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The Weasel firmly believes that if you smell something, say something.

The ethics of choice (or) As you will

Here is a scenario for all you (l)iberals out there…

As you are walking across a bridge, you see a bus below about to hit an oncoming truck, which will kill everyone on board the bus. On the bridge in front of you is a man leaning precariously close to the edge, teetering on falling. He is morbidly obese, with enough bulk and weight to stop the bus and save all on board… if he were to fall in front of the bus.

The man has dark stains in the creases of his face. Marks and lines obviously gathered from a hard life underground mining coal. Poor knowledge of diet and choices in lifestyle have resulted in his overweight and sagging body; further exacerbated by inactivity resulting from an uninsured workplace injury. He wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap, and as you approach you can hear him mutter something about the “homo’s and negre’s ruinin’ this country”.

The luxury bus is so wide that it spills into adjacent lanes, forcing other drivers into the gutter to avoid a collision. Emblazoned on the side of the bus are decals that clearly identify the passengers as the children of corporate and congressional elites. The same politicians and  ‘Captains of Industry’ who have poisoned rivers and oceans with fracking, oil and chemicals, ‘downsized’ thousands in pursuit of their own greed, and flooded in to the Trump administration like flies onto the rotting carcass of democracy.

If you push the man from the bridge, you can save all the children.

If you do not, you will save the man; but all the children will die.

What do you choose to do?

Open letter to Simon Birmingham

The Weasel often writes letters to elected officials… as the dictum goes: If you smell something, say something.

The most recent pronouncement by our erstwhile federal education minister that creative careers were a lifestyle choice had a particular odour. The lack of response from the reigning opposition parties also left much to be desired. So while the intended recipient for below missive was originally for Mr Birmingham; I encourage you, good reader, to freely appropriate the text and send to all those elected officials you believe would benefit from my educational inquiry.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dear Minister Birmingham  [or insert name of senator or MP here]

I am writing to you regarding recent comments [by the Federal Education Minister] that described creative careers as a lifestyle choice.

I would like to enquire why the government of the day is ignoring the actions of most other technologically developed nations. In the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, creative industries are identified as key drivers in revitalising manufacturing sectors, and on-shoring production or services that in previous decades been shifted to less expensive markets.

The U.K., France, South Korea, and Germany all have policy that explicitly links creative industries to programs designed to build or enhance innovation; and gain competitive advantage in the shift to Industry 4.0. Many countries now have dedicated creative industry hubs to create and enhance networks and connectivity between creative professionals and other industries.

To state that creative careers are a lifestyle choice ignores the essential function of cultural events in our society. It ignores the economic contribution. It ignores the contribution to the expression of the Australian character by thousands of actors, painters, dramaturges, designers, editors, architects, writers. Finally, it ignores the contribution that trained creative’s deliver in innovative thinking to thousands of Australian businesses. You can read more about how vibrant and vital creative professionals are on the AusTrade website.

If the current government is truly serious about innovation, then engagement and investment in creative careers and industries is essential. Design thinking is inherent in all creative pursuits, and those are exactly the structured innovative skills Australia needs to regain economic strength.

In the new knowledge economy, superior creative thinking can conquer limitations of scale or distribution. The emerging decentralised, interconnected, and data-rich manufacturing landscape has opportunities waiting to be discovered and exploited; and it is creative professionals who are best positioned to think outside the box, make use of limited resources, and take advantage of connectivity to drive innovation.

In light of all this, I would like an answer to the following questions:

Why does the Education Minister consider creative careers non-essential to the Australian economy?

How does the government plan to succeed with an innovation agenda without using design thinking, or input from creative professionals?

I have included links to some of the sources to which I refer in this letter. I encourage you to investigate them further.
I look forward to your reply

Yours Sincerely

The Weasel

 

austrade.gov.au: Creative-Industries

thecreativeindustries.co.uk/

creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy

Deutschland creative industries

UNESCO Science report: creative industries driving innovation

https://en.unesco.org/USR-contents

forbes.com: what everyone must know about industry 4.0

Is The Donald actually working for Hillary?

There’s been several versions of a conspiracy theory running the intertubes since early 2016, and it comes to this:

What if Trump is actually a plant for a Clinton Socialist takeover.

Think about it.

As recently as 2005 the Clintons and Trump were friendly; enough to receive invites to Trump’s celebrity wedding.  This at a time Hillary would have already started planning the 2008 election, and the possibility of 2016. The Washington Post even reported that in 2015 ex-President Bill Clinton had a conversation with Trump where he encouraged the serial philanderer to run… for the Republicans.

Until his announcement in 2015 The Donald had indulged in minor dalliances in political life, but had displayed a complete disinterest in actually running as a candidate.  Mostly, his pronouncements about the political sphere appeared to be configured to promote a latest business or reality TV venture, rather than any serious tilt at public office.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, in 2015 Trump decides to run for the Presidency of the Unites States of America.  At this stage the G.O.P. clown car was already packed with contenders, yet Trump figured that now was the time; and since his declaration has performed a text-book case study of Poe’s Law, that has delivered the most effective political takedown of the Republican Party since Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Why is it so?

One key to a successful coup d’état is isolating, or removing, those who would oppose your plans. Traditionally this means rounding up academics, the wealthy bourgeoisie or poor socialists, generals unwilling to toe the line, and whatever racial or religious group your campaign has been vilifying.  In the case of a Clinton Socialist Takeover (CiST) the academics, the poor and bourgeoisie are part of the new deal. There are really no groups to vilify, and while the right-leaning police forces would be harder to convert (more on that later); most generals would probably be relieved to not have Cheeto Jesus as their Commander-in-Chief.

So, this leaves the potentially millions of gun-toting, militia-subscribing, right-wing, po’ cracker, religious nut-jobs; who are out in the wind, armed to the teeth, completely intoxicated from chugging the Kool-aid… and almost impossible to identify from standard census data.

Enter The Donald.  Trump has been hugely successful in getting those people to self-identify. In public, on social media, responding to traditional media, and even figures within the media have all made their position and loyalties perfectly clear.

Add to this the efforts and exhortations of certain elements within the Alt-Right, who are well and truly out of the closet, and Trump has done a fantastic job of revealing a potential fifth column within a traditionally Democratic base.

Given the intelligence gathering apparatus that Clinton has at her disposal, is it really a stretch to think that all these people have been tagged, and are ready to be bagged? Perhaps to the self-same black-site internment camps that Trump has been telling his loyal supporters he would ship off all those foreigners.

Absurd? Perhaps.  However, consider the exponential curve of either ill-informed, ignorant, or offensive remarks that Trump has released, and then defended over the past few months.  Is this really the work of someone who is aiming to be elected by the general population? Or is it all part of a diabolical design to identify enemies foreign… and domestic?

The list of celebrities speaking out against the Drumpf keeps getting longer.  Now anti-vax Robert De Niro has disavowed Trump in true pugilistic style, and even Dan Rather is getting in on the act.  Along the way a growing number of centrist and even right-wing Republicans have dropped their support for Trump.  Again, an act of self-identifying as people that Clinton could potentially work with when she institutes the New World Order… or at least save herself the trouble of disposing of them.

Then there is the miraculous pivot from Bernie Sanders. After stating he would not back down, a conversation with President Barak Obama appeared to mollify his stance and reorient his energy.  What other insight could have turned such an idealist, other than being let in on the inside track about Trump’s true nature? Given that President Obama appeared to be the messenger, one has to ask: how far and how high do the threads of this conspiracy run?

In the unlikely event that all does not go to plan and Trump does win the election, it will be by some obscure function of the U.S. electoral colleges.  Clinton is almost guaranteed to win the popular vote; which means she has the perfect context for a people’s revolution against the tyrannical system perpetrated by the corporate oligarchy; which Trump so perfectly embodies.  Even better, should Trump escape he can agitate from some Caribbean locale (paid for by Clinton of course) as President-in-exile.  The ensuing attempts at domestic terrorism or revolution in his name would simply continue the course of self-identification, and give the Clinton benevolent dictatorship all the excuses it needs to clamp down on gun owners and religious fringe-dwellers.  Which helps deal with those pesky right-leaning law enforcement folks; who, instead of disregarding the importance of #blackLives, will have to deal with the far more real and present danger of a poorly-regulated militia.

Remember that Trump is a businessman, with problematic businesses dealings and not a small amount of debt.  He is also a consummate performer who knows how to sell to his audience.  What if Trump has made one last big deal to sell his name and pitch the U.S. of A. into a socialist utopia?

Is that so out of character?

As the man himself has made clear, his name is his brand… but like Elvis in Las Vegas, he has run out of venues.  In the rarefied air among the upper echelons of Yankee society there is nowhere else to go; except politics. Sadly he’s unlikely to star in his own bio-pic and, unlike Bloomberg who has his own media outlet, The Donald doesn’t actually have sufficient media clout or charisma to truly win public office.

The question remains; is Trump actually running for office? Is he really such an egoist that he truly thinks he can win?

Or, has The Donald realised that he has reached the realistic peak of his ascent, and has decided to cash in his chips before the House can win.  By making a pact to deliver the U.S.A. into the waiting hands of Clinton rule, has Trump truly made an art of the deal?

In defence of Pauline

A probably unpopular take on the return of the female redhead who challenges our parliament and how we see ourselves as Australians.

Ms Hanson would have got in anyway. The changes to the senate rules didn’t make her return any more likely.  What made it inevitable was the failed economic and social policies of state and federal governments that led the same anti-modern voters who elected Ms Hanson 20 years ago to come full circle.

Brief History
After Ms Hanson was ‘betrayed’ by her own party apparatchiks, these voters tried minor parties.  They muddled about trying to find a voice that reflected their own thoughts. Suddenly Tony Abbott gave them true hope that Australia would return to the halcyon and mythical days of the 1950’s, when men were Men… and White. Then he got the sack, and was replaced with an urbane do-nothing who was completely clueless about what was going on below the executive floor, let alone at the bar in the country pub.

The last few months under Turnbull gave voters time to think. Time to realise that maybe they’d been conned. For years, many of these voters have bought the ‘aspirational’ market-will-provide line trotted out by the LNP… It’s only recently that people are actually figuring out that trickle-down doesn’t work; but don’t yet understand what happened. People voted to stop the boats, and then lost the farm.

This time, just as last time, Pauline Hanson has attracted groups with an axe to grind. The Socialist Alliance, Animal Justice Party, and other groups on the Left are just as guilty of this sin.  It should not call into question the legitimacy of Ms Hanson as a representative, or the legitimacy of those who voted for her.

