archive: April 2021

28 April 2021

Bernard Keane argues that Scott Morrison’s speech to the Australian Christian Churches Conference “provides perhaps the best insight into Morrison’s core ideology, and in that sense is one of his most important speeches. … That core ideology is deep confusion… a tension between his conceptions of individualism and communities. … [W]hich are we? Unique, free individuals or community members obligated to one another to provide support? You can be both in practice, but it’s hard to articulate an ideology that links both in theory, especially when you’re trying to base it in moral reason. Morrison’s confusion trips him up when he turns from lauding communities to attacking ‘identity politics’… Identity politics, Morrison thinks, undermine community and self-worth. So having lauded the idea of individuals forming communities and reaching out to others, Morrison turns on a dime to attack those who form communities. The very problem with identity politics for Morrison is that people do what he wants — ‘keep building communities’ — but not communities he likes (Pentecostalist communities). Or, for that matter, communities like the shire, which he pauses his critique of identity politics to jokingly laud as a form of identity politics he can endorse. It’s funny because it’s true, Scott, but not in the way you mean. Much of the criticism of Morrison’s actions as a political leader is that, ultimately, he believes in nothing… Perhaps it’s more accurate to say he does believe in some kind of ideology, but it’s so self-contradictory that it offers no guide for anything — and thus, inevitably, a justification for everything.”

18 April 2021

Phil BC: “Scandals of a public procurement character inevitably raise the grinning ghoul of ‘taxpayers’ money’ to underline how out of order and egregious the wrongdoing is. After all, it’s our money Tory ministers, top civil servants, and their mates are filling their champagne baths with. … But it is a phrase the left shouldn’t just avoid, but purge from its own agitation and critique its use in everyday politics. … How is the taxpayer constructed within the political imaginary? It is a location, if not a subject position, that is purely atomised save the contributions it is compelled to make to the state. … It appears extractive. … Thatcher’s genius lay in reconstituting the permitted political units of her assault on British society along a series of linked but formally independent micro or partial subjectivities — the owner-occupier, the small shareholder, the consumer and, of course, the taxpayer and all, coincidentally, are defined by their relationship to money. … In the case of the taxpayer, Thatcher’s efforts were aimed at promoting the reduction of the tax bill as the defining criterion of public service… [T]he atomised taxpayer were pointed to their neighbours, the family down the road, the guys thrown out of work, the single mums, the travellers, a whole pantheon of the undeserving poor in other words and told they were paying for them, their fecklessness and failures, and their laziness and layabout lifestyles. … It’s not just the wrong way of looking at politics, it’s their way of looking at politics. Our class interests lie in multiplying points of contact and building solidarities along them: privileging the taxpayer, whether by right or (nominally) left wing politicians is a fundamental barrier to that.“

Greg Jericho: “Since the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, under the thrall of neo-liberalism, cut company tax rates in the UK and US, the mantra on company tax has been to cut and reap the benefits. The logic goes like this: cut company tax rates; multinational firms come to the country; economy booms. It’s the type of policy that always worked better in theory than reality. But cutting taxes is easier for governments to sell as doing something to spur investment than long-term measures such as education or infrastructure. It also seemed more proactive than acknowledging that when you have a heck of a lot of iron ore in a country with a stable and relatively corruption-free system of government then companies will come regardless of the tax rate. … But now the push is going the other way. The UK Conservative government has just moved to increase their company tax rate from 19% to 25% in April 2023, and US president Joe Biden has pledged to increase the US tax rate from 21% to 28%. … The reason for the reversal is the logic no longer works, even in theory. The Trump tax cuts did not lead to more investment; just companies having greater after-tax profits, and the US government having less revenue. And in our globally fluid financial system, companies have become experts at shifting profits to locations with lower tax rates, while not shifting production. So now a change has come. … [T]he race to the bottom has clearly failed, and the sensible policy work is now about undoing the errors of the past 40 years.“

