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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

For an Equal and Democratic Australia - A Program for the ALP

 


Leave a comment with your name underneath this post AND most importantly Join our Facebook Group to register your support
before National Conference in 2015!  PLS Read On!

join here at Facebook to Register your Support: https://www.facebook.com/ALPequalanddemocratic?focus_composer=true

 
Dear Friends and Comrades;

For too long the ALP has failed to find sufficient inspiration on the ‘big picture’ social welfare, democratic and nation-building reforms it needs to implement in government as a genuine movement of democratic socialism and social democracy. 

Please find below a ‘minimum program’ I have developed in tandem with other ALP members in  the hope of influencing debate leading up to the 2015 ALP National Conference.  

Included are proposals on tax and welfare reform, social insurance, environmental reform, a ‘democratic mixed economy’ and much, much more.  Not every proposal could be included because of reasons of space.

This ‘Minimum Program’ will be published at the ALP Socialist Left Forum web-page as well; and there you can also comment and leave your name in support of it.

Please also propose motions in support of this program at your local branch, or your ALP student club.  Or you may belong to a ‘third party organisation’ (eg: a welfare organisation, charity, student union or other advocacy group).  Motions of support from these organisations are also welcome!  If you successfully pass a motion in favour of this document please leave a comment to that effect either here, or at the 'For and Equal and Democratic Australia' Facebook Page. 

See: https://www.facebook.com/ALPequalanddemocratic?focus_composer=true

With enough support and wide enough distribution we may influence debate on the ALP National Platform – to be decided upon in 2015.

If you are a delegate we would especially be interested – pls let us know.

But we will keep on campaigning after that also: to continue to build momentum for a genuinely progressive Federal Labor Government for 2016 and onwards.

Again: if you support the goals of this ‘minimum program’ it is crucial that you respond by ‘liking’ it at our Facebook group – and that support will be noted.

see: https://www.facebook.com/ALPequalanddemocratic?focus_composer=true

There are some changes from the earlier version so you may like to read through first



As supporters of this Program we endorse the incorporation of the following into the ALP Platform for 2015:

a)      ALP Core Mission: We believe that part of the ALP’s core mission in government is to promote a progressive accumulation of reforms  - for the purpose of improving fairness, democracy and equity; promotion of a robust civil society characterised by informed and active citizenship and civil rights and liberties (speech, association, assembly; continued universal and equal suffrage; and basic industrial liberties);  And preservation of the natural environment upon which human survival itself depends

 

b)      Supporting Human Rights: We support the ‘core mission’ of pursuing  ‘political’, ‘social’ and ‘economic’ citizenship;  That includes the defence of civil and democratic rights and liberties; the provision of social wage and welfare rights; and finally the pursuit of a ‘democratic mixed economy’ via a plurality of strategies –

 

c)      A Democratic Mixed Economy: We support variety of strategies for a ‘democratic mixed economy’ -  including a mixture of public and co-operative ownership and control  (including but not necessarily limited to public ownership of critical infrastructure and natural public monopolies), as well as mutualism, co-determination and other related strategies; and also crucially including ‘democratic collective capital formation ‘(that is democratically administered funds such as superannuation, public pension funds, wage earners or citizens’ funds etc)  (nb: ‘collective capital formation’ was a term used by Swedish social democrats) 

 

d)     Expansion of social expenditure: We are committed to seeing an incoming ALP Federal Government implement a progressive expansion of social investment and expenditure – incorporating the social wage, social welfare state, collective consumption and social insurance; and state-funded public infrastructure

 

e)      Expansion of Social Expenditure Detail:  Specifically we aspire for the ALP to increase sustained social expenditure in the realm of 2.5 per cent of GDP – or by approximately $40 billion in today’s terms (as of 2014)  – upon taking government, and more throughout the following terms. (plus even more still if the Australian economy is in danger of recession and stimulus is necessary) More specifically, we aspire to achieve a Federal tax to GDP ratio of 30% over several consecutive terms of Labor government, with a corresponding increase of social expenditure in diverse fields listed elsewhere in this statement.  (ie: see article ‘g’) We understand the ALP cannot provide real progress regarding social expenditure on a variety of fronts  without such measures.   On social welfare, we reject ‘giving with one hand’ for the needy only to ‘take away with the other’.