E-con 101
We are in the midst of another labour-force revolution, coupled with major shifts in social identity. Types and terms of employment are in flux; and so far, no one has any clear answers on how we can transition from where we are into the future. That scares most people. For people who have missed out on a promised life of stability; and who feel marginalised and under siege by changing labour, cultural and social norms, it is terrifying.

Hanson appeals to people who cannot cope with contemporary life, let alone the future; different cultures or skin colour are not really the issue. When pressed only the true believers have problems with race and sexuality.  For the majority, those things are an obvious symptom that they can use to define their position. The real problems come from change, from different ways of thinking, the rise of technology and change in labour, the shifting sands of meaning, being unable to trust the local newspaper (if you still have one).

If you read the One Nation website, it is an almost incoherent rant. It is filled with the confused and bitter ramblings of everyday people, who have no comprehension of the policy and economics that have led to their current condition. This is a group of people who have no particular political, economic or social ideology.  They thought our society was still based on the True-Blue, Fair-Go, rustic simplicity represented by the 1950s. Now they have awoken post GFC to discover that the new century is a complex and frightening place, and they want someone to blame.

We need to accept, despite how they express their concerns; people do have valid reasons to be concerned.  In the last 20 years Australia has become one of the least protected markets in the world.  However, the prosperity promised as result of these changes never arrived. Instead services and businesses have shrunk and vanished. Lives have been whittled away by neo-liberal economics and globalisation from the Right; and shifts in worldview and social justice from the Left.  This is a group of people who are no longer at the centre of Australia’s life, and they have been left to fend for themselves without any help to transition or understand the change.  They feel justifiably marginalised…

…as an intermission, I suggest you all take a moment to watch THIS and then come back.

Peoples is People
Supporters of Ms Hanson don’t see themselves as racist or homophobic; just as their mirrors on the Left probably don’t see themselves as social fascists.  They are just humans who are uncomfortable with diversity, and don’t know how to express themselves. The intellectual Left has had decades sitting in ivory towers to reform language to accommodate diversity.  For most in regional Australia or outer city suburbs, casual sexism and racism is a way of demonstrating affection.  Labelling a person as racist, sexist or homophobic doesn’t make them so, it only shames… and then angers them. But, again, they do not know how to express their confusion.  Pauline Hanson gives them voice. She is representative of the views of thousands of Australians.  The difference is that she is happy to take money from David Koch to air these grievances in public, rather than just bitching into a pot of Four X.

These Australians (and they exist on the Left as well) don’t care about facts, they just know how they feel. They don’t want to think about consequences, or geopolitics, or climate change, or complexity; they want things to be simple, and they don’t want to have to change. They don’t want to think about policy, they just want government to take care of them; and they will give their vote to anyone who promises to do that. Last election it was Tony, this time it’s Pauline.

The saddest thing about all this reaction to Ms Hanson, is that it didn’t have to be this way. Pro-environment sentiment in the bush is at an all-time high.  The Greens candidate Jeremy Buckingham has large support for his pro-farm stance. The Greens and ALP could have gone into the regions and actually spoken to these people.
If they had heard their grievances, and took them seriously enough to have the lengthy conversations needed to bring understanding, then the past two elections would have been very different.

A classic example of this is renewable energy. Regional and outer suburban manufacturing is collapsing.  Ironically, if a ‘jobs and growth’ argument for renewable energy and action on climate change had been prosecuted more effectively, it’s likely we would be a lot further along to reaching our emissions target.  Instead we are facing the prospect of a Royal Commission into climate science.  All because no one bothered to address the dog-whistling from the Liberals, and actually explain the issues and opportunities.

The shrill and uncompromising front presented by angry voters is just that; a front. However, while anti-corporate ranting is accepted without question; too often intellectual and urbane progressives have not bothered to engage with the people Ms Hanson represents, purely because of their views on social policy.

Which is unfortunate, as those views are rarely concrete, and more often simple, easy targets for confusion and anger: It’s a lot easier to blame an immigrant (or a corporation) than unravel the economic and policy choices responsible for ones current state. If anyone took the time to talk, they’d find reasonable, if uninformed people who are willing to give up acting on social prejudice for better work opportunities and better services.

As seen by the non-partisan cooperation between progressive greens groups and conservative farmers in the Liverpool plains or The Great Barrier Reef, on many levels Ms Hanson’s supporters are natural allies against the destructive aspects of corporate neo-liberalism.  If the socially and economically just future we all claim to wish for is to become a reality, complaining about Pauline Hanson isn’t going to help.

If the elections of 2010 and 2013 should have taught us anything, it is that mud-slinging and ignoring citizens only further fractures our society; with serious deleterious effects on our economy, civil society and democracy. If progressive, intellectual, inclusive citizens are truly concerned about what’s happening in regional Australia; then they need to stop criticising and start having conversations.

Will you have to swallow your own prejudices?  Yes.

Will you have to work with people you do not like? Yes.

Will it be hard work?

Yes, democracy is hard work; anyone who tells you different is selling something.

 

On a Road to Nowhere?

As we all wake up today from our election hangovers, and stagger bleary eyed to work, many are considering the real implication of living in interesting times… and the real possibility that the Governor General may be forced to call a second election.  The double dissolution election brought on by #stabilityMal has surprised everyone, not least the Australian voter; who, after casting their #rageVote now wonders what they were drinking, and who it was they spent those huddled, sweaty moments with in that election booth. Therefore, in another empty attempt to make sense of it all, it’s time for more analysis and conjecture!

Battle of the Bastards
**updated 1800hrs 5 July** The current count on the AEC website has the ALP leading in 69 seats, and the LNP with 66. The ALP is trending in a further two seats, and the LNP in three, though all five are too close to call… which should probably be the subtitle for this election.  The AEC has five seats undetermined; four Liberal and one ALP, which according to the current tally are likely to remain with incumbents. If that is the case we are looking at a 72/73 split  between the ALP and LNP.

**updated 1800hrs 4 July** The ABC (i.e. Antony Green) has a slightly different tally, with ALP at 67, LNP at 68 **up from 64**. Out of the 10 ‘seats in doubt’ the LNP is ahead on slender margins in four seats, the ALP on a similar knife-edge in five, and Xenophon party fairly comfortable in one. Giving us a House looking like this:
TABLES-house2

One of the key factors in this election is that traditional conservative voters have felt betrayed by the Liberal and National parties.  Mining, CSG, the NBN, foreign ownership, constant cuts and privatisation have been a catalyst for conservative voters to look at what else is on offer. Some have realised that the ALP has policies they support; others have turned even further right. As a result, immigration is likely to be a continuing flashpoint, though this time around even Pauline Hanson supports socialised healthcare and the NBN.

Greens and Andrew Wilkie have a record of voting with the ALP, though Wilkie has stated he will not enter into any deals.  Cathy McGowan tends to vote with the Coalition. Previously Katter aligned with the LNP, though this time there’s no carbon tax on the table this time. Key issues for Katter are CSG, energy privatisation and land sales, all of which the ALP have made murmurs about, while the LNP are unwilling/unable to move on either. If that will shift the pragmatic Katter away from traditional alliances remains to be seen.  Xenophon has already said he will take the number of seats either party wins into account when negotiating agreements, so if that second seat in Grey comes to Team X then he will truly be the kingmaker.

Stiff Upper Lip
The new senate is going to be a mixed bag. Media and politicians alike may decry the election results as a circus as much as they like; but the people have spoken, just not coherently.

There are two truths in democracy: The voter is always right… and you get the government you deserve… and based on ABC.net.au and the AEC website, the senate is currently looking like this:

TABLES-senate

The trend for seats in doubt generally toward the right wing parties such as Katter, Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers, One Nation, and the various Christian groups.  As per predictions, the lions’ share will likely go to the major parties; though there is a chance that either Katter or One Nation will get across the line.

Given the wide range of voices represented in the senate, we need to ask the question: Where do the new senators stand on legislation?

The Sydney Morning Herald published this rough breakdown of each parties’ focus.  The Weasel takes a next step and looks at how the senators will likely vote on current key issues.

Positions garnered from official policy statements, news reports, and interest group websites.
Where there is no clear position, it can be assumed that senators will use the issue as a bargaining chip to further their own agenda.

Marriage Equality
Derryn Hinch:     Pro equality, parliamentary vote
Fred Nile:            Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Jacqui Lambie:   Anti equality, pro plebiscite, conscience vote for party.
Katter:                 Anti equality
Lib Democrats:   Pro equality, parliamentary vote
One Nation:        Anti equality, pro plebiscite
Xenophon:          Pro equality, parliamentary vote
see also Aus Marriage Equality site

Climate Change / Renewable Energy
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Sceptic, pro nuclear
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports action (in statements), pro nuclear, voting record unclear
Katter:                 Pro Action, stop CSG, extend emission target, boost ethanol production
Lib Democrats:   Sceptics, support mitigation, pro nuclear
One Nation:        Wants a Royal commission into climate science “corruption
Xenophon:          Pro Action, 50% reduction target by 2030

Recognition or Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Opposes Constitutional recognition, supports increased engagement
Jacqui Lambie:   Constitutional recognition, plus dedicated indigenous seats in parliament
Katter:                 Wants action, possibly prefers treaty
Lib Democrats:   Opposes Constitutional recognition
One Nation:        Opposes Constitutional recognition and treaty
Xenophon:          Supports Constitutional recognition

Education
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           Improve education by adding bible study, and cutting Safe Schools
Jacqui Lambie:   Boost TAFE, introduce national-service style apprenticeship scheme
Katter:                 Pro funding boosts, also wants systematic education reform
Lib Democrats:  Stop Federal funding, pro deregulation, cut Austudy
One Nation:       Government subsidised apprenticeship scheme
Xenophon:         Pro Gonski, anti university deregulation

Royal Commission into Banking
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position, may support
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports
Katter:                Supports
Lib Democrats:  No clear position, unlikely to support
One Nation:       No clear position, may support
Xenophon:         Supports

NBN
Derryn Hinch:    No clear position
Fred Nile:           No clear position, wants more infrastructure
Jacqui Lambie:  Supports FTTP
Katter:                Supports FTTP
Lib Democrats:  Prefers private competitive roll out instead of government
One Nation:       Wants high speed broadband, proposes wireless hubs for regions
Xenophon:         Supports FTTP

Federal ICAC
Derryn Hinch:    Probably Pro ICAC
Fred Nile:           No clear position
Jacqui Lambie:  Pro ICAC
Katter:                No clear position
Lib Democrats:  No clear position
One Nation:       Probably Pro ICAC
Xenophon:         Pro ICAC

Refugees
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Mandatory detention, prefers Christian refugees,
Jacqui Lambie:   Wants children out of detention, strict monitoring & quotas
Katter:                 Turnbacks, faster assessment, and supply work while on TPVs
Lib Democrats:   Mandatory detention, on/off shore processing, strict entry requirements
One Nation:        Turnbacks
Xenophon:          Dislikes offshore processing, increase intake, speed up processing

Healthcare
Derryn Hinch:     No clear position
Fred Nile:            Better spending, especially in aged care
Jacqui Lambie:   Supports socialised medicine, especially for combat veterans
Katter:                 Supports socialised medicine, wants more services for regions
Lib Democrats:   Abolish Medicare, privatise, The Market will provide… apparently
One Nation:        Supports socialised medicine
Xenophon:          Supports socialised medicine, focus on prevention

On the question of which senators get a six-year stint, and which three… well that is up to the senate.  There are two options:
1. Order-of-election; Out of the 12 state senators, whoever crossed the line first gets six years.
2. Recount; Votes are recounted treating the vote as a normal three-year cycle. Whoever would have been elected on that basis gets six years.
Which one the senate uses will likely depend on the three major parties, with Xenophon once again in position as king-maker. The inestimable Antony Green, of course, covers this question in more detail.

