I’ve always believed that our task here was to deal with the necessities of the immediate whilst also not just anticipating a better future but taking steps to create that better future. That requires long-term thinking and often it requires bipartisanship on issues that go beyond a political term, or even a period of one side of politics in government. We should be proud that we do that quite often. We do it in areas of national security. We do it in areas of public safety. We understand that, in these areas, serving the public interest is our only objective.
But there are so many areas where we can do much better. Take climate change. Prior to 2007 both sides of politics went to the election committed to a market-based mechanism to put a price on carbon. The Howard government had come to that reluctantly, but responded to the Shergold report by accepting the need to do something to drive down emissions throughout the economy. After the change of government the consensus held, with the coalition backing action under Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull—a consensus that was ripped up at the end of 2009 by both Greens political party opportunism and the rise of Tony Abbott and the climate change sceptics in the coalition. The fact is that if we’re going to address climate change we need to address it as a parliament.
The same goes for Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage and recognising the First Australians in our constitution. That is going to be possible only if there is bipartisan support across this chamber. The same goes for dealing with challenges of intergenerational inequality. Every economist in the country knows that the taxation arrangements around housing that exist at the moment for investors are one of the issues that are causing housing affordability to just be out of the reach of younger generations. We should be doing something about it. It is the same with the workforce of the future. We know that new technology is having an impact on what the jobs will be in the future. We need to accept the fact that automation is here and change occurs, but how do we shape it in the interests of younger generations to make sure that we don’t exclude a whole bunch of people from their working lives?
We often can get it right. We’ve got it right in areas like the creation of Infrastructure Australia, partisan at the beginning but now supported across the parliament. We got it right in Badgerys Creek Airport, supporting a second airport for Sydney, which took a government decision, but a government decision with opposition support for it to actually happen. I think when we look at the great responsibilities and the great privilege that we have to serve in this place, we should commit ourselves to make a difference, not just for ourselves and our political parties in a partisan way but in the national interest. I think, quite often, this parliament doesn’t do that enough.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
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