archive: November 2019

13 November 2019

Quinn Slobodian on right-wing economic freedom rankings: “All rankings hold visions of utopia within them. The ideal world described by these indexes is one where property rights and security of contract are the highest values… and democratic elections may work actively against the maintenance of economic freedom. … According to [the Fraser Institute], the second freest economy in the world in 1975 was Honduras, a military dictatorship. For the next year, another dictatorship, Guatemala, was in the top five. These were no anomalies. They expressed a basic truth about the indexes. The definition of freedom they used meant that democracy was a moot point, monetary stability was paramount and any expansion of social services would lead to a fall in the rankings. … [Thomas Friedman] said in an interview in 1988: ‘I believe a relatively free economy is a necessary condition for freedom. But there is evidence that a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy.'” In Australia, the IPA publishes one of these silly indices, based on embarrassingly simplistic measures like “the number of pages of legislation passed”. For the IPA, the British Empire was more economically free when the common law allowed slavery than when legislation was passed to end it.

11 November 2019

Today is the first day of the United Workers Union — immediately Australia’s biggest union with 150,000 members, following the merger of the National Union of Workers and United Voice. Some coverage of the merger has noted it may shift Labor leftwards [$], and while that is welcome I am more excited by the promise of a new approach to organising — articulated well for Overland by Lauren Kelly: “While the workplace remains a powerful site of collective action and struggle, we must broaden our understanding of the workplace to include all spaces that produce social value: our homes, communities, the commons and the environment at large. … Breaking away from the traditional model of unionism to become a movement embedded in broader struggles for social justice will not be easy, but this is the task at hand. As organised capital finds new and effective ways to transfer risk onto individual workers — such as through new forms of precarity, climate catastrophe, and far right movements — we must be prepared to take greater risks if we are to win. … Today is Day One and certainly many of us are excited, but there will be no pause for self-congratulatory back-patting. We must now deliver on our promises.”

Lest we forget: “In 1915, paragraphs 55 and 56a enlarged the power of the minister ‘to cover the internment of disloyal natural born subjects [Australian by birth] of enemy descent, and of persons of hostile origin or association’. … It was ‘internment without trial’: the government routinely refused to submit the complaints of internees to the ordinary procedures of legal arbitration. In October 1916, the registration regulations were extended to apply to ‘all aliens, whether enemy or otherwise’. In the end, the machinery of registration, censorship, surveillance, internment and deportation set up by the department to control the resident ‘enemy’ population in Australia was also being used to investigate and prosecute pacifists, unionists, radical socialists, Irish nationalists, anti-conscriptionists of all ideological persuasion, practically anybody who dared to speak out against the government’s commitment to the war. A precedent was established, involving the use of the state apparatus for the purpose of suppressing political opposition that constitutes one of the ominous features of the political culture first developed in Australia during the war.”

10 November 2019

A review of Aboriginal child ‘protection’ in NSW, chaired by Megan Davis, “found widespread noncompliance with legislation and policy among FACS caseworkers and managers. … [W]illing and available Aboriginal family members were routinely ignored and not assessed to care for their kin, and siblings, including twins, were separated unnecessarily. … In the most egregious cases, children who did not appear to be at risk of harm were removed from their families; the Children’s Court was misinformed about vitally important information; and the location of young people under the care and protection of the Minister was unknown. … When police are used for removal, especially riot police, this has historical continuity. When babies are removed at hospitals or a pre-natal risk notification is made because the mother is Aboriginal, this has historical continuity. … When mums and dads are given unrealistic, unachievable goals in order to have their children or grandchildren restored to them, this has historical resonance. … Some of these practices demonstrate concrete examples of institutional racism. The system is replete with practice that renders our people voiceless and powerless.” This is Australia in 2019.

9 November 2019

Anthony Kelly of the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre reports on the violence unleashed on protestors by Victoria Police in recent months, and reminds us that this is the tip of the iceberg — most police violence occurs away from the scrutiny of media and legal observers. And under the current accountability system, complaints are almost entirely investigated by fellow police: “Last year, a wide-ranging inquiry into police oversight in Victoria recommended the establishment of a police misconduct and corruption division within IBAC. It also called for an increase to IBAC’s powers. The parliamentary committee acknowledged the clear public interest in a complaint system where allegations of serious misconduct are independently investigated by trained and unbiased IBAC investigators, not by other police. Fourteen months on, there has been no response from the Andrews Labor government. Meanwhile, the Andrews government has provided extraordinary increases to the police budget since it was elected, overseeing a massive expansion in police numbers, capacity, weaponry and powers. And yet Premier Daniel Andrews seems resistant to the idea of strengthening the state’s police accountability system.” Please support Melbourne Activist Legal Support and the Flem-Ken CLC’s Police Accountability Project with your money and your time.

