If you asked the Prime Minister whether Australian society should be sustainable or unsustainable, I'm pretty sure he would say we should be sustainable.
If you then asked him to define what sustainability meant, I'm not sure what he would say.
Regardless, you might then ask him whether he thought Australia was currently sustainable, and what experts he would ask to determine his answer.
He might mention ongoing work by the Productivity Commission or the CSIRO, such as the latter's National Outlook report.
You might then ask him if there was anything more important for us, especially given the number of natural disasters we were experiencing - predicted to increase both in frequency and severity - and all while his policy was to increase our human population forever.
You could then ask: if there was nothing more important than sustainability, then why is there no minister for sustainability, and no government department?
He might reply that sustainability was a core function of every department, it is so important.
You might then respond by asking what was the government's official definition of sustainability, and why doesn't every Australian know what that definition is?
You might further ask how would Australians know whether we were moving towards, or away from, sustainability?
You could suggest that he create some kind of office or commission, if not a full department, to monitor and collate how all the departments were going with their 'core function'''.
Let's call it the Australian Sustainability Commission, where the very best experts worked full-time to collate all this critical information.
They could publish one of these new-fangled ''dashboards'' in real time, showing how the critical parameters were tracking: air pollution; water levels; plastic pollution; biodiversity loss; forest cover and land clearing; mental health and suicide rates; other health statistics like obesity; violent crime; private-sector debt; wealth inequality; labour underutilisation; and homelessness, just to name a few.
- Stephen Williams is a former Fairfax journalist specialising in sustainability.
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