Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water
Leader of the Nationals in the Senate
Audience amnesia is Labor’s best hope
I reckon it is getting close; I really do. The Nauru capitulation, the EU carbon price capitulation, the early MYFEO statements, the recent announcement that, my dear Craig Emerson, we will have a foreign land ownership register after all, the “oh she is a wonder women warrior” framing of the Prime Minister, and the latest instalment of the Asia will save us White Paper. Yes, it is just too much of a coincidence.
Tides go in and tides go out and one should launch the boats on a rising tide. This is probably the best ebb in the tide before Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper , National Debt or Pop-Up Kevin culminate in a lunar pull on a contravening political tide.
Recent political experience would suggest that when Labor goes full term in conservative areas, as in Queensland, the result is annihilation. When, unavoidably, Labor has to go full term in friendlier territory, such as the ACT, the best they can hope for is “line ball”. The obvious choice for Labor may be forfeited by reason of the fear of their colleagues, the independents.
They will create anarchy if Labor makes serious noises that an election is imminent. Most would now agree that the experiment of trying to remain credible with the Whirling Dervish of the independents and Greens is not the preferred mechanism of government.
So what will be the raison d’etre at an election? If it is still personality politics then that is no greater proof to Australia that Labor policy is less than vacuous, it is missing, presumed dead. If it is their track record that we go to the election on, then where does one start; debt, deficit, carbon tax, Rudd, ceiling insulation, school halls or the NBN?
Labor’s chequered history is a problem so they will talk about Labor’s future and hope for a sympathetic audience amnesia. The future is really the only option they have left to talk about and this week they stated that we can forget about the ineptness of our own management past, because Asia will fix it all up. A regional fairy godmother to cure all domestic economic ills, pay off all debts and generally look after us.
Australia is on the edge of Asian prosperity but it comes with issues to contend with as well. If we predominantly are the benefactors of our sales of mining and agricultural wealth then the demands of a proximate Asian middle class will bide us well. The more someone else owns these crucial assets in our country the better they will do.
Broadband has brought service sector jobs at foreign wage rates into our country better than any work visa system ever could. Shopping online, the backroom work of accounting, law, engineering, and a range of higher- end white collar jobs will compete against those in Asia who hold a distinct labour cost advantage.
The centralisation of commerce, which urban Australia thought would stop in Australian capitals, will continue to move to commercial hubs such as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. The recent push to move the Australian Stock Exchange to Singapore is an example of this. Tertiary education has strong competition emerging from a plethora of new institutions in Asia and the capacity for major global institutions to go online to deliver a product.
The capacity for us to compete and prosper in Asia is not a given. The golden rule will be that if you can possibly do it online you will definitely be able to do it cheaper. So we will have to deliver a commodity that Asia cannot produce cheaper themselves. So where are our new agricultural areas that we are developing? Where are the new train lines to more effectively connect our regional hinterland to our ports? What new cell of astute marketers have been employed to turn opportunities into something slightly more concrete, contracts for instance?
Unfortunately the man in a koala suit appears to have unreasonable sway on anything to do with agriculture or mining – tree clearing laws, animal liberationists affecting everything from animal exports to rodeos, environmental restrictions, occupational health and safety laws and possible litigation at every turn beyond what common sense would say is fair and reasonable. The Government says we are going to have a greater role in Asian prosperity but beyond the platitudes of a rather shallow, so quickly forgotten white paper what really, if at all, will happen.
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals’ Senate leader and the opposition spokesman on regional development, local government and water.