Twenty years has not been long enough for Australia to resolve the ongoing problems of elderly care, Indigenous reconciliation, or emissions trading.
Previously classified federal cabinet documents from 2000 show that John Howard’s government is facing questions about the quality of the elderly care sector after the kerosene bath scandal in Melbourne.
Visions of family members shaking with shock and crying outside the Riverside nursing home, as news of residents being subjected to kerosene baths to cure a scabies outbreak, was broadcast across the country in early 2000.
Fast forward to 2020, and the Federal Government is awaiting the final report from its royal commission for the elderly care sector, which was called for after sickening allegations of mistreatment of vulnerable Australian elderly in nursing homes, expressed through the media and courage. from the reporter.
An interim report from the investigation – titled ‘Neglect’ – is made for calm reading, and has sparked one of the most passionate debates in Australian politics in 2020.
As the nation struggles with caring for the elderly, hundreds of thousands of people are also calling for reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.
Most spectacularly, the parade across the Sydney Harbor Bridge is a powerful statement before the Sydney Olympics.
Twenty years later, the Closing the Gap target shows limited progress in tackling inequality, and enshrining Indigenous voices in the constitution is stalled and contentious.
Emissions trading scheme marked in 2000
The paper released by the National Archives also shows that the cabinet had early support for an emissions trading scheme (ETS) as a way of meeting international climate targets.
As a sign of what is to come, the paper offers hints from the industry portfolio that such a scheme could hit business hard.
However, reading the 20-year-old paper doesn’t reveal that two decades of toxic bickering will produce the best way to tackle carbon emissions.
This has left the Australian political landscape littered with remnants of political careers from across the ideological spectrum.
You may be forgiven for wondering why on Earth this problem was not resolved two decades later.
What does it say about the nation and its leaders that such important issues remain unresolved?
Cabinet historian Professor Chris Wallace argues that this has to do with the tone in the corridors of power, and how it resonates across the country.
“I think the big thing that was missing from national politics in the intervention period was politicians who understood the difference between strategy and tactics,” he said.
“So a generation ago, we still had government and cabinet leaders who understood strategic policy making.
“I would say, now, we have degenerated into a purely tactical policy-making phase, and the reasons for this are a lack of historical perspective, the inability of politicians to see strategically what is needed in the long term, and to make the tactical steps necessary to get us there.”
Hardly a shining support.
Former deputy prime minister and chief citizen John Anderson – though unwilling to join the current group of legislators at the same level – agrees with Dr Wallace that the last right policy debate in Australia comes as the country is considering the GST.
He sees fears that will only get worse, through polarizing discussions about things like Brexit and the Trump presidency abroad, and the fierce and scathing debates that are taking place on forums like social media.
“We have to be careful and understand that what is really happening, in my opinion, is that we are being divided, especially by the extremes at both ends of the political spectrum,” he said.
“The vast majority of great Australians in the midst of watching this terrible war take place over their heads thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what about us? What about the national interest?’
“Looks like there are some big challenges out there? Can you guys stop scoring? ‘”
Unfortunately, for students of history, it seems that unless something changes, things will stay the same.