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Where to for Australia’s most progressive society?

By Chris Endrey 9 October 2017 11

Canberra DowntownThe announcement that the ACT will be the first Australian jurisdiction to allow pill testing is just another progressive badge to sew on the Territory’s sash.

The national sport of confusing Canberra with the federal government often leads my interstate friends to think that the ACT is as conservative as its FIFO workers, when it is anything but.

In pretty much every sphere, the Territory is either on par, or light years ahead of every other Australian jurisdiction in its appetite for social reform.

While Australia has been tearing its hair out to get a Renewable Energy Target of 23.5% by 2020, the ACT is on track for 100% in the same period. We also have the nation’s most ambitious emissions reduction target.

The pathetic non-binding postal survey on same sex marriage has turned an already-sour public discourse into a total shower drain. The ACT obviously legislated for marriage equality back in 2013.

Our Parliament is comprised of a female majority with a gay leader, yet we hear refreshingly little talk upon either of these trivialities.

We are the only jurisdiction to have a public holiday celebrating Reconciliation; the only one to commission a Sky Whale; the only one to move away from inequitable stamp duties towards land tax; and, shamefully, the only one to have publicly funded a Fun Machine album.

Of course, the ACT is best-placed to hold the progressive reins for a number of reasons. It’s a small jurisdiction. The median income, employment rate and education levels are all high. The exposure of so many of us to the public sector seems to foster an appreciation of public education, infrastructure and services. And, critically, there is less of a wealth concentration among industries and individuals whose interests may conflict with certain policy interventions (property development and gambling being the notable exceptions here).

But for all this, there are still what many might consider blindingly obvious reforms that could improve both the material and social wealth of our citizens. Furthermore, for all of our domestic leadership, in almost all spheres we are being led by societies overseas. Pill testing was introduced in the Netherlands in the 90s. That same country legalised same sex marriage back in 2001. Bhutan famously uses a Gross National Happiness metric to inform its public institutions.

So where are the opportunities?

Here are just a few ideas that could be worth exploring.

Total Drug Decriminalisation: Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001, cutting fatal overdoses to a fifth of the EU rate, with drug-related HIV infections dropping 95%. We now know enough about substance addiction to appreciate that users are best treated with the health system, rather than punished by the criminal justice system. It’s cheaper, more compassionate and ultimately a more effective path that we are mad not to pursue.

Proportionate Sanctions: As someone with an income below the poverty line, I can attest to the sinking heart that meets a $110 parking fine. It wouldn’t be difficult to ensure that our sanctions are proportionately impactful to all citizens by adjusting them to the perpetrator’s capacity to pay. This is indeed the norm in Scandinavia.

Phasing Out Petrol Vehicles: It sounds radical from 2017 Australia, but the Netherlands are moving to ban the sale of new petrol vehicles from 2025. France and the UK are looking at 2040. With China reviewing a timeline for their own transition, this development is a near-certainty and our preparedness for it is entirely in our own hands.

Voluntary Euthanasia: The debate will surround the detail, but some form of voluntary euthanasia is a reform that is both long overdue and consistently in line with public opinion.

Full abolition of pokies: No society has the saturation of pokies that we do in Australia. While there is no doubt a great benefit for those who profit from the machines, but in Canberra, almost half of the millions lost annually come from problem gamblers. With up to 80% of Territorians wanting major gaming reform, it’s only the corrupting money flowing to political figures that’s slowing us from clearing this leech from our throat.

Circumventing political pressures to invest in preventions: In virtually every government-dominated sphere (health, education, criminal justice), there are huge gains to be made by moving money from the treatment end to the prevention end. It’s cheaper to buy a decade’s gym membership than it is to treat a decade of heart problems. Announcing extra police is an easier political sell than buying housing for all homeless. Perhaps there are innovative ways of better embedding the long-term policy expertise that we already have into the legislature.

I’ll write on more of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, what would you like to see the ACT take the lead on?

What’s Your opinion?


