Long-term Brisbane community activist and trade unionist Adrian Skerritt spoke at the National Welfare March rally in Brisbane on Sunday 12 July 2015. Adrian is a member of the Cloudland Collective, an organisation which “stands for broadbased campaigning in defence of jobs, services and civil liberties and opposes the neoliberalism of the LNP & G20.”
In his well-received speech Adrian referred to the Cloudland Collective’s “Notes For A just Society” discussion paper, a broad analysis of the issues confonting Australia and a list of positive suggestions for recalibrating the organisational settings and parameters of our society.
Here is a transcript of Adrian’s speech, followed by The “Notes For A Just Society” discussion paper:
“Rallies like this are so important. Just to return to last year – wherever Campbell Newman went he encountered protests. Whatever the issue – closure of schools, nursing homes, attacks on civil liberties, there were people like us demanding that these our services and rights be protected.
Our rallies and protests showed that that Newman wasn’t a good premier, that his government stood for nothing more than greed and the power of the market. Those who protested, people like us, played an important role in removing that horrible govt. Protest works. Now it’s time to think about ways to get rid of Abbott and ensure that a new government is clear that the damage he has caused must be fixed.
We are here today to defend an important principle. That a compassionate society will always help people who are struggling. We reject the neo-liberal concepts of mutual responsibility, of the deserving poor. We reject the notion that poverty is something people do to themselves.
If you are struggling then you are entitled to help. Not Abbott’s idea – just enough to keep people alive. But enough to live with dignity, to have a life that is happy and meaningful.
Because at the moment that chance is being denied to the homeless of South East Queensland, denied to parents who have to rely on casual work to look after their children. Welfare is not a burden, it’s not an embarrassment. It is a core part of a compassionate, democratic society.
To improve things, Abbott must go. We can’t leave it there. If you look at Canberra today you don’t get a sense there’s much will to make things better. Far too much agreement on attacking refugees, and scapegoating Muslims. Far too much agreement about digging up coal.
We cannot achieve the meaningful, long-lasting change we need by simply voting Abbott out because the Australian economy is rigged, rigged in favour of the rich.
If you are born in one postcode, no matter your talents, you will get a good education, a nice home and you will live a long time. If you are born in another, you are likely to be denied a tertiary education, battle poor health and die early. Inequality is so dangerous. It is bad for your health. Even the IMF agrees.
We need a movement committed to genuine democracy and equality. We put together the document ”Notes for a Just society” to help the discussion.
I would like to talk about a couple of key ideas. Copies are available today, not a manifesto or anything like that – some ideas that can people add to, delete things, reorganise.
At the heart of a different society is a just economy that everyone shapes. The riches we see in Australia have been created by working people. Even though we work incredibly hard we are paid only a fraction of what we are worth.
Working people should not be just another entry in the company’s books or things to be chewed up and spat out while someone pursues a political career. The minimum wage must be massively increased and every worker should have the right to join a union and take industrial action.
And if the wealth in society has been mostly created by the majority, no government has the right to sell that wealth off, to privatise it, to let market forces wreck it.
We will not allow public health and education to become thoroughly marginal. Public hospitals and schools are far better at educating people and keeping them healthy than the private sector. So much better.
And when economic matters are being discussed, we all have a right to have a say. Where to invest, what to build, should be our call. This is why the people of Greece are so inspirational. The creditors said that there should be no referendum, that ordinary people can’t understand these financial matters.
Who better to understand austerity that those made to suffer because it. The Greek people took their chance to have the say about these weighty, complicated issues and said – no to austerity.
How much to pay a pensioner is not something to be decided on in a boardroom or a cabinet meeting. That’s what the people of Greece have taught us. Real democracy is the majority of people directing the economy.
So when Abbott wants to punish the unemployed, when he wants to attack Indigenous people who wish to live in remote areas, when he wants to cut funding to the ABC we gather together and say “no”.
And when he tries to create a distraction to the economic suffering he has caused by attacking Muslims we reach out to our Muslim neighbours, our Muslim work colleagues and stand with them.
Last year global private wealth last year grew by 12% or $17.5 trillion. In Australia the richest 20% earn 70 times as much as the poorest 20% and the gap between rich and poor is increasing.
Don’t let anyone say “we are facing tough times and we are all in this together”. We should never have to sacrifice – we didn’t create the trouble. We don’t have to accept cuts. There’s a lot of wealth in Australia – it just needs to be shared equally.”
Notes for a Just Society
1 Land rights. The creation of the modern world economy, a system that has generated poverty and grotesque inequality, required the dispossession of indigenous land. This has especially been the case in Queensland. Dispossession was and remains an act of deception and violence. Before the arrival of fences, mines and grazing animals, the land was at the heart of successful Indigenous communities. Indigenous people should remain custodians of their land.
2 Freedom of speech and the right to assemble. Residents of the city have had to fight for space to assemble and debate important issues. It often seems like every square inch of the city belongs to a corporation or a government body committed to protecting corporate interests. Year by year civil rights are eroded as more glittering malls are built. The battle for free speech and the right to demonstrate must be won.
