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The ‘economy’ is killing us

Scott Morrison et al keep telling us that we need a strong economy to make our lives better but this fixation on growth and profit at all costs is doing a great deal of harm to the vast majority who do not occupy the airy heights of the 1 per centers.

Last year 3128 people killed themselves in this country. Three quarters of them were men.

Much as we talk about the need for greater investment in mental health, and rightly so, around 80 per cent of male suicides are not linked to any mental health diagnosis.

Glen Poole, Development Officer at the Australian Men’s Health Forum and founder of the Stop Male Suicide project, said “Most men who end up taking their lives are dealing with life crises, not necessarily dealing with mental health issues that require a conversation about their feelings.”

“Relationship breakdown, work issues — whether that’s stress at work or the stress of not having work — financial stress, for older men physical health issues, and other things such as bereavement, alcohol abuse, trouble with the law.”

Tim Costello, as spokesman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, said that gambling stress pushes more than 400 Australians to suicide each year, a figure that has been given credence by Australia’s Productivity Commission.

Australia has a staggering 20% of the world’s poker machines.  According to figures released by the Queensland government in December last year, punters frittered away almost $24bn in a year.  More than half was lost on poker machines at pubs and clubs.

Australians spend on average about A$1,300 per capita a year on gambling making us by far the world’s most profligate gamblers. The next highest is around A$600 in Singapore.

Yet one of the Coalition’s first acts on gaining power in 2013 was to repeal the meagre gains the Gillard government had made on gambling reform in response to pressure from Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenephon.

“The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 proposes that a raft of provisions from the Act be repealed. These include all provisions relating to precommitment systems, including abolishing requirements on manufacturers and venues to ensure EGMs are precommitment enabled; repealing provisions limiting ATM withdrawals; repealing provisions requiring dynamic warning messages to players be displayed; abolishing the proposed gambling Regulator, and the levies which were to support its functions; and removing references to a proposed trial of precommitment in the ACT and its proposed evaluation and related amendments.”

In March last year, the Senate Select Committee on Red Tape produced an interim report on the effect of red tape on the sale, supply and taxation of alcohol.

They recommended

“that the Australian Government and COAG support the sale and supply of alcohol through consideration and implementation of evidence-based policies that aim to reduce red tape and promote job creation, and business growth and investment, including:

  • streamlining and simplification of liquor licencing systems to reduce the number and types of licences/permits to a minimum viable level;
  • allowing packaged alcohol to be sold in convenience stores, petrol stations and supermarkets;
  • abolishing restrictions on trading hours for liquor stores;
  • shifting resources toward targeted enforcement of existing regulation, rather than a blanket approach of increased regulation for all licensees;
  • developing liquor licensing fees based on empirical assessments of risk, rather than social perceptions of risk.”

We are continually told that increasing profits for business will make the economy stronger and we will all benefit from that.  The reality is starkly different.

Despite steady economic growth in Australia, homelessness increased by 14% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, with 116,427 people now thought to have no permanent home.  More than 43,500 homeless people are under 25.  People aged between 65 and 74 experiencing homelessness increased to 27 people per 10,000 people in 2016, up from 25 per 10,000 people in 2011.  While 2.8% of Australians are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the latest data shows they comprise 20% of the homeless.

Guy Johnson, a professor of urban housing and homelessness at RMIT University, said rising housing costs combined with a decline in public and community housing were exacerbating homelessness among the chronically disadvantaged.

But we mustn’t do anything to upset the property developers and investors.

Despite the government’s laser-like focus on reducing power bills, we insist on increasing our gas exports to such a degree that we have a domestic shortage.  We happily subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of billions each year and pretend that our coal exports are helping the starving masses rather than the coal barons.  The exploitation of our resources has made a few people wealthy beyond measure as the planet continues to warm.

While some farmers desperately try to manage climate change through adaptation, others are clearing land, stealing water, and using environmentally damaging fertilisers and pesticides to try to remain viable.

Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef is dying.

