By Dr George Venturini
The restoration of malpractice
Fraser, Lord Malcolm of Nareen supplied the mantra, bringing Australians back to their convict colony origin: “Life – he prophesised with haruspical solemnity is not meant to be easy.” He conveniently forgot the rest of G.B.S.’s quote: “… but take courage: it can be delightful.”
What of the Whitlam reforms could not be un-done was kept camouflaged in bureaucratic inertia.
By the time Bob Hawke came around he provided a shorter slogan: “Bringing Australia together.” To the electorate at large he offered ‘the Accord’, a form of Corporativism. He provided for some the opportunity to ‘get wealthy quickly’ – Abeles, Bond, Skase, and he did not forget the ‘mates’ of W.A. Inc.
Hawke provided Australia with the opportunities of the freshly imported economic neo-liberalism: the rule of the market, privatisation, re-regulation, cutting public expenditure for social services, the elimination of the concept of public good or the sense of community, and all that to be replaced by individual responsibility. Hawke had been captured by the simplistic mantra of Ronald Reagan: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
‘Privatisation’ – the selling of everything which stands or moves because ‘private management is better’ came around with Paul Keating. He added trade liberalisation, corporatisation and small government.
Neo-liberalism was more subtly, albeit quietly, redirected towards a particular organisation of capitalism; despite the slogan of the small government, the basic feature of such reorganisation was the use of the government and the facilities of the state to protect capital imposing market imperatives on society and by curbing the power of organised labour.
By insisting on the acceptance of class collaboration – a typical fascist dogma – the Hawke government introduced the Prices and Income Accord. Some union leaders became participants in the implementation of neoliberal reforms, not its opponents.
Class consciousness – often a difficult position to obtain and defend in a ‘non-ideological’ Labor Party – was disappeared from the daily relations and in a short time the Hawke and Keating governments succeeded in adopting and firming policies which would transfer wealth from labour to capital. The Australian dollar was floated, government utilities were sold, university fees were introduced.
When the air-pilots challenged the wage cutting Accord in 1989, Hawke took refuge on the Reagan’s solution: destroy the union. (J. A. McCartin, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, The Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America, Oxford University Press, Cary North Carolina 2011). This was just the beginning of a Labor’s anti-union attitude and practice. Later on, Howard had little to learn from his predecessors: in 1998 it sent police, masked-thugs and attack-dogs against the striking waterfront workers. (V.G. Venturini, Scoundrel times, in V.G. Venturini (ed.), In the name of Lionel – The second series of Lionel Murphy memorial lectures, Never give in press, Morwell 3840, at 112-300).
Regulation was kept and re-enforced against unions: in 2005 the Howard government would introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission to hamstring the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the successor of the Builders Labourers Federation that the Hawke government had de-registered in 1986. Modified briefly by the Gillard government in 2012, the present Turnbull government re-introduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission in 2016, further weakening the union movement. Result: historical low union membership; by early 2016 2.5 million Australians were living below the poverty line, and one out of every four were children. (Fact check: Are 2.5 million Australians in poverty and are one quarter of them children?, (updated) 03.03.2016). As at April 2018, 733.300 Australians were unemployed (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, Apr 2018 Quality Declaration, Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/05/2018).
There was continuity between the Labor and the Liberal governments: same ideas on privatisation, on cutting public services, on controlling wages and – above all – on removing regulations of any sort.
As for as the statutory agencies, designed to regulate, the emphasis turned out to be on “responsive” and cooperative regimes which aimed to work with companies, not against them.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is a perfect example of such lassitude. The Commission has strong legal powers but a woeful record of investigation and prosecution.
“Time and again, A.S.I.C. has been asleep on the front porch while the corporate criminals walked past with the safe. … Underlying such ineptitude is a habit at A.S.I.C. which seems to prefer working with wrongdoers, rather than prosecuting them. In particular, A.S.I.C. prefers to use what it calls “enforceable undertakings” in which companies caught breaking the rules agree to a token fine and promise not to do it again.” (B. Eltham, Capitalism out of control: Keeping the banking bastards honest has proved impossible, 26 April 2018, newmatilda.com).
