Australia has been through four natural disasters this year; the drought, the bushfires, the pandemic and the global climate catastrophe . Each of them has provided us with varying degrees of physical exposure, but if you were not directly and personally exposed to any of them, your mental health was probably affected.
Big government is an idea which allows governments the capacity to respond to natural phenomena such as economic depressions, recessions, wars, cyclones, fires, floods and pandemics. It utilises elements of Keynes’ theory that governments have a role to play when markets are not enough, such as times when catastrophes occur. It generally means government investment replaces private investment, if the market is unable, or unwilling, to invest.
Notable examples of governmental intervention are Roosevelt’s New Deal, which helped to end the Great Depression, and the Marshall Plan, which re-constructed Europe after World War 11. The rebuilding of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy is a notable local example.
At times like this we are often sustained by our families and friends, by our communities, and even by the kindness of strangers. But there is a level of assistance that we are unable to provide for ourselves. That is provided by the mechanisms and the solidity of our governments.
We often speak disparagingly of our being over-governed. We complain about paying taxes, about regulations, about the nanny state. In Australia we have so many layers of officialdom it can feel stifling. But during such times as these, that infrastructure can be comforting. It is why we all quietly blubber when we see the kids singing “We are Australian”.
We survived the bushfires
The bushfires of 2019 were devastating and terrifying. Although it impacted mostly in regional areas we all had some form of connection. It might have been through a visit to Mallacoota, or Broadford’s near-miss in 2009, or as a survivor of the Ash Wednesday fires … You might be a volunteer firefighter, or your niece is. We were all affected, because Australians are way too familiar with bushfires.
We would not have come through so well if not for all of our governments acting on our behalf. Of course there were stuff-ups and mistakes, some of which are still causing people to be living in tents seven months later, but the governments responded, with the defence force, with firefighters, with evacuations and food drops. Our kindergartens and shire halls were available, and there was shelter provided. Our citizens are resourceful, but we can’t have a navy ship waiting off the coast, or supply helicopters. The hospitals were open and staffed, and no-one was counting the cost. We as a society would accept nothing less.
The drought is breaking (maybe)
2019 was very dry. By July, a climatologist at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology stated that the drought was now officially the worst on record in the Murray–Darling Basin, and “had now exceeded the Federation Drought, the WWII drought and the Millennium drought in terms of its severity through the MDB”. Drought in Australia
This year (2020) much of the drought stricken country has had, or expects, above average rainfall for the winter months. This is wonderful news. It will not immediately rescue those whose incomes have been slashed, or those whose mental health has suffered. It will not comfort those whose loved ones have taken their own lives, because of the stress and the perceived hopelessness of their situation. Many farmers have had to sell or shoot stock, or go into more debt to buy feed, or lost the opportunity to sow crops because of the intense drought.
During the worst of it the public has participated in charity drives to buy and send hay for livestock. Many have donated funds to struggling rural families. Food parcels have been delivered to farmers who have thus far lived proudly independent lives. All of us know where our food comes from, and many of us want to be a part of any push to help.
Thankfully we also have a Government which has had the wherewithal to assist. These were trying times, and once again federal and state governments stepped into the breach. Of course the situation is only going to repeat, as climate change continues its inexorable march.
“Every federal budget and update since 2002-03, when the millennium drought was just starting to affect parts of the country, has been forced to set aside money for drought relief.” The cost of drought – and it’s just going to grow This obviates the need for governments which do not allow markets to determine outcomes. Farmers, like their families, and the communities which service them, operate as crucial elements of our society; we prefer to stand as one.
The pandemic rolls on
As Victoria teeters on the edge of a second wave, Australia is having to look seriously at a second, perhaps total, lockdown. As we concentrate on the physical health of the nation, some are demanding a re-opening of the economy. As if the idiocy of the Trump response is not enough, we are debating if we can afford to continue the stimulus packages in place. It is not a matter of choice. We do not allow people to starve in a country brim full of food. We do not have people thrown out into the winter streets, when we have thousands of empty houses.
We have constructed a society which has withstood the worst that nature can bring, and we have stood united. We do not treat the national accounts like a grocery list, striking out what we think might be a luxury. We look after our own, and if the Government needs to go into debt, we should be fine with that.
The continuing saga of climate change stupidity
Climate change underlies the bushfires and the drought’s severity. It continues to be an open wound in our society. If there is an issue which has unified our young people, this is it. It is also the Morrison Government’s most notable failure. This week, in the midst of the pandemic, we hear that Craig Kelly is ‘investigating’ whether the Bureau of Meteorology is fudging temperature data for nefarious, presumably ‘green’, propaganda purposes.
Angus Taylor continues to assert that black is indeed white, and our renewables industry battles manfully, while facing the headwinds of Taylor’s bluster.
Scott Morrison has managed to overturn his disdain for science by largely following medical scientists’ advice on the Covid-19 pandemic. We can only hope that he decides to put Australia’s needs before his own, by changing his course on climate change. Choosing his personnel better would send a message that he believes in a society which wants to pull together. He needs to lead.
We need to stick together
The continuing argument between the left and right in politics seems to be one which boils down to whether or not we believe in the power of big government to cushion the blows of nature, and to maintain our social fabric, in the face of steep odds.
It is a moot point, as Morrison, through the power he holds, will eventually decide which way we jump. He needs to step away from his ideological straight jacket, and study some history. Great leaders, such as Clement Attlee of the U.K. and our own John Curtin, consciously set out to build inclusive societies in their respective countries, after the damage done by World War 11.
We have been agreeably surprised with Morrison’s seeming acceptance of Keynes’ roadmap for recovery. Let us hope it continues. It is the only credible way forward. As the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas, an opponent of Keynes, admitted in 2008: “I guess everyone is a Keynesian in a foxhole.”