I’ve been exercised by this issue since many thousands of us leapt in to fund the Climate Council after it was almost instantly de-funded when the Abbott government took office.
The response from the government was something like” well there you go. It didn’t need government funding because the community was able to do it after all”. This of course was duplicitous and showed an apparent lack of understanding of the role of government.
What is that role?
First, and most prominent at this time of deregulation, is to mitigate or moderate the exercise of power by the powerful to prevent “unacceptable” disadvantage to those without power. What constitutes “unacceptable” is a decision made by the community in a democracy. Such decisions are made through elections, but also through ongoing community debate. And made ultimately by governments for the long-term good of the community as a whole.
The role of bodies such as the Climate Council (and many of the others that have been de-funded, including the advisory council on the ageing population) is to interpret science for government and the community, and to provide expert policy advice so that effective evidence-based decisions can be made.
The community already pays for these essential functions of good government through their taxes.
This morning Jon Faine on Melbourne’s ABC 774 local radio was proposing that the community help the LaTrobe Valley community clean up after the dreadful fire that’s been plaguing the region for months.
One listener objected, saying the government should conduct or fund it. While a blame analysis might justify such an approach, there are great advantages to the Victorian (and broader) community coming in the help clean up. It brings people together in a time of difficulty, and underlines and reinforces our humanity.
If we become passive and expect the government to rescue us we become helpless in our lives. We are much better off if we join as communities to solve our problems than stand as separate individuals waiting for external help that will almost certainly be inadequate.
That said, there is a role for government to facilitate and support such community actions in a variety of ways. It may be to provide or subsidise accommodation, set up or fund coordination groups so those who need help the most receive it first and so on. Where government has been part of the problem (for example, where essential regulatory functions have been absent or inadequate) then certainly compensation is a longer-term solution to the disadvantages inflicted on the community.