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Tag Archives: income inequality

An Open Letter to the corporations and people of the 1%

Dear Winners,

Congratulations on all your achievements. You have all played the game of capitalism like absolute champions, and you are, without doubt, superlative operatives of the capitalist system. Kudos to you.

Obviously it has taken a huge amount of vision, hard work, guts and determination to get you to where you are now, and I think every one agrees you should be duly compensated for all your (and your employees) efforts; and I am personally relieved to know that you have all been sufficiently remunerated so as to never want for anything ever again. Once again, kudos to you.

While I am absolutely dazzled by your stellar successes, there are a few things about the way you conduct your lives and businesses that I find quite baffling, and I was hoping you might be able to clear up my confusion.

Firstly, I want to share a little something with you that we in the 99% have known for quite some time . . .

YOU’VE WON ALREADY!

With the richest 85 people in the world now owning the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, there can be no question, in the game of acquisition you are the undisputed winners. NO CONTEST!

So here’s what puzzles me . . . Do you not realise the game is over and that you have won? Because quite honestly the way you are carrying on, it’s like a boxer relentlessly pummelling an opponent that is passed out on the ropes, it’s just not sportsmanlike, and really, it’s not making you look good.

starving

In spite of all your wealth and unmitigated successes you continue to slash real wages, cut costs, off shore, out source, trim benefits, buy off politicians, lobby for favourable legislation, dodge taxes, and exploit loopholes with a staggering rapacity. In your relentless drive for profit you mercilessly exploit sub living wages, control the public discourse through your media domination, and poison and pollute our world with utter impunity.

poverty 2

So my question is this . . . why are you continuing to play hard ball when you have so clearly already won? Surely at a certain point the figures displayed on your profit statements must start to seem fairly abstract? What on earth are you hoping to achieve? Do you really need a better quarterly result? What for? You already have everything that money could possibly buy you. And quite frankly if being stupefyingly wealthy hasn’t made you happy yet, it’s bordering on disillusion to think that a few more zeros on your balance sheet are going to do the trick.

And if you are truly happy with all you have achieved, then don’t you think it might be just the teensiest bit psychopathic to keep on punching when the fight is so clearly over?

While I personally find your unabated appetite for capital acquisition somewhat unfathomable, it obviously makes perfect sense to you, (either that or you have never actually sat down to analyse the broader costs and benefits of your chosen course). Given the utter pain, despair and deprivation suffered by the world’s poor, (such as the average Bangladeshi garment worker who works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in dangerous, overcrowded conditions for a paltry $38 a month), I am sure you must have some very good reasons for your steadfast persistence in squeezing those at the bottom even harder. Although I struggle to understand what those reasons may be I have, in my speculations, come up with a few possibilities.

1. You are competing amongst and against yourselves.

I suspect there is a fair bit of this going on among you 1% ers’. It’s not enough that you have well and truly surpassed the 99%, (it would appear that that victory has long since lost it’s taste); now it’s just a competition between you 1% er’s to see who’s got the biggest bank account/company/summer house/yacht.

forbes billionairs

I find it difficult to attach any other motive to the recent attempt by Rupert Murdoch (one of your most famous poster boys) to acquire Time Warner. At 85 years of age, the builder and controller of the largest News Empire on the planet is still playing for more? Doesn’t he realise that to most people this just looks like the chest beating, ego pumping manoeuvre of a recently cuckolded old man trying desperately to prove that he’s still top dog? Kind of tragic really, and a little undignified.

The sad fact is this is not a game that can be won, no matter how much you’ve got you will always want more, it’s a bottomless bucket of desire.

So let me say it once again ; if you in the 1% can not be content with what you have already achieved, then trust me, one more victory is not going to help.

2. You are simply acting out of blind habit and you have never bothered to stop and question what you are actually doing?

I am willing to bet that this is bottom line for quite a number of you. You learnt the rules, and you’ve played the game so hard and so long that it’s the only game you now know. You live for the sport of it, the hunt, the chase, the endless craving for that next conquest; the ruthless reduction of wages, the corporate take over, the quarterly profit statement, the pumping up of your share price, the tucking of another politician snuggly into your pocket, this is your heroin.

handcuffed-to-money

You are, for want of a better word, addicted to the game. If this indeed is the case then let me remind you of something I am sure you already know; addiction is not a road to happiness! It is an itch you can never scratch in an endless cycle of craving and pain, and it effects every one around you (and not in good way).

3. You are completely ignorant about the suffering you are causing others?

This is a bit of a stretch, but I am prepared to concede that SOME OF YOU may have spent so little time out in the big, wide, underprivileged world, have spent your lives so steeped in privilege as to have no idea of the havoc you are wreaking, the pain you are causing, and the abject poverty you are creating.

mansion homeless 1

That said it’s worth remembering that ignorance is no excuse, neither in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of those whose necks you are so gleefully standing on.

4. You still feel genuinely insecure?

I realise that most people wouldn’t suspect it, but there is some research that suggests the richer you are the more insecure you feel, if this is true then you 1% er’s must be living in an absolute paranoid lather; worried that people don’t really care about you and are just drawn to your money, or maybe just fearful that you might loose your money. Clearly your answer to this is to get more money (so you will still have some left if and when you loose a wad) and surround yourselves with other hyper rich people, (who have enough money not to be eyeing off yours).

fear of poverty

At the risk of repeating myself; if you in the 1% can not feel secure with what you have already have, then trust me, a bit more money is not going to help.

5. You simply don’t care about others?

I admit I find this highly unlikely. I am sure you love your family and friends, and would go to great lengths to protect them. What maybe the case however is that you do not experience yourselves as part of the broader human family; and thus those that are not known to you personally are too abstract to you to evoke your natural caring human instincts.

homeless america please help

This disconnect is broadly supported by a media narrative that casts the “have nots” as either lacking in the smarts to get ahead, or as shiftless lazy leaners trying to gouge a free ride, which makes it much easier to see them as deserving of their wretched fate, (after all, they are not hard working, self made actualisers like you and your cohorts).

While I understand you may find this narrative very comforting, and a perfectly adequate justification for your modus operandi, that doesn’t make it true. Even here in the west there are plenty of people working 2-3 jobs, 80 hours or more just to subsist, so you could not call them lazy. And does a person possessed of an average or lower intelligence really deserve to be denied a decent life just because they were born sub-brilliant?

