The twin propositions that ‘more education is better’ and ‘the more people who are educated the better’ appear uncontentious. However, how ‘better’ is defined is crucial. When you ask people why they think education is important, most, including educators and a lot of parents, point immediately to its personal, instrumental value in ensuring a high-paid and rewarding job. After all, that’s been the predominant public story for decades now. And such thinking is almost certainly partly responsible for the push for greater ‘choice’ in education and the shift by the children of the well off into the private system. Such thinking appears to inform the contemporary discussion about economic growth and productivity; education, especially ‘skills-based’ education, is seen as a panacea.
The contribution of education to individual creativity, health and wellbeing or to wider social objectives like reducing prejudice and improving our democracy might be tossed in as an afterthought. And, God forbid we should even hint at woolly ideas like the sheer glorious excitement of learning, the delight of mastery, of bright curiosity satisfied and of play. Even when these more expansive, less readily measured effects of a good education are mentioned, they are often a cover for a tight focus on test results and school exit performance, a mandatory nod on the school website or in the glossy prospectus, but not a real test of worth. There was a time when it was not considered naive to talk about education in expansive terms; there was a time when teachers were generally revered and the idea that learning could be ‘for its own sake’ was not considered quaintly old-fashioned. Of course, education was particularly valued because it offered the less well off a path to improvement, but such improvement was not thought to be limited to the material; what my parents wanted, at least, was for me and my brother and sisters to experience and know more about the world than they did and to transcend what they saw as the intellectual limitations of a country upbringing.
There are many educators and parents who believe that the way we now think about education and measure achievement dismally fails to capture all the facets of young people’s lives. The fear is that the restricted focus on vocational preparation and testing may result in young people being denied opportunities for genuine intellectual discovery and creativity. Correspondingly, the nation may be starved of the ingenuity and problem-solving needed to respond to pressing social and economic dilemmas.
Politics is about gaining power as well as using power. It involves that which separates us (gender, class, age, ethnicity) as well as that which unites us as human beings. Reason often battles emotion just as minorities battle majorities and the future competes with the present. It involves loyalty and tribalism as well as objectivity and rationality.
Good politicians understand all of this but are not swept aside by it. It is when each of the tensions is ignored and politics reduced to a technique that we enter troubled waters. There is an important distinction to be made between the techniques that can assist politicians and politics as a technique. Politics requires research into both its ends and means but above all else it requires the capacity to judge and the will to decide in an imperfect world.
Personally, I can’t see that telling people who vote Green they are stupid is a great political strategy.
Most Green voters are sensible, committed and share many of the same values as Labor supporters. They are unlikely to experience a road-to-Damascus revelation as a result of these types of remarks.
Green voters in suburban and regional seats can and do have a real influence over electoral outcomes and should be nurtured, not nuked.
I am also not sure that swinging voters outside the inner-city seats are going to be all that convinced by the boots-and-all approach. It fails the tests of consistency and believability. Federal Labor has governed under an arrangement with the Greens that has generally delivered the government’s legislative program, with the major exception of asylum-seeker policy.
However, there is evidence from the Melbourne byelection that a focus on Labor’s core strengths and holding the Greens to account on how they are going to deliver their policies bears fruit. Labor campaigned strongly in Melbourne on education and the state government’s TAFE cuts. Most significantly, Andrews homed in on the Greens’ inability to govern, and lack of financial responsibility. The key issue that hurt the Greens in the last week was that their policy costings didn’t stack up and they didn’t think it mattered.
The Greens like to say that Labor and the Coalition are the same. Federal Labor should argue that, on many issues of concern to progressive voters, Labor’s policies are actually better and more effective than the Greens – whether it be investment in social housing, broad access to vital infrastructure like the national broadband network or environmental initiatives like the system of marine national parks.
In the case of the Greens, in recent weeks many of their MPs and supporters have expressed bewilderment and anger at the public attacks that have been directed at the party. If they want to get a better understanding of what motivates some of these criticisms, it would probably pay for them to look at what Bandt said on Saturday night and yesterday morning. Apparently, there’s one rule for the Greens and another for everyone else.
When the Greens come in second and win with the help of preferences, even if those preferences come via the Liberal ticket, everything’s fine and it’s a glorious victory. But when Labor is fighting the Greens and gets preferences, especially from people who voted Family First or really anybody else, it’s a dirty, sleazy backroom deal leading to a tainted result.
There is a problem for some sections of the contemporary Australian centre-left when it comes to ideas. It seems the only big picture that exists is the economy.
It is telling that many Labor politicians seem to believe that vision merely means having a plan for economic growth. There are constant appeals to the legacy of ”Hawke-Keating reforms”, as though saying the phrase is enough to count as a program. Reform has become an end in itself, and separated from ideological identity. Only rarely does someone pause to ask: reform for what purpose? And for whom?
In a libertarian utopia an employer would be free to implement their own version of the Northern Territory Intervention. As the only private sector employer in a remote Indigenous community, they might choose to pay their workers using a Basics Card that can only be used at a company store. Naturally the store would stock only healthy products like fresh fruit and vegetables. The employer might also regularly test workers for drugs and alcohol — not in order to prevent accidents at work — but in order to encourage workers to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
According to Friedrich Hayek’s definition, this would be coercion. In the Constitution of Liberty he defined coercion as “such control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another.”
Libertarians object to coercion by governments. They strenuously object to coercion when it’s directed against employers or corporations trying to sell things like cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. But they don’t object to coercion when it’s part of the labour contract.
So it turns out libertarians don’t have a principled objection to nannying. In some cases, they’re all for it.