By Dr George Venturini*
‘Is the Abbott Government Fascist?’ (continued)
When [Prime Minister Robert James Lee] ‘Bob’ Hawke came to power in 1983, the government set the level of interest rates, the Australian dollar and tariffs, and wages were set centrally by the Industrial Relations Commission. When Labor left office in 1996 the government had virtually abolished tariffs, had ceded control over interest rates to an independent Reserve Bank, the value of the dollar and wages to market forces and had privatised the Commonwealth Bank [founded in December 1911 by the Commonwealth Bank Act, introduced by the Andrew Fisher Labor Government, which favoured bank nationalisation] and QANTAS [which began life in November 1920 and is now held with a 51 per cent share by the Australian Government]. The Hawke-Keating government reduced corporate taxes from 49 to 33 cents in the dollar, and the personal tax rate from 60 cents to 47 cents. The wages share of GDP fell from around 61.5 per cent of GDP to less than 55 per cent, which amounted to a transfer of $50 billion from workers to the already very rich. These changes, by a Labor government, in fact did more than the Fraser [the co-conspirator and beneficiary of the 1975 Royal coup] or Howard Liberal governments to increase inequality, decimate union strength and erode Labor’s own support-base in the working class.”
This transformation, the biggest in the Australian economy since the second world war, was achieved by deregulating controls over business and letting market forces settle prices. Inevitably, corporate profits rose more than did wages. The distribution of this new wealth relied not on taxes so much as on the ’trickle-down effect’: rich people buying more things meant more employment for the less privileged.
“When [Prime Minister Paul John] Keating brought in compulsory superannuation, people’s super funds were locked into the stock market, forcing them to be party to preserving the neoliberal desideratum of annual growth. While the middle class are in real terms wealthier today than they ever were, an underclass of unemployed and under-privileged people are much poorer. By its nature, neoliberalism forces the gap between rich and poor wider and wider.”
The new experiment with Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd (December 2007 to June 2010), later with Prime Minister Julia Eileen Gillard (June 2010 to June 2013) and again with Rudd (June to September 2013) did not depart from the accepted Neo-Liberal order of things.
Towards the end of that tormented period of government/s, a distracted populace had not noticed the solemn commitment undertaken on 4 April 2013 by the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at the 70th anniversary of the Institute of Public Affairs, the leading free-market think-tank. The venue was the great stone-and-glass National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne; tickets to the gala dinner cost a minimum of AU$ 500 per head, and an auction to raise funds for the I.P.A. featured prizes including a guided tour of the Reagan Ranch in California and a behind the scenes Fox News ‘experience’ in New York City, including a meeting with host Bill O’Reilly. In attendance at the Dinner were – amongst others: Mrs Gina Rinehart, who received the I.P.A.’s prestigious ‘Free Enterprise Leadership Award’, Cardinal George Pell, Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who delivered the event’s keynote address, and Tony Abbott in his official capacity. In Abbott’s speech there were many references to God, The Bible, and of course faith, freedom – as ‘sung’ by Tennyson, capitalism with a social conscience, western civilisation, John Howard and Murdoch of whom Abbott said that he is “probably the Australian who most shaped the world”, “a corporate citizen of many countries”.
Abbott had previously rejected the suggestion made in an August 2012 in the I.P.A. Review that he should “Be like Gough [Whitlam]: 75 radical ideas to transform Australia”, but he accepted to leave a lasting impact – and secure his place in history – by implementing as many as possible of a long agenda for action.
Here is the list:
- Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it
- Abolish the Department of Climate Change
- Abolish the Clean Energy Fund
- Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
- Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council
- Repeal the renewable energy target
- Return income taxing powers to the states
- Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
- Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
- Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
- Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
- Repeal the National Curriculum
- Introduce competing private secondary school curriculums
- Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
- Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced’
- Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law
- End local content requirements for Australian television stations
- Eliminate family tax benefits
- Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
- Means-test Medicare
- End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
- Introduce voluntary voting
- End mandatory disclosures on political donations
- End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
- End public funding to political parties
- Remove anti-dumping laws
- Eliminate media ownership restrictions
- Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
- Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency
- Cease subsidising the car industry
- Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
- Rule out federal funding for 2018 Commonwealth Games
- Deregulate the parallel importation of books
- End preferences for Industry Super Funds in workplace relations laws
- Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a percentage of GDP
- Legislate a balanced budget amendment which strictly limits the size of budget deficits and the period the federal government can be in deficit
- Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database
- Repeal plain packaging for cigarettes and rule it out for all other products, including alcohol and fast food
- Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities
- Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
- Repeal the alcopops tax
- Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:
a) Lower personal income tax for residents
b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
c) Encourage the construction of dams
- Repeal the mining tax
- Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
- Introduce a single rate of income tax with a generous tax-free threshold
- Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25 per cent
- Cease funding the Australia Network
- Privatise Australia Post
- Privatise Medibank
- Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
- Privatise SBS
- Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784
- Repeal the Fair Work Act
- Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
- Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors
- Abolish the Baby Bonus
- Abolish the First Home Owners’ Grant
- Allow the Northern Territory to become a state
- Halve the size of the Coalition front bench from 32 to 16
- Remove all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
- Slash top public servant salaries to much lower international standards, like in the United States
- End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
- Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport
- End all hidden protectionist measures, such as preferences for local manufacturers in government tendering
- Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
- Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship
- Means test tertiary student loans
- Allow people to opt out of superannuation in exchange for promising to forgo any government income support in retirement
- Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built
- End all government funded Nanny State advertising
- Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
- Privatise the CSIRO
- Defund Harmony Day
- Close the Office for Youth
- Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme
At the I.P.A. Dinner in April 2013, five months before the election which brought him to office, Abbott declared: “I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver one billion dollars in red-tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN. So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big ‘yes’ to many of the seventy-five specific polices you urged upon me in that particular issue of the magazine – but Gough Whitlam I will never be !”
