Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Election Reflections – Three perspectives - pls read and Contribute to the debate

above: Australia's next Prime Minister?

With the Australian election result ‘on a knife-edge’ there is a need to reflect on what has happened and analyse what went wrong. In Left Focus today we host three perspectives - one from a Left ALP activist (myself), another from AMWU organiser, Don Sutherland, and the last from Tim Anderson – who offers a non-ALP but Left perspective.

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First perspective: Tristan Ewins

To begin; the mining industry assault on Labor has laid bare the real workings of power in this country, and the fragility of our democracy in a meaningful sense. No grassroots or popular organisation could match the mining industry ‘fear war-chest’ that ran into the hundreds of millions.

And great sections of the media 'came on board' for this assault on Labor too. Often this bias is subtle: involving selective quotations, framing of debate or emotive language. At other times it is blatant. Even the ABC focused relentlessly for the first two weeks of the campaign on the 'leaks drama' . This focus was at the expense of policy and substance - where the ALP could have made up ground given the opportunity.

Everything Labor did, most of the media put a ‘negative spin’ upon it. For instance: former PM Kevin Rudd was ‘brought on board’ to sell the message that whatever voters thought of the ‘coup’, too much was at stake to elect a Liberal government. The ‘Rudd legacy’ was itself at stake. The idea was to put speculation about disunity and instability to rest: to show a ‘united front’. Instead we had commentary on Rudd’s body language, and more disruptive and damaging media speculation.

The work of media in a democracy should be balanced scrutiny and allowance for diverse viewpoints, including scrutiny of policy: not the pursuit of the most ‘entertaining’ narrative. Was this just something to do with Australian media culture – or something more sinister?

Many were disillusioned with Labor on climate change and refugees: but the vast majority of these would have defected to the Greens and not the Liberals.

In pursuit of a majority, Labor has been on the back-foot for decades, as shown on the issue of asylum seekers. (although for some much of the neo-liberal ideology has actually been internalised, and thus support for its tenets is not even seen anymore as a compromise)

Labor has to compromise to hold together a broad constituency marked by internal contradiction. The rise of the Greens means there is now room for alternative (Left) perspectives to be voiced openly and publicly – and thus influence the ‘terms of debate’. This could also translate into policy leverage in the context of critical and reasonably conditional support for Labor. But the broader support base now enjoyed by the Greens, and the imperative of maintaining the balance of power in the Senate, might mean the Greens also have to contain some of their most radical impulses. The Greens should also try and open lines of communication with the progressive Christian community in an effort to broaden their support base further.

Over the long term change is a matter of mobilising the social and economic forces to counter the dominance of concentrated private wealth; in the public sphere, civil society, and in an industrial sense. Being a voluntarist I don't see this as impossible. But this is no easy task given the realignment of class forces in this country over recent decades.  What I think is that we need to get unions, progressive NGOs and progressive political parties working together, pooling their resources and co-ordinating their efforts. These are the 'power resources' possibly available to us. Imagine a co-ordinated and determined effort here; including marginal seats campaigning; and efforts at establishing alternative media - especially where it's needed most.

Of course the importance of marginal seats in this country undermines the political leverage of most voters. The Greens are right in supporting proportional representation. But even despite our electoral system; ordinary people can achieve influence and power by organising and intervening: in their communities, their workplaces and in the public sphere. A participatory culture is part of the answer to monopoly media and ‘one way information flows’. Although many older Australians are not engaged with ‘new media’: so undermining the power of the monopolists could occur ultimately in the form of generational change.

The Libs also pretty much got away with their line on debt and waste without much media scrutiny. They blew these out of proportion grossly - especially debt - and we need continue the work in putting the record straight here.

It is extremely important: that despite what's happened we cannot afford to let the Right *determine the historical narrative*. We need to continue to *contest* this narrative vigorously, arguing the need there was for progressive stimulus, progressive tax reform, infrastructure investment: and how the ALP achieved positive outcomes here.

We need continue to emphasise that – based on their own statements - the Liberals would have seen us into recession had they been in government. Despite the outcome the ALP made up significant ground on the theme of 'economic management' during the campaign. There was a movement away from neo-liberal consensus - and the credibility of neo-liberal ideology - and we need to hammer this home as well.

In the long run contesting this narrative is amongst the most important challenges; because if we don't then Left and Centre-Left forces in this country will be on the back foot - and probably out of government - for a very long time.

We also need focus on so-called 'working class Tories'; 'Howard's battlers': It's unavoidable that some working people will be socially conservative; but we need a clearer appeal to economic and class interests to undermine this base of support for the Liberals.

In the election aftermath there are also other issues Labor must address.

The prospects of a minority Labor government are not yet ‘dead’.

Ex-National Bob Katter might hold the key to who forms government in Australia. We know he's a protectionist and so may try and use his position to get protection for Australian agriculture. But can he hold onto this in the long term? (any hung parliament will not last) This gives him incentive for a long-term deal with Labor.