6. You have never read the history of the French Revolution?

Perhaps you are not aware that history is awash with stories where the peasants decide that quietly starving is not a viable option and have taken up arms against their wealthy oppressors. And as a general rule when they get their hands on them, they kill them!

Now I’m not agitating for that, I don’t want to see you, or anyone else killed; but it’s worth noting that when legislation is passed making it illegal to feed the homeless, when you cut off the water to supply to poorest 1/3 of a city, when you squeeze wages and benefits to the point where employees need to work 3 jobs, never get to see their children and can barely make rent. When you smash unions, or fail to pay your taxes so their is no money for social support…. you need to understand you are creating an environment you may not be able to control. Keep playing hard ball and eventually THE PITCH FORKS WILL COME!

french revolution

7. You are genuinely unaware of your power to effect change?

With the stroke of a pen the Walton family could raise tens of millions out of abject poverty, and it wouldn’t make a whip of difference to them personally; they wouldn’t have to go without anything. NIKE could raise the wages of it’s manufacturing staff to a living standard, and all it would cost them would be one or two less basketball players in an ad.

How is it that you guys are not doing this? Don’t you get it? YOU HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE A BETTER WORLD for millions and millions of people.

Bill Gates gets it, Oprah gets it, Bob Geldof gets it, Nick Hanauer gets it, Bill Liao gets it, and whether or not you like their choices, they are all out there pitching for a better world.

I realise the system has it’s own momentum, and you are just going with the flow, but the system is causing insane amounts of grief and suffering for billions of people.

We have more than enough food to feed the planet, but people are starving; we have cities full of empty houses and streets full of homeless people; we have amazing medicines and people dying for lack of access; there are cities with water supplies denying clean water to citizens. Does this seem right to you?

What kind of life should a person working full time be able to afford? Should they be able to afford a house, food and water, healthcare and an education for their children? I really want to know your thoughts on this, because it looks to me like you think a living wage is way too high?

But seriously, would it kill you to pay living wages?

So I am asking you, the 1% er’s, what exactly is your end game? Pushing billions of people into crushing poverty so you can die with a bigger bank balance? Is that really what you want for your legacy? Does that make you happy? Because if not, then maybe it’s time you guys stirred things up a bit; raised some wages, paid some taxes perhaps, who knows, maybe working towards a better world for ALL of our human family will be the trick! It might seem like a crazy idea, but it’s worth a try.

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Upside down downunder

We sure do things upside down downunder.

Tony Abbott’s chief business adviser first tells us we are unprepared for global cooling, followed by lashing out at the UN response to the Ebola outbreak and labelling the world body a “refuge of anti-western authoritarians bent on achieving one-world government”.

Newman wrote an opinion piece for the Australian newspaper in which he said the UN’s “leanings are predominantly socialist and antipathetical to the future security and prosperity of the west”.

“The philosophy of the UN is basically anti-capitalist,” he writes. “Countries that pay the most dues, mostly rich Anglo countries, are those to which the world body shows the greatest disdain.”

Is he suggesting that we should receive foreign aid in thanks for using up all of the world’s resources while killing the planet?

Aside from Maurice Newman’s bizarre ravings, our inaction on climate change, our inadequate response to the Ebola crisis, the chief executive of Whitehaven Coal telling us that coal “may well be the only energy source” that can address man-made climate change, and the sheer bastardry of cutting real wages and entitlements to defence personnel as we send them off to war…..we are also ignoring the call from the rest of the world to take action to address income inequality.

Despite being one of the richest nations on earth, one in seven Australians are living in poverty. Thirty per cent of Australians who receive social security payments live below the poverty line, including 55 per cent of those on unemployment benefits. Fifteen per cent of aged pensioners live in poverty.

So it seems unfathomable as to why these people would be targeted when the government is looking for savings.

Since 1980, the richest 1 percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which the IMF have data.

In the US, the share of income taken home by the top one percent more than doubled since the 1980s, returning to where it was on the eve of the Great Depression. In the UK, France, and Germany, the share of private capital in national income is now back to levels last seen almost a century ago.

The 85 richest people in the world, who could fit into a single London double-decker, control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population– that is 3.5 billion people.

With facts like these, it is no wonder that rising inequality has risen to the top of the agenda—not only among groups normally focused on social justice, but also increasingly among politicians, central bankers, and business leaders.

Our politicians are telling us that they want to provide the opportunity for each person to be their best selves but the reality is that we do not have equal opportunity. Money will always buy better-quality education and health care, for example. But due to current levels of inequality, too many people in too many countries have only the most basic access to these services, if at all. Fundamentally, excessive inequality makes capitalism less inclusive. It hinders people from participating fully and developing their potential.

Disparity also brings division. The principles of solidarity and reciprocity that bind societies together are more likely to erode in excessively unequal societies. History also teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots.

A greater concentration of wealth could—if unchecked—even undermine the principles of meritocracy and democracy. It could undermine the principle of equal rights proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Redistributive policies always produce winners and losers. Yet if we want capitalism to do its job—enabling as many people as possible to participate and benefit from the economy—then it needs to be more inclusive. That means addressing extreme income disparity.

One way to address this is through a progressive tax system but instead, our government is looking at regressive measures like increasing the fuel excise and the GST. These will impact far more greatly on low income earners.

Another avenue is to expand access to education and health but instead, our government is cutting needs-based education funding, making the cost of tertiary education prohibitive, and introducing a co-payment to discourage people from seeing the doctor.

Abbott, Hockey and Cormann assure us that if we make the rich richer we will all benefit. Everyone from the Pope to Rupert Murdoch knows this is rubbish.

Two weeks ago In Washington, in a speech to the world’s most powerful finance ministers and central bankers, Rupert Murdoch accused them of making policies to benefit the super rich.

In it, he blamed the leaders for increasing inequality, said the ladder of generational progress was now at risk, and warned that a moment of great global reckoning had arrived.

I note that his criticism of poor policy does not stop him from taking advantage of said policies. “I’ll only be as good as you make me be” seems to be the prevailing principle.

Hockey’s response to Murdoch’s barrage was interesting.

“Certainly, as he says, loose monetary policy has helped people who own a lot of assets to become richer, and that’s why loose monetary policy needs to be reversed over time, and we’ll get back to normal levels of monetary policy, normal levels of interest rates,” Mr Hockey told AM’s presenter Chris Uhlmann.

“Governments, on the other hand, have also run out of money and can’t keep spending money – particularly on the credit card – to try and stimulate growth.

