Crispin Hull / A Voice plan. Why we feel we are less well off

Memo Prime Minister Anthony Albanese: Now you have committed to the referendum this year, you must to everything you can to get it across the line.  

The No campaign has used every dirty trick of lies, exaggeration and fear campaigns.

The Yes campaign does not have to join them in deceit, but it has to get a bit clever.


A big leg up for Yes would come if the Federal voting age were reduced to 16. The Constitution gives the Parliament the power to set the voting age. Do it. The Greens, the Teals and independents would see it sail through the Parliament. Give the Electoral Commission extra resources to get the youngsters on the roll before the vote.   After all, the young people (who are more likely to vote Yes) are inheriting the mess; shouldn’t they get a say in fixing it up?

Older people who are more likely to vote No have less of a stake in the future and so a counter-weight is warranted.  

Be astute. Be bold. Don’t shy away from having a truth and treaty process later. Be honest and up front. It is better to go down fighting an honest fight, than winning, like the No case, fighting a dishonest one.  

Besides, putting the reduced voting age through the Parliament would get the Federal Opposition into an enormous tizz. The ensuing frothing at the mouth and sense of outrage would distract them from dreaming up even more absurdities to support the No case.  

In June, Green and Independent MPs gave their support to the “Make it 16” campaign launch at Parliament House. The Coalition and Labor stayed away. Labor should now change its mind.

Most 16-to-18-year-olds are much more savvy on political and societal issues than many elderly. Indeed, there is a sounder case for removing the vote from elderly people who fail some basic tests (a bit like drivers’ licences) than for denying it to younger people.  

At 16, Australians can and/or must marry, pay tax, work full-time, learn to drive, give consent for medical procedures, serve in the military, pay fines, and be charged as an adult. Why not vote? And make it compulsory like everyone else.  

Meanwhile, get stuck into the fundamental inconsistency in Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s position. He says he wants constitutional recognition for Indigenous people, but does not say how that can be achieved with overall support of the Indigenous people.

So far, five years of extensive consultation has come up with only the Voice, nothing else.  

The sort of “hello, we whitefellas ‘recognise’ you but we’re not doing anything more” was rejected in the 1999 referendum.  

Demand Dutton puts up his model for recognition and see what Indigenous people say about it. Without their agreement, it is not recognition.  

Dutton says he wants a voice for Indigenous people, but says it can only be legislated. So, what precisely is the difference between legislating now under the existing race power in the Constitution and legislating under a new Voice power – other than the obvious one that legislating under the race power is historically tainted?  

Both versions of a voice can be enacted, changed, and calibrated by the Parliament, so why not have the one Indigenous people want?  

And that is the nub of it. The Coalition’s No campaign rests on the position of no Indigenous input other than that of a tiny minority of self-aggrandisers or delusional demanders of something more now.  

We are headed for personal recession, according to last week’s Reserve Bank quarterly review. That is, income – after allowing for inflation and population growth –will fall.

We are going backwards.

And our productivity is falling off.  

Not only that, people feel they are going backwards faster than the percentage or two calibrated by economists. It is worth asking why.  

In the 1990s Australia had a big rise in labour productivity – the amount of income produced per hour worked. In the first decade of this century, it fell off dramatically, but we hardly noticed because all the slack was taken up by more favourable terms of trade – we were getting much more income for each product exported.  

Then two big things happened in the past decade. Labor productivity fell even more and so did labour utilisation – the number of hours worked by each person.  

The last point is telling. It is the bitter fruit of the gig economy – grab whatever paltry hours are available and pretend you are employed. And the economists pretend we have an unemployment rate of three per cent or so when nearly 10 per cent of the workforce want more work.  

Meanwhile, on the corporate side there is no need to make employees more productive through more capital investment, training and innovation. There is an orderly queue of people desperate for more work added to by vast numbers of so-called “skilled” migrants whose high-end skills are either not recognised or are not present.  

Further, big corporate players shut out competition by fair means or foul so there is no need for them to lift their productivity game.  

Small wonder so many people feel they are going backwards.  

But it is worse. At the turn of the century, the Federal Government began to withdraw from service provision – especially in health and education – and handed it over to the private sector. But the private sector is much less efficient. Private health loses about 15 per cent in administration; Medicare loses about three per cent. Billions are poured into private education, yet our international education rankings plumet. We are not spending the money on real education, but on chapels and swimming pools.  

Paying for these private costs lowers the living standards of most Australians. No wonder they feel they are going backwards and that so many fall for the siren calls of the populist right.   People who cannot afford good education and health and cannot get it free from government inevitably become less productive workers.  

Real productivity investment is not in government hand-outs, subsidies, rorts, contracts and lower taxes for mates in the private sector.  

If you want to fix decreasing labour productivity the answer lies in providing free, universal, timely quality health care. And free, quality education. It means paying the medial and teaching staff at public schools and hospitals more. It is not a waste of government money. It is an investment that will pay.

Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and regular columnist.

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 1 August 2023.

Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and regular columnist.


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