Government has a role to play in reducing inequality... a role it has largely abandoned over the last few decades, working on the assumption that it is 'not their job'.
There is a large body or research and academic writing that points to our growing inequality and the role it plays in stagnating economies, as well as leading to adverse social outcomes around health as well as Law and Order. If it isn't the government's job to support a thriving economy and to ensure the delivery of a good level of social services to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to flourish, then what is its job? And if it is the government's job, then why aren't they doing more to address inequality?
An excellent example of where the government has failed in addressing (or failing to address) need - as outlined by the Gonski recommendations. It is uncontested that higher levels and higher quality education generally lead to higher income and better health outcomes. By not implementing the Gonski reforms as recommended (not as conceived by Labor or the Coalition), we are ensuring poorer health outcomes for disadvantaged groups.
This is the essence of the last of this year's Boyer lectures - addressing issues of fairness and equity at every opportunity. Professor Marmot refers to the principle as 'make every contact count'.
In the fourth Boyer lecture Sir Michael suggests that we need government action as well as action by communities. He insists we should be seeking to create the conditions for individuals to take control over their lives with the aim of creating a more just society that enables social flourishing of all its members.
This touches on issues such as a fairer taxation system, the better funding and targeting of services, but also the refusal of people to look at a problem and say 'not my job'.
Professor Marmot's fourth lecture is well worth a listen and you'll find it here.
The third of the Boyer Lectures by Professor Marmot is on a timely subject. With our ideologically driven government seeking to push people into under-employment and temporary work as way of cutting social security spending. While Christian Porter pushes the idea of 'self-reliance' and 'obligation' it is worth asking are the government acting in people's best interests.
Professor Marmot underlines that while unemployment is bad for health, work can damage health too. Jobs characterised by high demands and low control, imbalance between efforts and reward, organisational injustice, shift work and job insecurity increase risk of physical and mental illness. The lower the position in the social hierarchy the greater the concentration of these stressful characteristics. When work is no longer the way out of poverty, health suffers.
Porter is seeking to push people into any work, and the question is will this cost more than it saves? As he is following a conga line of blinkered neoliberals into a social experiment that has repeatedly failed... the answer is YES. For the evidence on why Porter is wrong.... Listen to the Third Boyer Lecture Here.
Donations to politicians and political parties still seem to be on the radar, and that’s a good thing. The truth is that donations do affect the political process, they do damage our democracy and they do sway policy and political decisions.
What's the evidence for this... let’s start by looking at the international experience – recently released court documents from an investigation into Wisconsin governor Scott Walker don’t just reveal the indiscretions of one person, they reveal how widespread the influence of corporate cash is… on politicians, lobbyists and judges.
There is the incredibly complex story of political corruption in Nauru as revealed recently on 7.30 – and the dance that continues between senior members of government, money being provided an Australian company and the Australian government’s complex relationship with the nation as a result of our asylum seeker policy. The democratic fallout affects the citizens of both Nauru and Australia and the root cause of this problem is money and a lack of transparency.
It would be naïve to believe that these issues are isolated ones.
We only need look at our own political history for signs of problems. Donations disclosures are available online.
In 2014-15 (a non-election year when they were not in government) the ALP received $153, 000 in donations from a combination of Clubs NSW, the Australian Hotels Association, and Woolworths (the nation’s biggest owners of poker machines).
In 2011 (an election year when the ALP was in government) the same group donated $156,600 while simultaneously launching a multi-million dollar ad campaign focusing on marginal seats held by Labor.
At the same time the Liberal party received (from the same donors) – in 2011 - $121,000 and in 2014-15 no reported donations. It would be fair to say that the Abbott opposition was already opposing proposed changes vigorously before the clubs and hotels joined the debate because it saw relative political advantage.
Over the same periods The Greens received no donations from any of these groups.
Currently, The Greens are one of the few parties with a prominent pokies harm reduction policy while neither of the major parties are currently showing any interest in addressing the issue.
In 2011 there was a lot of heat on pubs and clubs in relation to poker machine regulation. In 2016 there is none despite ongoing issues with gambling addiction and ongoing community concerns about the pervasiveness of poker machines. Did money and a massive political scare campaign buy a political outcome that suited donors who have a lot of skin in the poker machines game? It would appear so. This is significant because perceptions are as important as reality when we are discussing public confidence in the political process.
These concerns are a likely factor in the declining confidence in democracy in Australia.
Foreign donations add another layer of concern and complexity (as seen in the case of Nauru), so concerns surrounding state owned enterprises in China are both understandable and completely valid.
Ideally we want to see a more level playing field that gives parties, policies and ideas an equal chance of being heard. We don’t want to see voices drowned out by big money advertising campaigns, and we don’t want to amplify individuals or interest groups based solely on their financial resources rather than the quality of their argument.
And that is what we are currently getting.
A more appropriate arrangement would cap donations and election campaign expenditure, ban foreign donations, improve transparency and disclosure, as well as provide a more level playing field through more equitable public funding.
How that might look in practice would be a great basis for the debate we are not currently having in this area.
by Mark Enders
The second of this year's Boyer Lectures (delivered by Professor Sir Michael Marmot) focuses on enabling good health outcomes through preventative approaches, and by starting early... especially with at risk groups. This includes addressing both the positives and negatives of early childhood experience.
According to Professor Marmot.... the positives include nurturing of psychological, linguistic, social, emotional and behavioral development. The negatives that need to be addressed are adverse child experiences. An absence of nurturing and the presence of the harmful are strong contributors to inequalities in health in adult life and there is a great deal we can do to make things better through national policy settings and by supporting families and children.
You can hear the full talk by clicking on this link.
The 2016 Boyer Lecture Series is titled Fair Australia: Social Justice and the Health Gap, to be delivered by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association, Director of the Institute of Health Equity and a leading researcher on health inequality issues for more than three decades. Sir Michael’s lectures will explore the challenges faced by communities in solving issues around health inequality.
In the first lecture, professor Marmot explains how the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, determine their risk of poor health. According to Sir Michael “The causes of the causes are the social determinants of health and they influence not only lifestyle but stress at work and at home, the environment, housing and transport,”
You can listen to his lecture by clicking this link.
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.