Despite the good economic times in Australia, there’s a general feeling among many people of emptiness (not quite despair). I put it down to a lack of faith in government. Yes, the Howard government looks after the country (well, some of it) economically, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a continual flow of letters in all papers about the increasing plight of our hospitals and schools. Only this morning, in the Sydney Morning Herald, a former medical superintendent of Liverpool Hospital wrote: “The main reason that hospitals have become a joke is because of who is running them. Most hospitals are run by bean-counters and management gurus who have acquired a great degree of book knowledge from doing a course in hospital management. It also reflects on the terrible standard of teaching. Australian universities will reward you with a degree in anything from carpet cleaning to toilet flushing as long as you pay $20,000 a year for four years.”His letter was prompted by the non-treatement in a major Sydney hospital of a woman who was clearly having a miscarriage. We get the same stories here in WA. He also alluded to the education system, which is now user-pays. Only last week I wrote to the federal education Minister, Julie Bishop, about this problem. I am astounded that we let many people (and it’s mostly overseas students) study without proper English, let alone the ability to use a library and know what a refereed journal is. I teach at university. If students have the money, they can get in through the back door, via companies that give them either English, supposed advanced standing. Meantime, both the hospital and education sectors are crumbling gradually. They’re symbols of the economic rationalist model the federal Liberals have foisted upon us. It seems everything is about the economy, but nothing is about our social fabric. There is no price you can put on education or health, so why should these institutions be so driven by the dollar?