In an atmosphere of globalisation, Keating’s anticipated neo-liberalism was confronted with some minor events: his nationalism was tarnished by the establishment of discrimination “for those who come across the sea” in an ‘un-authorised way’ – and never mind the international agreements and conventions that the Whitlam government had so actively pursued and ratified.
It was during the Hawke-Keating time that ‘the university’, meaning by that ‘a community of teachers and scholars imparting tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects’ (such as Bologna, born 1088 c.e.) was desecrated by John Dawkins, member for Fremantle, W.A., ‘revolution’, when he became minister of employment, education and training across the Hawke-Keating years. The ‘new product’ was sold at home and overseas as a more modern convenience, consisting of expected questions and answers as if it were a new form of entertainment. The exemplary results were of the ‘academic’ depth and quality as expected from a ‘professorship in tourism’. The final degrees were, with rare exceptions, conferred by factories of the new, export industry – the third near that of minerals and live cattle.
It appeared quite alright to a populace for whom values are measured in money. Possession of it would satisfy a description of economic life in what is mis-nomed as ‘culture’ pronounced in the local patois as ‘coltcher’.
Out of that schooling have come young people who cannot write English – and never mind, given their soon to be seen ‘orientation’, other languages; they do not read books, they have never even seen an encyclopaedia, and their knowledge navigation is charted by Siri. Their crude ideals were early collected and exposed by A.B.C. Robyn Williams in a lecture properly titled: ‘Here come the philistines!’ (R. Williams, Here come the philistines!’, The 14th Walter Murdoch Lecture delivered at Murdoch University on 17 September 1987), now printed in a collection under the same title (Penguin 1989). Williams had spoken previously at the University of New England and relates that a few days before him “the prime minister [Hawke] had been there, and he was greeted by a rowdy group of students who claimed to be from the ‘New Right’. They held banners saying; ‘Anything you’re for we’re against!” and heckled him vigorously. Williams is worth quoting at length: “When I spoke, I spotted their contingent quite easily as being the ones giving expressive use of the middle finger throughout my address. I found this to be unusual behaviour for a formal dinner and so asked to meet some of them afterwards. I encountered three or four young men who then told me that they did not know much really about the ‘New Right’ but had suggested some kind of demonstration and had been carried away by the unexpected enthusiasm with which their many supporters followed. They could, they said, have written almost anything on their placards; it did not matter. But the really fascinating comment was in answer to my question about why they had chosen their subject of study and what they hoped to achieve. They all said, ‘I want a BMW by the age of 25, and I simply want to make lots and lots of money.” (Id. at 8-9) Yes, loadsamoney!
The modest triumph of ‘native’ title (1993) after Mabo (1992) would be diminished by the enactment of the ‘Wik’ amendment, product of the Howard restoration.
Keating’s successor, John Winston Howard, won his position in the shadow cabinet at the pirate boarding of 1975 and advanced his chance as future Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs by rummaging, in company of the future Treasurer Sir Phillip Reginald Lynch, through the suitcases of the ‘mysterious Pakistani banker’ Tirath Khemlani, who had abused the credulity and taken advantage of the passion of Reginald Francis Xavier ‘Rex’ Connor, the Whitlam government minister with responsibility for Minister for Minerals and Energy.
Such investigating function is normally left to lower-rank cops. Not for Howard, a morally deaf ‘ordinary’ suburban solicitor and a visceral monarchist to boot, to abide by the stultifying forms of ‘The Palace’, or of the other sacred places of S.W.1 – the City of Westminster – which hosts The House and The Courts of Imperial Justice. Howard, quite likely informed by a publicly paid by privately engaged high positioned person at Treasury, could not think of anyone going to the source of Petrodollars by-passing the ‘middle men’ who work from The City or The Wall in New York. The ‘people of The Form’ did not mind that, and the pubs finally had something ‘juicy’ to talk about.
There was actually no ‘Khemlani scandal’ as a consequence of an attempt at borrowing money outside the ‘authorised channels of Wall Street and the City of London. There was at most a clumsy attempt ‘to keep the farm’ by giving execution to Connor’s plans of a national energy grid and a gas pipe-line across Australia from the North-West Shelf gas-fields of Western Australia to the cities of the south-east. And that would have required the borrowing of four billion dollars, duly authorised by a decision of the Federal Executive Council presided over by Governor-General Kerr, who countersigned the decision.