What if Labor offered a long-term deal that ‘locks agricultural protection in’ for over a decade, delivers infrastructure to the bush, and supports Katter as Agriculture Minister so long as he remains in parliament? This in return for ongoing support, including observation of cabinet discipline. Other independents may also be swayed in return for regional and rural infrastructure - locked in for a long-term deal. Of course big commitments to rural infrastructure would impact upon the budget, and would necessitate progressive tax reform to finance. Cutting other programs to make room is not the answer.

The Greens should be offered something in return for their support also: and implementation of their proposed $4.3 billion dental health scheme could be a very good start. That and the $2 billion commitment they want for Education. Some compromise policy on climate change will also be necessary. Understandably - delivering on the environment is crucial for Greens credibility.

Finally there is the issue of post-election reprisals within the Labor Party.

Some will believe that Labor should have held off going to the polls until later in the year, or even until 2011. And we will never know now what would have happened had the parliamentary caucus given Rudd a window of opportunity to turn public opinion around. Had he resigned under circumstances of a voluntary agreement, the process would not have left such a ‘bitter after-taste’ as it did for many.

So some are pointing to the leadership change; others are questioning the quality of the campaign. And then there is the issue of state Labor governments in New South Wales and Queensland – where infrastructure privatisation split the ALP within, and left many wondering if state Labor in NSW and QLD stand for anything other than dividing the spoils of office. Certainly the intervention of the mining giants was crucial, comprising the real ‘turning point’. But the behaviour of the media – with sometimes-subtle, sometimes-blatant bias - was out of our control.

What’s crucial for the ALP now is that the process of reprisal and counter-reprisal not get out of control. For the immediate future – while there is still some prospect of a minority Labor government – there is a need for internal discipline to maintain credibility.

But there will also be a need for analysis and reflection after the issue of who forms government is decided. What’s crucial in this context is the development of a structured and ordered process: honest reflection, but also such inclusiveness as to maintain cohesion: planning and mobilising for the next election.

Second Perspective: Don Sutherland

First attempt at coherent thoughts re Australian federal election

10 months ago it was hard to imagine that the Rudd Labor government would not comfortably win a second term.

Why do we today have - at best - a hung parliament but with Liberals holding 2 more seats than Labor, and 4 undecided? An Abbott neo-con Liberal-National Party government will be a massive setback for working Australians and their families and for much of the broader population. On the other hand, this is a huge win for the mining companies, energy companies, employer organisations and tobacco companies.

This grim story is counterbalanced by the very significant and powerful swing to the Greens so that they will have the balance of power in the Senate, and will have one lower house seat for the first time, alongside of (it seems at the moment) a new green independent from Tasmania. Overwhelmingly, their policies are progressive on the environment (although there are some blindnesses there), industrial law, telecommunications, refugees and asylum seekers, green manufacturing development, and telecommunications.

I think a number of interactive factors contribute to this.

Since Copenhagen the dominant right wing faction of the Labor Party, in it's machine, in it's parliamentary wing and in the union movement have completely botched both strategy and tactics, and the major, decisive moments that come along in any campaign. The Rudd Labor victory of 2007 delivered a big swing in seats to Labor, but this was balanced by having very small majorities in a lot of new seats that made up their majority. Thus, Rudd Labor had certain vulnerabilities and almost every major decision, particularly since Copenhagen but not exclusively, exposed these vulnerabilities.

Second, both the commercial and public big media gave Abbott and the Liberals a very easy time. (For example, driving around yesterday, polling day, I listened to Australia's national public broadcaster running 2-3 stories that were very favourable for Abbott to one that was not negative, but very flat for Gillard. Many other examples.)

Third, the Liberal campaign was very coherent and consistent. It played lowest common denominator values and policies very well. The billionaires will be delighted.

Finally, the broader left that includes the left both in and outside of the ALP failed to effectively communicate with the mass of workers on the mining industry tax, asylum seekers and climate change.

I am mulling over this question: "How much does our increased effort in time and content in on line communication interfere with our capacity to win support through face to face dialogue?"

I ask this question as an active supporter of and participant in on line communication. Strong political economy awareness makes it very easy to work out that the original and re-negotiated mining industry tax is a very good thing for workers and the suburbs and townships that they live in.

It should never be forgotten that a genuine grass roots mass movement called the Rights At Work Campaign was the decisive factor in the defeat of the Howard neo-cons in 2007. For real prospects of progressive change in Australia, an improved movement of this character must now be re-built no matter what the outcome of the negotiations this week about the likely hung parliament.

Third Perspective: Tim Anderson

Creating the democracy we don't yet have

Unexpectedly, it seems to me, a great opportunity for social change has emerged. This might seem strange, with another neo-fascist on the verge of becoming Australian Prime Minister. However remember that real change comes from widespread social participation, over longer periods.

First of all, the problem has to be clear - both of our major parties serve a tiny corporate elite, which likes to play them off against each other, to discipline them. This oligarchy (tightly interlocked finance, mining, media and investment groups) likes 'change' amongst the administrators, but never allows them 'power'.

Despite its origins in trade unions, the ALP is institutionally committed to gaining administrative office, and that means Labor must cut deals with this oligarchy. If the Greens, in their enthusiasm to be'credible' with the big powers, start cutting such deals, they will be similarly compromised, as were the Democrats before them. This is a time for bold new ideas, not shabby deals crippled by electoral ambitions.

