In politics, death is a remarkably potent card to play. But its rhetorical power needs to be matched by a bit of substance. Every year, about 130,000 Australians die. Each of these deaths are tragic (I’m not saying this lightly – having attended the funeral of a young bloke last month). But it’s also a fact that because government is about one-third of the economy, and there are hundreds of deaths every day, government policies will invariably affect mortality. In some cases, government money can reduce the death rate. But plenty of other policies potentially increase the death rate. For example:
- A motorway improvement that induces more people to drive can increase traffic deaths (though it could reduce them, if the earlier road was particularly unsafe).
- A birth payment that increases the birth rate will probably also increase neonatal and postnatal deaths.
- A government-funded fun run – like the City to Surf – can lead to additional deaths.
- An expansion in the size of our military is likely to lead to more soldiers losing their lives in training exercises.
So yes, let’s focus on mismanagement, if it exists. But can we get away from the notion that additional deaths somehow prove that a minister or government is morally culpable?