During his five years as Treasurer, Howard activated his belief in ‘free-market economics’, which was challenging economic orthodoxies in place for most of the century. He came to favour tax reform including broad-based taxation, a ‘freer’ industrial system including the dismantling of the centralised wage-fixing system, the abolition of compulsory trade unionism, privatisation and deregulation. In time, Telstra, Australian Defence Industries, the airports, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, the national electricity transmission network and RailCorp. were sold out. And there were advocates for more sell-offs: Snowy Hydro, Medibank Private and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Wanting to be seen as “an average Australian bloke” – not a difficult proposition by any means – he exhorted Australians to be “comfortable and relaxed”. He knew how to appeal to a populace lackadaisical by definition; he was in office for eleven and a half long years.
During 2012 in a bid to quash rising discontent, the Gillard Labor government enacted Future of Financial Advice (F.O.F.A.) laws to ban a limited range of commissions paid to lure loan customers. The banks and finance companies easily found ways around these measures, knowing they would not be prosecuted. Between 2012 and 2015, financial planning fee revenue rose 110 per cent at A.M.P. and 39 per cent at C.B.A.
He was deeply and blindly committed to serve ‘the Great and Powerful Friend’ in Washington, expressing his solidarity in the aggression on Afghanistan – the whole country having been declared responsible for 9/11, and later still involving Australia in war crime aggression on Iraq to ‘liberate’ that country from Saddam Hussein despite the running scandal of the already mentioned Australian Wheat Board Ltd.
There followed six years of a ‘bureaucratic’ Labor government, with two prime ministers: Rudd-Gillard-Rudd. In 2008 the Rudd Labor government shored up the big four banks, which faced potential disasters because of their dependence on foreign funds, and underwrote their borrowings. This allowed the A.N.Z., C.B.A, N.B.A. and Westpac to tighten their oligopolistic grip. By the middle of 2009, they were capturing nearly 100 per cent of new housing mortgages, up from 60 per cent before the Global Financial Crisis.
On his return Rudd, an intensely devout Christian, provided Australia with two concentration camps, Manus and Nauru, for the mal-treatment of asylum seekers who had attempted to come by sea. It was costly operation which exposed Australia to the opprobrium of the United Nations and the well-known civilised countries, would cost an estimated 1 billion dollars a year, and only had the advantage of opening the door to an Australian version of neo-fascism with the successor: Anthony John Abbott – he of the new slogan ‘stop the boats’.
As at 30 June 2015, 3,202 people remained in immigration detention. A total of 2,239 were described as ‘illegal maritime arrivals’ and a diagramme provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection supplied the following figures of people transferred to immigration detention: out of a total of 8,588 people 3,889 of people had overstayed visas or breached conditions; 3,644 people had been detained at airport and 963 people had been detained after arriving by boat. In addition, 25 foreign fishers had been detained.
For five years Abbott transformed the hall and fore-front of Parliament into a brothel-like circus, in which he performed with the same language he had used at university while pursuing, half-naked, all those whom in his budding clerical inspiration attempt he would characterise as ‘commons’ ‘poofters’ and ‘femmos’.
In 2013 he finally became prime minister, having for years attacked an opponent whose cardinal fault was that of being female. Not for the Tony Abbott, who obviously learnt nothing when Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, about the Hanoverian formalities of Westminster but preferred the crudity of Phil the Hun, whom he later on in a prime ministerial raptus he knighted.
Julia Gillard’s profession of loyalty to the American Great and Powerful Friend, expressed before the Joint Session of Congress had not been sufficient to spare her from Abbott joint-like behaviour.
The Abbott premiership marked the beginning of a policy of neo-liberalism without any restraint; to be doubly sure the Abbott government deprived what was already a shameful paper tiger: the Australian Securities and Investments Commission of $120 million in the first budget. That caused a reduction of personnel of 200 units and, of course, ‘justified’ an unwilling corporate regulator in doing less. In July 2014 Senator Mathias Cormann, former general manager (2004-2006) of HealthGuard and acting general manager (2006-2007) of H.B.F. Insurance companies, attempted and in part succeeded in weakening the force of the Future of Financial Advice – F.O.F.A. legislation placed on the statute book two years before, and still for all intent and purposes dormant. H.B.F. Health Fund is a private health insurance company, the largest in Western Australia, the name of which betrays the fact that it also offers general insurance products including car, life, home and travel insurance.
