Dear Mr Carey,
Alas I was not available when you came to my home recently as I’m always keen to speak with our elected representatives and express some opinions and feedback. I appreciate the gesture and acknowledge it with this feedback on my topics of priority and some general observations.
Economics – preparing for the storm & waking up to the opportunity on our doorstep.
Summary: Good job to date – trouble incoming – we should look beyond mining & tourism
Labor’s approach to managing the state debt has been solid. I always give credit where it’s due, and given the situation you inherited from your predecessors, it’s more evidence that Labor do a decent job managing Government finances despite the persistent myth to the contrary.
My observation is that the national economy is experiencing significant slowdown, with the GDP numbers simply containing the panic around recession at the moment.
At this same time, the housing bubble could be on the verge of an actual bust rather than just deflation. The big banks are currently structuring their loan books expecting the storm to hit. When it does hit, we need a vision for how we deal with major unemployment should the construction industry experience a slowdown similar to other property-speculation induced bubbles. The signals are there for a similar unwinding to which Ireland experienced. We see it at a state level via stories about jobs, rents in Beaufort St, negative equity & mortgage stress. Different symptoms but a similar pathology.
Looking towards the new east
We need a vision, strategy & plan to move the state’s economy past mining & tourism. Both offer easy short-term benefit which will see us good for a while, but it’s not mitigating risk of change, nor building broad foundations for new economic opportunity.
With mining so dominant in our state’s industrial landscape, we will always be subject to the cycles inherent in commodity markets to provide investment for jobs. This is neither strategic nor sustainable.
We must build a picture, with supporting frameworks from State Govt, of a potential economic landscape for WA to include more downstream, high-value & high-tech industries. We are ideally placed to be global leaders in a number of areas due to our prime geological and geographical location.
I believe our working relationship with our neighbours in Asia is generally short-sighted, transactional and not yet creating win-win outcomes. We live in the most active & populated time-zone in the world but we mostly orientate towards the east coast and the U.S. rather than looking out across the ocean at the opportunity it could provide, if only we are able to bridge the gaps in a way which creates true cooperative advantage and sets Western Australia up strategically for the long term as global superpowers jostle for position. I’ll reserve further commentary on this matter for another time.
Environment – Thinking beyond election cycles
Summary: We must elevate the state conversation to look at inter-generational time frames
We are living through seismic global shifts in relation to population changes and the associated ecological impact. Transitioning unprecedented numbers of people out of poverty into consumption-based economies has buoyed our own economic situation, but at a cost which has not yet been fully quantified in terms of externalities.
We need to ensure we take the 50-year view, the 100-year view, and at times even the 1000-year view on relevant matters within the state’s remit. Those who come after us will judge us for it.
Conversations on our relationship with our environment must include voices from local community stakeholders. Off-shored economic interests are very well represented in these matters and their working relationship with politics & media offer significant advantage when it comes to influencing decisions which have a broad base of stakeholders but narrow range of views taken into account.
We must ensure that any conversation is balanced with a view weighted by an obligation to improve outcomes for those who come after us, rather than making them bear the cost of short-term, and sometimes self-serving, vision.
Ethics – End the War on Drugs
Summary: Common sense – Decriminalise & change market incentives.
The War on Drugs has been a complete failure by every conceivable measure. The time is nigh for reform and we have ample evidence from other countries to support the claim that issues surrounding drugs are best treated as health & social matters rather than as criminal issues. The data indicate increased uptake of treatment, reduction in number of deaths, reduced use among adolescents & problematic users, reduced criminal justice workloads and reduced economic incentives for criminal networks.
The methamphetamine epidemic is a very serious issue which requires an approach which transcends a strictly procedural and one-dimensional cause & effect model. There is a deeper malaise undercurrent which needs to be addressed as part of a more holistic approach to assisting our society deal with addiction problems.
A gateway drug – connecting criminals to consumers
I believe that the state’s criminalisation of cannabis has significantly contributed towards establishing and maintaining the criminal networks which have profited from the meth epidemic. The business of cannabis is lucrative and rather than being a gateway drug for users, it’s often a strategic stepping stone for criminal networks who use cannabis as a cash crop to fund their other operations and open up distribution networks to communities most at risk.
This has the knock-on effect of diverting police resources towards targeting individual users of cannabis, much to no real consequence on impacting the criminal networks. A more advanced approach would be to legalise the recreational use of a number of plants grown at home for personal use, and also establishing a legal framework to encourage entrepreneurship in this blossoming industry.
Look to the other WA for the way
The stories from Colorado & Washington are testament to how a state can create a thriving industry which benefits the majority in terms of quality of life and increased funds from taxes which are directed towards social programs.
We should lead with initiatives around the legalisation of marijuana for medical (phase 1), recreational (phase 2) & commercial (phase 3) cases. This would resonate with voters, many of whom believe this is a common sense issue which has been derailed by a legacy of misinformation and hysterics. This is a perfect issue to further advance the case for evidence-based policy reforms.
Do not be afraid to take on the conservatives on this matter. They will fall back onto narratives invoking more policing, stricter punishments & a divisive hard-line ethos appealing to fear. We need to combat those lazy ideas with leadership on how to reform our legal framework with regard to drugs – minimising harm inflicted on addicted users, removing market incentives for criminals and maximising the opportunity for people to make free choices about plant medicines and synthetic entheogens which can be used to alleviate symptoms of physical and psychological suffering while offering space to work towards deeper healing on the root causes.
Other Important Issues
I could list my opinions on public transport, NBN and other infrastructure matters which are of keen interest to me but will reserve such for more appropriate engagement forums. I will close my letter referencing the issue which is most on my mind at present.
Concerning Human Rights & a Bill of Rights for West Australians
This is an area of civics which we will look back on in years to come when the political issues of this day are long a distant memory. We will either rue our short-sightedness or be grateful for our long-term vision.
Simply put, Australians do not have adequate provisions concerning general human rights. We are the only western democracy without a federally instantiated charter or bill of rights. Alas, it’s not something to be complacent of, and one which requires we act with foresight before it is too late.
I know Labor has worked to advance this issue over the years and it’s one which should rise above party politics. We are still a long way off from a federal discussion around a bill of human rights, yet it’s a conversation we should continue to advance, and especially at state level where the opportunity exists to implement symbolic reforms which pave the way for setting up the national conversation to ensure we do the right thing by ourselves.
The journey ahead for our human rights
We are living in times of great change and one of these unprecedented changes is emergent as the Internet. It is a force which is shaping our civilisation in a manner commensurate to, but likely to exceed, the impact of the printing-press and the steam engine.
Our lives as we live them today, and will increasingly tomorrow, extend into the online world. We are becoming more interconnected in ever emergent patterns. If we are to have rights, those rights should extend to all spaces where people seek protection from tyranny.
Our Internet, and by extension our public lives connected to the internet, are currently subject to a variety of initiatives which aim to impede on the freedom of people to live our lives without the specter of suspicion and unwarranted surveillance weighing over us in the interests of national security. This matter deserves prudent observation and oversight.
Western Australia, with our deep indigenous history and increasingly cosmopolitan views, can contribute to the discussion on fundamental rights which reflect a commitment to sovereignty, freedom, exploration and connection to land and spirit. But only if we stand up and speak out.
In closing, I commend your public work to date and wish you well for the future.