Mostly Unpublished Letters ; May to August 2019 – PLS Have a Read and Discuss
Herald-Sun Letters (mostly unpublished) May-July 2019
Be Wary of Conservative Double Standards on Free Speech
“Kevin Donnelly (14/5) again makes a case for his version of freedom of speech. Of course there are problems with free speech as an ‘absolute’. We cannot allow Holocaust Denial to lead to a culture of forgetting ; or worse – to prepare the ground for future atrocities. But every time you dilute free speech as an absolute you also contribute to a growing wedge with increasing ramifications. Even as a Christian I recognise that much scripture is at odds with modern thinking , and its expression can be hurtful to various groups. At the same time faith is central to millions of peoples’ lives ; and criminalisation will lead to repression and polarisation. (Labor is not suggesting any such thing). But Donnelly needs to be more consistent. ‘Free speech’ means religious doctrines are open to criticism. ‘Free speech’ also means charities and NGOs are not blackmailed to hold their tongues in criticism of government. (as the Howard Government attempted) It means an organisation with hundreds of thousands of members like GetUp! should not find itself ‘in the crosshairs of government’ – with the intention of silencing it at elections. By all means campaign for freedom of speech – but be consistent.”
Social Insurance and Infrastructure
“A.Jensen (Your Say 30/5) attacks Labor for making social (public) investments ; and condemns NBN and NDIS as ‘unfunded’. To begin with, Labor identified a series of tax loopholes (mainly for the wealthy) which could have been closed ; saving tens of billions. But the Liberals ran a scare campaign, including the threat of some totally non-existent ‘death tax.’ Public investments often make sense ; and without them we run the risk of becoming a US-style society with enormous classes of working poor and destitute. Welfare and social insurance provide a safety net without which the unemployed, the mentally ill, the aged and so on – would find themselves homeless and desperate. Indeed, we need more money for public housing. NDIS has the potential to greatly improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable Australians. The NBN, also, was to be the information infrastructure on which the industries of the future arose. But the Coalition went for the cheaper option. Now we have cost blow-outs and inferior technology. Public investment in infrastructure and services, and collective consumption (eg: the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) is often in all our interests ; providing a ‘better deal’ ; leaving us all better off at the end of the day. “
Women’s Progress Welcome ; But Men are not ‘Essentially Bad’
“There has been welcome progress towards gender equality in recent years ; with emphasis on women’s sport ; equal representation in parliament ; debate about women’s disadvantage in the labour market, and attempts by the ALP to subsidise child care wages to rectify this in part. But as Alan Barron (Your Say 3/6) appears to recognise, there has been another side to this story whereby ‘maleness’ appears to be ascribed a ‘bad essence’. Messages to the effect ‘girls can do anything’ are positive ; but boys must not feel ‘left out’ ; as if less is expected of them. And as if ‘maleness’ is ‘toxic’. Women must be encouraged to assert themselves: to assert that “no means no” ; and men must be educated to respect this. And men and women must take special care to be certain of consent where a couple are under the influence of alcohol. But should we eliminate all spontaneity? Also the cause of gender equality has advanced in leaps and bounds. But what about class-based inequality? The struggle for gender equality needs to be but the first step in a much broader fight for equality.”
The Reality behind ‘Class Warfare’ Rhetoric
“The Herald-Sun (YS 4/6) talks about an end to “retrograde” “class warfare” from the ALP. But why is it not ‘class warfare’ when the Conservatives cut Health, Education, Welfare, public infrastructure and Social Insurance to pay for tax credits and tax cuts for the wealthy? And gradually there is a vicious cycle of bracket creep and tax cuts for the well-off which is leading in the direction of ‘flat tax’. Under which low and middle income earners would suffer. The fact is that under the Conservatives there is a constant state of class war ; which is gradually destroying our egalitarian traditions and leading us along the path of the US model: underclass, and great swathes of utterly destitute. Mixed economies with strong welfare states can be strong economies as the Nordics (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) have shown. The Herald-Sun may call it ‘class warfare’ ; but if the ALP gives up on distributive justice for workers and the disadvantaged it is giving up its core reason for being. What we need is a responsible media that stops throwing around loaded language to convince people to vote against their interests out of fear , and provides a balanced analysis instead.”
Labor and Workers must reject ‘Aspirational’ Ideology
“Lou Coppola (Your Say 10/6) condemns a ‘non-Aspirational’ Left which “denigrates” Australia. All countries have events in their histories they may now be less than proud of. But a strong democracy is capable of recognising both the good and the bad ; putting things right ; and then moving forward – our heads a bit higher. For Australia’s part seminal moments include the granting of the suffrage for men and women ; granting indigenous people the vote, and then the Keating Government observing Land Rights ; and the establishment of Medicare as a more fair and efficient alternative to a US style private health system. This does not mean there’s not room to improve with a Treaty and further extension of universal health care into areas like dental and prosthetics. Meanwhile: ‘aspirational’ Ideology around personal enrichment is a ploy for working class Australians to turn against their own interests for the sake of a pipe dream. Most working class Australians see through it ; but even if the Conservatives can convince a minority it can be electorally influential. Labor needs to confront this Ideology and maintain that tax cuts for the rich and austerity are not in the interests of workers.”