Abbott had inherited Labor’s Future of Financial Advice Act, legislated in 2012 but not due to take full effect until mid-2014 – at first.
The result of a parliamentary inquiry and years of agonising about how to protect consumers in the wake of the collapse of investment schemes including those run by Bridgecorp Holdings Ltd., Commonwealth Financial Planning Ltd., Opes Prime Group Limited, Storm Financial Limited, Timbercorp, Trio Capital Group and Westpoint, the law banned secret commissions and required financial advisers to put the interests of their clients ahead of their own.
Actually, it came into effect on 1 July 2013 during the life of the Gillard Labor government, but the Australian Securities and Investments Commission decided to take “a facilitative compliance approach”, meaning it wouldn’t enforce it until 1 July 2014, which turned out to be after the Coalition took office.
Then, when all had been lost, the banks and financial advisers begged for more time. They have been “thrown into disarray” and would not have their systems ready. A.S.I.C. said it would not enforce the law until 1 July 2015, two years after it had been due to begin.
A.S.I.C. and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had given the financial advice industry an extra two years in which to charge commissions and escape an overarching requirement to put the clients first.
A.S.I.C.’s poltroons could not believe their good fortune. ‘The watcher’ was assured that nothing should be done until 1 July 2015. The so-called corporate regulator would give an extra period of two years from the enactment of F.O.F.A. ‘to put their house in order’; meanwhile they would continue to a use their credulous clients.
What is meant by ‘controlling the result of a royal commission’ is demonstrated by the one appointed by Prime Minister Abbott in 2014.
The Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption was established by the Australian government to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions. The Australian Workers Union, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Electrical Trades Union, Health Services Union and the Transport Workers Union were named in the terms of reference. The Royal Commission inquired into the activities relating to slush funds and other similar funds and entities established by, or related to, the affairs of these organisations.
The Commission was designed to assassinate the more combative parts of the Labour movement, and in particular to wound the leader of the Labor Party.
On 20 and 21 August 2015 counsels for the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Communications Electrical & Plumbing Union, Health Services Union, Transport Workers Union, Unions New South Wales, the Maritime Union of Australia, the Australian Workers’ Union, the C.F.M.E.U. and individual members of the C.F.M.E.U. presented the Royal Commission with applications for disqualification of Commissioner Heydon on the ground of “apprehended bias”. (Explainer: Dyson Heydon and claims of ‘apprehended bias’, by Anna Olijnyk, 18 August 2015, The Conversation).
On 31 August 2015 Commissioner Heydon concluded, that it is “not the case that a fair-minded lay observer might apprehend that I might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution of the questions which the work of the Commission requires to be decided” and the work of the Commission continued. Ipse dixit!
Clearly, Liberals have an exclusive view of what ‘apprehended bias’ might be; it goes with their ‘sense of propriety,’ as finally interpreted and decided by those who are ‘anointed to rule’.
Most Australians in the lower 80 per cent of the population by wealth are now poorer than when the Coalition took office. The majority lost out badly under the Abbott premiership. All those who earn income in Australian dollars or hold wealth in Australia have been impoverished by the extraordinary devaluation of the Australian dollar since the 2013 federal election. The currency has plummeted relative to all major currencies as Gross Domestic Product growth, productivity, trade and incomes have steadily deteriorated, and as deficits have become entrenched and the debt – both of the government and private one – has deepened. The Australian dollar fell significantly during the Abbott period against the New Zealand dollar, the Euro, the Japanese yen and the Thai baht. It fell disastrously – by more than 14 per cent – against the South Korean won and the Taiwan new dollar.
How Keating’s ‘four pillars’ of the Australian economy – as they would be referred to with ‘by-partisan’ admiration – would present in 2013 during the further deregulating Abbott government is illustrated by the following diagramme:
Continued Wednesday – The restoration of malpractice (part 2)
Previous instalment – Beyond the Palace Letters
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents.
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