 

f)       Specific Revenue Measures: To fund these new commitments we support the following:

 

·         very significant strategic and equitable rescission of superannuation concessions

·         expansion of the Medicare Levy,

·         restoration of a robust Mining Super Profits Tax

·         the establishment of a progressively structured Aged Care Levy.  

·         progressively-structured tax reform elsewhere

Additional measures might include crack-downs on corporate tax avoidance, taxes on ‘super profits’ in areas like the banking sector, and a reduction in the rate of dividend imputation.. A Federal Land Tax should be considered but might infringe upon the revenue options for the States. We also ask the Party to consider a moderate increase in Company Tax and actions to ‘end the race to the bottom’ in corporate taxation which is leading to greater and greater ‘corporate welfare’ globally. Other taxation measures will be decided upon by any incoming Labor government – but the ‘bottom line’ is that the total measures implemented must provide for the aforementioned increases in social expenditure, and  very significantly add to rather than detract from the progressive nature of the overall tax and spending mix. 

 

g)      Specific social expenditure/infrastructure measures we support for implementation in the first term of an incoming Federal Labor Government include: 

 

·         Disability Insurance,

 

·         a progressively-funded National Aged Care Insurance Scheme providing a broad range of high quality aged care services for all those aged 65 and over with the need – and without forcing disadvantaged and working class families to sell or take equity against the family home to achieve the highest quality care; 

 

·         Robust and progressively applied increases in state school funding; including improvements in funding formulae as proposed in Gonski;  

 

·         provision of comprehensive Medicare Dental – with a wide array of dental services provided at minimal cost and promptly for pensioners and low income groups;

 

·         Completion of the National Broadband Network – publicly owned and with Fibre to the Home technology; as well as other public-funded and owned infrastructure in areas such as transport, communications, water and energy;

 

·         full implementation of ‘GP Super Clinics’;

 

·         greater public support and funding for pure and applied scientific research via the CSIRO.

 

·         A review of existing job network services; considering the possibility of re-consolidation of a single provider in the public sector; And regardless of this ensuring an emphasis on a more compassionate, patient and understanding approach to case management; especially considering the special needs of the long term unemployed, the under-employed, disability pensioners, those with differing skill types and levels; and for  older job-seekers, 

 

h)      Welfare Reform: We are committed to the ALP increasing welfare payments in real terms across the board upon re-taking government through more generous welfare formulae.  We reject the ‘blame the victim’ and ‘blame the vulnerable’ mentality apparently promoted by the Abbott government. 

 

i)        Retirement Age: We are committed to maintaining a retirement age of 65 instead of raising it to 67 or 70 as proposed by Abbott and previous Labor Governments.  Indeed we are also open to the possibility of reducing the retirement age below 65 into the future.  Specifically we support reducing the retirement age for those who have suffered physical debilitation as a consequence of demanding work. (eg: manual labourers)

 

j)        More Welfare Reform: Again in the sphere of welfare in particular:  we support an incoming ALP Federal Government  providing substantial positive incentives and support for pensioners – including disability and aged pensioners – to ‘return to work’ via community programs (eg: in aged care, helping provide company and care for the vulnerable – unless professionally deemed psychologically unsuited to such work)  But we do not support ‘negative incentives’ or labour conscription of any kind for these people.  We understand that many such people – for instance the disabled – require flexibility which existing labour markets do not provide.   Again: we support ‘positive incentives’ and ‘flexible work’ without loss of pensions.