The August election was a strong statement against this shallow electoral politics. Disillusionment with the two right-wing parties has created an outcome where a few populist MPs and the Greens will have a chance to demand some institutional change.

That is not enough, but it is important. What about proportional representation in elections? What about wider constitutional change and accountabilities, for example including (i) prohibiting war without parliamentary consent (ii) meaningful Aboriginal rights instead of constant tokenism, and (iii) a wider set of citizens and workers' rights?

We must hear genuine voices for popular struggles. But how is it possible to have a 'new politics' through the old language? Such voices are not possible through the corporate media, which bombards us with trivia, consumerism and 'market solutions'.

We need new media, and we need democratic controls (e.g. mandatory community participation in media boards, public and private) on the existing media. We want to hear the new MPs talking about real issues.

We need platforms to raise and strengthen the popular demands – for public health and education, an end to our appalling wars, real environmental solutions, support for genuine social institutions and control of the corporate tyrannies.

There is, I think, an opportunity for this sort of new politics, in the aftermath of the August election. And there is room for a range of new voices, including the Greens, including the maverick MPs, but also including all those of us who have been disillusioned with conventional politics. If we don't participate, who will?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Gillard could lose: It's an ‘economic rent’ election

above: the author Gavin Putland

Guest post by Gavin R. Putland of Prosper Australia. 

Prosper Australia is a self funded NGO (non government organisation), inspired by the economic justice that can be achieved by distributing the wealth produced from land amongst the entire community.


nb: pls also check out our earlier articles relevant to the Australian Federal Election;

Click 'Left Focus' at the top of the page; and scroll down for analysis on the election, and the policy issues at stake!

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In this article - on the eve of the 2010 Australian Federal Election Gavin Putland argues that if Julia Gillard loses that election it could be as the consequence of Labor 'taking on' powerful economic interests.  Here's hoping that isn't that case!! - but this account of the influence of economic rent in Australia is well worth reading.

Charles Richardson (Crikey, Aug.17, item 15) offers three rules on federal elections. The second rule, which held in the last six out of nine cases, is that first-term governments are re-elected (albeit with a reduced majority, according to the first rule). The third rule, which held in the last 12 out of 13 cases, is that close elections are won by incumbent governments.

These rules point to a Gillard victory on Saturday. So does Malcolm Mackerras's whimsical law of electoral history, which has held in two out of two cases to date, and which states: “Winter elections are always called by Labor Prime Ministers who are always rewarded by the vote of the people on polling day.”

However, a Gillard victory August 21 would defy a much older rule, which says roughly: “Those who upset the tables of the money-changers get crucified.” In terms of Australian electoral history, the precise statement is:

Of the major parties, only Labor has been courageous/foolhardy enough to contest federal elections on a platform of increased taxation of economic rent. In three out of eleven cases, it has lost.

So what is economic rent? Let's begin with the most general definition, which also happens to be the most relevant to the present election campaign, and then look at special cases that figured in past campaigns.

What accountants call “profit” includes the necessary return on capital (“normal” profit), without which an industry will not attract investment. Competition tends to reduce the return on capital to the normal level.

Sustained super-normal returns therefore indicate some sort of protection from competition; for example, the exploitation of land, petroleum, coal or iron ore enjoys such protection because the supply of the resource — at least for any given quality and accessibility — is limited. The benefit of that protection is economic rent. So normal profit is a cost of production, while economic rent is the surplus after all costs, including wages and normal profit, have been paid.

Hence a tax on economic rent, unlike a tax on wages or normal profit, is not a cost of production, but merely cuts into the margin by which the protected price exceeds the necessary cost. If the tax is implemented so as not to reduce the expected rate of return below the normal rate (where “expected” is meant in the statistical sense), it does not deter investment.

A profit-based resource-rent tax (RRT) estimates the economic rent of a natural resource as the margin by which accounting profit exceeds normal profit. To minimize the impact on the expected rate of return, and hence on the incentive to invest, the tax on super-normal profit must be offset by a tax credit for sub-normal profit.

Under the aborted “resource super profits tax” (RSPT), unused credits were to be refundable with interest at the 10-year federal bond rate, which was assumed to be the price of the risk that Parliament would repeal refundability of existing unused credits. On that heroic assumption, the same bond rate was to be the allowance for normal profit, because a more generous allowance would amount to a minimum-risk return above the minimum-risk interest rate.

Whereas the RSPT made insufficient allowance for normal profit, the existing company tax makes no such allowance at all. Therefore, had the mining companies been concerned about maintaining Australia's ability to attract investment in mining, and not about defending their economic rents, they would have campaigned against the existing company tax, not the RSPT.

Under the existing petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT), which has the same 40% rate as the RSPT, unused credits are not refundable, but are carried forward at a more generous interest rate after a correspondingly more generous (and more realistic) allowance for normal profit. So the obvious answer to complaints about the RSPT was to turn it into a clone of the PRRT. There was no need to reduce the 40% rate. That the mining companies focused so heavily on the rate is further evidence that they were more jealous of their economic rents than of their necessary profits.

