Who wants to start an evolution? We need a third way for the digital age

Regardless which bunch of punks have been in power, I’ve always felt that I lived in a country that was ultimately fair and equitable and that my tax dollars were going towards a welfare safety net, foreign aid, affordable education, indigenous affairs, sustainability, the arts, scientific research and universal healthcare. Now the Abbot Government has even robbed me of that.

I have always been happy to put my chardonnay where my socialism is and I’m all for a tightening of belts to get the budget back in shape… and even a deficit tax (lets call it what it is). But putting Tones’ jaw dropping hypocrisy aside, they have not addressed the real issue here. And I’m not giving Labor a pass on this either. They squandered $$$ big time, but the profligate spending goes way back to Howard and his unnecessary middle class welfare.

No-one is dealing with the structural issues that underly the deficit. The Libs pass it off as classic Labor spending and then give a slash and burn brief to the Commission of Audit with strict instructions not to address the revenue issue. Yet that is where the problem lies. The miners and their fuel subsidies, superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy, negative gearing, overseas tech companies offshoring profits while hardly paying any tax. That’s all too hard basket. So it’s much easier to gin up fear, then slash and burn services that don’t fit your ideology.

We are relying on income taxes to subsidise an ageing population and the government decides to punish the weakest in our society by slashing spending on those who need it most without making any effort to address the fundamental causes of crippling inequality. They have released a bullying budget that has essentially plagiarised the American Tea Party model of small government fundamentalism and market free reign. Who would look at America right now and think “That’s a great idea, lets try that!” Madness. Young people who lose their job and are not able to claim the dole for 6 months? How the fuck do they make ends meet?

This is beyond heartless, it is vicious and cruel. Shorten isn’t clean on this either. His parliamentary rebuke, replete with preacher man cadence and moralistic outrage hit the spot politically, but offered no solutions on how he or Labor would get the budget back in shape while not cutting spending.

There’s a book that was released recently that is freaking out conservatives and free marketeers around the world that could help Shorten, Swanny and the crew out some if they cared to give it a read. In Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, he details how income can never compete with capital gains and that our obsession with taxing income is giving the super rich, the family dynasties and big corporates a free pass — while leaving an ever shrinking middle class to do a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting in providing the governments with the revenue they need to run the country (sound familiar?). Piketty has a level of data and analysis at his disposal that goes back centuries — something that no other economist has had access to before. Taxes and economic data of developed countries and hard scientific analysis that shows capitalism is taking us towards an inequality of almost feudalist levels. He talks of Jane Austen novels where characters deemed it to be a better bet to try and marry into wealth (capital) rather than work for a living. He claims that if we don’t tax capital as fairly and equitably as we do to incomes (and soon), then we are heading for runaway levels of inequality. This is not ideology, just hard baked data analysis.

While several journalists have addressed this structural issue around revenue, the Libs have deliberately given it a wide berth in their budget and I have not heard anyone from Labor even sailing close to addressing it. We need to address taxation of capital. Simple. No tax breaks for wealthy superannuants, abolish negative gearing, no free passes for corporations, and no offshoring of profits. Once we begin to tax capital equitably as well as incomes, we can begin to address inequality at its root cause and ensure the government has the revenue to fund the things that are fundamental to a healthy society. But the Libs and the scions of business are not going to let that happen. And Labour are clearly too gutless to take it on. So who then?

This is something I have often lamented and day dreamed about. A third way for the digital age. A political movement that is socially, environmentally and economically progressive.

This movement would embrace the fact that we are part of a highly connected and globalised neighbourhood. We would re-instate aid, celebrate our multiculturalism, legalise gay marriage and treat asylum seekers with dignity while not blindly following the US into every war folly they care to blunder in to. We would seek to address the fact that we have a third world underclass in our indigenous community and address those issues as a nation rather than sweep it under the carpet.

Education funding would be a priority (it’s our future after all), so that everyone has access to quality teachers and facilities. The curriculum would address the fact that most of the stuff I learned at school is now in my smart phone… so we’d teach our kids analytical skills, coding and the deconstruction of algorithms, as well as the importance of creativity, games and play alongside the sciences, history and art. Then when they get to uni, not lumping them course debts that need to be paid off faster with higher interest rates so they start their career with crippling amassing debt, and provide massive discounts for those studying for essential services that pay low salaries, such as nurses, paramedics and teachers.

And to ensure we really do become the smart country, we re-fund the CSIRO and funnel the mining and carbon taxes in to clean-tech research and de-regulate that rort laden power industry. Because surely even a climate change denialist would rather have his electricity sourced from the high tech solar panels on his roof than a coal fired power station. Wouldn’t he?

We would recognise that only two things believe in infinite growth, Cancer and economists. And would legislate for quality of life metrics beyond pure GDP — such as sustainability, work / life balance and take a read on health including levels of addiction (decriminalising drugs and ending that futile war in the process), anxiety and depression.

We would take back our National Parks from the loggers and our reef and indigenous sacred sites back from the miners and tell Santos to frack off with its coal seam gas. We would be custodians of this beautiful rock and give new meaning to keeping Australia beautiful while realising that vast swathes of it will still have to work hard for us.

And when I say economically progressive I mean ‘Pikettian’ (is that a word yet?)— taxing capital to provide the health/education/welfare safety net, while freeing up regulations not to make big business bigger, but to democratise entry in to it and make way for a new digital economy in a way that lets the ‘share economy’ (Uber, AirBnB, etc.) take hold to facilitate innovation and improve access and increasing efficiencies while reducing waste. This also makes it easier for people to start a business and be independent and be able to run that business from a regional centre by way of wide-spread super connectivity (miss u NBN x). To boil it down to basics: Embrace the digital age in a way that generates opportunity and income across the economic spectrum so that prosperity is sustainable and becomes the norm.

That is a vision for Australia’s future. And I know shit. So why don’t any of our leaders talk or think like this?

I realise this isn’t even the beginning of a manifesto, much less Malcolm Fraser’s much hoped for political movement. I’m not qualified for that. But, I would like to think I am not alone in this and that there are men and women out there with the smarts and wherewithal to start this conversation and give it some momentum. We can’t hold out for Malcolm Turnbull and Penny Wong to start that fantasy party progressives have been wet-dreaming about for the last few years — besides they’re damaged goods from too many years compromising on their values to toe the party line.

This movement needs to come from the young idealists in Liberal, Labor and the Greens that are dissatisfied with tired old ideologies and a political model not fit for the digital age. It needs to come from angry students, exhausted working Mums, wisened 70 year old bricklayers, exasperated social workers and entrepreneurs with big dreams. It needs to come from the streets via the internet and shouted out across social media. The Abbot/Hockey budget has torched the future of countless Australians, but can a phoenix rise out of these ashes of discontent that harmonises our rock solid belief in fairness with the ever shifting pace of technological change to create a genuinely civil society of the future? A society where compassion and innovation go hand in hand?

Who’s up for finding out?

Matt Kendall