Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke has taken aim at the poor standard of political leadership in Australia, which he said was the fundamental barrier to implementing vital economic reforms.
Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development Australia event in Perth today, Mr Hawke said there was no policy challenge which could not be solved through strong leadership and building consensus amongst key stakeholders.
“In my judgment, there is not one outstanding political leader in any of the democracies anywhere in the world today and that’s the first time since the Second World War,” Mr Hawke told guests.
“Whatever your political persuasion, we should be doing our very best to persuade younger people of capacity to be thinking about a political career (because) we need better people in politics.”
Mr Hawke famously brought together employers, unions and welfare groups in a national summit upon taking power in 1983 to address high wages and price inflation, forging consensus for long-lasting structural economic reforms such as floating the dollar.
He said that ignorance was the “enemy of good policy” but an obsession with polls and the media cycle meant leaders had failed to properly educate voters on policy challenges.
“We talk about things being more complicated but we tend to forget that also, we know more than we used to,” Mr Hawke said.
“I don’t buy this increased complexity argument very much; essentially, the issues are fairly simple.”
Mr Hawke, who has joined Labor candidates on the campaign trail in recent weeks, renewed calls for Australia to become a dump for the world’s nuclear waste, which he said would play a significant role in addressing the nation’s fiscal challenges.
Former Liberal leader John Hewson, who spoke alongside Mr Hawke at the event, said the level of middle-class welfare and corporate welfare had been allowed to grow out of control as a result of lobbying from vested interests.
“The one mature debate we have to have as a nation is to decide realistically what role and what level of support we want government to deliver,” Dr Hewson said.
“I think you have to have people who are prepared to raise the issues. A lot of politics today is not being prepared to admit that you’ve got a problem.”
He said there should be a broad review of the role of tax concessions on property, superannuation and the GST but said it was unlikely that parties would commit to change.
“I don’t think you’re going to see any of that debated seriously in the foreseeable future,” Dr Hewson said.
“Whoever is in government in the next to three five years will have to address those issues.”