Gillard's “minerals resource rent tax” (MRRT), with its effective rate of 22.5%, is a partial sell-out to the rent-takers. But by comparison with the status quo, it is an increase in taxation of economic rent. Tony Abbott, of course, opposed the RSPT and opposes the MRRT. So Gillard is promising to increase taxation of economic rent while Abbott is promising not to. According to the precedents, that means Abbott will probably win.

Why only “probably”? Because the PRRT was Labor policy at the time of the Hawke landslide of 1983, was announced during the Hawke government's first term, survived an apocalyptic advertising campaign by the oil companies, and was a point of difference between the parties at the 1984 election, which Hawke won. Since then, however, the Superannuation Guarantee has turned even low-paid workers into (among other things) small shareholders in mining companies, so that they can be duped into thinking of themselves as shareholders first and workers second. That makes life harder for Gillard than for Hawke. Moreover, the PRRT was in Labor's platform for the 1977 and 1980 elections, which Labor lost.

In principle, the economic rent of land can be captured by a profit-based RRT with a deduction for normal profit. In practice, however, as the value of land per unit area tends to be a smooth function of location, it is more convenient and more accurate to value land from real-estate transactions. This method is used for land tax and site-value rates, which might be described as valuation-based RRTs.

At the 1910 federal election, the Labour Party (as it was then called) under Andrew Fisher won majorities in both houses of Parliament on a platform of introducing a federal land tax, with a £5000 threshold and with no exemption for the family home. As the alternative sources of federal revenue at that time were indirect taxes, it was as if Kevin '07 had won by promising to abolish the GST in favour of an all-in land tax.

The federal land tax was duly introduced in the Fisher government's first budget, and remained in force until it was abolished by the Menzies government in 1952. Restoration would be difficult because the rise in the rate of home ownership — from 40% in 1947 to 70% in the 1960s — produced a large majority of voters who could be beguiled into thinking of themselves as land owners while downplaying their interests as consumers, workers, and land users.

Restoration of the tax remained Labor policy until 1964, when the tax was unconstitutionally omitted from the published version of the party platform without any authorization from the 1963 national conference. It was never reinstated. (Clyde Cameron told the story in the speech “How Labor lost its way”, delivered at the opening of the South Australian headquarters of the Henry George League on May 13, 1984.) The elections lost by the Labor Party while the restoration of federal land tax remained in its platform were those of 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961 and 1963.

Land and natural resources tend to appreciate due to growth in effective demand. Capital, in contrast, normally depreciates due to wear & tear and obsolescence. If the real value of an asset rises, it induces production of more such assets until competition enforces the usual depreciation — unless, of course, the assets cannot be produced or their production is protected from competition. So a capital gains tax (CGT) overwhelmingly captures economic rent rather than normal profit.

The last leader who sought a mandate to increase or extend CGT was Kim Beazley, who in 1998 proposed to raise an additional $200 million per annum by bringing pre-1985 assets into the CGT net. Only capital gains accruing after 1999 were to be taxed; but that didn't stop opponents from branding the tax “retrospective” — just as the RSPT was branded “retrospective” for taxing future super profits of existing projects.

On ABC radio in Brisbane on October 1, 1998, Beazley declared: “The only retrospective tax in effect in this election campaign is the retrospective impact on savings of a thirty billion dollar GST... If you're in a room with a gorilla and a chihuahua, on whom do you focus? You focus on the $30 billion gorilla, not the $200 million chihuahua.” Beazley won the popular vote (two-party preferred), but failed to win a majority of seats. Australia got the gorilla.

The introduction of the CGT by the second Hawke government was not a departure from the rule, because Hawke did not fight an election on it, and because the package was sweetened by the elimination of double taxation of dividends, including those from corporations whose “profit” was mostly economic rent.

The spectre of CGT figured in the 1980 election campaign, for which Labor had the PRRT in its platform. In a TV debate with Primary Industries Minister Peter Nixon, Labor's Senator Peter Walsh was asked about Labor's policy on taxing capital gains and inherited wealth. According to his memoirs (Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister, Random House, 1995), Walsh gave the standard response which had been stated in the party platform, and which had been repeated by Shadow Treasurer Ralph Willis a few weeks earlier, namely that a Hayden Labor government would review the tax system. In the hands of the Coalition parties and the Murdoch press, in the last week of the campaign, this non-answer was transmogrified into a wealth tax on the family home, and cost Bill Hayden the Prime Ministership.

The MRRT, like the PRRT, targets economic rent. If the PRRT was the motive for hobbling Hayden, the phantom tax on the family home was the means. The MRRT is certainly a motive for hobbling Gillard. We can expect the means to become apparent in the last days of the campaign.

The money-changers in the Temple of Jerusalem were protected from competition: they had the monopoly on the supply of the only coinage in which pilgrims could buy sacrificial animals. So at times of high demand (like Passover), they could rake in more silver than they paid out. The difference, less the cost of coining, was their economic rent — for which Jesus branded them thieves. It doesn't matter that Gillard is no messiah, no prophet, and no saint: she is threatening the tables of the money-changers, and they will crucify her any which way they can.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Election 2010: Final thoughts as Australia goes to the Polls

above: Fibre Optic Broadband is essential to Australia's economic and cultural future

In this article Tristan Ewins examines some issues that could be crucial for Australians still to decide their vote for the August 21 2010 Australian Federal Election. Indeed, there are many issues who haven't received anywhere near enough exposure.