8 November 2019

The Victorian union movement has launched a new report, Putting the ‘Justice’ in ‘Just Transition’: Tackling Inequality in the Renewable Economy, which calls for the establishment of an Energy Transition Authority to coordinate renewable energy projects to achieve both emissions reduction and positive social outcomes. It argues that offshore wind power is more viable in Australia than it has been in the past, and proposes the Star of the South project as a pilot for the development of a just transition master plan: “Unfortunately, the history in Australia is that industrial transitions have increased inequality, with only one half to one third of displaced workers finding equivalent employment. The Star of the South offshore wind project in Victoria is an important opportunity to implement a just transition focussed on the creation of good secure union jobs, and to provide direct transition opportunities for workers in high-emissions industries.” The central pillars they propose are a job guarantee backed by a commitment to local procurement and decent working conditions, support for skills training including minimum apprenticeship ratios, investment in infrastructure needs, and engagement with local communities.

6 November 2019

I wonder what John Hewson — champion of the Liberal Party’s dry neoliberals — is up to these days? Huh. “The so-called capitalist model is under pressure these days for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly because privately owned and operated businesses that provide essential services, while driven by profit and improving shareholder value, are seen to have failed generally in delivering socially acceptable outcomes. Most recently, banks, energy companies, aged care operators, private health operators and insurers, have been a particular focus. … Ironically, many of the now privately owned businesses that provide essential services resulted from past privatisation of public assets. … The Hayne banking royal commission emphasised a culture of greed… Similarly, the aged care royal commission is highlighting how the quality, cost, and availability of care is being compromised for profit… There are also a disturbing number of identified cases of wage theft coming to light, again driven by a profit motive. … The profit genie is well and truly out of the bottle, facilitated by decades of policy drift and neglect in relation to many essential services, such that it is now threatening the sustainability of the capitalist system itself.”

The Morrison Government has tried to hide a scathing Auditor-General’s report by releasing it on Melbourne Cup day. The report “savaged the government’s management of the sweeping policy to create ‘jobs and growth’ in ten regions as part of a Coalition promise at the 2016 election… Government officials recommended hundreds of applications for regional job programs but were overruled by a ministerial panel which rejected 64 projects seeking $75.9 million. Instead, the ministerial panel allocated $77.4 million to 64 other projects not recommended by officials responsible for regional development and industry.” This $200 million program was intended to help regions (like the Latrobe Valley) that have struggled with economic stagnation following structural shifts in the economy. Is it any wonder that people are sceptical when politicians promise a “just transition”, when it is abused as a political slush fund for pet projects at election time? Any proposal for a Green New Deal needs to be clear about how it will be protected from this kind of interference.

4 November 2019

A week after Woolworths’ admission of a decade-long, $300 million wage rip-off, the company’s narrative that it was all an innocent mistake has begun to fall apart, with revelations that they (and their lawyers, Ashurst) spent months trying to prevent thousands of employees finding out they were owed tens of thousands of dollars. And more significantly, the Fair Work Ombudsman has admitted to a decade of incompetence: “It’s tipping us into the corporate regulator space and we have never been in that space before… the community is expecting us to be satisfied that the company is properly assessing the underpayments. They want us to (take) oversight (of) getting the money back, and making sure it doesn’t happen again. That actually requires a different set of skills in this agency and high-level legal expertise. Companies are coming to us with teams of lawyers. Negotiation skills need to be high and we need forensic ­accounting expertise.” This is a startling admission — since its establishment in 2009, the FWO has had no forensic accounting expertise, and it is now surprised that it is expected to enforce wage laws and ensure they aren’t breached in future? Those are its statutory functions! Everyone in the organisation should be sacked.

2 November 2019

When the Left argues that every billionaire is a policy failure, we generally mean that inequality is unjust, and hoarding should be prevented while poverty exists. Chris Dillow argues the Right should agree, for different reasons: “[I]t should be conservative supporters of a free market who don’t want there to be billionaires. I say so because in a healthy market economy there should be almost no extremely wealthy people simply because profits should be bid away by competition. In the textbook case of perfect competition there are no super-normal profits, and in the more realistic case of Schumpeterian creative destruction, high profits should be competed away quickly. From this perspective, every billionaire is a market failure — a sign that competition has failed. … Tories are wrong, therefore, to portray attacks on the mega-rich as the politics of envy. It’s not. The existence of billionaires is a sign and cause of a dysfunctional economy.”