The Courier-Mail

So­cial sideshow dis­tracts politi­cians from big is­sue


THE most im­por­tant pol­icy news yesterday rep­re­sents a seis­mic shift in the fun­da­men­tals that Aus­tralia has taken for granted in re­cent years, and will present a real headache for many in the com­mu­nity. What is it? Well, watch­ing the tor­tured po­lit­i­cal ac­ro­bat­ics on dis­play in Can­berra in re­cent days, many peo­ple could be for­given for think­ing we’re talk­ing about the mar­riage equal­ity de­bate. But we’re not. The sea change that is fac­ing Aus­tralia and will af­fect far many more lives is in­stead the sur­prise de­ci­sion by Chi­nese author­i­ties to de­value the coun­try’s cur­rency.

The Aus­tralian dol­lar has tanked in the past two days, prices of our key com­mod­ity ex­ports have taken another hit, and the lo­cal share­mar­ket has also taken a bat­ter­ing. Across the re­gion cur­ren­cies of key trad­ing part­ners such as Malaysia and In­done­sia have also tum­bled, spark­ing fears in some quar­ters that China risks trig­ger­ing a re­peat of the 1997 Asian cur­rency cri­sis.

Our pol­i­cy­mak­ers are not talk­ing about this though, and most Aus­tralians would be un­aware of the car­nage un­fold­ing on fi­nan­cial mar­kets. Nor are our politi­cians talk­ing – or at least be­ing heard – on other press­ing is­sues that this na­tion must grap­ple with not only in the fi­nal 12 months or so of this term of Par­lia­ment, but in the years ahead.

In­stead the na­tional dis­course has again been hi­jacked by a dis­trac­tion – an im­por­tant so­cial is­sue no doubt, but one that was not even on the radar at the time of the past elec­tion and one that should not be con­sum­ing so much oxy­gen and energy right now.

As Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull put it: “While this is­sue of mar­riage equal­ity is a very im­por­tant one, and very im­por­tant to many of my con­stituents, and if there were a free vote I would vote in favour of it, there are a lot of other very big is­sues. Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­no­va­tion, eco­nomic growth, jobs, the Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­port on in­dus­trial re­la­tions. There are a huge num­ber of big is­sues.”

While Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott has clearly tried to neu­tralise the is­sue for the re­main­der of this term and move on, Mr Turnbull and oth­ers are of the view that fail­ing to deal with it here and now only risks hav­ing the topic con­tinue to be a fes­ter­ing dis­trac­tion from other more press­ing mat­ters of state. This is some­thing a Gov­ern­ment that has proven ex­traor­di­nar­ily ac­ci­dent prone and sus­cep­ti­ble to de­bil­i­tat­ing and ex­haust­ing sid­ede­bates – on ev­ery­thing from mar­riage equal­ity to par­lia­men­tary ex­penses and knight­hoods – must rise above.

Good gov­ern­ment means deal­ing with sec­ond-or­der is­sues quickly and ef­fi­ciently, and not al­low­ing them to fer­ment and dom­i­nate the po­lit­i­cal dis­course for days or weeks on end while mat­ters that ac­tu­ally make a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence to all our liv­ing stan­dards are al­lowed to take a back seat. Mar­riage equal­ity may evoke some pas­sion­ate and heated de­bate, but like so many sec­ond-or­der pri­or­i­ties the Gov­ern­ment risks let­ting it over­shadow the real busi­ness of run­ning an econ­omy that is fac­ing ex­cep­tion­ally chal­leng­ing times.

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