poisonous chemicals by bikie gangs. Take the production of ecstasy out of the hands of bikie gangs and into the hands of legal, transparent companies that are inspected by government officials and you will see far fewer deaths. There has never been a death at the safe heroin injecting room in Sydney. We can save the junkies not by throwing them in jail but by giving them a safe place to manage their addiction. Furthermore, the over-crowding of jails will be reduced and much money will be saved and made that can be spent by the government on important addiction and poverty reducing measures. This is a radical idea but it is an important one and the left should start calling for it.
- Massive investment in mental health. While we are talking about leading causes of poverty and misery in Australia, mental health is an issue that must be urgently addressed. I’m no expert in the area, but given how strong the correlation is between serious mental health issues and homeless and unemployment, all on the left must begin frantically looking for solutions. A psychologist in every school for early detection. Affirmative action in suitable government jobs with flexible working hours for those afflicted with serious mental illness. More subsidised and accessible care. A national conversation around ending the stigma and teaching the public how to respond and deal with the issue.
- Media diversification laws. One of the major stumbling blocks to progressive reform in Australia (and around the world) is the dominance of Rupert Murdoch and News Ltd in the media. Their never ending right wing activism from positions of influence and power borders on the unbelievable and it should be illegal. Whenever one person or company owns 70 percent of an industry then there are legitimate concerns about the effects of their monopoly on the market (and on society). Even the most neo-liberal of economists will often argue for government intervention in such a situation to ensure competition. When the industry is the media industry and the competition required is not simply that of goods and services but also that of ideas then this issue becomes a concern for not only the market but democracy itself. The federal government should place limits on how much of the media can be owned by one company, with an eye to diversifying the media in the country and limiting the power of one man and company to influence national debates and conversations.
These are just some initial ideas that clearly need to be fleshed out in far greater detail. I aim to begin a conversation not end it. Please take up the cause and begin writing and discussing your own big, bold ideas to make Australia a fairer, more equal and more just society. You can do so in the comments section below, on the Do Not Go Gentle facebook page, or in your own forum. Don’t be afraid of how radical or unrealistic they might sound. Start talking about them and start arguing for them and maybe some others will agree with you. And maybe eventually enough people will agree with you that a government will adopt them. Be bold. Do it for Gough.
Elliot Brice is a secondary school teacher.