Yet, for several days before Polling Day, 7 September 2013, Abbott used all available media repeatedly to reassure the populace that under his own government there would have been “No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no changes to the G.S.T. and no cuts to the A.B.C. or S.B.S.”
It was a blatant, conscious, premeditated lie: by April 2015 every one of those promises had been broken.
Out of the list of 75 points, nos. 1, 2, 30, 43, 44, 47 and 49 were enacted. Several promises made at the I.P.A. Dinner were kept in part only. Difficulties with The Greens and some of the other senators partially affected nos. 3, 18, 23, 50, 52, 53, 60, 64 and 69.
Other proposals were tried but failed. This concerned nos. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 29 and 72.
Only points 1) for the repeal of the carbon tax and 43) for the repeal of the mining tax had been mentioned during the electoral campaign.
By the time Tony Abbott lost his prime ministership to Malcolm Turnbull on 14 September 2015 he had left behind 478 breaches of promise to the Australian electorate, at least as calculated by a very diligent Sally McManus. (‘Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage’, accessible at www.facebook.com).
Private correspondence indicates that Professor Biggs still has some reservations on an affirmative answer to the question whether Fascism is creeping into Australia.
In early April 2014 Paul Cannon was observing that “In the current federal government there is:- a complete disdain for human rights (treatment of indigenous communities, gay people, people who need welfare support payments, disability pensioners, refugees); – they have manipulated the population by identifying an enemy and scapegoats (“terrorists”, Muslims, refugees); – the military is not supreme but it is being utilised for civilian purposes, therefore it has been elevated (customs and border control, the indigenous intervention); there is sexism (as demonstrated by Abbott, Pyne and Bernardi among others), and to add – Umberto Eco writes that fascism thrives on creating fear over difference; – there is a sense of control by cronyism with media, and there is censorship in regard to the refugees coming by boat; – there is an obsession (pathological) with national security; – religion is not intertwined but members of the government use their religious affiliation as a bargaining point and they use religious rhetoric to push agendas (Bernardi on the traditional family – whatever that was or is); – corporate power is definitely protected, even exclusively with environmental considerations, workers rights, and community needs overlooked; – the corollary is that labour power is suppressed by legislative means; – there is an unmitigated obsession with crime and punishment (this would be more true of State rather than Federal government but it is present in both).”
Umberto Eco had already made the point that the very first appeal of a Fascist movement is the appeal against the intruders (find a scapegoat and you control a large portion of the voting public).
So – asked Cannon – is Australia Fascist? Well no – he said – not in the historical sense of 1920 or 1933, “but there is an alarming trend towards fascist methodology (whether overtly or otherwise) and there is a trend towards corporate control, which is a move away from the rights of groups and individuals, and there is a disregard for our international treaty obligations.
The government clearly uses manipulation of the population as to be judged by the government rhetoric that is parroted back on talk back radio by the public often couched in fear ( the refugees would be the clear issue here). There is a disdain for the environment too. And in the proposed education review there is a desire by the education minister to go back in time in terms of how we present contemporary history, labour history, indigenous history, international history (it was Herman Goering who liked the phrase “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”).
The fourteen points demonstrate that what is at stake is freedom, language, history, culture, national identity, and human rights. Fascism is an attitude, albeit a political one, but one that pervades the way governments think and behave.”
“With seven of the fourteen points by Britt recognisable in current government action and rhetoric there should be more concern in the community about our identity as a nation and therefore our future as a nation. Umberto Eco puts it well when he says “Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plain clothes.”
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.
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