This includes climate in all its dimensions, but there are a host of other challenges that demand attention. These range from the functioning of an antiquated federation itself; water security; education, in which Australia’s performance measured internationally is a national scandal; nation-building infrastructure separate from vote-buying sports rorts; and tax reform to broaden the Commonwealth’s revenue base.
For all the government’s obsession with a disappearing wafer-thin surplus as a political talking point, the longer-term necessity for the country is how will it secure sufficient revenues to enable the provision of services to a rapidly ageing population as a greater burden falls on a younger generation?
Tax reform is an imperative. The issue is better addressed sooner rather than later given the precariousness of the global economy and thus risks to commodities-driven tax revenues.
This returns us to discussion of a wasted decade, or decade and a half if we date the country’s drift to the fateful year, 2006, when then prime minister John Howard selfishly passed up an opportunity to yield the leadership of the Liberal Party to his long-serving deputy, Peter Costello.
Costello may well have prevailed over Kevin Rudd in the 2007 election. He may have proved an enduring leader. He was certainly capable. He may have saved us a lot trouble. We shall never know.
In those 14 years since Howard’s refusal to follow the Robert Menzies model and hand over to his deputy – as Menzies did to Harold Holt in 1966 – Australia entered a warring states period in which various factions within Labor and the Coalition have fought over the spoils to the country’s detriment.
Historians will be tempted to describe the years 2006-2020 as the “wasted years’’. We could go further and brand them the “corrupted years’’, prey to individual political ambition cheered on by a partisan media.
Researching this column I spoke to senior Liberals inside and outside Parliament. If there was a consensus view it was that Australia has paid a high price for years of bitter personal division politically.
A blood feud between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott – this continues – has meant attempts to put in place a rational climate policy that would facilitate transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 have been stymied.
In possibly the greatest act of self-harm in a policy sense in the history of Federation, the country has slid backwards from words uttered under political duress by Howard on July 17, 2007, as he sought to stave off defeat by Kevin Rudd.
Then, he said: “Implementing an emissions trading scheme and setting a long-term goal for reducing emissions will be the most momentous decision Australia will take in the next decade.’’
Howard’s climate sceptic protege Abbott appears not to have got the memo as – aided and abetted by his friends in the media – he set about destroying any prospect of a reasonable consensus on climate.
Except for a brief period during the Julia Gillard government when an effective carbon trading scheme was introduced, Australia has been missing in action on climate.
The question for Morrison at the beginning of a new decade is whether he will continue the wasted years on climate and other pressing issues mentioned above, or will he break free of those doldrum years? In all of this a disturbing question arises. Is the Prime Minister’s resistance to a credible emissions policy due to concerns about party disunity from a putrid climate-denying rump in his own ranks, or does it derive from his own beliefs?
In other words. Will Morrison prove to be a continuation of the lost decade or will he seize the opportunity? On present indications you would be hard put to describe the outlook as promising.
Tony Walker is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University.
Tony Walker writes on politics, North America and the Middle East. He was formerly the Australian Financial Review’s international editor.