Australia goes to the polls this coming Saturday: August 21st 2010. But some voters will not make their decision until the final day. Others might not even decide until they arrive to vote.

That said, what kind is issues might play on such voters minds as they make their decision?

What follows is a consideration of some questions which might influence voters – even this late in the campaign.

Would-be-Prime Minister, Tony Abbott opposes the National Broadband Network; claiming it's too expensive, and that it shouldn't be public. But privatisation of Telstra created a private INTEREST which obstructed modernisation of communications infrastructure to defend its own profits. Does Abbott want to repeat this mistake?

He is also proposing an alternative to the National Broadband Network which makes use of inferior technology. This infrastructure should last decades; but if we don't invest in fibre optic broadband now, we will have to do so in the future. Tony Abbott talks of ‘waste’, but given his $6 billion commitment to broadband based on inferior technology, and its probable short-term life span, does he really know what he is talking about?

As compared to the Abbott proposal, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy expects under the NBN “speeds of up to 1000 megabits per second”, 10 times the speed originally envisaged by the government. Conroy described Labor’s NBN investment as being "truly about future-proofing".

Another commitment from the Abbott campaign is their determination to drop the resource rent (ie: mining) tax which gives the people a share of profits which come from resources belonging to all of us. Rio Tinto and BHP now accept the tax. But Abbott’s plan to drop the tax would cost the budget bottom line over $10 billion a year.

This, in turn, raises the question: What SPECIFICALLY will Abbott cut - amounting to a full $10 billion a year - in order to pay for this promise? Will he take the knife to Health again? Already we know he plans to abandon GP ‘Super Clinics’ designed to take the pressure from hospitals.

Abbott wants to implement a Parental Leave scheme which will discriminate against parents on low and middle incomes. According to Jenny Macklin, Abbott’s scheme: “would provide high income earners living in cities with up to $75,000 and hairdressers, cashiers and hospitality workers much less.”

But even voters on low incomes would pay as a proportion of costs from Abbott’s Company Tax levy would flow through to all consumers.

Abbott’s parental leave scheme would initially cost over $8 billion over the first two years. Voters on low and middle incomes would effectively subsidise those on high incomes. Is this fair? Why should voters on low and middle incomes vote for this?

By comparison Labor’s existing scheme “provides 18 weeks' pay at the minimum wage, currently about $570 a week”: a flat rate for all.

There are crucial questions on taxation policy, also, which have barely featured in media coverage. Abbott is considering the Henry Tax proposal for a flat 35 per cent rate for earnings from $25,000 up to $180,000. Michael Stutchbury of ‘The Australian’, however, thinks there may be complications.

These concerns, and also some of my own, are as follows.

How will this affect overall revenue? Where's the money coming from? Will the GST rise? And where's the fairness taxing an average income earner at the same rate as a person on $180,000/year? Will Abbott announce the FULL details of his plans for tax well ahead of the election day? Voters deserve the full story.

Then there are Liberal claims about ‘debt’ and ‘waste’.

In fact, Liberal claims of ‘stimulus waste’ are greatly exaggerated; and their advertisements downright deceptive. At first, Liberal ‘attack ads’ accused Labor of an ‘$8 billion waste’ on ‘school halls’. This has now been revised to ‘UP TO $8 billion’.

‘The Age’, however, reported that the costs of Labor’s ‘Building the Education Revolution’ (BER) infrastructure program “blew out by [only] up to 12 per cent”. Any blow-out is obviously a problem; but the Liberal response via their ‘attack ads’ has been one of extreme and deliberate exaggeration.

Despite the hype, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that only 2.7% of all schools engaging in infrastructure projects funded by Labor's BER program have reported problems with the program! See SMH:

And meanwhile the BER program provided economic stimulus when it was desperately needed: with school communities all over the country now enjoying vital infrastructure which will enhance education processes and outcomes for generations.

Tim Colebatch - Economics editor of ‘The Age’ - has also blown Liberal claims to the ‘high ground’ on debt out of the water. Writing on August 12th, Colebatch claimed that the Coalition “has used up almost all its budget savings for new spending and tax cuts, leaving it with a bit over $1 billion of net savings over the next four years - on its own costings.”

To put that in context, with an economy valued at over Aus $1.1 Trillion, we’re referring to less than 0.0025% of GDP in additional surplus for the Coalition as opposed to Labor.

Here would-be-PM-Abbott is playing upon negative preconceptions built up with regards Labor and economic management: but the reality is that Labor stimulus prevented recession, and Coalition claims on debt management simply have no substance.

Recession under Abbott would have meant a downward spiral of unemployment, falling public revenue and government debt. Abbott has been ‘running scared’ from a debate with Gillard on the economy. He doesn’t want his policies subjected to real scrutiny.

Under Labor Australia has maintained its ‘AAA’ credit rating, aiming for a return to surplus – after the critically-required stimulus - within 3 years.

