NSW Greens say we lost something when we stopped being citizens and became 'customers' of the state

Legislation designed to challenge years of government seeing people as “customers” rather than “citizens” of the state will be introduced to NSW Parliament this year. NSW Greens will introduce a Wellbeing Indicators Bill to broaden the current focus on economic growth and assess whether government decisions make life better and happier for people and communities.

Traditional budgets were about balancing the books, but it was time for “a deeper exploration of whether we have the balance right to make life better and happier for people and communities”, he said.

“We shortchange our community if the Budget is evaluated in dollars and cents alone. The true measure of a budget should be whether it delivers good in people’s lives, reduces inequality and improves the health of our environment,” Mr Field said.

“Do we enjoy freedom and leisure time or are our waking hours consumed with the struggle to make ends meet? Are we responding to climate risks and protecting our clean air and water or allowing fossil fuel developments to degrade these environmental assets?”

The Greens move is in line with a global movement to prioritise community wellbeing as a central responsibility of government, after decades of focus on economic growth as the most important issue facing governments. The shift from prioritising community wellbeing to economic growth led to people being referred to as “customers” of the state rather than “citizens”, Mr Field said.

It was a shift that ushered in privatisation that was not necessarily good for the wellbeing of communities and individuals.  

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assessment of the wellbeing of member nations in 2017 found Australia performed well across a range of issues in relation to other developed countries, but below average in terms of work-life balance.

Australian earnings were 10 per cent higher, in real terms, than in 2005 but other job indicators had worsened, the OECD report said.

The share of people experiencing job strain increased by 3 percentage points; labour market insecurity remained as high as it was at the peak of the global financial crisis, and long term unemployment has doubled since 2007.

Mr Field said the Wellbeing Indicators Bill would create a framework so that government decisions promoted the welfare and happiness of people and communities, and protected the environment in NSW.

“​Despite decades of continuing economic growth, persistent and growing inequality, ongoing environmental degradation, congestion and cost of living pressures show that more than economic measures are needed to guide policy development and provide for the needs and wellbeing of people,” he said.

“A wellbeing index will help evaluate the effectiveness of the economy and budget to deliver a better life for people and communities, with no one left behind.”

This story by Joanne McCarthy first appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 12 June 2018.

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