“So, if loose monetary policy is not available and actually makes the rich get richer, and governments have run out of money, how are we going to get growth going in the world economy over the next few years? And the only way to do it is through structural changes that make us better at what we do.”

The structural changes suggested by Mr Hockey will increase inequality and send more people into poverty which is indeed what Coalition governments are good at doing.

Pope Francis recently tweeted “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

In last autumn’s essay, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis wrote that: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills … Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”

The claim that human beings have an intrinsic value in themselves, irrespective of their usefulness to other people, is one that unites Christianity and socialism. But if you think the market is the real world, it makes no sense at all, since in the market, value is simply the outcome of supply and demand.

A recent article by Lissa Johnson (on Ne Matilda) discusses decades of research into political psychology.

“Another ubiquitous finding is that conservatism is inversely related to the pursuit of social and economic equality. Conservatism correlates strongly with a preference for fixed social hierarchies entailing inequality between social groups, along with punitive attitudes towards marginalised and/or non-conforming members of society, who are seen as destabilising elements that threaten social cohesion.”

Australia is indeed a wondrous place where coal will save us from climate change, where helping the rich to get richer will make us all happier, and where the poor will be asked to pay off the nation’s debt.

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Risk assessment

Life is a series of choices and decisions. Within the constraints of time and finite resources, decision makers must learn to prioritise – to decide what is most important.

If you listen to anyone outside Australia, the greatest challenges facing us at the moment are climate change caused by anthropogenic global warming, income inequity leading to poverty, the Ebola crisis, pollution, peak resources, health and education in developing nations, the growing tide of refugees, providing enough food and clean water, sanitation, overpopulation, unemployment, species extinction, human rights abuses, affordable housing….and a fair way down the list would be a group of some tens of thousands of disaffected testosterone-filled teenagers that someone has been crazy enough to give guns and rockets to.

When faced with these global problems, the response of the Abbott government brings into question their ability to assess risk and respond appropriately.

On climate change, our Prime Minister tells us that “coal is good for humanity” while our Treasurer denies the fact that we are the world’s largest per capita emitter and that does not even take into account our exports. (When you hear the phrase “I deny the premise of your question” that is Coalition for “I can’t hear you, here comes the Party line”)

As reported in the Guardian:

“Australia’s coal is one of the globe’s fourteen carbon bombs. Our coal export industry is the largest in the world, and results in 760m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The urgent goal of Tony Abbott’s government, and his environment minister Greg Hunt is to ship as much climate-devastating coal as possible, as quickly as possible.

Every day, this Liberal-National government, led by Tony Abbott, provides new examples of its nastiness, its short-sightedness, and its willingness to destroy livelihoods, communities and the environment to enrich coal barons.”

A new report by The Australia Institute “The Mouse that Roared: Coal in the Queensland Economy” demonstrates that the coal industry’s risks and damage completely outweigh its benefits.

Felicity Wishart the AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director said that the Queensland Government was prepared to risk the Great Barrier Reef, its international reputation and its $6 billion tourism industry for a coal industry that employs less people than Reef tourism, exports most of its profits and provides just 4% in royalties.

“The Australia Institute report reveals that there are under 25,000 jobs in coal mining in Queensland and 80% of the profits go overseas. This compares with 69,000 jobs in the tourism industry, and almost all the profits stay in Australia.”

When the world’s leaders met to discuss climate change, our leader couldn’t make it due to a prior engagement with Rupert to get his lines about why the war is good straight. Our deputy leader couldn’t make it because he is too busy planning thousands of kilometres of bitumen heat islands to carry millions of fossil fuel burning imported cars. Our environment minister didn’t even seem to be considered or mentioned which is hardly surprising when he points to his plan for the Great Barrier Reef as a success. Ignoring ocean acidification, warming, and salinity while approving the dumping of dredged silt and the expansion of coal ports is considered a success? Oh that’s right, you removed a few starfish by injecting each one by hand. Instead we sent Julie Bishop because she is good at stonewalling and death stares.

As representatives from the Philippines and Kiribati make heartfelt pleas about the damage being done to their nations, we have reneged on our promised contribution to the Green Fund to help developing nations deal with the havoc we cause. As marathon runners in Beijing choke on the pollution, we tell them that burning more coal will make them richer.

Everyone from the Pope to the head of the IMF has pointed to poverty and income inequity being a growing scourge, yet every action taken by this government will have the effect of increasing poverty and widening the gap. Internationally we have slashed Foreign Aid and domestically we have hit the poor with the budget from hell.

Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann say, because the poor get more government handouts, they have more to give back when looking for spending cuts. Raising revenue will not be considered. The poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the students, the unemployed, single parents, low income families – these are the people to provide Mr Hockey with a surplus to brag about. In the meantime, one in seven Australians live in poverty with that number predicted to rise.

Austerity and trickle-down economics are failed experiments which this government seems intent on pursuing despite the mountain of evidence and advice warning against such measures. As the majority of people get less disposable income, demand will dry up, production will fall, unemployment will rise, and the downward spiral will continue.

While we seem to have endless money to bomb countries, the money to help build infrastructure and provide humanitarian aid has dried up.

Our response to the Ebola crisis is hugely inadequate. The excuse about evacuation of affected health workers just will not wash. We already have in place agreements with the US about medical evacuation of military personnel to Germany should they become critically ill. Australian doctors and nurses are highly-trained and if they feel that they have adequate protective regimes in place then It is unlikely that we would be talking about a large number of people needing evacuation. Considering the urgency of addressing this emergency, I cannot believe that the US or the UK or Germany would deny health workers the same service they offer to our military personnel.

Our Immigration Minister smugly claims success for his quasi-military war on refugees. He tells us this has been the humanitarian thing to do because he cares so much about asylum seekers that he can’t have them risking their lives at sea. Unfortunately, he also cut our humanitarian intake by 7000 and has failed to successfully resettle anyone. He would rather spend billions on OSB and offshore gulags and bribes to corrupt officials of other countries to absolve us of any responsibility at all rather than a cent on helping refugees. All he has done is bottle refugees up in other countries while we sit back and refuse to help.

In response to growing unemployment, this government has removed restrictions on 457 visas encouraging employers to hire people who will work for less than award wages, no workplace entitlements and no job security. They have removed industry assistance from manufacturing to help them during a time when the high Aussie dollar hit the industry hard while giving billions of dollars in subsidies to the mining industry which caused the problem in the first place.

