Wednesday, January 28, 2015
But then another thought occurred: this year we'll be listening to hundreds of men banging on about problems far less important than domestic violence. The vast majority of the problems we hear about - and I write about - will be economic. Is the economy speeding up or slowing down? Will the Reserve Bank cut interest rates at its next board meeting?
Above all, they'll be worried about preventing a slowing in the rate of improvement of our standard of living. That is, they'll be almost wholly concerned with the material, tangible aspect of our lives. Few will concern the more feminine, airy fairy "social" side of our lives.
For the most part, our politicians will leave such touchy-feely concerns to single-issue campaigners such as Rosie Batty. They focus on the really big, important issues, and think about the lesser, social issues only when the Rosie Battys gain enough public support for the pollies to decide they'd better be seen doing something.
Truth is, the political year we face won't be any fun (except for the media). It will be another year in the difficult education of not-so-young Tony. He's having trouble learning what John Howard well knew: even prime ministers don't have much power to do as they please.
You can push through a few silly self-indulgences, such as reinstituting knighthoods, but even that will cost you politically. And what you can't do is reshape the world in a way that favours the rich and powerful while the rest of us nod approvingly.
This year a lot of ugly chickens will come home to roost. Part of the way Abbott got himself elected was to promise he'd do nothing unpopular in his first term. All the "reforms" being urged on him by the big end of town would be inquired into and, if it was decided radical changes were needed, they'd be taken to the next election for voter approval.
Abbott dragged his feet in commissioning these inquiries, but it will be full-on this year. Ostensibly, much of the agonising will arise from our refusal to contemplate paying higher taxes in return for greater government services and from the Coalition's claim to be able to achieve lower taxes.
In reality, the problem is the government's refusal to solve its revenue problem by cracking down on all the rorting of the tax system by business and high income-earners. Turns out many of these people are prepared to make an exception to their fatwa against higher taxes: surely an increase in the goods and services tax wouldn't hurt?
We face a year of contention as business rent-seekers seek to further advantage themselves, all in the name of much-needed "reform" and ensuring the continued rapid rise of our material standard of living (starting, of course, with theirs).
But ask yourself this: can you really see the ever-popular Tony going into next year's federal election with a proposal to increase the GST or any planned industrial relations changes his opponents could characterise as the restoration of Work Choices? And, even if he did, can you see him winning?
See? We face a year of furious economic and political debate leading to very little.
If you haven't guessed, I'm not facing such a year with any enthusiasm. And Rosie Batty reminds me we'll be earnestly debating over running repairs to the capitalist system while largely ignoring the social issues that, for far too many of us, stop our high material standard of living from translating into a high quality of life.
Take the question of increased longevity. Joe Hockey has signalled we'll be hearing a lot about this after the release of another intergenerational report in a few weeks' time.
The pollies will pay quick lip-service to the notion that living longer may not be such as bad thing, before portraying it as a terrible problem threatening "unsustainable" growth in government spending on pensions, aged care and healthcare.
But I have good news for those who obsess about the economic while ignoring the social. There is increasing evidence that how long people live is strongly influenced by the quality of their relationships with family and friends, particularly their face-to-face contact.
Around the world there is evidence of the number of people's very close relationships declining, of more people living alone and increasing loneliness. Australia is unlikely to be an exception.
So the solution to the fiscal longevity problem is at hand. All we have to do is hope people's intimate relationships continue to decline and loneliness continues to increase. And the best news is we've already instituted the main policy response needed: malign neglect.
Of course, it would speed things up if we were to step up the federal and state funding cuts to community organisations that help people in need. I'd start with Meals on Wheels. And don't forget that ignoring the obesity epidemic will do much to stop babies living to 150.
I reckon we should make it a national KPI to get life expectancy down to 75 by 2055.