13 December 2019
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Could common sense solve our economic and social problems?

Last week, one of Australia’s most thoughtful and sensible brains, Dr. Ken Henry, the former head of Treasury, made the observation that “economic reform is dead” in Australia. Yet it comes when the USA recently signed up for a truckload of economic changes at the behest of their newly elected President, Donald Trump!

I’ve shared this with you before and I’m doing it again now but you have to accept that there’s a lot of common sense in the 1903 observation of George Bernard Shaw when he said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Sure, Shaw might have been unreasonable arguing that “all progress” rests in the hands of the unreasonable but the really big things in life often require the unreasonably adventurous, optimistic, entrepreneurial, aggressive and/or determined people to prevail.

Churchill was unreasonable. Without him, Adolf Hitler might have had his unreasonable way. Nelson Mandela was unreasonably resilient in jail for 27 years. If he wasn’t, he would never have united South Africa. 

And at home, people like Ronnie Kahn with her Oz Harvest, had to be unreasonable when she knocked on the doors of big corporates to look for money to stop food being thrown out from daily conferences in Sydney that could easily be distributed to the homeless on the streets of the New South Wales capital.

And like it or not, Donald Trump is unreasonable, not only taking on the Democrats but also the Republicans, to argue what appealed to US voters as common sense policies, in an era where politically predictable, elitist policies had continually disappointed a hell of a lot of Americans.

Source: AAP

It’s funny how new age profound-sounding quotes have often been ripped off from the greats of yesteryear. I’ve always loved the line that “the funny thing about common sense is that it’s not all that common.” Voltaire is credited with “Common sense is not so common” and he lived in the 1700s!

I’m not sure who came up with this one but it is ‘oh so modern’ but spot on: “Common sense is like deodorant. The people who need it, never use it!”

Last Sunday, my wife Maureen and I were having lunch at the home of close friends. We met an interesting woman there, Lisa Cotton, who has used common sense for a socially valuable business called The Funding Network. Lisa is the Australian founder and CEO of the organisation, which raises money for those in need or at risk, by not leaving a dry eye in the house.

The website says this about TFN: “Established in 2014, The Funding Network's mission is to build the capacity of Australian grassroots non-profits by broadening our culture of giving and strengthening community connections.”

They do this through live crowd funding events, where like-minded individuals, foundations and corporations come together to create powerful social change. 

“At each event, three or four social entrepreneurs running grassroots charities, non-profits or early-stage social enterprises pitch for funding,” the website explains. “In six-minute segments, these presenters share their inspiring stories and invite guests to become part of innovative solutions to community issues.”

In case you’re thinking “that’s sounds like shark tank”, well, you’d be right but instead of relying on a few hard-nosed rich business people to back their dreams and business, a diverse audience of bleeding hearts and softies put their hand up to donate anything from $100 per person to thousands from rich attendees or their companies!

But wait there’s more because “donors are encouraged to give more than funding and follow-up with mentoring, skilled services and in-kind resources to support the causes they feel passionately about.”

It’s common sense meets charity and it raised over $400,000 on one night for three great causes.

I missed the night held at one of Macquarie Bank’s digs in Sydney last Wednesday, hosted by national media softie — the ABC’s James Valentine — as I was doing my TV show. However, Maureen went with her wallet and a box of tissues and both were given a pretty solid workout!

Maureen was especially touched by Bernie Shakeshaft, from Armidale NSW, whom, she says, was a Bryan Brown type of bloke.

Bernie is founder and manager of BackTrack, which is in the ‘business’ of sorting out the region’s youth, who basically are heading off the rails.

Image: Bernie Shakeshaft

One of his stories that Maureen told me about got me thinking how uncommon common sense is and how we need our political and business leaders to start embracing this very valuable thought process. It involved Bernie’s response to crime rates in Armidale.

A rudimentary look at the facts showed it spiked on the weekends so he created a weekend escape, where he took a mob of troubled young men and they went bush. And surprise, surprise, the Armidale crime rates fell. Who would’ve thought?

Last week, my colleague at 2GB, Luke Grant, was concerned about businesses going broke and having no provision for long service leave. When he asked me about it, I upped the concerns by pointing out that no government has or is doing anything about making businesses pay their compulsory super.

It’s compulsory but businesses fail and they do so owing things such as super. In January 2016, The Australian Financial Review revealed that: “Clive Palmer's Queensland Nickel has not paid superannuation entitlements to its staff for December and is two months in arrears for other entitlements such as life insurance.”

Clive has since said he’s put his personal money to right the wrongs but there are a lot of bankrupt business owners who couldn’t even promise such things.

It’s common sense that the Government has the Australian Tax Office making sure it collects taxes, so why doesn’t it force businesses to pay their super, at least every quarter, if not every month?

In the age of computerised software, it’s not too hard to do. And remember, I employ over 50 staff, so I’m not looking at this from a theoretical point of view.

For a business not to pay the 9.5% a worker is due is tantamount to theft. If someone was on $100,000 that would be $9,500 of which 15% goes to the Government in super tax, so the Treasurer has some self-interest in embracing some super common sense.

Part of the reason why our Senate is filled with so many odd people is because Labor and the Coalition have played a non common sense game for too long. Unfortunately, the independents have appealed to our desire for common sense policies and have brought along with them some other questionable ideas. But the case is being proven at every new election that our major political parties have to get real and more in touch with the everyday man and woman.

Ken Henry is right when he says the Senate is standing in the way of economic reform but so are scared, gutless politicians who want to hang on to their job.

When Ken was the Treasury boss to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, he released the Henry Tax Review, which was meant to be a “root and branch” review of our tax system. It made 138 recommendations but few saw the light of day because they were too politically scary for Mr. Rudd. Ironically, in that same year, he lost his job.

Australians want leaders who think outside the square and who courageously look at the issues we care about — like getting our super paid, finding jobs for our young people, etc. — and then use common sense to create solutions.

I’ve always loved the John F. Kennedy line of “I dream things that never were - and I say: 'Why not?'" 

Interestingly, this was not a JFK original as George Bernard Shaw came up with it first when he wrote: “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

At least President Kennedy had the common sense to take a great line like that and use it to sell himself and his dream, which probably explains why he’s still revered as one of the greatest US Presidents of all time.

Common sense can’t cure all economic and social problems but it has to be a big part of the solution and that’s common sense. Isn’t it time we all did a backtrack to common sense?

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