At the start of every new Parliament, the Parliamentary Library sends around to each Senator and Member a ‘Briefing Book’.
These books are filled with facts, figures, arguments, statistics and contentions that form what are likely to be key issues of the incoming Parliament.
For the 45th Parliament, some of the ‘key issues’ in our briefing books are familiar. References on climate change, trade, energy and infrastructure are peppered throughout.
Others issues appear new by virtue of their context.
While trade and investment are never far from any Australian Parliament’s collective attention, global headwinds give the issue a particular sense of urgency.
The last Federal Election suffered a rude intrusion only days from polls opening in the form of a shock result to the United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit’ vote.
The Coalition used the uncertainty as an opportunity to restate how important it is to have an economic plan. Labor used it as an opportunity to remind voters which party successfully shepherded the economy out of choppy waters in 2009.
The Brexit vote put economic management out at the front and centre of the campaign. All of a sudden, prosperity seemed less assured. The need to bring the budget back into balance took on a new urgency.
That means making hard choices.
Debates about debt and deficit are nothing new, but the sudden emphasis on reducing the deficit revealed a vast space between the priorities of the two major parties.
When you’re tasked with bringing spending under control, the location your scalpel starts its cuts says a lot about what you value.
In this new normal of uncertainty, nothing can be taken for granted. The numbers are tight. Every debate will be a contest over priorities and principles.
How we deal with the uncertainty of a rapidly changing political world is a question we’ll all spend the next Parliament trying to grasp.
And it’s one question the Parliamentary Library’s Briefing Book can’t answer.