 

k)      Industrial/labour rights: We support a legislated real increase in the minimum wage as well as pattern bargaining rights for unions.  And we support effective subsidies for some of the most exploited and underpaid workers (including in child care, cleaning, aged care and elsewhere)– whether through direct subsidies, tax concessions, enhanced social wage provision and other effective measures  We also support the industrial rights and liberties of workers; including a right to withdraw labour ‘in good faith’ (including political strike action), and including a right to secondary boycott when ‘in good faith’ in solidarity with ‘industrially weak’ workers

 

l)       Economic Democracy: We support the extension of democracy on the economic front, and for that purpose will support a stronger role for producers and consumers co-operatives in the Australian economy on both a large and a small scale.  Specifically we support very significant but initially-capped aid to co-operatives via cheap credit, tax concessions and free advice/economic counselling - with co-operative enterprise supported in a variety of spheres, including  credit unions, insurance, child care and aged care, manufacturing; as well as co-operative small and medium businesses. (for example in hospitality) 

 

m)    Curricula for ‘active/critical citizenship’: We are committed to reform of school curricula for the purposes of promoting ‘active and  critical citizenship’.  Without bias, the point of such reform would be to impart balanced and inclusive understandings of political values, movements and ideas, and social interests. We believe active and informed citizenship means a stronger pluralist democracy.

 

n)      On Higher Education:

 

·         We support restoration and expansion of tertiary education funding; including for universities and the TAFE sector; with an expansion of tertiary education placements on the basis of an understanding of education as a modern social right, and not an exclusive privilege. 

 

·         We also support the humanities and social sciences for the sake of effective pluralism in the Australian public sphere.  And we support provision for tertiary academics’ participation as ‘public intellectuals’ and not only on the basis of the bulk of published academic works.

 

·         Furthermore we support progressive reform of the HECS system: reversing any fee deregulation, and with real increases in the repayment threshold; and forgiveness of debts of those who have  a good reason for not being able to benefit from the prior education. (eg: because of disability)

 

·         Gender equality: Finally, here, we support equal participation, and on-average equal achievement - between men and women in higher education, and greater participation and opportunity for those from disadvantaged and working class families.

 

o)      Treaty: We are committed to beginning formal dialogue with representatives from the entire range of indigenous peoples with the aim of negotiating a Treaty.  We support an incoming ALP government initiating such a process in its first term.

 

p)      Environment: We are committed to increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources so as to achieve a real reduction of emissions even as the economy and population grow.  Specifically we aspire to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2000 levels by 2025.  To this end we support large scale public investment in renewables, as well as generous subsidies for lower income households to acquire micro-renewable energy systems; and incentives for landlords to invest in micro-renewable energy. In further environmental reforms we are committed to sustainable land use and water management, achieving ‘world’s best practice’ in food production.

 

q)      Humanitarian Migration: We support a very significant expansion of Australia’s humanitarian migrant intake – increased very significantly in real and proportionate terms on top of what was proposed by the outgoing Rudd Labor government.  Additionally, we want for an ALP government to pursue diplomatic channels to encourage other prosperous countries in the region to also increase their humanitarian intake very significantly.  For asylum seekers we support humane onshore community-based processing.

 

r)       ABC and SBS:  We support continued funding of the ABC and SBS – and the pursuit of ‘participatory media’ principles and strategies through these channels.  We support a role for the ABC and SBS in pursuing an ‘authentic’ public sphere, and an inclusive pluralism. (with the exception of not providing a platform for the far right)  And we support representative ‘popular’ participation on the ABC and SBS boards of management.
     
s)    Public and Social Housing: We support very substantial investment in high quality public housing (facilitated through tied Federal grants to the States), and also social housing where it is more cost-effective - to increase supply, and hence also affordability.  (combined with the necessary public investment in local infrastructure in emerging suburbs)   Re-iterating from item ‘g’ –that means expansion of ( largely ‘non-clustered’) public housing stock to at least 10% of total  stock over several terms of Labor Government

 

t)       Local Government:We support a gradual re-working of the funding of local government – to ensure local government is funded in an increasingly progressive way, and is less dependent on ‘rates’ and ‘levies’ which do not take sufficient (or any) account of ‘capacity to pay’.  In that context we also support additional Federal funding for poorer municipalities to improve their capacity to invest in local infrastructure and services.

