Forgive me for my sins, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Tony Abbott last week when he was forced to kill stone dead a debate on the development of northern Australia just just hours after the policy was announced.
The man who has rightly been accused of turning negativity into a political artform dipped his toe in the tub of positive ideas and immediately got burnt.
The discussion paper set forward a series of ideas to stimulate growth outside established capital cites, including relocating government departments, defence facilities and investment in agriculture. It also flagged the prospect of tax incentives to attract investment and people.
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Last week’s default to onshore asylum seeker processing is not a story of government incompetence. It isn’t even a story of partisan gridlock. At its heart this is about of our collective failure to grasp what it means to live in an interconnected world. We are yet to leave our foreign policy training wheels.
My most visceral reaction to this announcement was a feeling that we’ve lost control over our ability to shape events in the national interest. The political stalemate highlights not only the Gillard Government’s current lack of an authentic asylum seeker policy, but also a broader paradigm that suggests our leaders don’t control the big decisions anymore.
But we lost control long before last week. In the 10 years of the Howard Government, there were over 13,000 asylum seeker arrivals; in the course of the Rudd/Gillard Governments, there have been no more than 5,000. The perception of asylum seeker control in the Howard era was just that – a perception of control.
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Two weeks ago we were being told by the federal independent MPs that regional Australia had been neglected and was run down after years of not getting back a fair share of the riches it creates for the nation.
Today an alliance of regional towns is out spruiking themselves as alternatives to metropolitan life, by virtue of their great housing, cheaper living costs and an abundance of career and investment opportunities.
They can’t both be right. So which is the real regional Australia?
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