And drawing on Treasury statistics: “Australian Government net debt is expected to peak at 6 per cent of GDP in 2011-12 compared with a peak of 94 per cent of GDP for the G7 economies.”

And regardless of this, fears about public debt need to be placed into perspective.

Reduction of public debt under the Howard Coalition government came from privatisations – asset sales which saw reductions in debt matched or outstripped by reductions in government revenue.

And neglect to modernise infrastructure and invest in education - as typified under Howard - costs the economy in the long-run. Obviously what’s needed is a balance between managing debt, and investing for the future.

Neglected issues and final observations

There are other issues which also have been neglected during the campaign, and in media analysis of policy.

Firstly: affordability and availability of housing.

Under Howard a housing bubble developed which grossly inflated property values. This means that even modest movements in interest rates have a greatly magnified effect on mortgage repayments. Many can no longer afford home ownership.

What is needed is a massive investment in social housing; not only to provide for the poor and vulnerable; but crucially - to increase supply and make housing affordable again. Simply releasing new land alone isn't enough, though - because there is the added cost of new infrastructure. Neither major party is leading on this issue, afraid to make an investment of the necessary scale to make a real difference. Greens policy on this issue seems deeply-thought-out; but on their policy websites they provide no costings.

Secondly, there is the demographic challenge, and the need for a reformed social wage

Australia has an ageing population; which means in the future we'll have lower labour market participation. This will effect revenue and squeeze funds for services, infrastructure and welfare. We also have tendencies towards labour market polarisation which means we need a stronger social wage in areas such as health, education, welfare and transport. This needs also to be complemented with subsidies for energy and water, as well as communications; and intervention to support social participation. The consequence is that we need progressive tax reform to maintain welfare, infrastructure, services. Who will do the right thing and progressively reform tax?

Finally, there is the matter of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President, Dr Andrew Pesce, stated in July of this year:

“Labor’s draft National Disability Strategy is based on the right for people with disability to enjoy full and effective participation and inclusion in society, and the right to have respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and to be independent.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates there are 1.5 million people [in Australia] with a severe disability and that will grow to 2.3 million by 2030.

All of us; and all our families are potentially at risk. Therefore: providing dignity, security and participation for those affected is a matter of personal interest to all of us. It is also a matter of human decency.

According to ‘The Australian’ an NDIS would come “with a price tag: a net $4bn to $5bn a year to cover people aged under 65.”

That’s about half of what it would cost for Abbott to cut the resource rent (ie: mining) tax.

And of course the elderly must be fully covered also.

A new levy similar to the Medicare Levy could be established at a rate of 1% or 1.5% for taxpayers.

But regardless of the human need it appears the major parties are shying away from such fundamental and urgently needed reform: as a consequence of the price tag.

Again, the Greens have supported an NDIS type scheme in principle, but haven’t put a dollar-amount on that commitment.

This author is still hoping Labor will announce a NDIS as a last minute ‘drawcard’ establishing Labor’s superior credentials in Welfare and Health, and providing scope for enhancement of mental health services.


There are many important issues facing voters in this election. Labor acted quickly in response to the Global Financial Crisis. Labor stimulus was swift – as necessary – but moving so quickly inevitably involved some waste. The alternative was recession.

Although forced to compromise, Labor’s resource-rent tax will take in approximately $10 billion a year: providing scope for the Company Tax cuts that underpin an increase in employer superannuation contributions to 12%.

Labor rolled back the worst of WorkChoices – but there is more to be done. No worker should be worse off under Award modernisation; and workers deserve the right to pattern bargaining.

There are many other issues as we have discussed here also.

In the face of Liberal deception on debt, waste and stimulus, the real choice for socially and economically-conscious voters is between parties of the Left and Centre-Left.

There’s the choice of rewarding Labor for what reform it has achieved; or trying to nudge Labor into further action by voting for the Greens.

Some will not be able to stomach the kind of pragmatic electorally-driven decisions Labor has made: for instance with regard to refugees. And Green balance-of-power in the Senate may spur more of the kind of reform as we saw with Labor and the Greens having worked out reform of Disability and Aged Pensions in response to a rising cost of living.

But rewarding Labor for what it HAS done right may provide the motivation – and the self-interest - for more reform as well.

This election will be close. Every vote matters. Make your vote count on August 21st.

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FINALLY: This article should be re-appearing in On Line Opinion Wednesday or Thursday this week - before the August 21 election.   Feel welcome to let your friends and contacts know, and contribute to this last minute debate at On Line Opinion when it takes place.  It's worth contributing as there should be thousands of readers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Crisis Down-Under - Joseph Stiglitz

Above: Renowned Economist, Joseph Stiglitz

In this article Joseph Stiglitz praises the efforts of the Australian Labor government in warding away recession as a consequence of the Global Financial Crisis. (GFC)   Stiglitz is one of the most respected economists in the world; and his endorsement ought mean a lot for Australian voters considering economic management as a key issue in deciding their vote.