 

u)       Internal Reform: We support internal democratic reform of the ALP; including a direct role for union members in supporting particular policies and platform items; as well as direct election for ALP National Conference delegates; actual adherence to State and National Platforms; and a ‘mixed model’ for election of the Party Leader which may include rank and file, Parliamentary Labor and trade union components. In the same spirit we demand that both major factions (Left and Right) – and the Party more broadly - equally share the work of achieving the Affirmative Action goal of 40% women preselected for winnable seats.

 

v)      Public Sphere: We also support the establishment of a ‘progressive public sphere’ in this country, including ALP related forums, and policy and ideas conferences and publications which are inclusive, authentic, progressive, and which accommodate difficult debates.

 

w)      Strategic industry policy: We support an active industry policy aimed at the maintenance of ‘strategic industries’ with ‘strategic capacities’ in Australia; including through automotive production, shipping-construction and also defence industries.  (but not for export to aggressor nations) Said industries can also involve high wage, high skill labour. And there are a variety of potential models, including joint multi-stakeholder co-operative-state ventures – involving workers, regions and government.

 

x)     Multilateral Disarmament and Peace: At the same time we support a policy of realistic multilateral disarmament with the aim of freeing resources for purposes which meaningfully improve peoples’ material; quality of life 

 

y)      On Health Care:  In addition to the aforementioned implementation of comprehensive Medicare Dental and GP Super Clinics we also support the following:

 

·         Also increase investment in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to extend its coverage

·         Improve the rate of Bulk Billing

·         Tighten means tests for ‘Lifetime Health Cover’ in order to pay for the removal of penalties for low income individuals (including pensioners) who let their policies lapse;

·         Also extend Medicare to cover physio, optometry (including glasses or contact lenses), speech therapy, podiatry, psychology; provision of hearing aids where necessary; and also cosmetic surgery for those in extreme need (for instance as a consequence of physical injury)

·         Improvement of and substantial new investment in mental health services to ‘close the gap’ regarding the life expectancy of those with mental illness; as well as to improve productivity and quality of life

 

z)      A Comprehensive Bill of Modern Human Rights: Finally: We support a comprehensive ‘Bill of Rights’ in this country, supporting liberal and civic rights of suffrage, speech, assembly, association, faith, conscience. As well we support ‘social rights’ including education and health, a guaranteed minimum income; housing; access to communications and information technology; access to transport; access to fulfilling employment with a remission of exploitation;  social inclusion including opportunity for recreation and participatory citizenship; respect and human dignity.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What is 'Financialisation' and Where is it Taking us?





In this submission from former Communist Party of Australia leader, Eric Aarons, the financial sector is put under scrutiny for its amoral pursuit of profit - but at the cost of society at large.  As the author explains, some of the world's largest banks' actions sometimes verge on the criminal.


Eric Aarons

 
It is the new form being taken by capitalism, in which a worldwide coterie of Mega-rich individuals takes a far greater part of the socially-created wealth than can be justified on any national interest or social justice grounds.

 

It is taking us on a path that endangers the capacity of our natural environment, our planet, to continue supplying the quantity and quality of resources we will always need for our own existence, and the continued existence and health of the wider natural environment we require to be able to flourish.

 

We need to know for some purposes the cash value of the items we use, but to actually live we need to have the  things themselves, the solid entities, that we and other living species require for life itself, and to develop, over this and coming centuries, the full potential of Homo sapiens – a project which we have only just begun.

 

If my memory serves me, the economist Gary Becker said that a money equivalent could (and should) be put on marriage and other inter-personal relationships. We know that this indeed occurs, but is it in any way a recipe for achieving genuine community happiness?

 

The general concept of ‘financialization’ (a new and rather ugly word as well as a repugnant concept) arose from the rapid rise in the proportion of GDP occupied by financial transactions, entities and ‘products’ following the victory over fascism in the Second World War. From about 2 percent in 1940, it rose in the US, which led the way, to 8 per cent at the turn of the present century, where financial markets have dominated the traditional industrial, agricultural and social ones.

