12 February 2021

Michael McClelland: “The current semantic division of essential and non-essential work has inadvertently reminded workers what kind of work is socially necessary, and more often than not, these are jobs that are resistant to automation. … The reason these jobs couldn’t ultimately be abolished is that society relies on this work, which will always give essential workers a degree of leverage. … [But] better wages and conditions for essential workers… would only come about through collective demands, itself the product of a collective awareness of alienation. Luckily, the new category of ‘essential’ work, strategically designed by capitalists to suture up capitalism in crisis, has inadvertently provided space for such consciousness to form. By keeping the work that is necessary for human wellbeing, by expanding the work that is necessary for human happiness, and by abolishing the work that serves neither purpose, we would be making the most strategic move of all: protecting the vitality of the planet. But redefining work on such terms would be more than a merely defensive exercise. It would open the way to a further expansion of the imagination, leading to philosophy, happiness, and self-fulfillment. This was what Marx meant when he spoke of ‘that realm of freedom which begins when the realm of necessity is left behind.’ It’s a cause to work for.”

11 February 2021

Shemon and Arturo on “car-looting” as a tactic of rebellion: “For all the radical rhetoric of marxism, in terms of its actual deeds and practice, most of the radical left has accommodated itself to the status quo. The law has expanded in response to class conflicts and anti-racist struggles to the point that plenty of harmless forms of activism can be engaged in, but they are simply a new prison for activists and movements. Previous generations have won victories and expanded the law so that we can safely denounce wars, march almost anywhere we wish, and say whatever we want. This range of legality seems like a victory, but has also become a trap that leftist organizations treat as a principle. The fact of the matter is that leftist organizations are simply not prepared to deal with the illegal nature of the revolutionary struggles and politics that are taking place in the present moment. The black proletariat continues to show a practical commitment to fighting the police, setting fire to carceral infrastructure, and looting the commodities of this dying capitalist system.” This fascinating article describes the advantages and risks involved when protestors use cars to defeat police tactics in the Black Lives Matters protests.

8 February 2021

Colin Long: “In the recent public discussions about the future of Federal Government pandemic assistance — especially JobKeeper — little consideration has been given to the truly staggering figure of 700,000 workers on temporary visas losing their jobs. Even less recognition has been given to the fact that this was in fact the goal of the Morrison Government. The JobKeeper scheme was designed in a way that ensured employers would sack workers on visas. Say I am an employer with ten staff, five of whom are on short-term visas. My turnover has decreased by half. Five of my staff will be eligible for JobKeeper, so I will keep them on to do the work that I have remaining. The other five, on short-term visas, I will sack. Given the number of job losses among short-term visa holders, it is clear that this is what has happened on a wide-scale. Given it is obvious that this would be the result, and many people warned at the time of JobKeeper’s introduction that it would happen, it is clearly the government’s intention. It is the central plank of a strategy to purge the workforce of non-citizens.”

5 February 2021

Mark O’Connell: “The way that Amazon does business — its pressuring of suppliers, its systematic annihilation of retail competitors, its incessant harvesting of its customers’ data, its treatment of its own workers as little better than machines — is, of course, inseparable from the personal wealth of its founder, Jeff Bezos, who earlier this week stepped down as CEO of the company. But even if the means by which that wealth had been amassed were somehow unobjectionable, it would still stand, purely on its own terms, as a moral obscenity. It’s impossible to even conceive of the scale of this man’s wealth. It’s like trying to think about deep time: the mind’s eye glazes over. This is a man who makes about $149,000 with every passing minute. This is a man who, last July, in the midst of a global pandemic and a devastating economic crisis, increased his personal wealth by $13bn in the course of a single day. This is a man who, despite living on a planet where one third of human beings don’t have access to safe drinking water, told Business Insidermagazine that ‘the only way I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel’.” (This “long read” has a lot of interesting things to say about Bezos, Amazon, and the challenge of living ethically within their hegemony.)

3 February 2021

Education experts: “The language of school choice supports the idea that education funding should follow students to the schools they believe best fit their learning needs. Education is then managed according to the free-market dynamics of consumer choice. … School choice alternatives … divert students and funding away from comprehensive public schools. We should be concerned about advocacy for school choice models, because recent cross-national research shows increased school choice is associated with increased social stratification in terms of social class. School choice and competition tend to be associated with larger gaps between high and low socio-economic status student groups and lower student achievement outcomes nationally.” Every time the international education test results are revealed, we despair at Australia’s declining performance and the growing equity gap… and yet we never learn: “Government funding for non-government schools is still growing at a faster rate than for public schools, according to the Productivity Commission. The latest chapters of its review of government services, released on Tuesday, reveal that in the past decade spending per student on non-government schools increased by 3.3% per year compared with just 1.4% for government schools.”

The Saturday Paper‘s editorial doesn’t pull any punches: “Sometimes people end up where they belong. This is not how Tony Abbott became prime minister but it is how he found himself working at the Institute of Public Affairs. That a man can go from leading the country to making Facebook videos for a right-wing think tank is evidence of the great lack in our politics. The space between these two callings is the gap in which almost everything wrong with Australia lives. This is the space in which one might hope to find talent or vision or decency. … The IPA feeds people into politics and now they return as backwash, like spit into a milkshake. … The tragedy here is not that Tony Abbott has ended up where he belongs, working for cranks at an institute that opposes Indigenous rights and advocates selling off the ABC. The tragedy is that no one much better was waiting in the parliament to replace him, and that what he does now is not much different to what he was doing in government.”

