Australian governments must embark on a new era of nation building or risk squandering the national prosperity and entering a period of steep decline, UNSW researcher Professor Michael Pusey has warned in a major public lecture.
Professor Pusey, from the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, argued people are ready for a new vision for the country that includes major investments of money into infrastructure, a constructive approach to climate change and fixing federal-state relations.
The address New Prospects for Nation-Building was part of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' So, what? Public lecture series.
Professor Pusey, best known for his groundbreaking book Economic Rationalism in Canberra: a nation-building state changes its mind, told the forum Australia's prosperity into the 21st century depends on how well we face these crucial challenges.
"Our attention is focussing on these issues. Climate change, federal-state relations, a whole-of-government approach to infrastructure renewal -
these are all issues we need to face in order to make the economy work for the people, instead of the other way round," he says.
Professor Pusey says that since the 1980s successive governments have given up on nation building instead preferring to focus on economic growth.
But, he argues, economic rationalism has run its course and the public is rejecting the kind of economics that reduces quality of life and compromises the nation's future.
"We are now ready to stop letting the tail, which is the economy, wag the dog, which is the nation.
"It is becoming clear just how far we have fallen behind. You only have to look at the huge infrastructure deficits in NSW alone."
However, Professor Pusey says Australia is well placed to take advantage of the nation-building opportunities on offer.
"We have disciplined government, ample revenues and an effective regulatory framework. The only piece missing is the political vision.
"We must deal with climate change, re-build our rotting infrastructure and fix federal-state relations. But are our governments up to it?"
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