The anti-Islam voting block of Fred Nile, One Nation, and Lambie will bring up issues surrounding Muslim Australians and immigration generally; and likely to include senate inquiries into banning burkas or halal certification and labelling. The LNP could use this flashpoint as a major negotiating chip to pass other legislation; though that is unlikely to be the ABCC bill.

On practical and ideological matters of investing in education, healthcare, and infrastructure such as the NBN, the balance is definitely leaning toward the ALP.  Lambie, Katter and Xenophon have shifted to the centre on these issues, and the LNP can no longer rely on social policies to wedge support for their neo-liberal economic programme. Accepting a Federal ICAC may present the ALP with a ticket to govern, but marriage equality is unlikely to get anywhere unless the ALP can push an open vote. Action on climate will be problematic, expect another senate inquiry into nuclear power.

As predicted Derryn Hinch picked up the PUP and Ricky Muir vote, though really has very little to offer beyond his pet name-and-shame project, and animal justice.  Populist by nature, he could decide or shift his vote if a concerted push came from his electorate…

…and that is important to remember. You can write to your MP and your Senator to express your preference. This parliament is an opportunity for voters and community to have a real impact on the nature of the parliament, and what agenda the parliament pursues. Given that the independent parties may decide who gets to form government, the time to start writing is now.

The Weasel’s incomplete guide to the 2016 Senate

Print

Who exactly are all these jokers? And how am I supposed to figure out who they are among all the acronyms?  The Weasel provides a quick run-down of the players in multiple electorates…

The Senate
There are 76 senators; 12 from each state and two each from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

While the House of Representatives is where policy is tabled, The Senate is where is gets checked off and approved.  Senators have a longer term at six years, and can have a large effect on what policy gets passed.  This is why so many smaller parties aim for Senate seats.  Be careful of what parties call themselves; almost all the parties with ‘liberal’ or ‘democratic’ in their name are generally neither.

Voting properly is simple
Changes to senate voting have done away with group voting preferences, so now your vote is all that matters.  The numbers you enter, the more control you have over your vote.

If you vote above the line – a vote for parties
you must fill in AT LEAST six (6) boxes.
ballot

If you vote below the line – for individual candidates – you must fill in AT LEAST twelve (12) boxes

ballot2

See the AEC guide, or Antony Greens breakdown here for more information.
To see a list of all parties and candidates for your state, go here
HVC  = How to Vote card: the ABC has all published HVC listed here

Who’s coming to the party?

labor.brand
100 positive policies, though probably not positive enough for most far-left voters; while everyone else still can’t decide if they like Bill Shorten.  The policy list is the standard ALP fare of progressive economic reform, nation-building and social balancing.  A vote on marriage equality, and changes to secrecy laws surrounding Manus and Nauru are big risk, low political return items. Once again, the ALP is stuck between being too progressive, not progressive enough, or just plain boring.

The Medicare campaign is working to get people worried about healthcare, though the Liberals have countered with their own dog-whistling. In more than a few seats, the question of which to fear more: higher healthcare costs or brown people on boats will be a deciding factor. www.alp.org.au

 

liberal
The hard-line social conservatives with close ties big business have lost none of their tin-ear lustre with Turnbull at the helm. Strong on austerity measures, privatisation, cutting penalty rates, social welfare and, corporate taxes.  If re-elected expect further push for privatisation to “improve performance”.
Liberal Party is banking on Australians voting above the line and for a low-turnout in the youth vote for a return to government.  In addition to the usual border security disco, The Liberals are pushing hard again to ‘aspirationals’; that annoying non-word used to describe individuals willing to go deep into debt in acts of pecuniary emulation.  It’s the classic leaners-vs-doers argument which plays well with the annoying person who describes themselves as ‘aspirational’. www.liberal.org.au

 

greens
Seen as pretenders for the throne, the Greens party is usually strong on progressive socialism, sometimes light on policy. Have made massive leaps in coherent national policy in recent years, and have reaped large vote gain with the leadership shift from ‘loonie greenies’ to ‘inner-city professionals’.

Not to be confused The Democrats of old, The Greens are savvy political animals. In the House, The Greens are mostly attacking ALP seats, though they do have a couple of inner-city Liberal seats in their sights. Despite ongoing wedge politics, The Greens appear to be trying to mend fences with the ALP – possibly out of fear of a returning coalition government.  If that will continue after the election is anyone’s guess. greens.org.au

 

nationals
Almost as annoying as the ridiculous pop-up song on their website, The Nationals are supposed to be about protecting farmers; in reality, they are about whatever the Liberal party tells them and getting jobs in the mining industry after politics. Their ineffectiveness and unpopularity has led to a proliferation of conservative micro parties in the last three elections. However, due to a disengaged and uninformed voter base they have previously returned to power.  However, with the ACP, ALA and One Nation on the rise, that may not be the case this time. nationals.org.au

art-trans-top
Pretty self explanatory, partly a response to George Brandis; but also a general movement to make up for the lack of representation by any of the mainstream parties.  The Greens have already picked up some policy ideas from the group; which revolve around universal access to arts in school and society, backing the ABC and SBS, and promoting arts industries as more than just cultural vehicles but instead as important contributors to the economy. www.artsparty.org         www.artsparty.org/policy

AnimalJusticeParty
Seeks to ban live export and make farming more humane.  Also on their ban list are recreational hunting & fishing, harvesting Kangaroo for food, and horse racing.  Not a vegan party, and apparently want to replace the RSPCA with a government body, their voter base is a curious mix of pro-animal social conservatives.  Think of that cranky uncle who posts cute animal pics and anti-halal meme’s on your Facebook feed.  The Liberal party is once again beneficiary of their preference this election, which does cast legitimacy of the groups’ claim to being progressive. www.animaljusticeparty.org      Wikipedia Page

country party
A direct response to the National party and the selling-off and selling-out of Australian farming land; the ACP is surprisingly rational. Marriage equality and refugees are considered wedge issues designed to divide the electorate and stop them focussing on more important things like trade and food security.  Generally socially conservative and nationalist/protectionist; they support the Constitutional recognition of first nations, and are pro-recreational hunting.
Part of the general anti-LibLab movement in the regions, in the senate traditional base would favour Liberals. countryparty.org.au       Wikipedia Page

katter
Katter is a loose cannon, and only really concerned with Queensland. Many Green voters may find synergies in his strong positive position on Indigenous recognition, food & mineral security, and supporting sustainable farming.  Though it’s unlikely they will like his support of boat turnbacks.
He is easy to demonise thanks to his voter base and brash attitude; but Katter appears to try to be a good Christian, and has proved to be an honest political operator who can get things done. Historically votes with the Liberal party, though he is able to prioritise common good over his personal beliefs.  www.ausparty.org.au    Wikipedia Page

hemp-96
From flourishing Nimbin come the Marijuana (HEMP) Party.  Though a single issue party that seeks to legalise not only personal, but industrial (i.e. clothing, plastics) hemp, they can be taken seriously as latter would be good for Australian manufacturing.  Can probably be trusted to be progressive on most social issues, and hopefully trusted to turn up to work only half-baked.  In coalition with ASXP for the election; if elected will align with Greens, possibly the ALP.  australianhempparty.com            Wikipedia Page

ala-logo-header
The anti-muslim party, ironically abbreviates to ALA, is yet another example of naming a party to gain votes from lazy, and uninformed voters.  Launched by white-power poster boy Geert Wilders has probably got a boost from Australian voters wishing they could vote for Donald instead of the Liberal or National party.  Unlikely to get anywhere, but are a symptom of the continued growth and strength of hard-right politics in Australia and will likely assist One Nation or one of the other lunatic fringe.
australianlibertyalliance.org.au

amep AMEP-
Ricky Muir is back, this time as a bobble-head! Generally, socially and economically conservative, Muir has demonstrated surprising maturity, a solid sense of fairness, and the good sense to listen to the advice of the Public Service. Stood up to pressure from the Liberals, ALP and Greens. While uncomfortably close in demographic to One Nation and others, Muir is a great example (all jokes aside) of how well a common person can represent not just their core supporters, but also their nation.
www.australianmotoringenthusiastparty.org.au                Wikipedia Page

sexParty
The ASXP sounds like fun, but is in fact a serious customer.  They support ideas of responsibility of the individual and reducing ‘nanny-state’ laws; though their drive for individual liberty is tempered by social responsibility, as illustrated for their support of vaccination laws.  They also advocate ending prohibition on marijuana and stopping tax-exemptions for religious organisations.  Generally seen as a socially progressive group, they have no clear economic agenda; likely will support The Greens and the ALP.
www.sexparty.org.au    Wikipedia Page

cec
Another great example supporting the need of truth in the naming of political parties; the CEC is a bunch of climate change denying fruitcakes that wallow in conspiracy theories and are active promoters of the LaRouche movement. Unsurprisingly they have a stronger following the further north you travel.  Kinda like that friend who craps on about chem-trails, but has occasional moments of lucidity and says something you could almost agree with. cecaust.com.au    Wikipedia Page

CDPlogo
AKA The Fred Nile party, generally very conservative.  Strong on social and community values as viewed through lens of an anti-abortion, anti-climate-change old guy. Liberal party supporters.  www.cdp.org.au   Wikipedia Page

ausChristians-logo
Also AKA The Fred Nile party, though with a Hillsong approach to attract younger Christian voters. australianchristians.com.au/about

logo-democratic-labor-large
Actually has nothing to do with the ALP, apart from the Shortenesque slogan on their website that states that they are “Putting the You back into Labour”… Zinger!

