They say a week is a long time in politics. Two weeks ago, the floods were a political no-go zone, now it seems the gloves are off. Everyone from Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Warren Truss and Anthony Albanese are all warming up for the first mud-slinging session of the year, when parliament resumes next week.The response from both sides of politics to this disaster has been interesting. The Government is rightly pledging to help Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales with their multi-billion dollar clean-up. It's introduced a levy and cuts to services to fund this. I don't have any problem with the idea of a levy - it's a progressive mechanism that is mean tested. What surprises me however is that the Government is failing to consider how to fund future disaster clean-ups and is slashing services and programs as part of this flood recovery. If a levy is good enough for one disaster, surely there should be an ongoing levy to ensure there is money in the kitty for future events.
We know that extreme weather conditions and natural disasters are on the rise due to climate change. The Prime Minister's decision to cut key climate change programs to help with the disaster clean-up shows a short-sightedness that is cruelly ironic.
Even education is not safe. The Government's scrapping the Australian Learning and Teaching Council - a key body that promotes quality education. A surprising move from our ‘Education Prime Minister.'
It's doubly frustrating to see the Government slashing these services when it doesn't need to. Precisely why meeting the Government's self-imposed deadline for returning to surplus is more important than tackling climate change is beyond me. There are other options, yet the Government's attitude appears to be (at least at this stage) take it or leave it.
What happens when there's a future disaster - will the Government slash more services so we stay in the red? When my Leader Bob Brown raised the issue of a sovereign fund to deal with this, he was criticised. Yet surely all options including - delaying the return to surplus, delaying tax-cuts to big business or a truly applied mining tax - should be on the table.
There are other solutions that don't involve service cuts, yet Prime Minister Gillard is ruling these out in favour of meeting her surplus promise. This commitment is in stark contrast to the Rudd/Gillard Government's list of broken promises. Rudd was elected on a platform of climate action, yet he failed to act. Labor promised a more humane approach to asylum seekers, yet three years on we have more than a 1000 children in detention. It promised an education revolution, yet stuck with the status quo. But for the Prime Minister meeting her own surplus deadline really is a ‘core promise.'
On the other side, we have the Opposition. As per usual, the only contribution Mr Abbott appears to be making is in keeping with his usual role as the ‘Dr No' of Australian politics. No real solutions or ideas - simply more hysteria and more carping from the sidelines.
As both sides exchange insults, many Australians will be left asking what steps are being taken to ensure we can pay for future disaster recoveries. Here both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are severely lacking.
* This was first published on the National Times on February 1, 2011.