 

It also plays on a naïve belief, derived from the phenomena of interest and credit, that money can, of itself, make more money. A knowledgeable sales person can make up endless tales that seem to make sense of this for the unwary, and many are paid by their bank employers on that basis, being sacked if they fail to succeed in doing so.

 

Planned multi-billion dollar fraud

 

But as well as the theoretical fundamental weaknesses of the concept, it has now become, through the banking system, a centre of widespread, multi-billion, even trillion-dollar crime that, unless rigorously dealt with, threatens far worse catastrophes than those we have recently seen in this early part of the second millenium.

 

In his renowned biography of John Maynard Keynes, Robert Skidelsky quoted an unsourced remark that Lenin was reported to have made: ‘that there is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency’. (page 239)                     

 

I doubt that Lenin ever made such a remark, and in any case he did not have the means to actually do it. But the centres for financialization, the big banks, are doing a more than competent job in that direction, of which I give many instances below.

 

 
The intention is to treat all values exchanged, including tangible or intangible, future or present promises, as if they were a form of currency. Promises are morally expected to be kept and agreed processes observed, with legal penalties sometimes available to enforce them. But today they increasingly take on illegal form as instanced below, or that of `betting, which has now, among other evils, penetrated all forms of sport, degrading the site of one of humanity’s most pleasurable, even noble, manifestations.

 

There are plenty of past examples of financial fraud, but both the scale and the source today are unprecedented in scale and the source – modern banking, which is well advanced in corrupting the very basis of the currency, with potentially lethal social disasters.

 

Before giving instances of the scale of the crimes, we should note that they only became possible when Paper currency – that is fiat money – became universal when gold became impractical. The word describes  an edict in which a government declares ‘let it be so’ , or ‘let it be done’, derived from the Latin word ‘fieri’.

 

Britain takes the reins

 

Though Britain was near-bankrupted by the Second World War, its long-standing banking credentials gave it the call over the USA to be the world’s international financial centre. One of its tasks in this capacity was to determine, through a top level bankers’ committee, the rate of interest to be charged on the widely used temporary unsecured loans that banks make between themselves. This in turn became a guiding benchmark for a myriad of other financial transactions. It was called Libor – the ‘London inter bank offered rate’, set each working day at 11 am. (There is also a ‘Euribor’)

 

Many banks were caught out by the GFC, partly because the official economics had arrived at the point of a Great Moderation in which the boom-bust  pattern of development of the past would no longer apply. How wrong they were!

 

If a bank’s assets fail to exceed its liabilities, by law it has to cease trading. Details are not available, but many banks found that loans and purchases made in earlier and better times (say in Greek or Spanish government bonds) were losing up to half  of their value, so that the bank itself (Barclays for example) could have found itself technically insolvent and would have had to cease trading. Then, in 2009, when Bob Diamond, a former CEO of Barclays was in charge of setting Libor, he arbitrarily fixed the rate to boost the value of some of the bank’s holdings.

     

The prestigious American organization Council on Foreign Relations later published a background paper ‘Understanding the Libor Scandal’ updated on December 5, 2013 which said:

 

In 2012, an international investigation into the manipulation of interbank offered lending rates revealed a widespread plot undertaken by multiple banks – most notably Barclays, UBS [Union bank of Switzerland], Rabobank [Dutch] and the Royal Bank of Scotland – to leverage these interest rates for profit … Regulators in the US, UK and EU fined banks more than $6 billion for participating in rigging interest rates. Barclays agreed in late June 2012 to pay a $453 million fine to settle allegations that it had systematically rigged The ‘London interbank offered rate’ – Libor – between 2005 and 2009.

 
 

 

Many other banks joined in:

 

From now on space limitations will confine me to giving only the name of the bank; but further information is readily available on the internet.

 

Citi Bank

 
JP Morgan Chase

 
Bank of America


Wells Fargo

UBS  (Union Bank of Switzerland)

 
Rabobank (a Dutch bank with a long name)

 
The Royal Bank of Scotland

 
Deutsche Bank

 
ING Bank
 

Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Societe Generale were also involved .