Established in-part by Tony Abbot’s mentor B.A. Santamaria, the Democratic Labour Party is in fact a religious right-wing party that is anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and anti-climate change. They will support the Liberal Party. hwww.dlp.org.au     Wikipedia Page

derryn hinch
Derryn Hinch has decided to take his campaign to reform the court system from the studio to the street.  Tough on crime is his main platform, with a dash of euthanasia, equality and animal justice to appeal to The Left.  Essentially a right-wing, single issue candidate, he ranks highly on How-to-Vote cards; and informal/ignorant voters who voted for Palmer last election will likely give Hinch the same boost this time around.
Leans to the Liberals, though will swing either way in supporting either Liberal or ALP, but will demand a high price for cooperation in the senate. www.justiceparty.com.au

drug-law-reform
Another single-issue group; as their name suggests their focus is on drug law reform.  Less a political party than an advocacy group that wants to stop unnecessary incarceration, and end criminalisation of drug use.  Has links to the Democrats through Greg Chipp; most likely to align with The Greens and the ALP.
www.druglawreform.com.au/election_2016      Wikipedia Page

family-first_logo
Don’t believe the billboards, this is another religious right-wing party that is anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality & anti-climate change.  Were instrumental in demonising the safe schools programme, and would prefer students left school earlier rather than waste time on higher education. Want to scrap industrial relations law and any move to renewable energy.  They are strong supporters of the Liberal Party and pick up where Cory Bernardi ends. familyfirst.org.au             Wikipedia Page

flux-mark
More a direct democracy app than political party; Flux is all about parliamentary reform and using technology to improve the function of parliament to better represent the people.  Established by two Bitcoin consultants, the group presents a slick and convincing argument that will resonate with most who hear it.  Their idea of trying to get delagative democracy going in Australia relies heavily on people being informed, engaged, and technology savvy; as such it is a generational project which may never bear fruit.  They are non-aligned, though will likely attract voters who side with The Greens, and then ALP.
voteflux.org       Wikipedia Page

Health-Australia-Party-Logo
Previously the Natural Medicine Party, this group supports alternative health and ‘pro-choice’ for vaccinations. Policies generally reflect a middle-class alternative mindset, with odd notes like support for optional national service.
The HAP party shows one of the fractures with the Green voting bloc, with many supporters unhappy with parliamentary support of vaccination programmes. Depending on how homeopathic you are about diluting your Kool aid; this group are either courageous guardians of real medicine and alternative health, or just another loony party. HVC sends preference to Flux.org, the DLP, and Animal Justice.
www.healthaustraliaparty.com.au           Wikipedia Page

jacqui lambie
On her own two feet, and in her own colour scarf; The Lambie Network is another right-leaning and wild card group. Broad appeal to the slightly-less-racist One Nation voter, JLN is the de-facto military party… and, realistically an accurate reflection of the people they are trying to represent.
Policies are working-class focussed; Education policy consists of boosting TAFE for trades and includes the introduction of voluntary national service. Advocates the nuclear option in response to climate change; and wants to establish special economic zones. On the question of anti-Halal / Kosher, the party wants transparency on what and who is paid for certification. No guidance on who to vote for, apart from putting the Liberals last; will likely support ALP over The Greens. lambienetwork.com.au    Wikipedia Page

LiberalDemocraticParty LiberalDemocrats Party
Modelled after the American Tea Party, this group are hard-line Libertarians who claim they fight for individual liberty… as long as that means privatising government services, cutting all market regulation, cutting taxes, and cutting firearms regulation. Free speech is used as cover to perpetuate racism, sexism, and whatever else they feel like complaining about.
The figurehead of this ship of fools is David Lleyonhjelm; previously a member of both the Labor and Liberal parties, a fan of the NRA, not so much of women or their sport.  Will likely poll well due to placement on ballot papers and misleading name.  Supports the Liberal party.  ldp.org.au           Wikipedia Page

mature
Appears to be mostly folks who’ve hit retirement and decided that bothering the local call-back radio just isn’t filling up the day like it used to.  Generally conservative, though not right wing.  Policy mix reflects the old-person mindset: They do want high levels of infrastructure spending, especially dams to save water; but want to cut State / Federal duplication of services and spending… because somehow both of these things will save money.  Probably not a bad option for when you have run out of parties you know you want to put at the top or bottom and are OCD enough that you need to fill out the rest of the ballot paper.  themap.org.au      Wikipedia Page

nick-xenophon-team-logo
The presumptive replacement for The Democrats of old; Xenephon is generally Centre-Left and progressive in social policy, or nationalist and Centre-right on economy, jobs, and trade. Likes using props in campaigning, but a serious player in the parliament.  Sometimes unpredictable in how he votes, as is willing to make deals that benefit South Australia. nxt.org.au           Wikipedia Page

one nation_logo
A hard-line nationalist party that once again has the mostly famous Pauline Hanson as their headline act.  They are climate-change deniers and anti-immigration / anti-refugee. Staunchly Christian and generally anti-Islam.  Despite the rhetoric, they will continue to be Liberal party supporters.  www.onenation.com.au              Wikipedia Page

palmerUnited
What to do about the boy Palmer?  What to say? The man himself is not running, but he has a motley crew of candidates and a brand new campaign website: thetruthhub.com.
palmerunited.com          Wikipedia Page

Pirate-Party-Australia
Not so much high-seas raiders as self-proclaimed champions of individual liberty on the net, and fighters against the scourge of copyright overreach.  They are also strong supporters of the NBN and creating a high-tech economy for Australia. A single issue party, but not a bad one for those wanting thinking senators.  Has ideological alignment with Wikileaks; who aren’t contesting this election, which will likely result in the Pirates gaining some votes.  In the senate will probably support anyone who is against the Liberals.  pirateparty.org.au           Wikipedia Page

renewable
Single-issue party, coming mostly in response to the current government.  Older generation profile generally aligned with Greens and ALP. www.renewableenergy.org.au

riseUp
AKA the Danny Nalliah party; established with help from climate denier Lord Christopher Monckton, this is an Ultra-Christian Conservative party. In the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires, in which 173 died, Nalliah claimed he had received “prophetic dreams” that these bushfires were a “consequence” of Victoria’s decriminalisation of abortion.  Yet another bunch of nutters who decry Sharia law, but think we should legislate according to the bible.  Part of the alliance that includes Family First, Christian Democrats, DLP, and Shooters, Fishers & Farmers.   riseupaustraliaparty.com       Wikipedia Page

science party
In coalition with the Australian Cyclists Party.
This NSW-based group advocates investment in STEM education, research, renewable energy, and parliamentary reform.  They are also big on repealing anti-protest and secrecy laws.  Generally they are politically in line with The Greens and ALP; support high density living with public transport & FTTP NBN.  Voter cards preference Animal Justice Party and ASXP.  www.scienceparty.org.au            Wikipedia Page

logo-secular-large
The Church has no place messing with the State, or our food, or children. That’s the general gist if the Secular Party.  They advocate free education and balanced economic management; generally Left leaning, but are pretty rigid when it comes to anything religious.  They are Pro-Marriage equality, Pro-Clean energy. They can be expected to align themselves with The Greens and possibly the ALP.  www.secular.org.au       Wikipedia Page

shootersFishers ..and farmers.. shootersFF ..don’t forget the farmers this time
The go-to place if you’re living in the country and want to complain about inner-city, latte-sipping, hipster-lobbyists ruining your way of life… despite the fact that it was actually the Liberals and Nationals who sold you up the river, which is ironic given you voted for them to ‘stop the boats’.
Essentially a single-issue party with slightly libertarian leanings, this is a group that is big on self-defence (with guns), prefers small government, conservative social values, wants enhanced freedoms to access public lands and national/marine parks for hunting & fishing.  Would probably wave a ‘don’t tread on me’ flag, but realise it would make them look like tossers. Default Liberal party supporters.
www.shootersfishersandfarmers.org.au              Wikipedia Page

socialistAlliance
Traditional communists who want to nationalise banks, mining and energy companies. Generally seen as an antagonist group, they are one of few long-serving truly radical Left-wing political parties in Australia, and are often relegated (and attract) the lunatic fringe. They are quite big on sustainable farming, environmental care, marriage equality and refugee rights. Their alignment is traditionally with The Greens.
socialist-alliance.org                        Wikipedia Page

socialist
Self proclaimed party of the working class; pushing for a socialist, anti-capitalist and anti-war program.  Unapologetic Trotskyites, the party are mainstream, intellectual socialists who support placing financial institutions into public ownership and placing social need over individual profit.  Like most minor Left-leaning groups, they are at war with most everyone else on the Left and mostly represent another fracture in the Green/ALP vote.  www.sep.org.au

Sustainable_top_nav_2
Formerly the Sustainable Population Party, Sustainable Australia are generally slightly Left of centre.  Despite being wanting to cut immigration, they are pro-refugee.  Most of their other policies align with ALP, except for immigration and trade.  They are another party who have given a boost to the Animal Justice Party, though alone they are probably too much of a fringe vote to count.  www.votesustainable.org.au     Wikipedia Page

….
There are several other groups that may garner votes based on local or individual interest, but are marginal groups and have little depth beyond their single-issue stance.  All opinions belong to The Weasel, if you think there’s something missing or incorrect; put it in the comments section..

Learning for the Knowledge Economy

Welcome to Innovation Nation where we’re going to get agile and disrupt some paradigms!  The knowledge economy is the next big thing, and we’ve got some transitioning to do.

There is almost universal agreement that education is a key factor in building the ‘new’ Australian economy.  Where the major parties differ is just a continuation of the same old education policy debate in Australia, which remains fixed around funding and curriculum content.  A closer examination of the rhetoric and policy reveals how the economic theories to which politicians and policy makers subscribe defines the treatment of education policy.

One of the dominant voices in the dialogue surrounding education, and the economy in general, is that of Human Capital Theory.  This economic approach amalgamates information, learning, innovation, and research under the banner of Knowledge; which in the Knowledge Economy is now cast as an important asset or form of capital. The result is a higher level of interest in how these knowledge assets are acquired.  Or in non-economist speak, government interest in the daily operations of schools; including not only what is taught but how.

If Australia is to avoid drifting down to second-world status, enhancing the capabilities of the population is essential.  We cannot rely on minerals or agriculture alone for the prosperity of the nation; but is a human capital approach to our education policy the right road into the future?

The Knowledge Economy

According to the OECD in 1996, knowledge-based economies are “directly based on production, distribution and use of knowledge and information”.  Over the past three decades, advanced industries in Western economies have become more knowledge intensive, and now rely heavily on innovation for economic performance.