When Toyota, Ford and Holden leave the country for good in 2017, around 50,000 people who work in the automotive supply chain, mostly in Victoria and South Australia, will face the risk of unemployment.

Despite Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane telling us that ”Australians are smart, innovative and creative. We have the ability to remake our industry sector and the time in which to do it.”, according to European Union data from 2011, only 2.3 per cent of materials shipped out of Australia are high-tech – far less than the US, where the figure is closer to 20 per cent.

The OECD found in 2012 that Australia’s investment in high-tech industries was lower overall than other advanced economies yet the latest budget has slashed funding for research and development and decimated bodies like the CSIRO.

Remy Davison, the Jean Monnet Chair in politics and economics at Monash University, says despite the talk little has been done to create a realistic transformation scheme for industry.

”We talk about investing in smart industries and moving into high-tech industries, but nobody actually does it – not state governments, not federal governments, and to be fair the private sector doesn’t really invest in it either.”

When it comes to the war against ISIL, this is where the Abbott government steps up with seemingly unlimited resources to provide military assistance and to conduct over-the-top raids and surveillance at home, but where is the discussion about what led to the rise of this group? Where are the questions about how we are failing members of our own society so badly that they can be lured into this conflict? Where is the strategy to help young people here to feel like they belong and encouragement to help them become productive members of our society? Where is the support for our Muslim community?

Risk assessment is part of life and a crucial factor for all businesses. How much more so for a government when the consequences of their decisions are so far-reaching? We have a government who came to power with a specific agenda to which they are determined to stick. They are deaf to the advice of experts other than their hand chosen sycophants and choose to ignore the risks. On all counts, in the most pressing problems facing the world, Australia has been found wanting.

Before casting your vote at the next election, Australians should consider the risk of allowing the Abbott government to continue down the path of nationalism and corporate greed at the expense of our duty as global citizens and our responsibility to protect the vulnerable.

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No ‘love’ in the Abbott Government’s ‘tough’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have taken to describing their budgetary cruelty as an act of “tough love” for which we may well rail against them in the present, but will respect them for in the years ahead, presumably when we can see how their tough love has achieved the goal of all tough love, that is to bring the poor amongst us to their senses and force them to live non-vulnerable, standing-on-their-own-two-feet lives, or die.

Tough love is a phrase usually associated with advice given to parents of drug-addicted offspring: refuse support in order to achieve a drug-free outcome. It demands that one have sufficient strength to withdraw all assistance that might enable the addict to continue on their self-destructive path. It requires the stamina to watch another spiral into an abject desolation and marginalisation that is allegedly entirely his or her own doing, and in which, the theory would have it, the addict will hit their own personal bottom line and in so doing begin the long trip back to sobriety and a decent life. I have no idea if it works or not.

There is no love in the tough Abbott and Hockey are dealing out to the vulnerable who will bear the brunt of their withdrawal of government support. Indeed, it is very telling that Abbott and Hockey appear to equate (with no evidence whatsoever to support their bigoted assumptions) economic vulnerability with anti social addictions, and have set about “curing” the vulnerability by withdrawing already meagre support in the deranged belief that if you make people starve, they will stop being vulnerable. Vulnerability is, in the Abbott and Hockey ideology, a choice, and people must be forced to stop making it by using the harshest possible methods until they hit their bottom line, and wake up one morning enlightened, repentant, and ready to get a job.

This government has no interest in equality. The admirable ethos of the “fair go”, so inimical to what we fondly think of as our national character, has been mangled beyond recognition in the first few months of the Abbott incumbency. Instead, we have Hockey thundering why should you pay for someone else’s education, completely overlooking the fact that someone else paid for his. We contribute to the costs of educating others because it benefits all of us. Educating people gives us the professionals who are absolutely essential to our daily lives and well-being.

Abbott and his government are in the business of installing a new regime of truth, one that is foreign to us, a regime that casts fairness and concern for others in a negative light, a move that is made even more inexplicable by the Christian affiliations of the PM and his Treasurer. The marriage of religion and neo liberalism apparently spawns an extreme of wilful ignorance, and the inevitably cruelty that accompanies the trait.

In his excellent piece in The King’s Tribune, Tim Dunlop argues that progressives need to change the current conversation, that there is little to be gained in agitating for a change in LNP leadership, or castigating Abbott, pining for Turnbull or bringing back the ALP in its current configuration. The Australian ALP appears to be in its own downward spiral, following the lead of the UK Labour Party, described by George Monbiot in this Guardian piece as selfishly committed to inequality in its acts of omission, and its commitment to supporting aspects of the obscene Tory attacks on that county’s vulnerable.

What progressives must do, Dunlop argues, is work from the premise that we do want a country in which it is possible to offer everyone a fair crack at a decent life, a premise that will lead us in a very different direction from that offered by the LNP. The way in which we might achieve this revolution is by vocalising our resistance to the government’s imposition of inequality as a way of life in our country, using protest and withdrawal of labour. Where there is power there is always resistance, as Foucault noted, and the most powerful form of resistance available to citizens in situations such as ours is taking to the streets, as often as we have to, and letting the government know we are not a people who desire the increased suffering of the already vulnerable, rather we are a people who will fight for the fair go.

There is no love in the Abbott government’s tough. Much as Abbott and Hockey seek to portray themselves as men of character who are willing to risk short-term popularity for long-term gain, the reality is these men have gone for the jugular of the most vulnerable human beings in our country. There will be no long-term gain for the vulnerable. There will be increasing hardship, despair and disintegration. Abbott and Hockey will deliver us a new underclass, generations of citizens who have never been given a fair go.

Vulnerable people have never experienced entitlement, that is the province of the wealthy and comfortable. The age of entitlement is not over, it thrives. The age of the fair go has come to a sticky end, and we will all be the poorer for its death.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

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 247 total views

I have a mandate

In 1963, when Martin Luther King articulated his dream for the future of his children, he touched the hearts and minds of people around the world. He spoke of a world of equal opportunity for all, a world where children would be nurtured, a world where people would be safe and free from hatred and intolerance.

He spoke of the shameful situation where, 100 years after emancipation, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

As I listened to this speech again, I could not help but compare it to the vision, or lack thereof, from our current government. “I have a mandate” does not quite have the same ring to it. Aiming to leave our children debt free seems such a paltry goal, one that is naively unattainable and questionably desirable.

Where is the plan for the country we want to be? Where is the path to the world Martin Luther King dreamed of?

