What can possibly be done with our political and policy malaise.Part 1.

Two new books are available or soon will be; (“How to Win an Election” by Chris Wallace and “What is to be Done?” by Barry Jones). Both focus on the state of the nation and the state of the ALP.

It is obvious that so many contributors to Pearls and Irritations are dedicated to analysing Australia’s current economic, social and environmental dilemmas, and also the path we are following in our foreign affairs, defence and ‘security’ policies. The many alternative views and observation of these writers of eminence reveal the objectivity, wisdom and experience of observing and analysing the times and national policies from Menzies to Morrison.

If I really think long and hard about current economic and civic affairs, our policy directions and the dominance of neoliberal (really neo-conservatism) economic policies, I believe that I must be going mad to be so concerned by where we are at and proceeding to and what Labor and individuals, institutions and actors can possibly do about it. There is a consensus among dissenting economists and commentators on the problems besetting us, but are we only talking to ourselves?

COVID-19 has accentuated my concerns, because this may be misused by neoliberal loving governments to impose ‘austerity’ and in adopting the final stages of the full Coalition, neo-liberal/IPA agenda, once the pandemic becomes manageable, using the well developed, heavily propagandised, fear of ‘debt and deficit’, populist electoral bribes and public economic ignorance, to intimidate voters into compliance while  bringing forward massive tax cuts to benefit the better off and not the economy.

Frydenberg’s glowing reference to Thatcher’s policies and Morrison’s inclination to glib slogans and evasions (is COVID-19 to be an ‘in air’ matter?) warns me that they will revert to type and prosecute intensified neo-liberalism. Where have been the benefits of the privatisation, deregulation and outsourcing if we analyse the performance and delivery of, e.g., medical insurance, aged care, child care,  employment services (and Robo-debt) health and education, energy production and distribution, Telstra, private security firms, lax State regulations in building and construction, unaffordable housing, TAFEs, the NDIS, etc?

Few people seem to understand what state the economy was in before COVID-19, nor the causes of that condition, basically a lack of demand, not supply, caused by high underemployment, low investment and exceptionally low wage growth. Few people seem to understand how vulnerable our economy has become.

Since the 1980s we have long been engaged in adopting in full measure all the supposed benefits of neo-liberalism and its concomitant ‘trickle down’ economics. After COVIC is manageable we may yet reach the zenith and be well on the way to the idiocies of Trump’s USA, but, hopefully, not accept all of his divisiveness on ‘freedom’, race and religion, nor the same degree of obscene inequality in wealth and income. But, note well, our top 20% already have six times the disposable income of the bottom 20% and 90 times the wealth.

Labor seems powerless to win enough support in the electorate for a believable narrative and policies to address the many challenges in economic management, social welfare and environmental degradation. Both major political parties have to face the fact of a fracturing electorate where nearly 30% vote for parties never capable of forming a government. Labor also has to face the fact that it is only compulsory, preferential voting that allows it win so many seats with a lower primary vote than the Liberals and Nats combined.

The challenge to Labor is absolutely enormous and yet we know the electorate is even more wary of reform due to individualism and greed by those who have high levels of wealth and income. The May 2019 election result has been intimidating to the national ALP, even though it governs in five of the eight states and territories. The most potent sources of power in the economy and society are formidable and intent on retaining and enhancing that power.

Yet, what more do those with real power want? What is the end game? Do they want ever lower company tax rates, a flat personal income tax, ever lower interest and wage rates if not total wage deregulation, increased insecure employment, a growing under-class and ever more deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing, contracting out (with zero hour contracts?), the elimination of national superannuation, a shrinking public sector with outsourcing at senior levels and downgraded capacity for policy analysis (block-chain financing of the public service?), poorly funded institutions such as the universities and the CSIRO and a privatised ABC so that Murdoch can buy it? Do we want a ‘nanny state’ entirely devoted to the corporate sector and its supporting ideologues’ every wish?

A large proportion of the population is on the neoliberal hook. Do we have to be force fed with fear by the opinion makers and conservative politicians as they swing to the right?

To what level are we to accept in inequality in wealth, income and services? In other words do we face the complete agenda of the Coalition/IPA now engaged in a campaign for ‘freedom’ to deal with ‘political correctness’, the mythical ‘nanny state’ and ‘virtue signalling’. The proponents are ostensibly of the majority view and cannot bear the few liberal democratic advances made by society. How can we have absolute freedom for religion and everyone’s ideological fantasies and yet now have secret trials and continue to prosecute racism and victimise the poor (13.6% of us below the poverty line)?  I concede minority views can be manufactured, but it is a bit rich for campaigns coming from those who manufacture ignorance including those in the social media.

Just one of our vulnerabilities is our dependence in our balance of trade with mineral and energy exports (70% of goods exports, 8% of GDP), largely owned by tax avoiding multinationals, and yet we have no resource rent tax. Rudd somewhat clumsily tried to remedy this, but it 0nly took $21m of newspaper ads and a concerted political campaign by the then climate change denying mining lobby to the put the kibosh on the move; coal reigns, “global heating is a hoax”, we can survive with a ‘barista led’ recovery?

So, what can possibly be done with the ALP?

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John Kerin AO has been engaged in four working lives and was a politician and Minister in five portfolios in the Hawke and Keating Governments, including over eight years in Primary Industry.

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