archive: June 2021

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.”

So-called mutual obligations are a waste of everyone’s time and money: “Guardian Australia on Thursday revealed a report by Boston Consulting Group had found recent reforms to the $1bn a year scheme had delivered a windfall to privatised job agencies but not improved outcomes for the unemployed. … However, the draft version of the Boston Consulting Group report, also obtained under freedom of information, goes further, revealing employers and job agencies are generally unsatisfied with the regime. The draft report says ‘providers also expressed considerable negativity towards the mutual obligations system overall … considering that it does not on balance, improve the likelihood of employment’. ‘Similar negativity was expressed by several employer interviewees, who expressed the view that mutual obligations job search requirements simply result in an excess of unsuitable applicants for advertised roles,’ the draft report added.” Remember, these obligations are not about helping people — they are about punishing them. The cruelty is the point.

I hadn’t heard this justification for a Universal Basic Income before: “As a matter of justice, we should acknowledge that the income of all of us is far more due to the efforts of the many generations before us than anything we ourselves do. Even billionaire Warren Buffett knows that, acknowledging the benefits given to us by our ancestors, when he said: ‘I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant portion of what I’ve earned.’ If we allow private inheritance, then we could see basic income as a dividend on inherited public wealth created by our ancestors, paid equally because we cannot know whose ancestors contributed more or less. Critics who claim it is ‘something for nothing’ and reduces the incentive to work, should logically oppose private inheritance for the same reasons.”

Great news: “The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first. Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change. Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people.” The judge described the impact of climate change as “catastrophic”: “Perhaps the most startling of the potential harms demonstrated by the evidence before the court, is that one million of today’s Australian children are expected to suffer at least one heat-stress episode serious enough to require acute care in a hospital. Many thousands will suffer premature death from heat stress or bushfire smoke. Substantial economic loss and property damage will be experienced. The Great Barrier Reef and most of Australia’s eastern eucalypt forests will no longer exist due to repeated, severe bushfires.” And this evidence was not controversial: “An independent expert witness put the loss at between A$125,000 and A$245,000 per person. The calculation was a conservative one, and did not include health impacts which were assessed separately. The evidence was accepted by both the federal government’s legal team and the judge. That it was uncontested represents an important shift. No longer are the financial impacts of climate change a vague future loss — they’re now a tangible, quantifiable harm.”