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11 Responses to
Where to for Australia’s most progressive society?
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DJA 4:45 pm 16 Oct 17

EJA said :

[…] The definition of marriage is;-
[cherry picked definitions]
[…]
Marriage is a legal contract between a couple. The current contracts were entered into under the legal man and woman or male and female Union. I personally do not wish to make my current marriage null and void. […]

There is an old nautical term about marrying ropes. They can be the same size and material without affecting that definition!

I am curious, how would the proposed changes make your current “contract” null and void? Any legal eagles care to offer comment?

EJA 12:53 pm 16 Oct 17

You have commented about the pathetic non-binding postal survey on same sex marriage ! I have to agree that this survey is both pathetic and a waste of tax payers money due to the simple yes/no option.
I do not believe “marriage”, “married” is the correct title for this union between two couples of the same gender.
The definition of marriage is;-
1. A union between male and female( heterosexual), two different genders
2. A Union, fusion, amalgamation of two different metals
3. A fusion of music (eg blues and rock) , two different genres
Marriage is a legal contract between a couple. The current contracts were entered into under the legal man and woman or male and female Union. I personally do not wish to make my current marriage null and void.
You imply that all ACT residents are forward in our thinking toward same sex marriage, but at the same time you have blatantly shown that none of us are intelligent enough to read a dictionary. Nor innovative enough to use a different term for same sex Union.
You have stated that we have a reconciliation holiday in the ACT. Will we need a holiday in the future to reconcile the lack of respect and consideration to religious, cultural and individuals who personally wish to hold the integrity of marriage intact?

BlowMeDown 11:06 pm 12 Oct 17

On making fines proportional to ability to pay: the easiest way to achieve that would be to require hours of community service rather than dollars.

Another progressive move we could make would be to discount vehicle registration $1 for every $1 spent on tickets to ride on public transport.

dungfungus 8:49 am 12 Oct 17

HiddenDragon said :

I would like to see serious progress in the direction of making Canberra affordable for people on lower incomes, particularly those sometimes referred to as the working poor – the sorts of people who might like some of the “progressive” things done, and proposed, by the ACT Government, but who are far more concerned about paying the bills for life’s essentials.

Beyond this, and noting the local fondness for disruptive technologies (when other people are being disrupted), it would be nice to see a “strategic”, “forward-leaning” (blah, blah, blah) ACT Government thinking very seriously about a world in which the current highly centralised model of federal bureaucracy is disrupted, and Canberra can no longer take for granted such a large cohort of stable, high-paying employment.

Add to that the potential for further disruption to the ACT economy from an ever-strengthening university sector in Asia, and things will get really interesting – we’ll need a lot more than boutique virtue-signalling.

I feel for the growing pockets of poor (working and retired) in Canberra.

I crunched some numbers last week and found that although we own our house and cars outright, the 2 of us still have to find about $20,000 a year to pay rates and water ($3,700) home insurance ($1,500), electricity, phone/internet, car regos/insurance, health insurance, pet costs etc. These are “essentials” according to our values.

This is before food and petrol and clothing. We don’t smoke or even buy a lottery ticket, rarely eat out etc. no longer can afford travel. It’s going to be a struggle in the next few years as the funded retirement nest egg won’t last forever.

If we were renting or still paying a mortgage we would be stuffed.

Mysteryman 9:44 am 11 Oct 17

dungfungus said :

You are quick to point out that 80% of Territorians support the abolition of poker machines (which I agree 100% on) but you also make a misleading statement that “the ACT obviously legislated for marriage equality back in 2013.”

This initiative was solely the work of the government of the day who had no mandate to do it even after getting advice that it would be futile. The only way the ACT at large were involved was that the cost of some $800K was underwritten by all of us..

Well said. That initiative was nothing more than a political point-scoring attempt to undermine the newly elected Federal LNP government. And they blew $800,000 of our money on it.

Mysteryman 9:41 am 11 Oct 17

> In pretty much every sphere, the Territory is either on par, or light years ahead of every other Australian jurisdiction in its appetite for social reform.

I cringe hearing this sort of Leftist rhetoric nonsense. There’s a high level of ignorance required to genuinely believe that all social reform is good reform – the ACT government and its apologists seem to have attained that level, which is why we’re having time and money wasted on all sorts of ridiculous and often foolish changes.