To pander to employer lobby groups, we have reduced penalty rates and moved many people into the insecure employment of casual and contract work, winding back hard-won workplace entitlements.  We have increased university fees so our young people start life with a large debt.  Welfare payments have not seen a real increase in decades despite our continued growth.  Aged care is in crisis. Fees for it and child care are prohibitive.

It’s great the economy is strong.  But society is suffering from a cancer fed by those who put profit before people and the environment.


29 comments

  1. Babyjewels

    This government’s mismanagement is the cause of much misery and valuable human beings dying. I call it a crime against Australia. But they will never be brought to justice.

  2. Ken Butler

    There is no society.
    There are no “people”.
    Only dollar signs.

    Suicide is the poisonous fruit of
    neoliberalism.

  3. pierre wilkinson

    Increasing the pension would stimulate the economy more than business tax cuts will.
    And what about domestic violence, 6 women in 7 days and yet another yesterday, but our governments still cut funding to counseling services, close refuges and downplay the staggering amount of violence in our community. If terrorists killed just one person on average per week we would have a national crisis, but in domestic violence all we do is talk, and talk, and talk.
    Keep up your great work, Kaye Lee, you are an inspiration.

  4. DrakeN

    Suicides born not of depression, but of despair.

  5. Shaun Newman

    It is simple unregulated capitalism stinks for the ordinary person, we need to rid ourselves of these L’NP p[oliticians who are transferring funds from our services to small and medium businesses purses at the expense of ordinary working families.

  6. Phil Gorman

    Your brilliantly researched and cogent work is rightly admired Kaye. This is a prime example.

    Anyone who isn’t anxious or depressed just doesn’t understand what’s going on. Or perhaps they’re among the few beneficiaries of neo-corpocracy.

    Post war “western nations” enjoyed almost 40 years of workable Social Democracy. This anomaly was partly a response to countervailing totalitarian models of the extreme right and left. Thatcherism plus the collapse of Soviet Communism ushered in a return of unrestrained capitalism. The political landscape of the past 40 years has seen regressive policies undermine the institutions of social democracy.

    We live in a nascent corpocracy. The resulting pandemic of insecurity, depression and despair is accompanied by social and political polarizations which threaten civil society.

  7. Kaye Lee

    “social and political polarizations” encouraged by an irresponsible media. Rowan Deane and Ross Cameron??? Lord save me!

    Sharri Markson, the Telegraph reporter who has just been given a show on Sky News, won the 2018 Kennedy Prize for Journalist of the Year for her coverage of the political scandal around former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s affair with a staffer and the subsequent cover up.

    That is what we have sunk to.

  8. New England Cocky

    An excellent article Kaye Lee, another wonderful example of your fine research skills.

    However I cannot agree with you about Markson’s expose of the Barnyard Joke adultery.

    Your comment “This is what we have sunk to” better reflects the low quality of National$ politicians who appear to have been dredged from the sewers of society.

    Living in New England without many of the government services located metropolitan cities, we have exported our kids to city jobs for too many generations.

    We only get a representative of the voters when we elect an Independent like Tony Windsor.

    Otherwise the declining number of geriatric members of the Notional$ Party, the party you have to celebrate a 19th century future, meet in the Bundarra (population very small) telephone box to pre-select a candidate because then the group photograph will suggest a large crowd, rather than record the handful of members crowded out of the picture by their Zimmer frames and wheelchairs.

    But then as other skeptics have noted, Women supporting Adultery support National$ and nothing all change until the ladies vote otherwise.

  9. totaram

    “..her coverage of the political scandal ..”
    Wasn’t that the one that was judiciously delayed until after the by-election?

  10. James Cook

    Thanks again, Kaye. I find myself increasingly yelling at the TV in frustration as I did the other night when some “Energy” CEO tried to tell us that renewables are killing the poles and wires! [Or some such bullshit]. I think my Flat-screen might be getting depressed because of my rantings.

  11. Stephen Brailey

    Very nice opinion piece…short, flowed well and brought the point home. Very relevant liece, Bravo.

  12. totaram

    Stephen Bailey: Please don’t call it “an opinion piece”, which would put it on a par with those in the (un)Australian. This one actually has facts and figures to back it up, unlike those in the Murdoch rags, which if they mention a “fact” at all, should be suspect. You might like to call it an article.