Tony’s dream seems to change daily. Early in the piece, stopping the boats was his main aim. Endless hours in Parliament were devoted to a count of boat arrivals and deaths at sea. Countless headlines told us how a few thousand asylum seekers were destroying our way of life.

Since taking office, Operation Sovereign Borders has been the one policy that has an open-ended budget – whatever it takes. Everything is sacrificed to stop the boats – tens of billions of dollars, our relationship with our neighbours, our international reputation and the reputation of our Navy. We are even prepared to sacrifice the lives of those people who have come to us seeking safe haven, and risk the mental and physical health of asylum seekers and their children by incarcerating them indefinitely, even though they are the victims and have committed no crime other than to ask for our help.

In an attempt to appeal to female voters, Tony took an awkward foray into the world of feminism by promising a generous paid parental leave scheme to encourage “women of calibre” to have babies. His caring new persona was backed up by interviews with his female relatives and uncomfortably private revelations from his female Chief of Staff. This very costly and widely unpopular scheme remains in the budget after a slight trim which barely affects its cost.

Closer to election time, it once again became a referendum on the carbon tax. This great big new tax on everything was wrecking our economy and driving up the cost of living for ordinary Australians. Tony promised to save us $550 a year from our power bills because pensioners were having to choose between eating and being warm.

When the carbon tax was shown to be working in reducing demand, and the economy kept growing with low inflation, the focus shifted more to integrity and trust.

“So my pledge to you is that I won’t say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards because fibbing your way into office is what’s brought our public life into disrepute.” – January 31, 2013

“We will be a no-surprises, no-excuses government, because you are sick of nasty surprises and lame excuses from people that you have trusted with your future.” – August 25, 2013

Despite alarmist rhetoric warning of a budget emergency, an economic crisis, and a debt and deficit disaster, Tony promised repeatedly in that simplistic manner he has of counting off on his fingers, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no changes to the GST and no cuts to the ABC and SBS.

During one of a million election doorstops a reporter asked him: ”The condition of the budget will not be an excuse for breaking promises?”

”Exactly right” replied Tony. ”We will keep our commitments that we make …” he went on to say for the umpteenth time in the campaign.

I have a mandate! (image by ausopinion.com)

I have a mandate! (image by ausopinion.com)

Buoyed by an overwhelming victory in the election and being handed the keys to the safe, each Minister seemed to go off on their own path to glory.

Warren Truss was the warm-up act, re-announcing funding for roads that had previously been funded. Apparently, if you close off funding from one source and then fund it from a different source then you can claim it as your own initiative, a strategy they are also using in education.

We then have spokesmodel Jamie Briggs with the big introduction…”It really gives me pleasure to introduce to you, the indescribable, the incompatible, the unadorable…..Prime Minister for Infrastructure.”

Tony has gone on a flurry of spending on roads that have not had the appropriate studies done. They are not high on the list of priorities carefully constructed by Infrastructure Australia. Rather than making voters happy, many of these roads are striking opposition from residents and businesses who are demanding more information. One of the main criticisms is that these bits of roads do not link up to integrated public transport networks. They may provide routes for freight trucks but they are not helping commuters get to work. Endless kilometres of bitumen carrying thousands of cars to nowhere.

Roads seem to be the only plan to address the growing unemployment situation. How many people can it employ? What do these people do when the road is finished? What assets are we selling to build these roads? What employment plans are there for people not suited to building roads?

Joe Hockey devoted his time to strategies to make himself look good. He immediately borrowed $8.8 billion to give to the RBA. He then pulled off the most amazing sleight of hand by convincing people that the figures in MYEFO were Labor’s debt and deficit. Ignore the fact that this document was actually the debt and deficit using Coalition policies, lie about the debt by quoting a possible debt in ten years’ time and attribute it to Labor, inflate the deficit with your own spending and assumptions, and then produce a Budget that reduces your own inflated deficit by taking money from the most vulnerable in our society.

Joe is also future-proofing himself by getting sick people to contribute $20 billion to reduce the deficit. Do not be fooled into thinking this money is going to medical research. It is not. The interest earned by the money is to go to research but the principal will sit there untouched to make Joe’s bottom line healthier, courtesy once again, of our most vulnerable.

Scott Morrison enjoyed the limelight as he went on his relentless campaign of showing just how big a bastard this country could be, spending money hand over fist.

Christopher Pyne immediately began remoulding education to his priorities which seem to focus on our Judeo-Christian heritage and the ANZAC legacy. He also wants more mention of Conservative politicians and the role of big corporations in shaping our identity. Rote learning and teacher-based instruction will replace research, discovery, initiative and creativity.

When you hear Christopher say he has put an extra $1.2 billion into education to sign up the remaining States to the Gonski reforms, he got that $1.2 billion by ripping almost $1 billion out of the trades training centres programme and the rest of it by abolishing the before and after school care program. And now we find that they have ripped a further $80 billion out of funding to the States for health and education.

Andrew Robb has been signing Free Trade Agreements quicker than they can be printed. The reason other countries are willing to sign so quickly after years of negotiation is because this government is prepared to give up so much for so little in return purely so they can say we got the job done.

Our Health Minister is busily dismantling Medicare and our Environment Minister is getting rid of all environmental protections in his haste to approve more coal mines and more logging. Our Social Services Minister is removing gambling reforms, cutting welfare and pensions, and encouraging people to stay married regardless of how bad it is.

Our communications Minister is unravelling arguably the greatest potential boost to productivity this country would have seen, and breaking his promise to protect our National Broadcaster.

The rhetoric has now changed. The main promise was apparently to fix the budget. All other election promises can be sacrificed to achieve this one. I do believe that governments have to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances but I do not believe that the situation has changed so drastically as to warrant the attack we have seen in this budget.

As Hugh Mackay says

“this is a profoundly disappointing budget. It’s not the economics; it’s not the politics; it’s the clear sign that this government has young people, the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and the marginalised in its sights.”

A joint press release by the cigar-smoking duo of destruction says

“Gross government debt is now forecast to be $389 billion in 2023-24, compared with the $667 billion left behind by the former Government.”

In his MYEFO document produced in December, which included Coalition spending, Joe Hockey said:

“Net debt is expected to be $191.5 billion (12.1 per cent of GDP) in 2013‑14 and is expected to reach $280.5 billion (15.7 per cent of GDP) in 2016‑17.”

