16 June 2021

Liam Mannix: “A confession: before COVID-19, I found it strange to see someone wearing a mask on Melbourne’s streets. It seemed like a symbol of fear in a peaceful place. It seemed … well, it seemed unnecessary. During the past 18 months, I have come to believe the mask-wearers were right, and I was both wrong and ignorant. … I’m not convinced the evidence supports wearing a mask outside to avoid COVID in a low prevalence situation — like Melbourne is currently in. But I do think we need to embrace a culture where face masks are worn by people who have cold and flu symptoms, to stop viruses from being passed on. Even better, we could wear masks when visiting hospitals and aged-care homes, to help protect the most vulnerable members of our community. … Consider our casual disregard for lives lost to the flu each year. Influenza and pneumonia killed 1790 people in Australia in 2009. In 2013, it was 2497 people and 3102 in 2018 — making it the 12th-most-likely cause of death in Australia in 2018 (!!!). Australia has not recorded a single death from influenza since July last year. Part of this, as my colleague Aisha Dow has reported, is because our borders are closed. But part of it, Professor MacIntyre says, is the infection-control measures we have added to our lives. Like masks.”

Greens candidate Celeste Liddle: “Children in criminal institutions is not proof that some kids are just ‘bad kids’ and need to be locked up. Instead, it is proof of multiple systemic failures and an inability of politicians to think beyond models of punishment. Imagine if instead of criminalising kids, we increased funding to social work organisations, youth centres and other organisations which provide outreach programs for those struggling? What if we ensured that instead of being out on the street, kids had a safe home and space they could go to, particularly when in a violent situation? What if we funded our public education sector with the money going into prisons and policing, so our schools had the capacity to expand support services, inclusive educational opportunities and specialist mentors/advisors? What if, quite simply, we engaged in some real work narrowing the gap between rich and poor in this country? Australia also needs to examine its overreliance on punishment via a proper truth-telling and treaty process. Perhaps through that, and the extension of proper respect to Indigenous communities, we will begin to see fewer Aboriginal kids locked up and a significantly less racist, more humane and more egalitarian society. While it’s not the complete answer, I believe that raising the age of criminality is an important stepping stone in undoing the damage the juvenile detention system has done to so many of our children.”

15 June 2021

The Victorian Trades Hall reports: “████████ is a █████ who works for █████ ████████ in ████████. … Was all that clear? No, not in the slightest. The truth of the story has obviously been altered to the point of no longer being recognisable — because in order for ████████ to get their wages or compensation, they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). NDAs are often part of settlements made in negotiations during disputes between workers and employers. NDAs can stop workers from talking about everything from wage theft to unsafe work to discrimination; anything dodgy that the employer wants to keep from becoming public knowledge. Bosses love them, for obvious reasons. … Increasingly, NDAs are the first thing employers want to talk about during conciliation hearings.” Similar concerns have been raised about NDAs in the context of family violence — silencing victims prevents the underlying systemic problem being addressed, and puts other victims at continued risk.

11 June 2021

James Kirby [$]: “As a survey, the annual tax statistics are only a very vague guide to wealth in Australia. But as a window into how wealthy Australians do or don’t find themselves in the front line of taxpayers the survey is considerably more useful. … [W]e might not have assumed you can bring in a total income of more than $1m a year and declare a taxable income of less than $6000 tax per annum. In fact, there are 42 people noted in the report on such an arrangement… A quick read of the ATO personal tax tables would suggest if you made an income of $1m a year you might pay about $450,000 in tax, that is if you did nothing much to be tax effective [sic]. The survey indicates the wealthiest operate in a very different manner and we have a complex system with complex tax shelters which are available to anyone who goes looking for them. Due to our progressive, but uniquely arranged tax system, there is an extensive menu of tax effective strategies for dealing with income tax: Companies, trust, lending arrangements and other tax effective shelters that can be employed when people make serious money. … [T]he most revealing way to look at the survey is to compare its headline income numbers against home prices. This week we heard that there are 150 suburbs in Sydney with house prices over $1m. And yet the ‘average taxable income’ in Sydney suburbs with the most enviable residential properties is invariably less than $200,000. … Either the median real estate valuation is too high (which is unlikely) or the indicative taxable income levels are too low.”

9 June 2021

John Quiggin: “[N]ostalgia is not a reliable basis for political strategy, particularly not for progressive political strategy. Radical changes in the structure of the labour force, which were accelerated by the reforms of the Hawke-Keating era mean that it is no longer possible to win elections with a program appealing primarily to blue collar wage workers. Many of the occupations and industries that formerly supplied Labor’s core support have disappeared, or been largely eliminated through automation. … [W]hat kind of worker would represent the archetypal member of the [current] Labor base? The analysis above suggests a young woman, in a stereotypically female public sector occupation, requiring post-school education, but with an income well below the average for full-time workers. The archetypal Labor voter, if a concrete example is needed, would be a Gen Z Enrolled Nurse working in a major city hospital. This is not to suggest that Labor should abandon Fitzgibbon’s blue collar identity politics in favor of some other form of micro-targeting. Labor’s traditional policies of progressive income redistribution, and better public service provision, along with protection of the environment, have been highly successful in attracting support at the state level, and have come close to winning federally in the last two elections. There is no point in dumping them in pursuit of a non-existent ‘base’.”