    Many of the “fact”s introduced by the Murdoch pieces are outright lies. Maurice Newman will repeatedly tell you, for example, that the earth is not warming, but is about to enter another ice age. It’s hard to keep track of all the lies really. They come thick and fast.

  13. paul walter

    Bit depressed. Will come back later… people exist for the economy, not the other way round. But what is the “economy” but the unrestrained and infantile “animal spirits” irrationalities of the rich devoid of even the slightest sense of the proportion the rest of us must show.

  14. guest

    Kaye Lee @12:30pm

    at the risk of taking up time and space, mention of media and “social and political polarization” came to mind after I was astonished to see the cover of “Quadrant” magazine, edited by Keith Windschuttle (!) and containing in part the following articles: The New Struggle for Religious Freedom (by Dyson Hudson (!)); Modernity’s Miracle and the Rage Against Prosperity; The Anglo-sphere as the Big Somewhere; The Ideology of White-Hatred; Why Feminists Enjoy Rape Fantasies; How My Research Made Me an Academic Pariah (basically an attack on Palestinians in Lebanon); and an essay: On Jordan Peterson – who is also mentioned in a letter to the Editor.

    What a closed-in echo chamber. It is like another Murdoch media propaganda outlet. I felt I was on another planet inhabited entirely by royalist, Anglo-Australian born-to-rule business-as-usual fanatics lost in their weird ideological obsessions.

    Oh dear, and these are the same mob who are joined at the hip with the ning-nongs who are making a howling mess of government at present. Yet such cocky and self-assured white supremacists with sweeping statements across world politics, economics, sociology, class etc – and with God on their side! Beyond scary!

  15. OldWOmBAt

    Two quotes from Adam Smith which, although made some time ago seem to hit the spot.

    Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor.

    This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.

    Referenced in “Does the richness of the few benefit us all?” as short monograph by Zygmunt Bauman

  16. Kaye Lee

    Dyson Heydon is a nutcase. What sort of judge says

    “The public voices of modern elites are not humble. They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings. And they do not feel any gratitude to Almighty God for their entitlements and rights.

    Now the modern elites – the tyrants of tolerance – in seeking to marginalise or silence Christianity are not only rejecting the cultural tradition of Christianity.

    Not only are they rejecting a large part of the entire life and history of the nation – because Christianity is so integrated with the national life and history that to annihilate it is to destroy that national life, which can live only in memory.

    They are also rejecting that fundamental part of the Christian tradition which is the source of the modern world and of their own favoured position within it.”

  17. David Bruce

    After Cyclone Gita in Tonga in February, the Tongan Government held a forum with business, church, government and community delegates. The topic was “When can we expect to see the benefits of economic growth?”. One comment that stuck with me was Economic Growth is not equivalent to Prosperity. Some of the problems faced by the communities included increased domestic violence, growing numbers of teenage pregnancies, marital breakdowns and divorce, increased drug use, homelessness, suicides and unemployed youth forming into street gangs etc. The week after Cyclone Gita, there were 6 drug related murders! This is in a population of less than 100,000.
    Economic Growth is a banking term (IMF, World Bank, Bank of International Settlements and many others), which requires economic growth to ensure repayment of loans with compound interest. Is Australia setting the example for our South Pacific neighbours?

  18. Andreas Bimba

    With lots of money, the control of the mass media, a few business associations and a few ‘think’ tanks at your disposal, you can apparently push the right buttons so that the majority of the Australian electorate will now eat rat poison if that was deemed necessary.

    I can see no reason why we couldn’t instead have the economic dynamism, full employment, affordable housing and relative equality of the ‘social democratic mixed economy’ post war years combined with the social reforms of the modern era and an enlightened approach to global warming and environmental sustainability. This is all do-able but we have let our society be hijacked by the greedy corporate oligarchy and the top 1%.

