Towards a Smarter Nation


Does Australia have a tendency to look simplistically at complex issues,then draw the wrong conclusion?

No one can argue that Australia isn’t engaged in debate about how we build a more successful and prosperous nation. The only issue is that many have been quick to take firm sides on critical issues rather than keeping themselves open to rigorous discussion.

On BTalk recently we’ve tried to look at the major issues from all angles.

Let’s take the population debate, for example. Often it’s argued that we don’t have enough water to support many more people. That’s not the case says Rebecca Gill, we are a long way from being water stressed — two-thirds of our listeners agreed with her.

There’s a reason we need to look carefully at population growth. Alistair Cox, the global head of Hays Recruitment, came on BTalk to remind us that in the next 20 years the working population of the world will increase by one billion people — many of those educated, in emerging nations. Is that a challenge or an opportunity?

Australia, like any developed nation, faces more competition, so we need to work smarter. We can start, says Nicholas Gruen, by revamping how we issue grants for innovation. A lot of support for R&D is given to bigger companies who lump in a large part of their operational costs as a so-called research expense. That has to change.

Carbon tax is another big issue. A quarter of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the agricultural sector. Annette Cowie says that a lot of this can be offset with relatively simple measures, such as planting more trees, without impacting the productivity of the sector.

That might be an easy win, but introducing a broader tax seems to be a fight the government is losing. Alan Moran suggests that’s because their arguments make no sense. You might disagree with some of his views, but he is right to point out that some of the facts in an unearthed Labor party briefing paper are just plain wrong.

There’s no argument in the public arena about getting the government budget back into surplus. But there should be! Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute wonders why we have this preoccupation with balancing the budget. While the rest of the world is struggling, why aren’t we borrowing to invest in more infrastructure to allow our economy to grow?

First published on CBS News

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