My Week 16/02/2017
Parliament has been in recess this week and I’ve been in Canberra, visiting the Australian Parliament (not at the taxpayer’s expense). I have had meetings all week with Ministers, Senators and MPs.
The Commonwealth of Australia came into being in 1901 and the first federal Parliament was held in Melbourne. But it was always intended that the new national Parliament would sit in a new national capital, and in 1927 it was moved to Canberra.
An impressive new Parliament House was opened by the Queen in 1988. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences with our system.
Like United States Representatives and Senators, many of Australia’s MPs and Senators (who are elected) have to travel huge distances and cross time zones to attend the Parliament.
I attended a Question Time debate in the House of Representatives. Unlike our system, every MP has a designated seat, and each day questions are directed to all ministers, including the Prime Minister. Answers are much longer, and debate is probably even fiercer than ours.
I was also struck by the similarity of some of the big issues which were being discussed. Not Brexit, of course, but on the economy there has been a huge debate this week about proposed welfare cuts, with plenty of criticism but no suggestion as to how else billions of dollars of spending are to be found.
Britain’s economy continues to grow, and this week’s jobless figures confirmed that unemployment remains at its lowest level for 11 years. Yet we still have an annual budget deficit, meaning that we are spending more than we are receiving in revenue. While the deficit is falling, it will not now be eliminated before the next election.
You would not know this from the current debate in the UK, where there are growing and vociferous demands to spend more on public services, including schools and hospitals.
Australia has been running a budget deficit, too, but at least entered the downturn with a budget surplus. We have managed to spend more than we earned even when the going was good. Since 1980 there have only been six years when a budget surplus has been delivered in the UK.
Across the western world, nations are having to decide how to afford the growing demands on public services and welfare systems. We cannot live within our means now. How we will do so in future is going to be a major challenge.