  19. Don Kelly

    Morrison and now Frydenberg are continually telling us that Coalition policies are rapidly reducing the so called ‘Government Budget Deficit’ and the budget will be ‘in-the-black’ sooner than previously predicted. The punters should be asking: How is this being achieved? First they should know that the Government Budget Deficit is simply the difference between what the government spends and what they receive in Tax Revenue. The Coalition are hell-bent on reducing Company Taxes and it appears that Labor are going along with this. With the continuing growth in company profits combined with ongoing flat wages growth, the part of the ‘budget’ formula that will return the budget towards surplus is LESS Government spending. What areas have the government been cutting spending? Answer: Health, Education and Welfare. It is just another example of the coalition looking after their mates, the one percenters. In typical Liberal fashion, they are helping those that don’t need help at the at the expense of those that do. Or am I wrong?

  20. Miriam English

    Thank you Kaye, for another excellent piece.

    Morrison and his deplorable confederates should watch this talk by Nick Hanauer, a billionaire who understands that taxing the rich to help the ordinary people benefits everybody, including the rich.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBx2Y5HhplI

  21. Michael Taylor

    Did the cost of living go up in the six weeks I was away, or am I imagining it?

    A trip to the petrol station and to the supermarket seemed to cost a bit more from what I remember.

  22. Kaye Lee

    Petrol took a big hike. I don’t do the shopping but I would imagine the drought may have had an impact on prices.

    PS Welcome home 🙂

  23. Michael Taylor

    Thanks Kaye. It’s good to be back.

    Sorry for being off topic, but …

    During our trip to the UK and Europe, on six occasions people – on hearing we were Aussies – struck up a conversation on what they new about Australia. Two of them said how much they liked Aboriginal art. The other four mentioned how cruel Australia was to refugees. Morrison and Dutton will be so pleased.

    PS: I forgot to mention the dozen or so who were too afraid to come here because of our poisonous snakes and spiders. 😳

  24. Jamesss

    Thanks Kaye,

    Arn’t we in good hands now?

    He, is on our side 😋

  25. Kaye Lee

    Scott doesn’t get to tell me he is on my side Jamesss. I get to choose my team mates and he sure as hell doesn’t have the right attitude to make it onto my team.

  26. MöbiusEcko

    I noticed that in all Morrison’s pressers in the last couple of days, including the one today on forcing dole recipients to work on farms or lose four weeks of Newstart, he keeps saying that “I want” and “we want”. He only says he’s proposing or doing something because it’s good for the people or country as an addon to what he wants.

    And yes Kaye Lee, he often states he’s on our side and he’s speaking for us whilst saying what he wants.

  27. Cowspiracy

    @ Andreas, fully agree. But look what’s holding us back? a general self-sabotage effort guided by Parliament and a duplicitous media. The idea that sustainable economic activity can thrive if based on science, guided by expert analysis is a message not getting through to enough voters as yet.

    @ David, Tonga fell into the IMF debt trap. Then China came along and offered to ‘help out’ by offering a place at the table of the One Belt One Road Initiative. For an idea of how the banks took the Tongan economy to the cleaners read the following by former Tongan economist Leigh Harkness. Treasury officials here might learn something too – Save it for a rainy day when all of the deadwood is swept aside:
    https://treasury.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2010-12/swg-s-lh-6dec10.pdf

    “This submission focuses on national savings. These are the savings that affect the current account deficit. It considers the experience of the author in managing the balance of payments in the micro economy of Tonga. It goes on to reveal how that experience can explain the current account deficit in countries as diverse as the Philippines, the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand. To conclude, it presents an approach for raising savings in New Zealand that involves relatively minor changes to banking guidelines. Yet these changes can raise national savings, increase employment and stabilize inflation.”

  28. Miriam English

    Michael, welcome back. Interesting to hear that the view of Australia which people in other places had was of the art of our most oppressed and marginalised group, the cruelty being wrought upon refugees in our name, and our dangerous wildlife. On that last topic, you might like to share this with your overseas friends:
    http://miriam-english.org/files/ScaredWeirdLittleGuys_ComeToAustralia.mp3

  29. nexus321

    Nice article. The whole economy is ‘built’ on quicksand. We are about to find out that you can’t build an economy on a mountain of debt. Especially when all our investments are in the main in property which creates nothing for the future. Same with the billions wasted on defence.

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