3 The public sector and neo-liberalism. The rise of neo-liberal economic and social policies seriously threatens the public sector. Politicians such as Thatcher, Reagan, Blair, Keating and Howard have argued that the market is the best vehicle for allocating resources and instilling each citizen with sense of responsibility. Poverty is depicted as something that people bring upon themselves by making the “wrong choices” rather than being the result of deep seated economic problems. This rhetoric has been accompanied by the transfer of resources from social services to projects that exclusively benefit the corporate sector. The transfer has been achieved through outsourcing, competition and corporatisation.
a) We will not allow the public health and education to become thoroughly marginal, cash starved relics only for the truly poor. Public hospitals and schools are far better at educating citizens and keeping them healthy than the private alternatives.
b) Scientific research is best conducted by the public sector. Organisations such as CSIRO are well placed to concentrate the best scientific minds on a project and curb the impact of corporate interests on the direction and perceived value of the research. Funding to CSIRO should be immediately restored.
c) The public service should be strengthened so that it can effectively deliver social infrastructure programs. Public servants should be respected by government and “frank and fearless” advice should be highly valued.
d) Corporate taxes should be massively increased in order to fund public services.
4 Workers’ rights. The riches we see in the world today have been created by working people. Even though we work incredibly hard and possess a deep understanding of how to do things better we are paid only a fraction of what we are worth and our creative input is not valued.
a) We demand that the minimum wage be significantly increased so that all workers experience a standard of living well above the poverty line.
b) Every worker should have right to join a union and take strike action to improve their wages and conditions.
c) Every worker should have the ability to engage in solidarity action to support other workers without fear of prosecution. Employers have at their disposal the immense powers of the police and the courts to help them protect their interests. We have solidarity to defend ours.
5 Women. There is still a long way to go to achieve women’s liberation. Every victory has been hard fought for and these gains need to be defended each day. The neo liberal assault on employment and services disproportionately affects women. Accompanying women’s precarious position in the economy are the deeply shocking levels of domestic violence experienced by women.
a) Access to legal and free abortion on demand.
b) Women must receive shelter and support when they leave a violent and abusive partner and not face homelessness.
c) Women should receive equal pay.
d) Women must be supported to participate and play leading roles in civil society. Men will do the ironing.
6 Welfare. The true measure of a compassionate society is the quality of support it offers those citizens who struggle to obtain a decent standard of living.
a) People with disabilities should be generously supported by the government and presented with opportunities to engage in meaningful work for which they would receive a just wage. They should not be subjected to humiliating “reviews” of their disability.
b) Economic turmoil frequently locks millions out of work. When people experience unemployment they should be adequately supported by the government.
7 Climate justice. We are rapidly approaching dangerous tipping points which may very well result in the release of vast quantities of devastating emissions from the arctic tundra and the ocean floor. To prevent global catastrophe a number of measures need to be implemented.
a) Governments should back and invest in renewable energy. This would create millions of green jobs.
b) Public transport systems should be extended and made free to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home.
c) Government should stop subsidizing carbon polluters. Big polluters and carbon extractors should be made responsible for all damage, waste, and other by-products and effects of their extraction, consumption and production.
8 No borders. One of the truly remarkable things about a globalised world is the existence of culturally diverse communities. People flee economic turmoil and war to start a new life in vibrant multi-ethnic communities. Political leaders divert attention away from the hardship many experience and the profound challenges facing our planet by directing anger towards refugees and migrants.
a) We defend the right of all people across the world to cross borders to seek a better life.
b) We demand that all people being held in detention, both on the Australian mainland and in the Pacific, be immediately released into communities here.
c) We condemn those politicians and media outlets who demonise some of the most desperate and vulnerable people in the world.
9 Housing. Every citizen should have affordable housing. Government policy encourages speculation in property inflating property values and driving up rent. This has created a housing crisis. In 1985 a home cost 3.2 times the average income whereas today it costs 6.5 times the average income. Workers are nearing retirement still owing money on a mortgage.
a) The government must significantly boost spending on social housing. Rent should not exceed 10% of a tenant’s income.
b) Quality emergency housing needs to be instantly available.
10 Democracy. Parliamentary democracy and the vote are the result of a significant historic compromise. Around the world citizens fought for genuine participation in politics. Their rulers felt threatened by these aspirations and so aimed to democracy. The result of this contest has often been parliamentary democracy.
a) It is vital to defend parliamentary democracy even though it is limited. For the majority it is the most important site of politics. Candidates who campaign around human rights and strong redistributive measures should be supported. If such candidates can be elected they can help use their position to help legitimatise democratic demands.
b) Genuine democracy goes beyond the parliamentary democracy framework. Genuine democracy involves citizens participating in democratic decision making. Broad mass meetings can be convened to resolve political and economic issues. Delegates can be elected to represent that meeting at central meetings. Crucially local forums have the capacity to recall their delegates at any time.
c) Democracy is not real if economic matters are not subject to democratic processes. Decisions about how resources are allocated and what services and goods should be produced should be made by the workers involved in their production with the citizens whom the products affect.
Adrian Skerritt is a member of the Cloudland Collective, an organisation which “stands for broadbased campaigning in defence of jobs, services and civil liberties and opposes the neoliberalism of the LNP & G20.”
Adrian would like to hear your feedback on “Notes For A Just Society”.