1 February 2021

I’m a member of the Australian Republic Movement, but I agree wholeheartedly with Osmond Chiu: “There have been suggestions that becoming a republic might act as a circuit breaker, enabling us to have a new, more inclusive national day, free of the legacy of invasion and colonisation. While well-meaning, it misjudges the vision of an Australian republic that has been sold to the wider public, a vision that I increasingly do not agree with. The one-word change to the national anthem only emphasises the importance of avoiding empty symbolic changes. I support Australia becoming a republic because a monarchy, even a constitutional one, runs counter to basic principles of equality and democracy. And yet I feel fundamentally ambivalent about the push for an Australian republic. … [U]nless it is a transformative project, a republic will only represent a domestic status quo that does not reflect who we truly are. … To me, the appeal of having an Australian head of state has little resonance if not much else changes. Replacing a hereditary British aristocrat with an elected affluent barrister from a private school, a military officer or a former government minister does not better reflect the diversity or breadth of Australia. Instead, it merely reflects our existing hierarchies, and provides equality of opportunity for our own domestic elites to become the head of state. … A republic, let alone a new national day, without prior truth-telling, a Voice and a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be empty and hollow from its inception.”

26 January 2021

Barry Corr: “Australia Day has been a distraction from reality since the ‘Aboriginal Day of Mourning and Protest’ held on ‘the 150thanniversary of the whitemen’s seizure of our country’. … The perpetuation of the myth of Australia Day is a signifier of a floundering democracy; an ever-recurring dog whistle; a bone thrown in the air for the powerless to exhaust themselves in a pointless struggle; a distraction from the real issues of treaty, reparations, and building a just society that acknowledges and addresses the stolen country it’s founded on. The 26th of January is a wandering ghoul, dead, but not knowing it is dead. No one owns it, no one wants to take responsibility for getting rid of it, and no-one knows how to get rid of it. … The legacy of the 26th of January 1788 continues to haunt all of us. From an Aboriginal perspective, Reconciliation is, like Australia Day, a distraction. Aboriginal people and settlers were never united, brought together, or conciliated. However, for the beneficiaries of settlement, reconciliation should be an internal process; a process of clearing the darkling glass, of knowing and being known; of being one with the better angels of charity and loving-kindness. Learning to listen to and acknowledge Country; understanding and taking responsibility for ‘the torment of our powerlessness’ are the first steps in this journey. Know the lies for what they are.”

23 January 2021

Claire G Coleman: “Most Australian politicians, particularly those in the two major parties, lack the political will to do what the majority, and perhaps even they personally, support. Instead, politicians pander to conservative ideologies, driven by the morbid fear of criticism from a small but vocal minority. Australian politics is, for the most part, power without passion. And nowhere is this more stark than in Aboriginal affairs. … I cannot remember the last time an Australian politician took a risk on something that showed real initiative. … [B]oth major parties have long been guilty of failing to act because they are afraid of reaction from white nationalists. … When you look at the history books, though, there were times when Australian governments did the right thing, even at considerable political risk. I think of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into the open hand of Vincent Lingiari, a moment captured in an iconic photo by Murri photographer Mervyn Bishop. The gesture was, of course, symbolic, but it was not empty — it made vivid the return of land to the Gurindji people. Supporting land rights was just one of many risks Whitlam took, one of the times he did what he thought was right, regardless of the political consequence. Even after all this time, Whitlam is remembered and loved. I wonder how people will remember Scott Morrison? Perhaps it will come down to a single word: afraid.”

Jacqueline Maley and Nigel Gladstone: “[A]nalysis of the Order of Australia honours system highlights … the general trend towards granting the highest honours overwhelmingly to the rich, the powerful, the well-connected and the male. [A]nalysis of winners over the 45-year life of the awards shows that a quarter of the top 200 on The Australian Financial Review’s2019 Rich List have an Order of Australia, and they overwhelmingly have the higher-level honours. About 130 directors of boards of ASX 300 companies have an Order of Australia, and the suburbs AC and AO recipients are most likely to live in are Toorak in Melbourne (which boasts 67 of them) and Mosman in Sydney (57), followed by Melbourne’s South Yarra (45) and Kew (34). Sydney’s exclusive Vaucluse has 39 ACs and AOs. The highest-level award, the AC, has never been given to anyone in the ‘Multicultural’ or ‘Disabled’ fields of endeavour, but of the 30 fields awards are given to, the ‘Parliament and Politics’ category boasts 42 ACs, while ‘Business and Commerce’ leaders have collected 48 of them. More than 320 state and federal politicians have been honoured with the higher-level awards (AM, AO, AC), with a record 20 bestowed with gongs in 2020, more than half of them from the conservative side of politics. Women account for only 31 per cent of Order of Australia appointments. No statistics exist on the percentage of Indigenous nominees or recipients, but the Council for the Order of Australia, which selects the recipients, has not had an Indigenous community member since 2012.”