With permission I am linking to this article.  After an introductoruy excerpt I am providing a link to the full version at pre-eminent opinion website 'Project Syndicate'.  'Project Syndicate' owns copyright rights to the article.  For permission in reproducing this article write to:

Although not given permission to reproduce the article in full, I believe is it critical to 'get the message out': the Liberals' fear campaign on debt and spending is deceptive to the core.  Their policies would have seen Australia into recession.  I encourage readers to follow the link at the bottom of this excerpt to have access to the full version.

CANBERRA – The Great Recession of 2008 reached the farthest corners of the earth. Here in Australia, they refer to it as the GFC – the global financial crisis.

Kevin Rudd, who was prime minister when the crisis struck, put in place one of the best-designed Keynesian stimulus packages of any country in the world. He realized that it was important to act early, with money that would be spent quickly, but that there was a risk that the crisis would not be over soon. So the first part of the stimulus was cash grants, followed by investments, which would take longer to put into place.

Rudd’s stimulus worked: Australia had the shortest and shallowest of recessions of the advanced industrial countries. But, ironically, attention has focused on the fact that some of the investment money was not spent as well as it might have been, and on the fiscal deficit that the downturn and the government’s response created...
For the rest of this article follow the URL below!
nb: Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in Economics. His latest book, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, is now available in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Abbott a threat both to fairness and prosperity

above: Australia's Federal Parliament House

In this article Tristan Ewins considers the coming Australian Federal election, incuding what the consequences of an Abbott conservative government would be in terms of social justice and economic prosperity.

As the 2010 Australian Federal election nears the future of our nation hangs in the balance. A few months back many would have thought the prospect of an Abbott Coalition government unlikely at best. Labor was riding high in the polls: credited with navigating our way from the dangerous shoals of recession. And the government had done this with an eye to social justice, not only reforming pensions, but also buoying consumer confidence with direct payments to those on welfare and low incomes.

As opposed to the conservatives, Labor looked to the future; with a promise to build the National Broadband Network, laying the foundations for the future knowledge economy. By comparison, in this regard the conservatives have been short-sighted and opportunistic.

Further: the Abbott ascension to Opposition leadership initially underscored divisions amongst the conservative parties, and their lack of substance and credibility on climate change.

But since then – and for some months – it has been mainly downhill for Labor.

There were issues that had weakened the government for some time, but Labor's re-election chances remained strong.

The home insulation and school infrastructure programs are now widely believed to have been poorly managed. In reality, though, the school infrastructure program added to the stimulus when it was needed most; and for many schools the product of the expenditure has been of real value: its benefit long-lasting. Genuine shortcomings in regulatory oversight were partly the fault of public servants who should have advised the government, but the government could not avoid responsibility for flaws in policy implementation.

As a consequence, the conservatives have been able to make up ground on the theme of “competency” outside any values context.

More recent developments, however, have threatened the survival of the Federal Labor government.

The mining industry fear campaign over resource rent taxation had saturated the media, marking a turning point with Labor put decisively onto the defensive. Suddenly Rudd’s leadership was seen as a liability, with a ‘fresh start’ perceived as the only way to stem the haemorrhaging of the government’s support.

With Julia Gillard now catapulted into the office of Prime Minister, Federal Labor’s support in the polls appeared to firm. Gillard thus resolved to take advantage, and seek for herself a mandate, calling an election for August 21.

But since then Gillard’s proposal for a ‘Citizens Assembly’ to work for consensus on climate change has been interpreted as indecision. Further, Abbott has whipped up groundless fear over debt (Australia’s government debt is amongst the lowest in the world), and has outflanked Labor in trumping the government with commitments to aged care and mental health funding.

Finally: Sensational leaks from within the government have overshadowed policy debate, and for many the removal of Rudd has left a bitter aftertaste.

Importantly, here, areas of the media are to blame for focusing on this drama of leaks from within the government, and even an intervention from Mark Latham: when in the public interest they should have been focusing on substantial policy debate. (across the spectrum, and including the Greens)

The ‘bigger picture’ – what’s really at stake

But there are broader concerns at stake in this election: and neither the government nor the Opposition seem to be planning ahead more than maybe a term or two. Labor’s commitment to the National Broadband Network, school infrastructure and increased employer superannuation contributions are very notable exceptions. (although the problem of a two-tiered Aged Pension remains with regard to superannuation – as always) And as we will see, Labor’s policies are more sustainable in a social sense over the long term.

To begin, there are structural fiscal challenges associated with the ageing of Australia’s population, and what this means for health, aged care and welfare: with flow-on effects elsewhere, including transport infrastructure and education.

At the outset, therefore, it is important to note Abbott’s commitment to cutting the tax base beyond what is sustainable, including effective cuts in overall Company Tax beyond what has been promised by Labor, and the scrapping of the Resource-Rent (ie: mining) tax that rightly gives taxpayers a share of the benefit from exploitation of minerals and other resources that belong to all of us. As a consequence, increases in employer superannuation contributions would also be dropped under an Abbott government.

Further, Abbott’s parental leave plan promises to direct what sparse budget funds remain away from where they are needed most: welfare, health, education; in a move that will effectively see those on lower incomes subsidising those on higher incomes. Specifically, the program would “cost more than $8 billion during its first two years”, and a mother on an income as high as $75,000 would receive six months leave at full pay.