The service economy is no longer where it’s at folks.  We now find ourselves 20-30 years behind other OECD nations; and to avoid Keating’s infamous banana Republic, Australia needs to shift from the current heavy reliance on raw resources, education as export, and tourism. Value-adding in the form of knowledge-based enterprises that can actually make products and services are what is required to carve out a niche for Australia in the world economy.  This is why we are now hearing so much about innovation from our political class, as the nation tries to play catch-up.

Humans as Capital

At the core of Human Capital Theory is the desire to break down fuzzy socially-related aspects of society, like education, and place on them a unit of value.  These ideas connect strongly with broader political-economic views of neo-liberalism, and the market-driven society that its proponents champion. This way of seeing the world deeply colours the way people are viewed; for example, according to economist Ben-Porath

“The objective of the individual at any time is to maximize the present value of his disposable earnings”

While there is considerable literature criticising these ideas, Michael Apple provides eloquent polemic on the matter, it is important to recognise what makes the Human Capital Theory attractive.  The approach reduces human complexity to a quantifiable set of statistical data, that can be used to measure inputs and outputs.  Schooling becomes a process of adding capability or knowledge modules, which can all be abstracted and converted into formulas to calculate the costs, both direct and through loss of productivity, and the potential return on investment.  Allowing an optimal schooling decision to be expressed thus:

equation

Human choice and learning reduced to an equation. No mess, no fuss, because you can’t argue with figures. The inherent utility of this approach, of being able to produce statistics with strong correlations to economic data, underpins the success and popularity of Human Capital Theory in business and government alike.

However, formulas do not work without actual numbers. To produce their percentages economists and policy wonks need numbers from the real world.  This requires measurement.  In Australia, this measurement comes in the form of NAPLAN, aka: Standardised Testing; and here we see the expression of economic theory in education policy.

Much has been written on NAPLAN and standardised testing in general.  Apart from the impact on classrooms and time spent studying for tests; there are also the concerns on how the narrative of “choice” transforms schools, from places of learning into competitive businesses.  Schools and teachers then have to market themselves as the best investment for the child’s education to ‘maximise value’.   Kevin Rudd as Prime Minster stated that the MySchool website, and the NAPLAN scores listed there, were specifically designed to allow parents greater choice and enable them to “walk with their feet”.  The resulting importance for schools and teachers to score well leads to many hours teaching to the test, rather than for comprehension.

This preoccupation with testing, and of the utility-view of education reaches its peak in PISA testing, coordinated by the OECD. Like NAPLAN, PISA is focussed on measuring if students have “acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies”.  According to PISA these are: maths, reading, and science.  To claim these three metrics can generate an accurate leaderboard of the value and efficacy of a nation’s education system is testament to the reductive power of the human capital approach.

The marriage of human capital and free-market thinking in education policy changes the very purpose of learning. Education is no longer a public good that improves society, promoting opportunity and better living standards. Instead, education is a process of adding knowledge and capability modules to future workers.  Education becomes a commodity in a marketplace of sellers and buyers.  With predictable results, as seen most recently with the corruption and fraud that has completely undermined vocational education in Australia.

What could education in Australia look like if the nation continues down this road?

Directions, choices, and consequence

South Korea gives us a glimpse into a possible future.  South Korea is an industrialised nation with democratic values and regularly ranks highly in PISA scores. Many have identified the economic and social importance of achieving high academic marks as a key driver in the performance of South Korean students in PISA testing.

To gain high marks at school and the eight-hour long university entrance exam, the suneung; families invest heavily in South Korea’s large private education market.  Sending their children to Hagwons, or cram schools, after regular school hours.  These are similar to the ‘coaching colleges’ that have proliferated recently in Australia.  The result in South Korea is that many students average 13 hours a day undertaking direct instruction. Many who support a return to ‘back to basics’ teaching commend the approach as a main contributor to the success of South Korean students.  The time-on-task and work-study ethic of the ‘Asian Model’ touted as a panacea for the apparently ailing educational institutions of the West.

However, South Korea fails to perform on broader social and economic measures.  Even by the human capital measurements published by the World Economic Forum, between 2013 and 2015 South Korea fell from 17th to 30th ranking.  When we look beyond the metrics, the real cost of the human capital / high-stakes testing approach become apparent. Korea, Japan, and China all suffer from high levels of youth unhappiness and suicide, as well as extensive bribery and corruption. The education markets spawned by this high-stakes testing approach are fiercely competitive, and bring high personal, social and financial costs for students and families.  Perhaps disturbingly we are already seeing parallels in Australia, with the increased social and economic importance of having attended a private school on one’s future opportunities.

Sadly, after all the cost, stress and testing, many graduates find it difficult to engage in creative problem solving. The result of PISA and standardised testing is a student who is very good at providing answers to well-defined problems in an acceptable format; and poorly prepared for innovative or creative thinking, key skills for success in a knowledge-based economy.  A problem underlined by evidence that links a decline in entrepreneurship and creativity to curriculum changes designed to boost test scores.  It is ironic then that Australia and other nations wish to emulate the system that many Asian countries are trying to leave behind. After topping PISA tests in 2009, China is now shifting to a more comprehensive model of assessment, with the stated goal to reduce the importance of testing in the curriculum.

Innovation Nation

At this point it is perhaps instructive to look again at the ideas associated with the knowledge economy in more detail.  Innovation is tricky, as new ideas may come from anywhere:  A scientist in a well funded lab may deliver an innovation in metal-alloy generation; however a worker in an industrial setting may also deliver the same innovation.  Though setting, resources and education (read human-capital investment) may be vastly different, they both apply what they know to generate new knowledge.  The process is not linear or incremental, but rather fluid and unpredictable.

This level of complexity and non-linearity, that there is no ‘correct’ way, understandably makes economists and policy-makers uncomfortable.  There is also the problem that despite piles of reports and articles on the subject, there continues to be a great degree of fuzziness about what the Knowledge Economy actually is. Sifting through the literature does reveal the character of the knowledge economy and indicators for success:

  • The speed of adaptation and innovation is crucial for future competitiveness.
  • Investment in education and research has a direct influence on learning and innovation outcomes.
  • Higher participation in creative problem solving and learning in the workplace leads to higher levels of innovation and knowledge production.
  • Low social distance between managers and workers builds trust and high diffusion of new ideas.
  • Knowledge must be read from different points of view, mutli- and interdisciplinary and requires engagement with and by government, industry and knowledge centres (such as universities).
  • Actors must have an awareness and understanding of the social, economic, and political facets of knowledge.

The two ideas most often listed are that broader creative thinking is needed; and that state intervention of a nature akin to the Welfare State model is beneficial, and may actually be essential. Concepts that are in direct contradiction to the neo-liberal human capital approach, which prefers limited subject proficiency and privatisation. Where then can we look to find an alternative approach to inform potential practice?

Go East

Brazil is a large nation with a population concentrated in urban areas, and a smaller portion of population spread across rural and remote areas.  Like Australia, It is also currently seeking to transition from an economy based on resources and traditional manufacturing to one where they can leverage innovation to compete in the global marketplace.

1985 marked the end of twenty one years of military rule for Brazil, as well as the end of strong alignment with neo-liberal governments in the USA and the West in general.  What followed has been a tumultuous period of reform characterised by education of empowerment; and decentralised authority, with states and municipalities having high levels of control over local school priorities.

Attempts by central authority to control curriculum by setting of competence standards or imposing centralised testing to national and international standards have been heavily criticised. How the differing view of education, as a social good instead of economic commodity is well illustrated by the local Catholic schools compared to the curriculum mandated by the World Bank.  The Catholic system teaches literacy in a social and political context; students learn the importance of nuance and how context can change meaning.  The human capital model eschews anything to with politics and concentrates instead on phonics-based instruction; thus keeping literacy linked purely with economic development.  With even a passing familiarity with our recent education ministers, one can see how the latter approach has gained much currency in Australia.

In Brazil the goal appears to be to ‘extend politics’ by educating citizens instead of workers. The national government does publish loose guidelines on curriculum.  These have familiar human capital emphasis on development of skills and competencies and building citizens’ capability in science, math, and literacy (with notable difference that bi- and even tri-lingual literacy is the norm).  However, the purpose of national testing is to create improvement programs for each school subjective to their individual circumstances; rather than to meet an arbitrary national standard.  This shows how a different economic view, in this case in opposition to the neo-liberalist market line, changes the way that policy is developed.

Many educators and policy makers in Brazil refer to Conscientização, or critical consciousness, and the importance of moving beyond mere observation and description to a level where the social, political and economic meanings can be recognised and subject to scrutiny.  Here is a conception of knowledge not simply as a unit of additional value, but that knowledge is emancipatory; enabling not mere social movement, but also greater access to freedoms and involvement in the future of the nation.

Multi- and interdisciplinary thinking, social equity, and the importance placed on having a broader understanding of economic and social contexts build capacity for students to think for themselves; and ‘outside the box’.  The national government is also building links between industry and universities through a quasi-Welfare State approach to subsidies; giving students future pathways for study and work, as well as giving practitioners access to research bodies to test ideas.

Based on observations on the characteristics for success in building a knowledge economy, Brazil appears to be on a firmer path toward leveraging of technological advancement and innovation; and the realization of a knowledge economy with a strong resource and manufacturing base.

The way forward

Human Capital Theory is a tool used to simplify how individuals and groups function to fit them into an economic equation.  However, it is a flawed tool.  It does not address the democratic and social aspects of the citizen-person, and is largely incapable of describing the complexities of learning or knowledge in the economy. This begs the question; if human capital is about enhancing the means of production, then what is it that our curriculum is preparing us to produce? What do we hope to achieve by teaching our citizens to ‘maximize the present value of [their] disposable earnings’?  The truth is, despite the rhetoric, the political and economic focus on The Market as arbiter of all good shows us that government and business are less interested in creative thinkers, and more interested in consumers. Or as Michael Apple puts it, people are

…either stomachs or furnaces. We use and use up, We do not create.
Someone else does that.

The implications for a knowledge-based economy, where value-add comes from the act of creation, are stark.

Despite ample evidence that test-focussed regimes do not deliver citizens ready to engage in a knowledge-economy; current policy directives in Australia still appear to champion the human capital conception of learning and the neo-liberal privatisation goal of education-as-commodity.  An approach highly divergent from what economists, educators and innovators are advocating as effective approaches to building a successful knowledge-based learning economy.  This dilemma dramatically underlines the need to divest from economic and political beliefs and look at the evidence with clear eyes and open minds.