HiddenDragon 6:23 pm 10 Oct 17

I would like to see serious progress in the direction of making Canberra affordable for people on lower incomes, particularly those sometimes referred to as the working poor – the sorts of people who might like some of the “progressive” things done, and proposed, by the ACT Government, but who are far more concerned about paying the bills for life’s essentials.

Beyond this, and noting the local fondness for disruptive technologies (when other people are being disrupted), it would be nice to see a “strategic”, “forward-leaning” (blah, blah, blah) ACT Government thinking very seriously about a world in which the current highly centralised model of federal bureaucracy is disrupted, and Canberra can no longer take for granted such a large cohort of stable, high-paying employment.

Add to that the potential for further disruption to the ACT economy from an ever-strengthening university sector in Asia, and things will get really interesting – we’ll need a lot more than boutique virtue-signalling.

dungfungus 11:53 am 10 Oct 17

bigred said :

Firstly, I would like to see the Government evaluate the many, many initiatives of the recent years and report back to the community on how well they have been implemented as well as how the implementation short falls are to be addressed.

Secondly, I would like to see the Government deal effectively with the regulatory issues it currently ducks out of a fear of offending an interest group.

Then, and only then, they should engage the public on a forward plan of reforms they would like to implement in the short, medium and longer term. Being a single party jurisdiction, they are in a position to take a more engaging process to their reform agenda.

That’s a good suggestion and I am sure if indeed the government took that up the shortfall list would be very long. I can think of a few that really need to be evaluated and perhaps abandoned.

One thing that annoys me about this government is the millions it spends on outsourcing for “expert opinion”. What is wrong with the “experts” in the ACT public service providing the same opinions? After all, aren’t they the ones that have the same qualifications and access to information that the outsourced ones have and then they are paid massive salaries to evaluate the stuff that the outsiders submit ?

What is the point?

bigred 2:33 pm 09 Oct 17

Firstly, I would like to see the Government evaluate the many, many initiatives of the recent years and report back to the community on how well they have been implemented as well as how the implementation short falls are to be addressed.

Secondly, I would like to see the Government deal effectively with the regulatory issues it currently ducks out of a fear of offending an interest group.

Then, and only then, they should engage the public on a forward plan of reforms they would like to implement in the short, medium and longer term. Being a single party jurisdiction, they are in a position to take a more engaging process to their reform agenda.

bikhet 9:29 am 09 Oct 17

I’d like to see the ACT Government take a lead on taking it’s hand out of my pocket so that my money can be spent on things that are important to me, rather than being wasted – your example of the ACT legislating for same-sex marriage for instance. Anyone with half a brain could see that that would be vetoed by the Federal Government and that the High Court challenge would fail. The sky whale is another example of such waste. Similarly with much of the feel-good legislation, which either cannot be, or is not, enforced.

Having said that, I agree with several ideas you think worth exploring:
1. Total Drug Decriminalisation: long been a fan. Most of the harm to society goes away.
2. Proportionate Sanctions: not sure about this. I can see the societal argument in favour, but I can’t see an appropriate legal theory.
3. Phasing Out Petrol Vehicles: I think this is best left to the Feds. Too many problems otherwise.
4. Voluntary Euthanasia: Long-time supporter, but I can support arguments on both sides.
5. Full abolition of pokies: great idea! Not going to happen.
6. Circumventing political pressures to invest in preventions: the headline doesn’t match body of the text. The preventative measures would have to be shown to work, not just to seem like they would work. The gym membership idea, for example. Only likely to be taken up by those whose lifestyle makes them less likely to have a heart attack anyway.

dungfungus 9:18 am 09 Oct 17

You are quick to point out that 80% of Territorians support the abolition of poker machines (which I agree 100% on) but you also make a misleading statement that “the ACT obviously legislated for marriage equality back in 2013.”

This initiative was solely the work of the government of the day who had no mandate to do it even after getting advice that it would be futile. The only way the ACT at large were involved was that the cost of some $800K was underwritten by all of us.

You mention that some countries are phasing out petrol motor vehicles (no diesel ones?) but you don’t mention what is going to replace them.

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