 

Though, so far as we know, no major Australian bank has been directly involved in such criminalities, its general approach is similar. Known before privatization as the ‘People’s Bank’, some employees of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in October 2008 sent an anonymous fax to the Australian Securities Investment Commission ‘citing fraud at Commonwealth Financial Planning  and  alleging a “high level” of cover  up within CBA. The culmination of that action was a damaging report from the Senate economics committee. It sensationally found that the bank repeatedly sought to  keep the regulator and the public in the dark and its credibility was so tarnished that only a royal commission or judicial inquiry could get to the bottom of what really went on.
 

Major Crimes

 
Credit Suisse is reported to have misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the quality of loans worth $16.6 billion in mortgage bonds. (The Australian, 24 March, 2014).

 

The Bank of England has become embroiled in the escalating foreign exchange scandal after it suspended a member of staff and launched a new investigation into allegations that its officials condoned or were aware of market manipulation. The move is the latest twist in the $US 5.3 trillion per day forex [foreign exchange] industry, the world’s largest financial market.’ (The Australian, March 7, 2014)


HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation) may be outstanding in this field.

It laundered an as yet unrevealed number of billions of dollars of illegal Mexican drug money into the United States. Found out, in 2012 it paid fines for multiple offences of $1.921 billion (The Australian, June 1, 2014).



The Royal Bank of Scotland ‘had to pay large fines, bringing the total penalties paid in Libor settlements to more than $3.7 billion. (Wikipedia, December 5, 2013)

 

The Bank of England has become embroiled in the escalating foreign exchange scandal after it suspended a member of staff and launched a new investigation into allegations that its officials condoned or were aware of market manipulation. The move is the latest twist in the $US 5.3 trillion per day forex [foreign exchange] industry, the world’s largest financial market.’ (The Australian, March 7, 2014)

 

BNP (Banque National de Paris) + Paribas (Banque de Paris) $US 8.97 billion. The Australian reported (July 2) that, legally, the prosecutors could have sought double that amount’…..
‘US authorities are pushing for BNP Paribas to pay more than $US 10.7 billion to end a criminal probe into allegations the bank evaded US sanctions’. (The Australian, June 1, 2014)

 

On July 3, The Australian revealed how much worse than I have so far revealed the situation with the banks really is. It wrote ‘The French government which had warned that disproportionate sanctions could destabilize Europe’s took credit for the limited scope of the dollar ban, but “BNP Paribas will continue to be able to finance economic activity in satisfactory conditions”  said France’s Finance Minister Michael Sapin. And the paper claimed, straight-faced, that bankers ‘think that criminal charges are now like financial penalties: a painful but manageable cost of doing business’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

I think it likely that accounting-wise these fines might be classified as a ‘business expense’. If, for example, the scam netted $3 billion profit, evea a fine of $2 billion would leave the bank $1 billion better off, with none of its operators in danger of being jailed, For in  the banking field it is rare for  anyone to be even charged, let alone actually tried, and even then ever sentenced. In no other field are fines accepted in lieu of jail for major crimes. This conduct clearly trashes the basic principle that we are all equal before the law.

 

Until people in banking are duly prosecuted for transgressing the law, and jailed when found guilty of the sorts of crimes described above, I believe the debauching of the currency and the consequent social collapse foreshadowed by Skidelsky will become increasingly likely.



There is much more information available on the internet, but the above should be enough to show that unless the banks are rigorously policed, with prosecutions and jail terms for the guilty imposed, the financial system is threatened with the debauched state predicted by Keynes, but today in reality inflicted by the greed of the banks in particular, and the mega-rich that own them.

 

Some may hold to the view ‘the worse the better (for social change)’. But history does not support that stance. It is always the mass of people that suffer most in such circumstances, so we must, rather, struggle to avoid such outcomes with positive alternatives. I hope that, among others, trade unionists and their supporters will see the potential of the above facts to negate or diminish major features of the assault the Abbott government is developing against trade unions and the left in general.

 
All the guilty should be punished; but on this count the Left should be firmly on the front, not the back foot as it is at present.

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