Policy Snapshots

This week's picks:


The G-20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors takes place in Melbourne this week. And with ‘love and excitement' protestors are amassing.

Created in response to the financial crises of the late 1990s, the G-20 brings together systemically important industrialised and developing economies. Peter Costello, who will chair the meeting, says ‘If you're concerned about aid and poverty and the developing world, this is a summit you should be demonstrating for.' It's a curious claim in light of Oxfam's pointed observation that a ‘commitment to combat poverty' does not seem to be a high priority on the G-20 agenda.

Oxfam have released this briefing paper, which urges the group to ‘seize the opportunity' to revitalise progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is seriously lagging. Halving global poverty by 2015 is affordable, ‘What is missing from the equation is determination, not dollars.' (Bono, on message, makes a similar point; if you missed this recent The Centre for Policy Development article catch up on the pitfalls of the Bono politic.) Oxfam outlines the MDGs; assesses progress to date; and responds to criticisms of the MDG project. On the question of accountability, Oxfam argues that citizens need to hold national leaders to account. That means citizens in the developed, democratic world should demand their governments actually pursue the agreed goals, and that civil society projects should be supported in countries where governments need to be held accountable for expenditure of aid budgets and debt relief. The paper argues for investment in essential, universal, public services through increased aid and a rights-based approach to debt relief: when governments tax their poorest citizens to meet debt obligations, human rights are violated.

Pilots saving patients lives

Human error in the operating room costs human lives. In the US, health care professionals are turning to the aviation industry as they redouble their efforts to reduce the rate of preventable medical errors. In this feature for the New York Times journalist Kate Murphy examines the trend. Murphy finds that 30 years ago the aviation industry was prompted by a series of fatal mistakes to institute change. Health care providers face a similar challenge today. Medical expert Dr Stephen B. Smith explains the parallels: ‘We need to change the culture [in the operating room] so communication is more organised, regimented and collaborative, like what you find now in the cockpit of an airplane.' Aviation-derived practices that are being put to use in medical environments include pre- and post-operative briefings, simulator training, checklists, annual competency reviews and incident reporting systems. You will have to register (for free) with the New York Times to access the article.

Closer to home, Dr Stephen Duckett, a former federal Health Department head has been engaged by Peter Beattie to restore credibility to the addled Queensland health system. On the 7.30 Report this week, he argued that private patients receive benefits worth $500 million more from the Commonwealth than public patients. He proposes a new funding formula for the next federal-state health care agreement, outlined here.

Blue state, red state

The Centre for Policy Development readers may be familiar with Thomas Frank's take on the ‘great divide' in American society: conservatives successfully translated class into culture and harnessed a ‘little people's' backlash against liberal conceit, and (perceived) power. ‘Workerist in its rhetoric but royalist in its economic effects … the backlash has been ignored, downplayed, or misunderstood by liberals,' Frank wrote in a blistering analysis of the 2004 presidential election.

With the Democrat's fortunes taking a decisive turn in the recent mid-terms, Stan Cox's analysis of American voting patterns is of interest. Cox argues that lazy journalists have latched onto ‘moral values' to explain ‘why so many millions of non-wealthy Americans [vote] … against their own economic interests'. Based on the 2004 presidential election, Cox produced a map of red, blue and purple America by analysing wages, taxes, energy costs, environmental policy, income inequality, population size, and the number of Wal-Mart Supercenters relative to population. Cox also feeds in a startling statistic, which we know came to bear on the recent result, ‘Iraq war deaths per million residents'. Here, the red states are affected by 58 per cent more military deaths in Iraq, relative to population. Cox paints a complex, variegated picture, and before the mid-terms he speculated, ‘Low- and middle-income people know only too well that there's class conflict in this country, and they know who's losing. In voting for the Right anyway, millions of people, mostly white, are in effect throwing up their hands and declaring surrender.' Instead they declared revenge, thinks The Centre for Policy Development's Andrew West, who writes that progressive economic populism is back, and the real elites' game is up.

For ongoing election analysis and congress Senators' profiles check here.

Uranium's bad rap

The uranium industry-dominated Uranium Industry Framework Steering Group, which was convened by the government and asked to identify impediments to the growth of Australia's uranium industry, has released its report and 20 sweeping recommendations. It finds that negative public perceptions of uranium are affecting both transport of products containing uranium, and the prospects for industry expansion. As expected, the Group also recommends an overhaul of current regulatory measures, in favour of industry ‘stewardship'. The Australian Conservation Foundation's Dave Sweeney says the ‘report reads more like a brochure for uranium mining than a serious discussion of a contentious industry'.

Church and state

In a recent interview with Jesuit publication Eureka Street, Andrew Denton said, ‘I have deep respect for people's individual faith, but when faith gets connected to the machinery of state, or the machinery of hate, I find it very confronting'. With the number of Australian politicians with God on their side seemly on the rise, and the Church assuming a great role in service delivery in welfare, health and education sectors, the Australian Democrats have released this discussion paper about the separation of church and state. The Democrats argue that ‘secularism asserts both the freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. Secularism ought to be the glue that maintains stability within diversity.' While public attention is more often focussed on the popularity of evangelical churches, and Australian Muslims, this paper outlines that most of the relations ‘between religious organisations and the state involve the traditional Christian churches'. While religion and politics is the subject of Marion Maddox's 2005 God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics and Amanda Lohrey's June Quarterly Essay, Voting for Jesus, the Democrats' discussion paper raises important new issues. With many functions that were previously the preserve of the state up for tender, the paper considers the implications of Church organisations providing public services. For example, publicly funded pregnancy counselling services run by religious-based organisations often ‘provide false and misleading advice about abortion, or refuse to provide women with information about … terminations with the aim of dissuading them from this course of action'.

Patchworks and pathways: early childhood policies

The Australian Council for Educational Research has released this comprehensive assessment of the provision of early childhood care and education services. Report author Alison Elliot describes a ‘labyrinth' of childcare and preschool services, ranging across publicly-subsidised and operated, through private and religious schools, to small business owner-operator services. While families seeking care ‘have difficulty negotiating the maze of early childhood services', it could be said that the bewildering mix offers ‘diversity'. Instead, the report finds that demand for childcare exceeds supply and that many kids miss out on pre-school. Given the now well-established importance of early childhood education, Elliot finds that an integrated, equitable, well-funded, regulated and managed system of early childhood education and care is an urgent policy priority.

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