On average Australians are becoming richer but not getting any happier as a result. Photo: Glen Hunt
In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy famously called on Americans to ''ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country''. The leaders of Australia's major political parties, on the other hand, appear to be appealing directly to our self-interest.
Nowhere in the debate about debt and deficit, amid the scares about costings and hidden cuts, or even in the frequent question marks raised about the temperament and character of our would-be leaders, is there a sincere pitch to our better selves.
It would seem the public's best interests, and those of future generations, are no longer part of political conversation in Australia. Instead, we see our leaders assiduously reinforcing our selfish interests at the expense of values such as fairness and generosity.
The debate about what really matters to Australians has been sadly lacking, and we will ultimately all be worse off for it.
In a recent national survey conducted by the Social Research Centre, more than half of respondents did not believe Australia was ''heading in the right direction''. In a similarly timed study, researchers found that ''on average Australians are becoming richer but not getting any happier as a result''.
Research released in Australia's Progress in the 21st Century finds that poor standards of leadership and politicians is the most frequently mentioned reason for dissatisfaction with Australia's direction. In short, we need and deserve better role models in Canberra.
Interestingly, respondents viewed economic growth and preservation of the environment as almost equally important. The area of progress ranked worst was ''high standards of honesty in politics and public life'', rated 8.9/10 in importance but only 3.7/10 in performance.
This is a damning indictment for a country whose economic success is the envy of the world. We are beginning to understand real progress is much more than economic growth and that beyond a reasonable level of material comfort, well-being improvements are negligible.
In the past 10 years, a new imperative has emerged around the globe to produce measures of societal progress that go beyond GDP. This work is being driven by citizens, policymakers, academics and statisticians, and championed by international bodies such as the OECD and Australian organisations including the Uniting Church and the Australian Conservation Foundation. You wouldn't know it from reading the headlines, but Australia has been a key player in this global debate.
The Australian National Development Index (ANDI) is a new initiative of leading community groups, peak bodies, businesses, faith-based groups, researchers, and independent, non-partisan grassroots citizens.
It sets out to measure what really matters to people, tracking well-being outcomes from year to year in an effort to offer clear, valid and regular information on the quality of life of all Australians.
By providing an accurate snapshot of how our country is faring over time measured against our most important goals and values, ANDI will give our governments and private sector the tools needed to better understand the impact of their policy and program decisions.
Our deep hope is ANDI will help deliver to Australians what we need to hold our governments accountable - to ensure our quality of life grows with GDP.
These findings prove that Australians do care about honesty, transparency and long-term vision in our political discourse. It's just that in recent years we have been given short shrift. Our political leaders should take note.
Don Henry is the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Tim Costello is the chief executive of World Vision Australia.