Australia's MPs are losing their social licence

Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

There’s been considerable debate about what to make of the ongoing saga in federal politics and the results of the Victorian election.

For me, the community response in both cases show Australians are more positive and long-term focused than many MPs.

Regardless of your persuasion, the Victorian election shows the community wants campaigns and policy commitments that are positive, constructive and focused on long-term planning for the whole community.

Australians are seeing through the veil of attack politics and a narrow dialogue on a negative set of issues no longer seems to be cutting through. This is very encouraging.

CEDA’s November research, Connecting People to Progress, showed Australia has been better at managing the social compact than other countries. We need to maintain that.

Australia has a great opportunity for governments to step up and deliver the next wave of reform that will connect benefits and opportunities created by growth to the community at large. 

To do so, reform must focus on what matters most to people’s everyday lives.

Earlier this year, CEDA conducted a nationwide poll on who had benefited most from 27 years of economic growth, and what issues matter most to Australians.

Of the almost 3000 people polled, most felt they had not gained or didn’t know if they had gained.

Interestingly, the results were consistent across rural, regional and metropolitan areas. 

Most felt it was large corporations and senior executives that had benefited.

The majority also felt that the gap between Australia’s richest and poorest was unacceptable.

Economic development and reform are important for improving quality of life, but if the community has lost trust that the benefits will be broadly shared, gaining support for reform becomes more difficult.

The five most important issues to people identified in the survey were reliable, low-cost basic health services; reliable, low-cost essential services; access to stable and affordable housing; affordable, high-quality chronic disease services; and reduced violence in homes and communities.

The most important issues nationally were high quality and accessible public hospitals; strong regulation to limit foreign ownership of land/assets; increased pension payments; quality and choice of aged care services; and high quality and accessible public schools.

It’s not rocket science, yet not enough of the political debate has focused on these key areas. 

The community expects high standards of behaviour and a focus on issues that matter to their everyday lives.

It’s time for MPs to refocus and step up their game.

Melinda Cilento is a senior economist and chief executive of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.