The Courier-Mail

Social sideshow distracts politician­s from big issue

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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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