As 2016 beckons, it’s time to think about plans for making the New Year better than this one. In a moment of despair last year, I wrote down the top 10 issues I thought I would address to improve our society, if I were the democratic dictator running the country. I found them at the bottom of my in-tray (yes, I still have a ‘tray’), perused them and thought they all still seemed relevant. Perhaps though, I have a slightly different order now that the Paris conference has put a 1.5C agreed line in the sand for global temperature increases. So here they are:
- A fairer tax system. It’s obvious that international companies and rich individuals are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes, almost whatever country you are in. In Australia, we know the taxes that need to be fixed: company tax (especially MNCs who use intercountry transfer pricing to avoid tax), low-tax superannuation contributions and tax-free pensions, negative gearing for investment property and health insurance tax concessions. All the experts agree we need to pay more tax in total. Let’s get on with it (even though I’m a big loser out of these proposals).
- Reduce obesity. Almost all of us eat too much, surrounded as we are 24/7 by food offerings. We know junk foods are bad for us. We know the health cost to the society. We know the junk food lobbyists are working hard to show black is white, just as the tobacco industry lobbyists did. Let’s tax junk food into being a luxury item. Let’s tax food consumption generally, so we eat less and value it more.
- Stop domestic violence/violence against women/sexual harrassment. Thanks to Rosie Batty, many other courageous women, government royal commissions and investigations, it’s now obvious that these problems exist across all levels of societies. We need to change the behaviour of men to stop these problems: educate, publicise, prosecute. These behaviours must stop.
- Develop a justice system, not a legal system. Too often major lawbreakers escape punishment because of legal technicalities or the costs of prosecution. Our current black letter legal system costs too much, doesn’t deliver reasonable or timely outcomes and strongly favours the rich. We need a legal system, a set of lawyers and judges, who determine cases more simply, more quickly, more equitably, on the balance of probabilities, allowing for overlooking minor technical processing breaches. The system needs less lawyers, more conciliators, more arbitrators.
- Introduce a carbon trading system. It’s obvious that the big polluters won a huge victory when the current government stopped our fledgling carbon tax, a tax that would have morphed into a carbon trading system by 2016. Taxing carbon emissions for the largest emitters will lead to rapid innovation in carbon reduction. Cities, communities and individuals are doing it themselves. It’s time governments caught up to make 1.5C a reality.
- Increase public transport infrastructure. Australian governments must stop allowing new suburbs to arise without good connections to existing transport infrastructure and funding their own public transport connections (bus, riding, walking). Building new freeways- for which there always seems to be government money available – is a short term sop to car owners that just extends the size of the long term traffic jam. All great cities of the world have good public transport systems now. We need to focus our transport investment (and education) on the value of public transport.
- Manage water use. Australia is the driest continent. Recently, Melbourne showed how, given a personal water use target and aligned water management practices (drip feed irrigation, grey water, night watering, bans), water use could be drastically reduced with little personal impact. Experts know how to manage water. Use the science and pricing mechanisms to change behaviours.
- Support maximum renewable energy. People are taking it into their own hands. Next year, electric battery storage will be widely available for homes. The more renewables, the less carbon emissions (especially at peak demand), the better for the 1.5C global warming target. Targets of 50-80% seem easily achievable, not the incremental targets currently sought by our conservative governments (some places already achieve 100% for short periods). Provide support and people and organisations will make it happen.
- Allow rational assisted suicide. This is an issue about the principle of personal choice. Doctors already ‘assist’ dying when asked. People are finding the drugs they want, despite government bans. Polls show most people support the idea. Several countries and jurisdictions (Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon, Washington and more) allow it, without any significant adverse consequences. Don’t let the tiny religious minority stop this humane option from becoming a lawful option.
- Reduce the emphasis on materialism and short term consumption. This is a biggie! It’s obvious that most of what we have we don’t actually need. It’s obvious that much of the value we get from life can be obtained from ‘free’ experiences (walking, listening, talking, reading, exercising, making, learning, doing and more). A higher GST would make materialism more expensive, compared to the free or low cost of many of the products and services thrust at us. Reducing our emphasis on Christmas presents, baby presents, birthday presents, presents for kids who are totally overloaded would help. Taxing luxury goods would be another good idea. But it will need a lot more education to change our society behaviour of gorging on materialism.
What do you thing about these changes? If you were the democratic dictator, what would you do?