8 June 2021

Military expert Professor John Blaxland: “News the army’s Lieutenant General John ‘JJ’ Frewen has been picked to lead a new COVID-19 vaccination task force has prompted fresh discussion of the defence force’s role in Australia. … As someone whose life’s work has been the study of the ADF, my first thought when hearing the news was: Frewen is a good pick… and I have no doubt he will get the job done. But I have broader concerns about Australia’s growing tendency to call in the defence force to deal with crises outside its usual remit. These are crises that could or should be dealt with by well-resourced civilian government agencies and institutions. … Isn’t a vaccine rollout something we should be resourcing our state-based emergency response agencies to do better? … In recent years, we have expected the defence force to respond to crisis after crisis, rather than properly resourcing civilian-led government or community agencies to perform these tasks. … We keep telling ourselves this latest crisis is an aberration. But it’s the new normal. That’s my concern. If it’s not pandemics, it’s fires, floods, pestilence — or all of the above concurrently.” Austerity has fundamentally wrecked our ability to solve social problems, and calling in the military is not going to fix it.

Ronan Burtenshaw [$]: “For centuries, the chief undertaking of right-wing politics has been the defence of property — and that project, above all else, has structured its arguments, built its coalitions, and sustained it as a consistent political tradition through periods of great historical change. It is certainly true that the right wing is today, and has been in the past, a font for a great deal of bigotry. But this should not be understood simply as personal prejudice or moral failing on behalf of its advocates. Instead, it is consistent with the project of defending property through the private relations of domination it creates: the slaveholder, the colonialist, the capitalist, the husband, the nuclear family. Even where a great deal of energy has been expended specifically to generate racist modes of thinking — as in the case of eugenics, for example — these have most often been exercises in justifying property relations and the often violent expropriation and dispossession that underlies them. Nothing is as important as property. … If we are to defeat the Right in the years and decades to come, it will not be by skirting around the edges of our social order. We live today inside a great property machine in which the plentiful resources of a fruitful planet accumulate to a tiny few — whose only goal, in turn, is to use their wealth to accumulate further wealth. But the gears of this machine turn with the muscle of billions of working people, who could equally dispatch it to the scrapyard of history and build something more worthy in its place.”

4 June 2021

Rebecca Solnit on Sensible Centrism: “The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not. … Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. The civil rights movement was not nearly as popular in its time as moderates who like the more polite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr think it was. … Was it radical to be correct too soon? What gets called the left is often just ahead of the game, when it comes to human rights and environmental justice; the right is often denying the existence of the problem, whether it’s pesticides and toxic waste or domestic violence and child abuse. There is no symmetry. A lot of what are now considered moderate — AKA centrist — positions were seen as radical not long ago, when this country supported segregation, banned interracial marriages and then same-sex marriages, prevented women from holding some positions and queer people from others, and excluded disabled people from almost everything. The center is biased, and those biases matter.”

2 June 2021

Ross Gittins: “[W]hat stands out as the underlying cause of our difficulties — apart from human fallibility — is the way both sides of politics at both levels of government have spent the past few decades following the fashion for Smaller Government. Both sides of politics have been pursuing the quest for smaller government ever since we let Ronald Reagan convince us that ‘government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem’. The smaller government project has had much success. We’ve privatised almost every formerly federal and state government-owned business. We’ve also managed to ‘outsource’ the delivery of many government services formerly performed by public sector workers. … And here’s the thing: pandemics and smaller government are a bad fit. The urgent threat to life and limb presented by a pandemic isn’t something you can leave market forces to fix. … But when you examine the glitches — the repeated failures of hotel quarantine, the need for more lockdowns, the delay in stopping community spread, and now the slowness of the rollout of vaccines — what you see is governments, federal and state, with a now deeply entrenched culture of doing everything on the cheap, of sacrificing quality, not quite able to rise to the occasion. … Spend enough time denigrating and minimising government and you discover it isn’t working properly when you really need it.”

1 June 2021

“[A]ll of the government’s policy settings pre- and post-COVID have been directed towards cheapening labour: it opposes a significant minimum wage increase, and previously support[ed] reductions in penalty rates.” The trouble, say economics wonks Ray Markey and Martin O’Brien, is that the neoliberal dogma underpinning this policy is contradicted by the empirical evidence: “For the first time we have directly addressed the dearth of empirical evidence regarding the employment impact of penalty rates, with a customised longitudinal survey of 1828 employees and 236 owner-managers. Because penalty rate cuts were phased in over a number of years we analysed the sequential impact of different phases at three points: 2016-2017 (pre-cut), 2017-2018 (first cut) and post July 2018 (second cut). We measured employment levels and hours on Sundays and public holidays, as well as weekly employment and income patterns. We demonstrate conclusively that penalty rate reductions from 2017 did not impact positively on employment in Retail and Hospitality sectors. Results are uniform for all of our employee measures: the prevalence of Sunday employment, average Sunday hours worked for those employed on Sundays, and average weekly hours and wages. Similarly, for employers we were unable to establish any statistically significant improvements to the percentage of Sundays open nor the average hours open on Sundays in either Retail or Hospitality Award-reliant businesses compared to those using enterprise agreements. These results correlate with industry-level data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for this period regarding aggregate employment and average weekly hours.”