We ignore the lessons from Brazil, China, South Korea, and Scandinavia at our peril. Preaching education as the answer to a future is not enough.  Promoting STEM education will not deliver results without complimentary application of resources into research bodies and policy work to change prevailing attitudes in labour-force relations.  Australia must overcome recent neo-liberal tradition and look to the Nordic and South American economies, where government involvement and Welfare State approaches are actually more effective in building and nurturing innovation and knowledge production.

Australia needs to move beyond the primitive human capital education-as-training model to a new formula of education-as-learning.  Ultimately we need to begin to view education not as a project that sets out to universalize knowledge, and forge students of today into the consumer-workers of the future.  Rather that school and curriculum is the space-time of cultural boundary where we dispute the significance of ideas and the world and negotiate knowledge and meaning.  Where learning links academic school-based learning with vocational learning in the workplace; extending knowledge acquisition with an understanding of social and economic contexts, with a focus on how to engage in hybrid thought and interdisciplinary collaboration.

In an increasingly globalised economy it is imperative that nations do not encumber themselves with one-size-fits-all theories whether they be liberal, Marxist or progressive.  Australia cannot afford to continue reducing citizens and their education into formulas.  Instead, we must look to our unique strengths and situation and build pragmatic policy that can engage Australians as active and innovative citizens in the future commonwealth.

 

leftBehind

*Edit: as pointed out by a commenter, the education equation included had been cut off at edges.  This has been corrected.  Hopefully it now makes sense mathematically, at least.

The early bird

The Election is Coming, The Election is coming!

Thus the cry dimly is heard atop galloping hooves. The primly minister Turnbull is faced with dropping polls and a realisation among the populace that refugees are people too. The dilettante decisions by the front bench on privatising Medicare and alleged tax reform have cast a further pall on the re-election prospects of the current set of MP’s on the government turnstile. So much so that in recent days, murmurs of “judgement” have once again bubbled to the surface of backbench and cabinet.

The murmur became a roar today with a reported earthquake near Canberra so strong that it has apparently knocked Warren Truss and Andrew Robb from their precarious perch. With Robb stating that he was keen to start cashing in on private sector largesse, saying “”I’d rather do that at 65 than at 68″.

Despite cuts to the CSIRO, the forecast is clearly for an early election. Tony Turnbull… erm, good sir Malcolm needs to get a ‘mandate from the people’ as quick as he can, otherwise the slavering Morrison will certainly finish his sprint into the lodge before a September election (Assuming of course that the Liberal do not decide to give us all a repeat performance of the ALP two-knife-step). This is not good news for Bilious Bill, whose prevarication on policy has left even the most strident Keating-haters wondering where the ALP might find some leadership.

So an early election it is. But How? Will it be a double dissolution? Which bill will be the bill that sets up Bill for an election? Stay tuned folks. This is going to happen a lot quicker than any U.S. presidential primary, and whatever the outcome, we’ll have to live with it for the next 3-4 years.

Slave trade capitalism and the new Republican Party

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Time is a funny thing, especially how the same things seem to happen again and again.

In the early nineteenth century, the young United States of America was heading toward civil war.  The practice of slavery had been accepted, but restrained from spreading further, by the Founding Fathers and the new American constitution. However, with the annexing of the new territories in Kansas and Nebraska, slavery was becoming a major fissure in the cultural landscape of the new nation. During the 1850s one of the presidential hopefuls, Henry Seward made a speech addressing the growing disparity between the wealthy slave owners in the South, and the emerging industrialized society in the north;

“There are two antagonistical elements of Society in America”, Seward proclaimed, “freedom and slavery.  Freedom is in harmony with our system of government and with the spirit of the age, and is therefore passive and quiescent.  Slavery is in conflict with that system, with justice and with humanity and is therefore organized, defensive, active, and perpetually aggressive.  “Free labour” he said, “demands universal suffrage and widespread diffusion of knowledge.  The slave based system, by contrast, ‘cherishes ignorance’ because it is the only security for oppression.”

The freedom that Seward referred to was the free, or non-slave, workers that toiled in the increasingly industrialized northern cities. What is striking about this passage is just how much the sentiments that Seward expressed resonate today.

Today we appear to be facing a parallel scenario to Seward’s, with a push from wealthy multi-national corporations and northern foreign-owned miners who want to spread their low-wage, low skill, high-profit form of business to every state on the planet.

This aggressive and well-funded movement born in American Capitalism now threatens Australian shores; Maurice Newman, chair of the Commission of Audit, attacks the Australian minimum wage, Tony Abbott dismisses of the importance of penalty rates, education reform is defunded and a ‘review’ is announced into the newly minted national curriculum, all nicely framed by ongoing disinformation from government ministers on the reasons for recent collapses in manufacturing in the southern states, all the while encouraging us to drink the trickle-down Kool Aid.

While these attacks on the backbone of a progressive society continue, it seems that there is little fight from either of the standing opposition parties, the ALP or the Greens.

Can we learn anything from the history of slavery and American capitalism?  And in those lessons is there a blueprint for action that we can take now?

Suggesting that American Capitalism is rooted in the slave plantations of the past is not a new thing.  Slave-grown and picked cotton was America’s most valuable export. Without which silver and gold from England and Europe would not have flowed so readily into U.S. Treasury coffers and the pockets of Northern factory owners, providing the much needed ‘capital’ for the growing nation.  Modern management practices also can be traced back to slavers.  Including time and motion studies, and calculating an employee’s worth against ‘unit labour costs’ to calculate productivity.

From this comes one of the central pillars of American capitalism; the practice of paying as little as possible for labour. With many corporations in America, most visibly WalMart and McDonalds, basing their entire business model on hiring unskilled workers that can be paid the absolute minimum.

The difficulty for the workers is that it is not enough.  Recent debate in the USA has revealed that these corporations access billions of dollars in government welfare through their employees.  Because they do not pay their workers a living wage, employees are forced onto welfare programs like food stamps.  The fast-food industry alone rakes in a government subsidy of roughly $7 Billion per year, with McDonalds even having an employee advice line helping employees sign up to government welfare.  These revelations have gone straight to the core of the argument over a living wage, workers rights and the real corporate welfare queens.

In light of this it can be seen that the only difference between Seward’s “two antagonistical elements” and our own is the deep hypocrisy in the arguments of wealthy ‘job creators’.

American, and Australian, elites insist on their quasi-religious, Ayn Rand infused utopian delusion that, instead of inheriting their wealth and profiting from the intelligence and work of generations of workers, they actually built their entire empires by themselves.  This was perhaps best refuted by Bill Clinton when he responded to attacks on President Obama for his out of context “You didn’t build that”:

“The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made . . . Bob Straus, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself. As Straus then admitted, it ain’t so.”

The economy and all the technological advances we enjoy today have been built by the skilled working and middle class that grew from the Industrial revolution in 19th century.  The claim that higher wages hurt business is simply false. It was the massive movement of consumer funds from well paid industrial workers that created the base wealth upon which the post-WW2 industrialized economies have been built.

Without the capital drawn from taxes paid by thousands of workers the ports, rail, and roads built in the 1950s and 60s that transported goods would never have happened. Those same taxes paid for schools that trained up the next generations of skilled employees that businesses could then leverage into creating products and delivering services.

The profits that companies made in the last hundred years were not driven by a select elite purchasing high price items, but by millions of consumers and businesses buying and selling, working and living, increasing demand and driving growth and trade.

When a portion of the population cannot afford to live, then they cannot participate.  When participation in the economy drops so does demand, with employment, trade and profits following soon after.

The rich will always maintain a degree of wealth and privilege.  In many ways the elite still exist in a semi-feudal world where those on ‘their’ lands should be grateful for the opportunity to eke out a subsistence living.   Thanks to their lofty position the wealthy are able enjoy their life regardless of economic conditions, as the businesses that service the wealthy operate in a very different space to the rest of the economy.  They are often able to ride out recessions, and can simply transfer their wealth to another market or country if trade or economies collapse.

The working and middle class, on the other hand, are reliant on trade and education.  The various accountants, tradesmen, managers, shop keepers, artisans, teachers, and lawyers require commerce and constant self-improvement to maintain their standard of living.  Without trade the rich can still enjoy their lands and property without much impact on their life.  However if trade declines or collapses, as seen in the Great Depression and recent Financial Crisis, the middle class and working classes are devastated.

One of the side effects of trade is exposure to new ideas.  Trade also drives innovation and social progress, as both serve to create new markets and new consumers.  All of this is a threat to any established elite, as social progress and greater knowledge builds further demand for equality. Not simply for equal rights for non-whites or non-heterosexuals, but for more equal representation in government, more equal access to opportunity, in short for a more democratic society.  This evolution of more equality in representation is one of the things that the wealthy and political elite fear most.  The American War of Independence and Civil War were fought over just these things.

The feudal world is a remnant that still hangs from our representative democracy.  In many ways representative democracy is the half-way hybrid of feudalism and true democracy.  We rely on a patrician class of political operators to work in our best interests, when in reality they are mainly working in their own self-interest and the special interests of their patrons.  A more direct democracy would see be form of republicanism akin to ancient Athens where all citizens voted directly on bills or the young USA where the voice of the citizenry was a direction for action by their elected representatives.  The attack on workers and education is an attempt to stave off this next logical step in social and political evolution to a more direct and effective democracy.

This is why religious conservatives and economic libertarians attack the means of sustaining a viable middle class.  Poor education dramatically reduces opportunities for employment and advancement, and hamstrings innovations that may threaten the status quo.  Cutting health care forces families to spend more of their income and time on caring for sick or elderly family members.  Failing to invest in effective public transport creates a class divide between those who can afford a vehicle to access job opportunities and those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty due to lack of mobility.

Even now the decision not to build a national, equal-access broadband infrastructure is picking winners and losers.  Those with fibre connections are already enjoying higher house valuations. Once again the inner cities will have the advantages, while the suburbs and regional cities – the tradition heartland of the working and middle classes – are relegated to second class citizens.  How long until cuts to education, health, penalty rates and minimum wage see further collapse of employment options and standards of living in Australia?

For Seward and his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, the principal opposition party of the time was too weak to respond to the pro slavery Democratic Party and the loud threats and aggression from the southern states that demanded they be allowed to establish slave estates in the new territories ‘for the sake of the nation’.

Eventually there was a split, and many from the opposition Whig party joined with other more progressive groups to form the new Republican Party.  Under this banner the nation set about a new path toward the equality promised in the American constitution.  Civil war followed, but the USA emerged stronger and more vigorous than ever.  What followed was over a hundred years of progress and growth that led the 20th century to be named the American Century.

