Prejudice and ignorance, not evidence, driving recovery strategy

The LNP is encouraging more coal and gas-fired power, ignoring the urgency of the climate crisis. Photo: Shutterstock
The LNP is encouraging more coal and gas-fired power, ignoring the urgency of the climate crisis. Photo: Shutterstock

The focus of public policy is now on recovery, as it must be as we seek to come out of the worst economic circumstances since the Great Depression.

As significant a challenge as it is, it is also a significant opportunity to "reset" and "reform". In particular, it is an opportunity, some would say an imperative, to address the significant structural issues that had been consistently neglected pre-COVID.

A basic requirement in setting this recovery strategy is to have a longer-term "vision" of how we want our economy and society to develop. In turn, it is important that this be based on "evidence" and not on prejudice, in our national interest, and not just to satisfy some narrow, sectional interests for perceived short-term political gain.

Unfortunately, although it's still early days, it seems it is beyond the Morrison government to think longer term, and strategically, in the national interest - evidence is ignored or manipulated, prejudice and vested interests seem to dominate.

It seems it is beyond the Morrison government to think longer term ...

For example, while the government boasts that its response to COVID has relied on medical science and expertise, it simply ignores the much more significant, definitive, peer-assessed, climate science that stresses the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge. It also fails to see the significance of the "disruption" and consequences of the pandemic as something of a dress rehearsal for what will happen if they continue to disregard science and evidence, and fail to prepare and respond, to issues such as climate.

Although Albanese made a case, in his address to the Press Club this week, for relying more on the science, and for recognising the opportunity to capitalise on our world-class edge and competitive advantage in medical, scientific and technological research and discovery, he failed to translate this into effective policy responses.

For example, on climate, while setting his "vision" or objective as "net zero" emissions by 2050, he failed to recognise the urgency of this task, which would require us to roughly halve our emissions by 2030, nor did he say how this should be achieved, sector by sector.

Morrison's response to climate is to fall back on ignorance and prejudice, and to basically "assume" that they have done all that is necessary to achieve even our much more modest Paris commitments, and simply won't accept the challenge of a low carbon Australia by mid-century.

Moreover, he encourages the broader LNP irresponsibility, paying off to various narrow interests, of more coal mines, more coal and gas-fired power, delayed transition to the electrification of transport, resistance to full-scale regenerative agriculture, support for dirty fuel standards, and the like.

In this Morrison not only ignores the science, but fails to heed the warnings of financial markets that many of these projects will not be financed nor insured by the market, with the possibility of being "stranded assets" within about a decade.

Another example of prejudice that, I am told, is very much driven by Morrison's personal prejudice, is against effectively restructuring universities, reforming funding, and so on. Clearly, the university sector has been hard hit by the closure of our international borders in the context of their over-reliance on foreign students. It is also true that the sector needs to be reformed, having built excessive, ineffective, and expensive bureaucracies, with (as the Bradley Review concluded back in 2007) too many universities for a nation of our size.

Yet international education had become a major export sector, is a significant employer, and has enormous future potential.

Clearly, recognising the national significance of the university sector, and with research fundamental to our national competitive advantage, it is time to elevate research and education as a key element of our "national security", and to reform and restructure it against this recognition.

The recovery strategy should seize the opportunity to meet this challenge. Rather than leaving the sector to largely fend for itself, why not put in place a conditional, income-dependent loan to the sector, to be available as the sector meets various restructuring objectives, and easily repaid as their revenues recover. Given the significance of challenges such as climate and our universities, and many others, only ignorance, prejudice, or the desire to pay off certain interests can explain why recovery seems to favour coal, gas, housing, and other less significant sectors and challenges.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.

This story Morrison clings to ignorance and prejudice first appeared on The Canberra Times.