I always impressed on my children the importance of telling the truth, especially if something bad had happened. “If I know the truth then I can work out how to best help you.” I would say to this government, you have a mandate to tell the truth. If you are honest with us and prepared to listen to advice, let’s work together to first of all determine what sort of future we want and then how to best achieve it. You need to start from scratch.

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You are a burden we can’t afford

According to the ABS, the wealthiest 20% of Australian households, with an average net worth of A$2.2 million per household in 2011-12, accounted for 61% of total household net worth. The poorest 20% of households accounted for 1% of total household net worth, and had an average net worth of $31,000 per household.

This means that the wealthiest 20% of Australian households had net worth that was 68 times as high as the least wealthy 20%.

The most recent Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report finds that Australia has the second highest average level of wealth in the world and the highest median wealth.

In October 2012 ACOSS released a report showing poverty in Australia remains a persistent problem with an estimated 2,265,000 people or 12.8% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries.

The report provides the most comprehensive picture of poverty in the nation since 2006 and shows that people who are unemployed, children (especially in lone parent families), and people whose main source of income is social security payments, are the groups most at risk of poverty.

Over a third (37%) of people whose main income is social security is living below the poverty line, including 52% of people in households on Newstart Allowance. The low level of this payment means that when unemployment goes up as it is predicted to do, more people are thrown into poverty. The Newstart Allowance has not been increased in real terms since 1994 so households relying on it have been falling further behind community living standards and into poverty.

Two thirds of people on Newstart have been unemployed for more than a year and they clearly need more help than they are getting now from employment services. The Government only funds Job Services Australia providers an average of $500 to $1,100 a year to invest in training and work experience for this group.

The report also shows that there are almost 600,000 children living in families below the poverty line. About half of those children are in sole parent families, and one quarter of people in sole parent families are living below the poverty line.

The recommendations from the report were as follows:

“We urge the Commonwealth and state governments to take steps in their next Budgets to reduce poverty, by increasing income support for those in the deepest poverty, strengthening employment services for long-term unemployed people, and easing the high cost of housing for people on low incomes who rent privately.

High priority should be given in the next Federal Budget to raising the Newstart Allowance by $50 per week for single people and sole parents, and the cuts to income support for sole parents should be reversed or at least delayed.

Paid work is a key pathway out of poverty, and we need to see more investment in wage subsidies and training for people who are long term unemployed to make a difference to their job prospects. This should be implemented to stop recent increases in unemployment from becoming entrenched.

To tackle poverty we also need urgent action to ease housing cost pressures, particularly for low income people who are renting privately. People on social security and those in very low paid work receive Rent Assistance to help with housing costs, but at a maximum of $70 a week this is less than a third of typical rents for flats in capital cities and mining towns.”

I can only assume that the figures have worsened since this report was released as unemployment has increased and I am doubtful that you could find anywhere to live in Sydney for $210 a week.

The most important source of inequality in Australia is whether you have a job or not.

In the past, the pillars of egalitarianism in Australia were high wages, high home ownership and low unemployment. If we want to regain this position, we need to ensure that unemployment remains low and that low-income earners are able to buy into affordable housing. I see nothing in the budget that addresses this most pressing problem. In fact, quite the reverse. Expect an onslaught of investors as rich people negative gear their way to an income below $180,000.

Interestingly, Deborah James, the director of the International Programs at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said income inequality is:

“a drag on growth, because for a long time there was a consideration that increasing inequality would sort of lift all boats–you know, we raise the top and then the bottom will get raised as well. And what we’ve actually seen over the last many years, especially if you look at the last few years of the economic crisis, from 2010 to 2012, is that 95 per cent of the increase in incomes in the recovery has actually gone to the top 1 per cent.”

I guess Joe “lift the tide and all boats will rise” Hockey didn’t get the memo.

Financial speculation and the finance industry caused the global recession that we’ve been off-and-on living in for the last five or six years, and yet they haven’t had to pay for the damage that they’ve done. There is a growing call around the world for the introduction of a financial transaction tax to reduce the harmful financial behaviour and generate funds for much-needed public investment but the corruption in governments by the financial sector has made this virtually impossible.

This budget, like everything this government does, misses the mark on the true challenges facing our society – climate change, poverty, income inequity, affordable housing, equal opportunity for education, unemployment, child care, aged care, closing the gap for Indigenous people, mental health, hospital waiting times, tax avoidance, corporate greed.

But don’t you worry about that, you people. There are investment opportunities a plenty for that top 1% as we sell off our assets and give away our resources and open up even more loopholes to allow them to avoid paying tax. As was reported in the SMH

“The latest tax statistics show 75 ultra-high-earning Australians paid no tax at all in 2011-12. Zero. Zip. Each earned more than $1 million from investments or wages. Between them they made $195 million, an average of $2.6 million each. The fortunate 75 paid no income tax, no Medicare levy and no Medicare surcharge, even though 60 of them had private health insurance. The reason? They managed to cut their combined taxable incomes to $82. That’s right, $1.10 each.”

This budget has sent a very clear message to the Australian people. Unless you have millions to invest (or hide), you will be considered a burden and treated as such.

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It is not them or us, they are us.

Australians have the highest median wealth per adult in the world ($233,504). We have the second highest average wealth ($428,250). We are a mere 0.36% of the world’s adult population but we account for 3.78% of the world’s top 1% wealthiest. The only nation with a more lopsided share of the top 1% is Switzerland.

So why is it that an estimated 2,265,000 people or 12.8% of all people are living below the internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries?

Australia’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in 2012. Wages in 2013 grew by 2.6%. On the other hand, since the mid 1990s, Newstart has gone from just below 50% of the median household income to now around 30% – which is an alarming $74pw below the poverty line .

Over a third (37%) of people whose main income is social security are living below the poverty line, including 52% of people in households on Newstart Allowance. The low level of this payment means that when unemployment goes up, more people are thrown into poverty. The Newstart Allowance has not been increased in real terms since 1994 so households relying on it have been falling further behind community living standards and into poverty.

There are almost 600,000 children living in families below the poverty line. About half of those children are in sole parent families, and one quarter of people in sole parent families are living below the poverty line.

In October 2012, the Australian Council of Social Service released a report urging the Commonwealth and state governments to take steps in their next Budgets to reduce poverty, by increasing income support for those in the deepest poverty, strengthening employment services for long-term unemployed people, and easing the high cost of housing for people on low incomes who rent privately.