What’s at stake with the CFMMEU and ‘Ensuring Integrity’
“(14/6) “The John Setka affair is being exploited as a pretext to push through hard-right-wing anti union laws that are undemocratic and overrun citizens’ liberal rights. The proposed laws would not only see the prosecution of leaders ; but the dissolution of unions themselves, leaving workers defenceless. So much for freedom of association (And what happens to workers’ collectively-held assets via their unions?) Without collective organisation in unions, workers have no defence of their rights and interests but government. And government definitely cannot always be relied upon. Without unions and without a right to withdraw labour workers are reduced to a condition somewhat similar to slavery. Whether in defence of wages and working conditions ; or the promotion of safety ; or political industrial action to protest against unjust laws : industrial liberties must be preserved if a society is to honestly call itself liberal and democratic. The areas which are the responsibility of the CFMMEU are also highly sensitive to the power of the broader labour movement to defend workers interests’ ; and if it ever comes to it – to defend democracy itself. The CFMMEU’s strength also provides the opportunity to assist industrially weaker unions. If necessary the broad labour movement must be willing to take action to render the ‘Ensuring Integrity ‘ legislation ‘the dead letter of the law’. The case of Clarrie O’Shea in 1969 is instructive here.
Theophanous should rethink Call for Rightward Shift
“Theo Theophanous (17/6) urges Labor to ‘move to the Centre’. But the ‘Centre’ is relative, and with the Conservatives dictating the terms, it usually means shifting Right. He advocates passing the Coalition’s tax legislation in full ; avoiding ‘tax and spend’ policies. With a Recession probably looming, that would mean redistribution to the wealthy, and massive austerity down the track ; making aged care reform impossible. Without social wage and social insurance expansion ; without progressive tax ; Labor is no longer a Social Democratic Party. Labor’s problems were confusion re: policy complexity; and scare campaigns (eg: the ‘Death Tax’) which cut through ; supported by a $60 million campaign by Clive Palmer which redirected preferences. That, and high unemployment in Queensland, with the misassumption Adani would create many jobs. Labor must be ‘progressively gradualist’, arguing for moderate increased progressive taxes in the vicinity of 1% to 1.5% of GDP. (In addition to rescinding regressive Liberal Tax Cuts). It must be clear these do not hurt lower to middle income earners ; and that voters get ‘value for money’ in health, education, infrastructure, social insurance. If we accept the Coalition’s terms of reference in tax we let the Conservatives impose a ‘policy straight-jacket’ preventing social wage and social insurance expansion indefinitely.”
Need to Reforge Working Class as a “Class for Itself”
“Jeff Kennett argues that with widespread deindustrialisation and the existence of some very high wage jobs that ‘the working class no longer exists’. The working class has always included wage labourers exploited by business ; but has been widely reinterpreted to include public sector workers such as nurses and teachers. The most important aspect of being ‘working class’ is not whether one is ‘blue collar’ or ‘white collar’, but that workers must sell their labour in order to survive. What is true is that consciousness of class is falling ; partly due to a fragmentation of class identity with deindustrialisation. But the reality is that ‘as a class in itself’ the working class still exists. And the challenge for the labour movement is to restore a sense of shared identity and interest amidst diversity. To establish the working class as ‘a class for itself’. As for the prosperity Kennett alludes to ; the median wage is about approximately $53,000. Which means half of all workers earn $53,000/year or less. “
Left must not Shrink Back from the True Reality of ‘Class Warfare’
“There’s an old saying on the Left: “they only call it class warfare when we fight back”. To its discredit Labor during the election said little about the massive austerity that would necessarily follow those tax cuts. (The Coalition said nothing about this). Labor proposed a traditional centre-left platform: closing tax loopholes to deliver a modest windfall which would have enabled cancer and dental care, subsidised child care, money for TAFE and more. This is labelled ‘class warfare’. But when the Coalition restructures the tax system so workers on lower and middle incomes pay proportionately much more of the burden (moving towards a ‘flat tax’) this is lauded as ‘reform’. And also when it abolishes Penalty Rates. Labor needs the focus and resolve to emphasise the coming austerity (on hospitals, schools, aged care, infrastructure) all through this term of government. And so (in government) withdraw ‘phase 3’ which delivers $95 billion to the wealthy over only the first five years. Politics is a continual ‘tug of war’ between labour, capital and citizens. If we refuse to fight back for fear of the ‘class warfare’ label we have lost before we even begin. That’s the point of it.”