In Australia the Liberal-National governments federally and in the states are filled with a similar aggression to their pro-slavery forebears, and are in a hurry to force their changes on our society before the sleepy masses awaken.  A vocal opposition would do much to quicken this awakening and stifle the fuming vigour of the neo-libertarians.

Unfortunately, the Greens party seem too much interested in attacking the ALP to increase their market share.  Meanwhile the corruption in the ALP Right and the union movement is currently hamstringing the pragmatic and progressive reform elements in the party, and the ALP is nowhere to be found except in lockstep with the right-wing unionists, vague statements on social media and irrelevant emails.

Now more than ever Australia needs a progressive political force that is unafraid to tackle the destructive policies and practices that are currently arrayed against Australia.

The ALP has split in the past; usually with right-wing elements peeling off to create new conservative parties, such as the United Australia Party; forerunner to the modern Liberal Party, and the Democratic Labor Party.

Perhaps now it is up to the progressive and Left in the ALP party to make a stand and plant a new banner that can be a rally point for the dozens of progressive micro-parties that sprang up at the last federal election, for environmentalists, for small businesses, for workers, for entrepreneurs. For everyone who wants better representation, not just in a leadership ballot but in building policy.  For everyone who sees the threat arrayed against our nation and its future, and wants to do something about it.

Perhaps, once again, It’s Time.

The Ides of March

Image courtesy of theaustralian.com.au

Image courtesy of theaustralian.com.au

On the 15th of March 44BC Julius Caesar was murdered, in an act reminiscent of the ritual slaughter of a sheep made to the god Jupiter during the Ides of March.

In 2014 on the Ides of March, Tasmania and South Australia are up for a state election. As is expected by the renowned Australian tradition for voting governments out, rather than voting them in, and by most indicators both the progressive Labor governments are set to be sacrificial Pharmakos.

The trouble with this strange form of political punishment is that it often hurts the citizen voter far more than the purged politicians.  As has been evidenced recently in NSW, QLD and federally, the triumphant conservative governments that have been beneficiaries of this disengaged democracy are rarely interested in what voters need, and more interested in what their corporate backers want.

Getting upset at the nightly news, or posting your ire on social media does not a good democracy make.  Progressive parties like the ALP and the Greens were built on mass movements that banded diverse people together in a fight for a better life, or to build a better balance between our industries and our environment.  As such, for these parties to function at their best requires community involvement.  Failing to get involved with, and then voting out such an elected government is like distaining to train your dog and then getting upset when it soils the carpet.

The conservative Liberal party, and their National party enablers, on the other hand is a party for the corporate and wealthy elite.  They do not need mass support, only your vote come election time.

Of course getting involved in politics is not very Australian, and many voters do not want to be interested.  Australians never had to fight for its democratic freedoms, and so are fairly blaze and ignorant about how it all works.  The result is that voters come to polls every three to four years, having put little thought into what they actually want from their government, complaining about missing out on their Saturday morning and muttering “I just don’t know who to vote for”.

Tasmania and South Australia are faced with a choice to re-elect incumbent progressive governments that they may have genuine grievances with, or bringing in libertarian conservative governments. There would seem to be little choice between the two.  However there are very large differences that a cursory look at the state and federal Liberal parties will clearly illustrate.

For those seeking to convince fellow voters, or those who may themselves be unsure, to assist you I have made a small list below of the kind of thing you can expect under a conservative government.  This list is by no means comprehensive and I am sure that most readers will be able to find far more to add:

In Queensland, the Liberal National government . . .

Cancelled the building of a new Children’s hospital, and will instead be changing it into a five-star hospital “hotel” where family members will be responsible for tending to patients around the clock.

Established a Commission of Audit to rationalize massive cuts to services, health, education, and support a program of extensive privatization.

Refused to sign up to education reform and Gonski co-funding.

Lost thousands of jobs, with unemployment up to 6.1% and rising.

Closed public schools and then sold the land to private developers.

Approved an electricity price rise of 22.6%.

Approved dredging onto the Great Barrier Reef.

Campbell Newman gave himself a pay rise, so that he is now paid the same as the President of the United States.

Established draconian “Anti-bikie” VLAD laws in an attempt to undermine social clubs associated with unionized workers in the building industry.  An industry that Campbell Newman has family ties and personal interests in.

Passed laws that allow police to enter a home without a warrant, arrest and fine a host of party $12,000 if three of his or her guests are intoxicated or use “indecent” language.

Changed Workcover laws to prevent injured workers from claiming health costs associated with an injury at work.

Sold social housing for a profit while increasing costs to the average family to the tune of $600 a year through direct and indirect taxation.

In Victoria, the Liberal Coalition government . . .

Changed protest laws so that the government can decide what a legitimate protest is, and force people to move with threat of arrest or an immediate fine of $500.

Is building a road tunnel, instead of additional and much needed public transport, that will result in huge increases in traffic congestion.

Cut $290 million from TAFE training in 2013, and is planning to cut millions more.

Cut $616 million from health funding, leading to the longest waiting lists for surgery ever – with some 55,000 people waiting months for treatment in 2013.

Courted the vote of disgraced MP Geoff Shaw by assisting him to repeal 2008 law that decriminalized abortion.

Has seen massive increases to wait times at hospital emergency rooms.

Has closed down over 2,000 beds in Victorian hospitals.

Has seen tolls, water, gas and electricity, and property rates increase at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country.

Is continuing to cut Ambulance services and is now attempting to replace trained paramedics with partly trained volunteers.

Unemployment is up to 6.4%, the worst since 2002.

In Western Australia the Liberal National Coalition . . .

Instituted a mindless Shark cull, despite being told it was a bad idea by scientists and fishermen – killing dolphins, seals, sealions, etc and attracting international derision.

Increased electricity prices 45% higher than CPI.

Cut hundreds of support staff from public schools and introduced further funding cuts to public schools.

Established an economic audit to justify cuts and privatization.

Continue to cut health funding and services.

Refused to sign up to education reform and Gonski co-funding.

Cancelled promised public transport improvements and expansions.

Continuing increases in unemployment, jumping from 4.6 to 5.1% in January 2014.

Oversaw an increase in state debt from $3.6 Billion in 2008 to over $18 Billion in 2013, all while overseeing a massive mining boom.

In NSW, the Liberal Coalition government . . .

Made massive cuts to emergency services, leading to closure of Fire Stations and longer wait times for emergency care.

Introduced laws to stop wage increases for public sector workers (including police, fire services and nurses).

Obeyed mining lobby groups and cancelled funding to environmental lawyers, and forbade any state agencies from “providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups”.

Has changed laws, at the behest of big miners like Rio Tinto, giving preference to the ‘economic benefits of coal mines over environmental and social impacts’.

Has opened up national parks to casual hunters and shooters, now wants to roll back marine parks to allow open season on fish reserves.

Sold public owned assets including electricity utilities, ferry services, and ports, leading to higher prices for consumers and huge cuts to services.

Nationally, the Federal Liberal-National government . . .

Has stated it will be pushing for the states to privatize more of their utilities, water, public transport, ports, and services – despite a recent reports from around the world that privatization has been a complete failure.

Established a Commission of Audit to rationalize massive cuts to services, health, education, and support a program of extensive privatization.

Is currently attempting to sell Medibank Private, a government corporation that actually makes money for tax payers, by hiring $2000-a-day spin doctors.

Tried to force SPC management to cut workers wages by up to 40% and cancel all conditions in return for any federal funding assistance.

Cancelled Gonski and education reform, and now Christopher Pyne currently has 2 men reviewing a curriculum that took 6 years and over 20,000 submissions to develop in order to reintroduce a more Christian education.

Has cancelled future Trades Training Centres across the nation.

Is signing up to the Trans-pacific partnership, which will give corporations the right to sue Australian state or federal governments if any changes to health, environment or any law impinge on their profits.

Apparently cancelled climate change, and tried to shut down the Clean Energy Finance corp, which is making $200 million per year for the tax payer, while contributing “more than 50 per cent of the emissions abatement that’s required for the bipartisan 2020 target”

Cancelled Equal access fibre-to-the-home NBN, and now cities, suburbs, regional centres and the bush are going to miss out on the economic and social benefits of broadband infrastructure.

Has broken 25 promises in 150 days; after spending 3 years hounding PM Gillard for breaking 1.

In conclusion

In Rome the death of Caesar saw the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the non-democratic Roman Empire.  This Ides of March sees similar creeping imperial forces on the warpath against the foundations of Australian democracy.  If Liberal-National parties are elected in the upcoming state elections the voters will suffer similar fates to those listed above.

It has fallen to the voters in Tasmania and South Australia to not simply ‘punish’ the Labor governments; but rather consider the very real difference between a progressive parliament or a regressive conservative one.

You get out of government what you put in.  Just ask any lobbyist.

More robust public debate brings more transparent and effective government.

More community involvement and regular petitions brings better policy development.

More awareness of the impact of public policy brings better economic growth and social progress.

Unlike their Liberal opponents, progressive Labor governments will listen to their electorates.

Don’t vote away your freedoms.  Let them know what you want – and get them to do it.

Do you want Welfare with that?

Image from theland.com.au

Image from theland.com.au

It’s Kevin Heaven again!  Our Welfare Warrior is back in the game and planting the flag, or wrapping it around his svelte figure, in acts of true olde time patriotism.

Such is the great work that Kevin Andrews (Photo:Jason South) performs.  Ever ready to announce a merger for efficiency, or a crackdown on welfare dependents (aka dole bludgers); he is at the front lines in Tony Abbott’s war.  The ex-workers at Holden and SPC will no doubt be thrilled to hear that after years of government & management incompetence they will face a much harder test to qualify for any welfare spending in their attempt to find new work.

With this great charge toward tightening belts on the shrinking waistlines of those unable to pay taxes, let us make some further suggestions for other areas to conduct a similar campaign to clamp down on our ballooning budget crisis by confronting those who are merely unwilling.

Global Googly

Google Australia has paid no tax on roughly $940 million in advertising revenue. Instead of sacking hundreds of ATO workers and outsourcing tax compliance for big corporations to private accountants, why not task these apparently surplus staff to crack down on global tax avoidance.

Currently individuals and corporation have Trillions of dollars ferreted away in offshore havens and secretive jurisdictions.  Money earned in one country is claimed as profits in another; so that Australian companies signing up for Google advertising are actually giving their money to an Irish arm of the search giant, thus avoiding tax on revenue.

According to the Uniting Church they are not alone.  Several listed Australian companies including News Corporation, Qantas and the ‘Big Four’ banks have subsidiaries in secrecy jurisdictions where money earned can be quietly kept from the prying eyes of the tax man.