People on social security and those in very low paid work receive Rent Assistance to help with housing costs, but at a maximum of $70 a week this is less than a third of typical rents for flats in capital cities and mining towns. 62% of Newstart recipients pay over 30% of their income in housing costs, placing them under “housing stress”.

“High priority should be given in the next Federal Budget to raising the Newstart Allowance by $50 per week for single people and sole parents, and the cuts to income support for sole parents should be reversed or at least delayed.”

There is a $149 per week gap between Newstart Allowance and pensions. In 1980, the Age and Disability Support Pensions and the Allowance payments such as Newstart and Widow Allowance were the same, at $58 a week. The Harmer Pension review of 2009 resulted in an increase to pensions but not to Newstart. Pensions increased by $32 a week. The Henry Taxation Review recommended that the same increase be given to Allowance recipients, which would equate to $50 a week in 2012.

Pensions are indexed in a different manner to Newstart. Pensions are indexed to Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE), the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or the Pensioner and Beneficiary Cost of Living Index – whichever is greater. Newstart is only indexed to the CPI. In September 2011, the MTAWE increase was 4% while the CPI increase was 2.5%, which resulted in an increase of $10 for pensions and $6 for Newstart.

Newstart and other payments are indexed twice yearly with the CPI, meaning that they are linked to increases in prices, rather than wages. That means they fall behind increases in community living standards. While the CPI rose by 17% between 2005 and 2011, average wages rose by 23%.

Newstart is less than half of the minimum wage in Australia. While minimum wage is $606, Newstart is $246 – 40% of minimum wage. Even taking account of income tax, a single unemployed person would double their disposable income if they got a job at the minimum wage. So there is scope to increase it without eroding work incentives.

As Dr David Morawetz, Director Social Justice Fund, says

“In Australia, we might not have the level of abject poverty that one sees in developing countries, and we have only a fraction of the world’s 1.3 billion poor. But in a country as wealthy and as lucky as ours, it is a travesty that there are still so many people living in poverty. We can do better.

Poverty is bad for our social relationships, and for our sense of community. It is bad for business. Most of all, it is bad for those who are experiencing it: for their sense of self-worth, for their physical well-being, and perhaps most importantly for their children, for our future generations. We all need to do something about it.”

David Thompson, from Jobs Australia adds

A lack of money inspires not just shame, anxiety, and occasionally stoic resignation, but also a powerful sense that things could be different. The basic decencies of respectful encounters with institutions, which can cost nothing, matter a lot. Many people living in poverty have immense reserves of energy and drive to make a decent living for themselves, and a future for their children, if only they are given the right chances.

Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council said

Our problem in Australia is not the “idleness of the poor.” Our problem is inequality. This is a social question, not a question of behaviour. We do irreparable harm when we turn it into a question of individual behaviour, blaming people for their own poverty. It is a matter of deep shame for a wealthy nation like ours that our unemployment benefits, for example, have been kept deliberately low as a means of humiliating the very people they were originally designed to assist.

Charities like the St Vincent de Paul Society will always be there for the people who are waging a daily battle from below the poverty line, but the message we are hearing is that people do not want charity. They want justice. And we support them in this struggle for their rights.

We support helping people into the paid workforce. The time has come, however, to abandon the foolish notion that forcing them into deeper poverty improves their chances of employment. You don’t build people up by putting them down. You don’t help them get work by forcing them into poverty.

We stand with all who are trying to create a good society; a society that does not accept the scourge of rising inequality and exclusion from the essentials of life; a society that does not humiliate people. New passions are springing up. They point to glaring contradictions. They also offer the promise that another kind of society is possible, and can be created collectively under the guiding stars of struggle and hope.

Even the Business Council of Australia (BCA) argues the Newstart payment ‘itself now presents a barrier to employment and risks entrenching poverty.’

It is difficult to be accurate about what a $50/week increase in Newstart would cost but it has been estimated it will cost taxpayers anywhere between $8 billion and $15 billion over the forward estimates.

While Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey tell us that spending $22 billion on Tony’s paid parental leave scheme, or $12 billion on US made jets that experts say are dodgy and will be obsolete before we ever see them, or over $10 billion on Operation Sovereign Borders, or over $3 billion in handouts to polluters, or countless billions on roads, are all good investments, I would ask them to consider the proven productivity gains from lifting people out of poverty. I would also ask them to consider the health benefits and consequent savings. I would ask them to consider the benefits of needs based education funding so children born into poverty have some chance of achieving their potential.

If we can’t appeal to your humanity, surely you can understand that economically it makes much more sense to increase the purchasing power of the masses, which will drive demand, which will create jobs, which will increase production, which will increase profits. Every cent that goes to a poor person will be recycled into the economy. Increased profits to billionaires go to off-shore tax havens.

Missing

I haven’t seen a film for 8-9 years. / It’s $12 – / I just can’t. / I have no social life/unless it’s free./I can’t afford to go to a café / and drink coffee – / I just can’t. / I tried putting $3 a day into my budget. I felt a little more human, / existing within society… / I had to stop doing it,/I couldn’t live anymore./Like being invited out to dinner / or a friend saying, / ‘do you want to catch up for a meal?’ I just can’t, no. / I miss it. Tracey

Dole bludger

I’m desperate for money./ If there were any jobs…/ …I’d be started at 9 o’clock this morning./ I have to tell everyone I’m a dole bludger and / I don’t have any money./ Nobody wants to know a dole bludger. / My family thinks I’m still working./ I got sacked four years ago. / I didn’t tell them I’m a dole bludger. / Mum would get upset,/ she wants my future to be secure. /To be able to tell my family that I’ve got a job…./ a proper job…. / Nobody wants to know a / dole bludger. Bettina

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The power of congregations

gosford anglican church It has long been my view that the potential and resources of the church are largely wasted on worship.

There are few institutions with the power to influence fundamental change – governments, unions, the military, big corporations, and the church. This government is undermining the unions, using the military for civil operations, and paving the way for big corporations. Globally, we see the military and corporations wielding power in different states. In times like these, as in other times of crisis, the church needs to step up and use its power to remind the world of its responsibilities.

Despite the falling numbers in church attendance, and the growing number of people who identify as having no religion, there are positive signs of this happening.

Pope Francis is speaking out about poverty, income inequality, the economy, climate change and homosexuality, whilst adopting a much humbler lifestyle and encouraging his clergy to do the same.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us …”

Caritas Australia has added its voice to other groups protesting against the Federal Government’s cuts of $650 million from Australia’s official aid program in the 2013-14 financial year to direct the money into Tony’s “roads of the 21st century”.

