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Fiddling while Rome burns


A recent article by Joseph Camilleri [1], Australia’s political elites are fiddling while Rome burns, has characterised the range of political games played by Australia’s political leaders as being divorced from reality. We reproduce from this article the section dealing with the economic aspects:

Shirking economic realities

On returning from the APEC meeting in Lima in November, the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This came just as US President-elect Donald Trump announced that US withdrawal from the TPP would be one of his first acts on assuming office.

Turnbull has repeated the mantra of free trade, growth in trade, and the benefits of an integrated world economy. This is despite large segments of Western electorates that have suffered the ravages of globalisation turning in anger and frustration to the populist slogans and movements that seek to fill the political vacuum by implementing crude appeals to nationalism, prejudice and xenophobia.

Both of Australia’s major parties remain ardent advocates of free trade, yet seem oblivious to growing economic inequality. They remain preoccupied with reducing budget deficits and averse to imposing higher taxes on rich people and corporations. This means they have effectively deprived them- selves of the levers they need for remedying the glaring gaps in wealth and income.

Glib references to the benefits of innovation are no substitute for thoughtful planning and targeted support for new and socially sustainable industries.

Strangely, the argument implied – though never explicitly stated – is that the benefits arising from the free movement of goods and services somehow do not apply when it comes to the free movement of people.

In recent months, Labor leader Bill Shorten has struck a shrill populist tone, calling for restrictions on the issuing of 457 visas to skilled foreign workers.

1. Source: The Conversation, 6 Dec 2016

Joseph Camilleri is Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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