14 April 2021

Excellent essay by Agatha Court: “On 6 November 2019, two Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) inspectors arrived at a multi-million dollar [Lendlease] construction site in Melbourne. Given the complex processes involved in building a project such as this, the presence of a government regulatory agency is not surprising; work health and safety standards, building quality, structural soundness, and wage theft are ongoing issues within the industry, and compliance checks would be expected. Yet the two inspectors were not there for those reasons. Rather, ‘the purpose of the visit was to identify and take photographs of any union mottos, logos or indicia observed on the cranes, walls of the walkway and the walls of the lunch rooms as a continuation of an audit to assess compliance with the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (the Code).’ … Enforcement of the Code has led to the dismissal of workers who have refused to remove stickers from their helmets. In 2016, construction company Laing O’Rourke sacked three union members and gave written warnings to 130 others for refusing to comply with a direction to remove their stickers. Laing O’Rourke undertook this action at the direction of the ABCC following a Fair Work Building Commission audit of the site that found ‘serious breaches’ — meaning workers wearing sticker-covered hard hats. … The Code and the ABCC are extreme, even within the neoliberal legal landscape of Australia. They are examples of the increasingly tightening grip on dissent that characterises the deeply illiberal heart of the neoliberal system and the use of institutions to erase spaces, real and imaginary, that present any alternative to it.”

Further evidence that Joel Fitzgibbon is a dangerous fool: “Coal and the future of mining will be a key issue in the byelection, with the Upper Hunter home to the highest number of coal jobs in the state [NSW]. … However, polling conducted over the weekend for think tank the Australia Institute revealed voters in the marginal seat are not opposed to a moratorium on new coal mines. … The Australia Institute commissioned polling in the electorate, with 686 people asked about their voting intentions and their thoughts on pausing new coal developments. Voters were asked specifically whether they supported Mr Turnbull’s call for a moratorium on new mines but allowing existing ones to continue to operate under their present approvals. The polling showed that more than 57 per cent of voters supported or strongly supported Mr Turnbull’s comments and more than 54 per cent of Nationals’ voters also backed his position. Almost 70 per cent of Labor voters supported a moratorium”.

7 April 2021

Janine Perrett: “It’s probably best that Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest took delivery of his new $100 million private jet last week given the global post-COVID push for higher tax rates on everyone from corporates to the super wealthy. … [T]he billions [Forrest and Gina Rinehart] are raking in on the current iron ore boom … [have] prompted calls for a revival of that original mining tax from the 2010 Henry tax review. Last month the Greens released a paper claiming the RSPT would have raised an extra $34.6 billion. The paper also proposed a 6% ‘wealth tax’ on billionaires like Twiggy, Gina and Clive Palmer to combat inequality. But this time their proposals are not quite so extreme, given a worldwide push for governments to raise taxes to overcome the giant deficits left by the coronavirus economic shock. Last weekend even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) appeared to be channelling Greens policy with a report suggesting taxes on ‘excess’ profits such as the ill-fated mining resource rent tax. … The push for higher taxes for the top end of town is gaining speed around the world. In early March, Boris Johnson’s conservative government hiked corporate taxes from 19% to 25% to pay for COVID, reversing a previous policy to bring them down to 17%. The Biden administration has already been warning it will raise taxes on businesses and the wealthy to fund its ambitious $3 trillion infrastructure spend. … Meanwhile across the Tasman, the NZ government announced major tax changes last week which included increasing the top tax rate for the country’s highest earners to 39%. … Can’t wait to see how brave our lot will be in the budget to be announced five weeks from today.”

Michael Pascoe: “It takes a particular kind of gutlessness for the federal government to push for no real increase in wages without being game to say it. That’s what the 109-page government submission to the Fair Work Commission boils down to — nudge nudge, wink wink, let’s have another stuff-all minimum wage increase that also impacts a couple of million workers on awards. … For all the uncertain economic theory and graphs and charts and (often somewhat old) statistics in the submission, the key sentence, the money shot, is printed early: ‘Given the current uncertainties in the domestic and international economic outlook, the government therefore urges the panel to take a cautious approach, taking into account the importance of creating jobs for Australians and ensuring the viability of the businesses, particularly small businesses, which provide the jobs which are crucial to the economic recovery and the wellbeing of Australian families.’ As sure as neoliberals preach trickle-down economics, the government is re-running the discredited simplistic version of the wages v jobs story. That’s the same story the FWC bought when it reduced penalty rates. That was supposed to increase employment. It did not. … [The submission] continues the Treasurer’s habit of selectively quoting the Reserve Bank, reaching back three years for a favourite line that can be bent to its purpose[, but ignoring the RBA’s] more recent stressing of the vital importance of boosting wages growth to something north of 3 per cent if the economy is to be able to get back to something like normal.”