23/06/2016 5:56 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST

Those Who Are Struggling Are Getting Angry

They've seen big banks cause a global financial crisis that took away their homes and livelihoods with no one being held to account.


Australia has had 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth, which is unprecedented in human history.

How? Basically, Australia got lucky! We happen to be geographically close to a country of a billion people (China) with a rapidly expanding economy desperately in need of the minerals we have in abundance.

If our economy has been performing so well, why then does Australia have a "debt and deficit" disaster?*

This contention partly depends on your ideology or worldview. Some might say we spend too much, or spend too much on the wrong things. Others might say that we don't tax enough, or don't tax the wealthy and corporations enough to fund the kind of society we want.

That debate is usually the choice at the heart of most elections. Who and how much we tax, and how much we spend and on whom or what.

Since the 1980s, the theory for trickle down economics (Reaganomics in the US, Thatcherism in the UK, Economic Rationalism here in Australia) has been dominant in most Western countries: reduce government spending and income tax, reduce government regulation, and tighten money supply in order to reduce inflation. This has often been accompanied by privatisation of state-owned organisations (rail and power companies). Design policies that are good for business or "wealth creators", the theory goes, and the benefit of jobs and higher incomes will flow to the masses.

But what we're seeing globally, particularly in the US, is growing anger from the working and middle classes who have watched the benefits of that economic growth largely accrue to the wealthy (the very wealthy in particular) while they stand still or go backwards. They've seen big banks cause a global financial crisis that took away their homes and livelihoods with no one being held to account. The latest revelations in the Panama Papers is that big global corporates are robbing countries of their taxes. Every year, billions are squirreled away in tax havens and offshore accounts, away from the governments and public who should rightly receive a portion of that money through taxes.

And those who are struggling are getting angry.

Frighteningly, in some parts of the world, particularly Europe, that anger, infused with a dose of fear, is giving rise to nationalism and authoritarianism.

We must reject that. We must reject the politics of fear and parochialism when the world and its complex and borderless challenges demand a new internationalism.

What role should Australia play in our region and our world so that other countries look to us as a positive example of a good global citizen? When Australian politicians step out onto the world stage to represent us, let's be a country that others look to and speak about as the good global citizen that others should emulate. A country that leads on meeting the new Sustainable Development Goals that the global community signed in New York last year.

In three areas in particular, we must do much better. Australia is dragging its feet on climate change, allegedly breaching UN refugee conventions and the Government has cut Australian aid to its lowest level. Ever.

So, going back to where we started: Given Australia has had 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth, unprecedented in human history, how wealthy do we have to be before we increase aid? What level of economic growth do we need to reach before we are considered wealthy enough to afford to keep our promise to those people living in the poorest parts of the world? People facing the worst human misery that most of us can't even imagine.

It's time to discuss Australia's place in the world and who we want to be in the world.

*We don't really have a debt and deficit disaster - the alliteration sounds great, but Australia actually has the sixth-lowest level of government debt as a share of GNI of 28 OECD nations.