Social Action Office
Refresh Australia!

Food for Thought 6

Add Values to Refresh Australia

Vision of a Refreshed Australia

refresh/ v.t 1. to reinvigorate by rest or food 2. to stimulate (the memory) 3. to make fresh again, to cheer (the mind, the spirits) 4. to freshen in appearance 5. to plunge (cooked or partially cooked foods) into very cold water to halt the cooking process – The Macquarie Concise Dictionary 3/e

Gospel and ‘freedom’ singer and musician of the American civil rights movement Mavis Staples has reprised the traditional song “Eyes on the Prize” (keep your eyes on the prize…hold on…hold on) in the hope that others too may be stimulated to see there is still a need for refreshed visions of what our societies could be, visions that still relate to the “prizes” of that earlier era such as respect, dignity and human rights for people. In the political context of Australia in 2007 this means a refocussing on the rights of and respect and dignity for Indigenous Australians and workers in particular. In the wider circles of concern – into the global contexts – some of the many prizes to aim for are climate justice and equity and new clean and green energy technologies and transport systems that need to be transferred to developing countries so that that they too can continue to develop in sustainable ways.

Wellbeing GraphAll people want and need is to feel a sense of wellbeing in order to contribute the best of themselves to society. Articulating a vision that many Australians would agree with is The Wellbeing Manifesto developed by the Australia Institute. It takes as its starting point the belief that governments in Australia should be devoted to improving individual and social wellbeing. According to the research collected by the Australia Institute we are three times richer than our parents and grandparents were in the 1950s, but are no happier, and yet, despite the evidence of a decline in national wellbeing, governments continue to put economic interests first. The obsession with economic growth means other things that could improve our wellbeing are sacrificed.

Measure what matters

Refresh Australia CardEconomic growth is treated as the panacea for our ills. But for affluent societies growth in GDP has almost no connection with improvements in national wellbeing. Bushfires, car accidents and crime waves all increase GDP, but they don’t make us better off. Powdered milk is measured in GDP but mothers’ breast milk is not. GDP takes no account of how increases in income are distributed or the damage to the natural environment that economic activity can cause.

The Australia Institute proposes that we need a set of national wellbeing accounts to report on the quality of work, the state of our communities, crime rates, our health, the strength of our relationships, and the state of the environment. Is it such a radical idea that governments should be judged by how much our wellbeing improves and not by how much the economy expands?

Development is also one of those terms that is bandied about and tied to economic statistics but the developing country of Bhutan has instituted its own measure of Gross National Happiness. Perhaps we could send a multi party delegation from the new parliament on a fact finding mission to Bhutan as step one in revisioning a refreshed Australia.


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