Unemployed must be Treated with Decency
“A recent Herald-Sun article was Opinion dressed up as reporting. (A.Galloway, Insult to Taxpayers, Payments to Bludgers Withheld ; 31/7). The object of the article was to inspire ‘outrage’ that job-seekers had missed appointments for possible jobs) But as the article itself concedes, mutual obligation is very severe when it comes to Newstart, and the people in question had their payments suspended. Also, Newstart payments are only approximately $40 a day ; imposing harsh conditions of poverty ; and are hardly a ‘lifestyle choice’. Those on Newstart are hard pressed to feed themselves and put a roof over their head, let alone pay for smart clothes, a computer and so on – necessary in the modern world to search for work. For many: disabled, older unemployed, regional unemployed – the search for work is almost hopeless. And yet we persist with promoting this loathing for the unemployed. The real point of this regime is to create a ‘whip of hunger and utter destitution’ so jobseekers are forced to take any job no matter the pay and conditions. This ‘reserve army of labour’ provides employers with ‘the whip hand’ and helps drive down wages and conditions for hundreds of thousands of other jobseekers.”
‘The Age’ Letters May to July 2019 (Mostly unpublished)
Democracy and the ‘Fair Go’ at Stake as Labor considers its Options
“(26/5) If Labor abandons distributive justice it more or less abandons its reason for being. Labor needs to commission research from a multiplicity of sources to minimise the chances for error. Then it needs to actively campaign in order to restore support for a traditional social democratic redistributive agenda; which restores progressivity to the tax system with a focus on corporations and the top 10%. And also full indexation of the bottom few tax brackets. Issues like superannuation tax concessions remain crucial for the Budget and distributive justice ; costing tens of billions annually. Labor also needs to explain how the mix of bracket creep and regressively-structured tax cuts make the income tax system more and more unfair. Labor needs a deep and broad policy agenda. But Morisson’s victory shows how a narrow and negative message can ‘cut through’. As well as the shallow but effective construction of the ‘ScoMo’ ‘everyman’ persona. But is democracy viable any longer when the ‘Power Resources’ of the Right are overwhelming ; where a billionaire can buy an election ; where the Murdoch monopoly mass print media has so little effective competition ; and the Government is canvassing legislation to ban GetUp! From campaigning?”
Why the Anti-Union Stance at ‘The Drum’?
“The other night watching ‘The Drum’ on the ABC I was appalled to see a virtual consensus that anti-union laws enabling the deregistration of unions who take unprotected industrial action could be justified. The line of argument seemed to be that since corporations should be accountable if breaking the law, so too should unions. But what this all really begs is the question of whether or not workers should have a right to withdraw their labour – full stop. This issue is now much bigger than John Setka and whatever indiscretions he has made. The proposed laws could be a weapon with which to break the labour movement in this country. As Sally McManus argued some time ago now – laws are not necessarily right. Sometimes civil disobedience is justified – including industrial action. If unions cannot take industrial action workers’ options are very limited to defend their interests. We cannot let John Setka be used as a cover for union-busting legislation which will weaken workers conditions, rights, strength and liberties in this country.”
‘The Age’ Shifts Right on Tax Debate
“The Age (22/6) argues that middle and high income earners will pay some of the highest income taxes in the world without the Conservatives’ $160 billion tax cut plan. But ‘The Age’ has been unclear what it means by ‘middle income’ in the past. In fact the Median (ie: middle) income is approximately $53,000/year. $120,000/year is actually a very high income compared with most. Also the gap between Australian and OECD average tax rates is almost 7 percentage points (or approaching $119 billion/year). The Coalition’s tax cuts would mean massive austerity (worse in a recession) ; and maybe some of the gap would be made up by raising the GST (as in many European countries with their VATs) and a negative distributive outcome for genuine low and middle income earners. Raising the top threshold of the 32.5% tax bracket from $120,000 to $200,000 would very significantly ‘flatten’ the overall system. Some other countries may also have inheritance taxes, wealth taxes, strong land taxes ; but Australia has always depended highly on income tax. The trend is towards less equality. But we don’t HAVE to follow the trend. And there was a time I expected better from ‘The Age’.”
Welcome Consideration on Civics Education in Victoria: But Stronger Action Necessary
“It was good to read that the Victorian State Government is set to emphasise Civics education (17/7), partly in response to the voices of students themselves. This must include processes, parties and institutions: but it must be about more than this as well. Education for active and critical citizenship must explore interests, values and pathways to civic activism. That includes “ideological literacy”: an appreciation of the political spectrum from far left to centre, and to the far right. As well as libertarian and authoritarian influences. Importantly: there need to be nuanced understandings. Political categories like ‘social democracy’, ‘liberalism’, ‘democratic socialism’, ‘conservatism’ have historically meant different things to different people. Opportunities for activism include parties, representative democracy, and social movements. The aim is not to indoctrinate: but rather this calls upon the professionalism of teachers to impart knowledge, wisdom and understanding in an inclusive way. Students should go out into the world ready to participate as active and informed citizens ; always ready to widen their horizons and make informed political decisions and interventions. This is about empowerment ; and that empowerment is good for democracy.”
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