Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey during Question Time Photo: Andrew Meares
In 1992, Bill Clinton's adviser, James Carville, wrote a key message on his campaign whiteboard to knock off George H. W. Bush: ''The economy, stupid.'' In 1991, Bush had a 90 per cent approval rating. In 1992, he lost the election.
In Australia today, there's one crucial message that should go before Carville's dictum. ''It's the structure, stupid!''
Neither Coalition nor Labor can improve our long-term economy, because the structure within which politicians operate forces them to constantly strategise in the short term.
By contrast, Indonesia has enacted legislation to value-add natural resources to build smelters and refineries rather than ship raw products to China, while Australia is allowing smelters and refineries to close down.
Australia is going backwards in terms of our cherished long-term value-adding dream.
Like the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch in the Game of Thrones, Joe Hockey is talking about tough times ahead. And so he should. But is it possible for his government to make hard decisions within the current structure that rules our Parliament? No. It simply gives the opposition something to rail against.
Our structure wastes billions of dollars. We set up a carbon tax and ancillary institutions only to tear them down. The same can be said for the mining tax, the Gonski reforms, the national broadband network and the list goes on. Not too bright for a smart country.
The Labor Party will share the Coalition's guilt for opposing for opposition's sake to win elections. It is puerile.
Back in 1991, I got in trouble for talking my ministerial boss into saying, ''Pensions no longer a right,'' as the front page of a Melbourne newspaper screamed. Privately, no one in government disagreed. Projected numbers made future welfare payments unaffordable at current levels.
As a newish chief-of-staff, I was told that telling the truth was political death. Thus, I take my hat off to Treasurer Joe Hockey 20 years later for telling the truth and staring political death in the face. Unless we substantially grow the economy, we can't afford to fund our social conscience.
During the Hawke/Keating years, the disability support pension was introduced primarily to trick people into thinking unemployment was reducing. A cynical exercise the Howard government made a virtue of, with numbers growing exponentially. It's easy to give, and hard to take away.
I remember seeing the health minister at the time, Brian Howe, on behalf of the acquired brain damage community who had been lobbying our office. It's hard not to want to help brain-damaged teenagers who can only find beds in aged-care homes.
Howe was a leftie, so I thought I had some chance of getting money out of him. He smiled at me sadly and showed me the effect on the budget if we opened that door, with all the precedent consequences that follow. It was huge!
Thus, I can only image the effect on the budget of the national disability insurance scheme and the paid parental leave scheme alone if rolled out as announced. Long-term social policy must be paid for by long-term economic policy, and our present structure doesn't allow politicians to think in the long term.
Yet politicians were smart enough to understand that if they could control official interest rates they would play politics with them, hence the Reserve Bank.
So now it's time to start another bank, this time a long-term policy bank. It would start as a bipartisan body and eventually become independent. It would need to be at arm's length from the shallow, mud-slinging, illogical, character-assassinating, short-term, day-to-day political shouting that substitutes for policy debate.
The long-term policy bank would not be about apportioning evil or blame to the other sides of politics. It would be about developing and implementing crucial long-term economic policy to grow the Australian economy with certainty, to create serious policies that don't change with every change of government.
The political leader who begins this process will win electors' hearts and minds. The opportunity is ripe for Bill Shorten, because he has less to lose.
Many foreigners have told me that Australia won't see the opportunities it has lost until its people have suffered more. I once thought Australians were too smart for this, but now I'm less sure.
Our Asian and Indian neighbours understand suffering. They have been on the bottom and don't like it. That's why they work like crazy to improve their situation. Germany and Japan lost wars and hated it. They quickly worked themselves back into the game. Even the United States wears real pay cuts to boost its economy, while Australians do an Oliver Twist: I want more, sir.
Australia has had no civil wars or coups, has never been invaded, has never sliced and diced itself through race or religion, nor has it suffered famine. Commercially, we're only 200 years old, babes in the woods. One hundred years ago, a bunch of bearded dudes cut and pasted a constitution to get us going.
Surely it's time to cobble together a long-term policy bank to put Australia first on crucial economic issues, rather than let political parties or careers decide them.
I'm with Hockey, our Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, as he is obliged through duty to tell us that winter is coming. A long-term policy bank could be a substantial foundation stone for his Wall.
Greg Rudd is a government and business consultant based in Canberra.