Some may laud Kerry Packer’s quote about minimizing tax, the problem with that approach is that health, education, roads, defence, and politicians cost money.  If corporations pay less tax, the rest of us have to pay more.

Sick System

The importance of manufacturing is bandied about a great deal, and if the Australian public were interested in the long-term macro-economic consequences of purchasing imported cars and groceries then perhaps Ford, Holden & SPC would still be viable businesses.  However the $6 billion in assistance meted out to the auto industry over four years pales in comparison to the $5 billion that Private Health insurers receive every year.

Unlike cars and tinned fruit, Australians do not have a choice about health insurance.  Not if they want to avoid paying the Lifetime Health Cover fee.  As a result 9.7 million adult Australians now pay for private health insurance, roughly 57.1% of the population.  The lowest premiums start at about $45 per month, and in 2014 some premiums are slated to increase up to $300 per year.  Almost all of these attract the 30% rebate from the Commonwealth tax coffers, resulting in billions of dollars in direct subsidies.

When one also compares the inefficient 14% of income that private insurers pay on administration to the 5% costs incurred by the public insurer MediBank, one could be forgiven for wondering if all those billions could be better spent directly into the health system rather than being filtered through the pockets of corporate insurers.

Ground Breaking

Then there are everyone’s favourite martyrs, the miners.  Direct contributions by the Commonwealth to mining companies in 2012 tallied up to about $492 million.  However, thanks to generous fuel tax concessions and tax write-offs real support payments reached $4.5 Billion.

Former Howard adviser, now Minerals Council spokesman Ben Mitchell argued;

“The fuel tax was imposed to build public roads. Mining builds its own roads and that’s why we get a credit on that.”

He also insists that the $550 million in deductions claimed for exploration and prospecting are not just a cost of business, but a business input that the tax-payer should refund to them.

Keep in mind that the billion dollar hand-outs from the Commonwealth do not include what is chipped in by the states.  Queensland tax payers are funding the mining industry to the tune of $1.4 billion per year.

Would these companies be less profitable without this tax-payer assistance?  Yes, though to echo the Prime Minister, perhaps they should “Get their house in order” so that public money can be spent on building infrastructure instead of funding corporate salaries.

For example, taking only the annual $9-10 billion per year doled out to private insurers and miners (ignoring the tax dollars not collected from multi-nationals) it would only take four years to pay the additional $30 billion needed to complete the full FTTP National Broadband Network.

Like rail, ports and roads before it, FTTP infrastructure would create a new highway for business to grow and replace the failing auto manufacturers, encourage growth in dying regional areas, reduce the cost of public service delivery, and build new markets and a stronger economy that Australia can transition to as traditional manufacturing and mining continue to fade as meaningful contributors to the economy and employment.

Mr Abbott has also quoted and paraphrased American right-wing shock-jock Rush Limbaugh’s quote “No country ever taxed itself to prosperity.” To which I would reply with the inestimable wisdom of another American, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”

Selling the Golden Geese

Image

Image by author

Roll up, Roll up, Round two of the Great Howard Fire Sale is here!

We’re under New Management, so let’s have a look at what we have on the block today.

We’ve got Medibank, ACS, AGS (don’t worry about acronyms, we’ll get to them later), Australia Post, Australian Rail and state power companies.  Get your bargains here!

The Liberals and Nationals have wasted no time setting up shop again in the temple.  Apparently not satisfied with the billions of public assets sold under the Howard/Costello stewardship, the new government is looking at selling off anything that even appears to compete with private businesses, regardless of any contribution to the public good or the public purse.

Sales of public assets are often touted as solutions to a debt crisis.  The reality is they are a sugar hit for politicians to improve their numbers, and corporations to receive handouts from the public purse.

One thing always missing from the conversations about debt and privatisation is the public interest. For example, was it truly in the public interest to sell Telstra’s copper infrastructure, our major airports, or most of our gold reserves?

Public assets are historically undervalued, and when sold often undergo massive downsizing and service retractions.  In the brave new world of asset stripping and collateralized debt obligations the Australian public needs to take a closer look at what Public Corporations are, what services they provide, what they represent, and what impact their sale would have on the current shareholder… the Australian public.

ACS pty ltd
Formerly known as the Australian Submarine Corporation, this is the primary naval defence contractor for the nation, responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the Collins class submarine fleet, and is currently building our next generation Air Warfare Destroyers.

The company engages thousands of people and businesses, mainly in South & Western Australia, and took many years and billions of tax-payer investment to build it to its current capability.

A quick look at the annual report for 2013 shows that in addition to maintain and building our defence capabilities it made a reasonable return and now holds over $619 million in assets:

Return on equity         4.2%
Dividend                      $8.9 Million
Paid taxes worth         $3.2 Million

This company is a monopoly.  It is the only company in the nation capable of building military class naval vessels and the only one who can service our submarines.  This means any changes of ownership will have a direct impact on our national security.

No other company will ever be able to compete with ACS due to the massive infrastructure investment required.  How can a government put a sale price on that kind of leverage?

If the sale does go ahead, how convenient that ex-Indi rep Sophie Mirabella has been given a golden parachute to corporate boardship.   One wonders which of the large foreign defence contractors would end up owning our naval fleet capabilities, and what Mirabella’s position would be on national security versus company profits.

AGS
The Australian Government Solicitor provides legal advice to the government; it was established at Federation and set up explicitly to act in the national interest.

This is a legal practice wholly owned by the commonwealth, which has access to some of the deepest policy secrets of the government.

The AGS website proudly proclaims that it beats private firms due to its knowledge and experience of government work. The sale of the firm would be a wholesale delivery of a huge amount of expertise and knowledge into private hands.  How can there be a meaningful price tag attached to the information bank, integrity & goodwill belonging to this firm?

The high potential for conflict of interest or corruption gives pause enough.  And given that the beneficiaries would only be lawyers able to charge the tax-payer higher rates for their services; how would it be in the public interest to sell?

Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd
Responsible for over 8 thousand kilometres of interstate rail, the ARTC was established as a single entity for business to contact to arrange freight by rail throughout Australia.  Such was the importance placed on the rail that carries our mining and farming products to port, that both state and federal governments agreed to establish the integrated body.

Privatisation of rail has failed in the UK, with service cuts, fare hikes, and under-investment in infrastructure.  A situation many in Australian urban centres would be familiar with.

Similar stories of sales or deregulation of freight & mass transit exist all over the world.  In the USA the iconic Greyhound bus service now completely gutted thanks to deregulation and forced to cut services to thousands of rural towns.  The cities fare no better, with large cuts to bus & rail that disproportionally impact on low-pay workers.

Land and agricultural resources are vital to the Australian economy, this puts rail infrastructure into the ‘national security’ category.  To sell the ARTC, most likely to a foreign multinational, is to put our future prosperity up for ransom.

Medibank Private
The sale of Medibank is apparently justified by the fact that it is competing with private businesses.  The same argument could be made that Police are competing with private security firms, so should we be selling the police as well?
Medibank covers 29% of the Australian market, or approximately 3.8 Million people.  There are few health insurers who would not want a piece of that pie.  The annual report is positively glowing:

Return on equity         15.4%
Dividend                      $450 Million
Paid taxes worth         $82 Million

As part of servicing a public need Medibank launched AHM, the only insurance that actually spells out (literally in black & white) what cover you need to avoid the Medicare levy, and to stop the Lifetime Health Cover age tax.

Medibank is not a drain on the public purse; it is a leader and award winner in promoting community health; and a leader in the insurance community for high standards.

Finally, it is paying millions of dollars every year in dividends into the public purse.  Given the constant cat-calls for government to be run like a business, it is surprising that there should be opposition to a government property that is making money… for the government.  The only argument for selling Medibank is ideological, as there is no benefit to the public interest.

Australia Post
On the one hand the Liberals and Nationals want the local postie to process your Centrelink forms, on the other they want to sell it.

Given that the coalition wants to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corp, which is currently earning the tax-payer $200 million per year. It is perhaps unsurprising that they also want ape their UK Tory counterparts who forced a partial privatization of the Royal Mail in the UK in spite of increasing profits.

Some articles are already inserting misinformation about Australia Post having an “ailing bottom line”, the same tactic used by the UK Tories.  The reality is Aus Post paid a massive 18.5% return on equity last year, all “during a period when addressed letters are declining”.

Compare this to the struggles of U.S. Mail.  Some have been arguing that the problems at U.S. Mail are due to unions and no lay-off clauses.  The reality is that the organisation has been reliant on low-skill, low-pay workers to keep overheads down and failed to automate or innovate. In addition U.S. Mail has to contend with government laws that prevent managers making sensible business decisions to restructure or diversify their business base.

This is the success of the Australia Post Corporation; it continues to deliver it’s regulated community service obligations while turning a profit. It has shaken off the assumption that it was an out-of-date institution and built itself into a truly modern business that is making serious money for the tax-payer:

Return on equity         18.5%
Dividend                      $243.7 Million
Paid taxes worth         $447.3 Million

Australia Post is another huge monopoly, with massive infrastructure and service commitments. Regional Australia and many urban communities rely heavily on their post office for far more that buying stamp or sending parcels.

When you read current CEO Ahmed Fahour commenting that community service obligations are ‘stifling’ business, it is easy realise that after privatisation regional and ‘unprofitable’ services would be the first items to be stripped bare.

As illustrated above, ideologically driven arguments for privatisation do not balance when weighed against the Public Good.  Interest rates for government loans are at historical lows so debt hysteria is completely invalid.  And why sell money-making enterprises that will assist in paying back the debt?  Why sell the golden geese?

An interesting attribute that is common across all of these commonwealth companies is that they are flagships in their arenas.  This is because they serve a public need and are capable of having long-term goals beyond mere money making.  These public bodies create new markets and build new products & innovations that private enterprise does not have the courage or resources to accomplish.

The entire premise of establishing a public corporation is to allow essential services like remote mail services, or secure rail transport, to be funded by the profits from the corporation’s unregulated activities.  Australia Post is a classic example; in 2013 regulated services lost money, other services covered the loss and made a profit overall.  The original NBN Co was another; it planned to use profits from urban areas to subsidise connectivity in Regional Australia.

Far from being a two-step process toward privatisation, public corporations need to be maintained as fiscally responsible ways for government to provide for the needs of the nation and spurring innovation, while giving private businesses the opportunity to benefit from new markets and reliable delivery infrastructure.

The corporations and political enablers that prey on these public assets do not care about the base-line services that they provide, only in the short-term profits that they can cleave.

Before Australia sells off its hard-bought Tax-Payer assets, perhaps we should take a closer look and see why private corporations are so eager to get their hands on them.