The Australian Christian Lobby also expressed disappointment at the funding cuts, announced on January 18.

Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan said it was “unfortunate such a decision had been made in the first year of our partnership with the new government”.

He said the generosity of the Australian public, bolstered by Caritas’ 40-year partnership with the Australian Government, had led to beneficial change in many countries.

“In the last year alone, this partnership enabled Caritas Australia to reach more than 1.1 million people across 20 countries,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

Other organisations such as Care, Save the Children, ChildFund, Plan International and the Fred Hollows Foundation – who also have partnership agreements with the Government – have had their funding cut by about eight per cent.

Churches are not only speaking out against cuts to foreign aid and charities, some are also making conscience investment decisions.

Resolutions passed by the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in April show that it is possible for religious institutions to take concerted action on climate change.

The Synod resolved to divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy. A second resolution, again passed by consensus, saw the Synod agree to to call upon the state government to protect important farming land, water resources and conservation areas from coal and coal seam gas mining. A third resolution, with unanimous support once again, called upon the Synod and the Assembly to speak and act pastorally as well as prophetically in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Individual churches are also making a difference. If you have not heard of Gosford Anglican Church and Father Rod then you are missing out. He organises and speaks at rallies and his signs are an internet hit. One of my favourites was “Jesus had 2 dads and he turned out ok”.

The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women’s rights.

“From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that’s what he called the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren’t about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers. These are the things Christians should be seeking – justice and compassion. We contribute to that.”

Another church that has attracted attention is the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church.

In a bold pro-active move, the congregation thought the best possible response to the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit would be to conduct one of its own, one which they considered would put people before profit. The church raised $15,000 to commission its own Audit on behalf of the people of Australia: the People’s Commission of Audit carried out by independent public policy research organisation The Australia Institute.

They intend to release the results this month before the government releases their Commission of Audit recommendations. The comparison will be very interesting.

I would highly recommend their newsletter “The Beacon”. It is very informative on both domestic and global issues and contains excellent articles by people like refugee advocate Julian Burnside. The March edition was devoted entirely to the asylum seeker problem and is well worth a read, as are all their publications.

I am encouraged by these displays of the church taking a role in calling for change. I understand the importance of separation of church and state but, when the state is abrogating its responsibilities to humanity, then we must all join together in demanding better.

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To be rich is indeed glorious…

tony-abbott-and-xi-jiinping And there we have it – a snapshot of our Prime Minister from his own lips.

“TONY Abbott has described his visit to China as the most important ever undertaken by an Australian leader and has congratulated the Communist country for its pursuit of wealth.”

As Abbott echoed Deng Xiaoping’s advice that “to get rich is glorious”, 700 Australian businessmen are about to sit down with their Chinese counterparts to determine just how glorious they can be. They won’t be discussing climate change or pollution. They won’t be discussing human rights abuses or health. And they most definitely will not be discussing those inglorious poor.

Pope Francis may have a different idea of glory. He recently warned that the existing financial system that fuels the unequal distribution of wealth and violence must be changed, and he begged the Lord to “grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Pope Francis asked an audience at the Vatican.

In an apostolic exhortation he wrote:

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.

A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits”

He goes on to explain that in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which has become the only rule we live by.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,”

The World Economic Forum in Davos identified the large and growing income gap between rich and poor as the biggest risk to the global community in the next decade. The WEF said its annual survey of 700 opinion formers had identified the income gap, extreme weather events and unemployment or underemployment as the three threats most likely to cause major cross-border damage in the next 10 years.

Jonathan D. Ostry, the I.M.F.’s deputy head of research, and Andrew Berg, another economist at the fund, published a study three years ago suggesting that inequality makes growth less durable. A flatter distribution of income, the study concluded, contributes more to sustainable economic growth than the quality of a country’s political institutions, its foreign debt and openness to trade, its foreign investment and whether its exchange rate is competitive.

Economic policy cannot be only about promoting low inflation and robust growth. Healthy, stable economies also depend on a reasonably equitable distribution of the rewards.

Hugh Evans, the Australian founder and chief executive of The Global Poverty Project (GPP), told an audience at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Spring Meetings on Thursday that Tony Abbott “broke his promise” after his election victory.

“He slashed the foreign aid budget dramatically which will have far-reaching consequences for the world’s poor,” Evans, standing before World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told the audience. “We don’t want this single act of political indecency to undo the great work Australia has done to help end extreme poverty.”

Meanwhile, Joe Hockey criticised delays in implementing changes agreed by the Group of 20 bloc of advanced and developing nations in 2010, which he said were letting down the international community and were entirely the fault of the U.S. Congress.

“I am deeply disappointed that the IMF quota and governance reforms that the G20 agreed to in 2010 have still not been implemented and that the path forward for ratification is now highly uncertain,” he said at an event organized by Johns Hopkins University.

“The failure to finalize this issue diminishes America’s global standing instead of enhancing it.”

I wonder how that compares to Abbott’s refusal to support the green climate fund supported by the United Nations. In the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, Australia joined with Canada in snubbing the green climate fund. Mr Abbott called it the “green capital fund” while calling the profitable Clean Energy Finance Corp. the “Bob Brown Bank” after the former head of the Australian Greens.

The government of a democracy is accountable to the people. It must fulfil its end of the social contract. And, in a practical sense, government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.

Government economic responsibility is linked to protection from the negative consequences of free markets. The government must defend us against unscrupulous merchants and employers, and the extreme class structure that results from their exploitation.

Governments argue that people need to be assisted with the economic competition that now dominates the world. But the real intent of this position is to justify helping corporate interests, siding against local workers, consumers and the environment.

This government has tossed out its job description and is on a corporate crusade. They are capitalist fundamentalists who believe all things public are bad and all things private are good, and they are determined to use their time in power to sell off Australia and to further the interests of their wealthy donors.

According to Tony Abbot’s description, Gina Rinehart must be the most glorious person in Australia – although I think she lives in Singapore? For me, the glorious people are those that care for others – the carers, nurses, social workers, teachers, paramedics, firemen, charities, volunteers, environmentalists, animal protection activists. Our scientists are glorious with their amazing research into a sustainable, healthy future, as are our artists and musicians who speak to our senses and our souls.

I used to think Australians were a pretty glorious race in general. Now I am not so sure.

 

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