Australians can now see whether parliaments are working for them

May 20, 2023
Australian national flag on top of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia

Many Australians might not realise that the 2022 federal election was the first to be accompanied by an independent report on the performance of the outgoing parliament in building a better Australia.

The State of Australia 2022, prepared by Australian Community Futures Planning (ACFP), supplied Australians with detailed and summary views of whether during the life of the 46th parliament the nation had moved towards or away from our aspirations for wellbeing, security, social cohesion and justice, environmental and economic sustainability, decency in international citizenry, and ethics in governance.

The results were based on evidence assembled by monitoring data collected on over 260 indicators of the health and wellbeing of the nation, providing insights on progress during the 46th parliament and also over the previous decade or more wherever data were available. This was the first time that such a comprehensive set of data and the trends it reveals about the past and the future prospects for our nation had been assembled in one place and in a form that can be easily accessed and followed by any Australian.

The picture painted was not a pretty one. In the 21st century we have gone backwards in relation to almost every element of our vision for a better Australia. That “vision” was assembled by research into the aspirations of Australians as they have been expressed in the last two decades in surveys, community discussions and planning exercises, focus groups and university research projects. The findings of the research have been distilled into a statement about the future Australians prefer and the paths they are prepared to take to make that vision a reality. It is called the Vision for Australia Together.

This is a draft statement of our preferred future as a nation that has been prepared for ongoing community discussion. But there is a high degree of confidence that the draft reflects the aspirations of Australians in the 2020s about the type of society, environment, economy and democracy they want to achieve. That confidence emerges from the fact that regardless of our diversity and our disagreements about what we each want and need right now, when it comes to the future we all want the same things for ourselves, our kids and anyone we love. We all want wellbeing and security. Accordingly the Vision for Australia Together contains:

  • 17 elements expressing those aspirations; and
  • 57 signposts to indicate the paths we have said we would prefer to take to reach our preferred destination as a nation as well as the paths we would prefer to avoid.

The draft Vision has created the basis for a starting draft of a long term integrated strategic plan for the nation called Australia Together.

This plan is not being developed by governments or political parties. Instead the community of Australia is being offered the chance to become involved in ongoing drafting of targets and strategies for inclusion in the plan and in refining the Vision itself over time. A structure for the plan has been devised to enable Australians to develop and integrate strategies which fit with the Vision but without extinguishing their diversity. Put simply, the Vision and the structure of the plan itself are set up to help Australians prepare their own map of the safe paths to their preferred future.

To ensure that the community can be efficiently involved ACFP has also developed a community engagement and integrated planning process that runs in tandem with the federal election cycle. ACFP helps by gathering and assembling in one accessible place the data we all need about our current and desired wellbeing and security. This is called the Australia Together National Wellbeing Index. At last count, the Index contained baseline and target data on over 270 indicators of the wellbeing of Australians and the country, making it the largest consolidated wellbeing index of its kind. It is these data that have enabled ACFP to prepare the first fully evidenced-based report on the progress of the nation towards the Vision – The State of Australia 2022. (View a summary on YouTube here. View transcripts of the summary here.)

As stated above, the report isn’t a pretty one. We are not progressing towards a better Australia and certainly not the one described in the Vision for Australia Together. But the fact that a comprehensive report about our prospects for wellbeing and security could be so efficiently and independently produced for the 2022 election means that Australians now have a tool they can use to make decisions in future elections about which policies are most likely to propel them towards a safe destination in the future and which political parties may therefore have their interests at heart.

At the moment, Australia’s Treasurer Jim Chalmers is developing a wellbeing index for Australia which he hopes to use for policy development purposes, although this is likely to contain only about 25 or 30 high level indicators of wellbeing. Chalmers’ new index is an entirely desirable development but it is unlikely that he will use it to report progress to Australians about his government’s or the 47th parliament’s progress towards a better Australia, let alone the one described in the Vision for Australia Together. For that, we need a more open and inclusive kind of community engagement, planning and monitoring process based on a wider picture of what Australians value and want.

At the next federal election, with an updated report – The State of Australia 2025 – we will have the benefit of that picture. As we are tracking at the moment it is unlikely that there will be much to report that is favourable in trends on climate change, decency in international citizenry, safety from war, or equitable access to education, health services, support services, or preparedness for emergencies. In terms of an equitable society and democratic stability we may be able to report some improvements, particularly if the Indigenous Voice referendum is successful. But at present it is difficult to determine whether trends in economic inequality will have improved by 2025. On balance we should expect not. But at the 2025 election all Australians will have access to a report which gives them enough accurate data to hold the outgoing government and parliament to account for any failure to support the national interest and to offer the incoming government an agenda capable of meeting that interest over the coming decade.

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