Australia needs progressive tax reform, with the aim being to support an expanded social wage to ensure certain ‘baseline’ needs are met for all of us. This must encompass health (including aged care), welfare, education and other areas such as communications and information, social housing, social recreation facilities and transport.

Without reform, as the proportion of our population outside the taxable labour market increases, shortfalls in social services will become increasingly critical. Here also a ‘two-tiered’ and polarised system comprising the market and a residual public social wage will deepen: what John Kenneth Galbraith encapsulated with the term “private affluence, public squalor’.

The crisis is further compounded by a rising cost of living: especially in areas such as water and energy – where the public are now paying the price for privatisation. And with high property prices the impact of interest rates when they rise is magnified as a legacy of the Howard-era housing bubble, with home ownership now out of reach for many.

To put none too fine a point on it, without progressive tax reform there just won’t be enough public money.

So public hospital waiting lists will worsen; dental care will remain inaccessible for many, and there won’t be enough money to include crucial medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Public education will continue to be chronically under-resourced as compared to privileged private establishments.

Insufficient public funds, here, will undermine even the meagre liberal principle of ‘equal opportunity’; disadvantaging less-privileged citizens, and failing to provide for the demands of an ever-evolving economy.

And again: whatever short-term commitments Abbott makes on mental health; a dwindling pool of public funds under the Liberals will translate into savage austerity elsewhere. An example of this is Abbott’s dumping of plans for ‘Super Clinics’ which would take pressure from desperately over-stretched public hospitals. Or else mental health commitments will themselves be fudged on over the longer term.

Other consequences could include insufficient public funds for infrastructure such as roads and public transport.

In keeping with this logic, we may see a further deepening of the ‘user pays’ principle. Where access to such infrastructure and services takes this form, and is levied at a flat rate, those on lower incomes are again disadvantaged or even excluded entirely.

Tendencies towards labour market polarisation also mean that there are many who are adversely affected by this deepening of ‘user pays’, especially in the absence of a sufficient social wage.

What we certainly don’t want in this country is a slippery slide towards an American-style polarised labour market, with the material needs and rights of citizens undercut further as a consequence of only-threadbare social services and protections.

And again: a strong social wage is necessary to provide a fair baseline with regards access to services and amenities; and to make up for distributive injustices that arise as a consequence of unequal bargaining power amongst workers in the labour market.

Abbott in strategic play regarding some of our most vulnerable

Abbott has provided strategic policy announcements in areas of special concern to the public. Although the overall picture under Abbott would be one of savage austerity, the would-be Prime Minister has attempted to trump Labor with announcements of funding for mental health and aged care.

In aged care the Opposition has pledged a “$935 million package” including “21 days of convalescence care for around 20,000 eligible patients at a cost of $300 million”, “$14 million for pet therapy programs”, and “$12 million to promote wellbeing and funding for companionship programs.”

And in mental health Abbott has promised a $1.5 billion package including “800 new hospital beds”, “$440 million for the creation of 20 Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centres” and “$225m would be allocated to build 60 Headspace services - treatment centres for young people.”

Importantly, though, experts remain critical. Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) spokesperson Yvonne Chaperon has highlighted insufficient wages for qualified aged care nurses, with the consequence of many skilled professionals leaving the system. In turn, this leaves aged care facilities with an insufficient skills mix.

And Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Andrew Pesce has slammed Abbott’s proposal to cut Labor’s $98.4 million in incentive payments for GPs to provide services in aged care homes.

This is an area of desperate need for those in aged care.

In the bigger picture it is well worth noting that the Australian economy is valued well over AUS $1 Trillion.

The commitments of the major parties seem paltry in this context. Quality of services in aged care and mental health fall way short of the real human need, and that needed to uphold human dignity for our most vulnerable. Across the political spectrum parties are ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’ for desperately needed funds in these and other critical areas: but few confront the need for progressive tax reform to turn the situation around.

Nevertheless and again:, despite shortcomings Abbott appears so far to have ‘trumped’ Labor in these sensitive areas. In effect he is challenging Labor on its own traditional terrain of Health services. Labor cannot afford to cede this terrain: the consequence of doing so would be to lose crucial credibility and support.

Perhaps the best response would be for Labor to announce a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Such a scheme would need to be implemented in a fashion which valued and promoted the human worth and social participation of recipients. And in freeing up crucial additional funds, further action would become possible: reform of pensions and disability services: as well as commitments to mental health and aged care.


There are many reasons to vote against Abbott in the coming election: and not only those already alluded to in this essay.

Abbott has no credibility on the environment, having famously proclaimed that “climate change is crap.” And despite the conservatives’ emphasis on internal ALP division, the Liberal Party itself remains divided – as Malcolm Turnbull and others remain philosophically committed to a price on carbon.

Further, Abbott remains committed to the spirit of WorkChoices, despite proclaiming the policy “dead”.

As Abbott himself stated “the word WorkChoices is dead”. But even if a Liberal government did not change the existing legislation, it could legislate outside that framework, effectively circumventing it regardless.

Crucially, Abbott is ‘running scared’ from a debate with Julia Gillard on the economy. Wanting to rely on pre-existing prejudices in the electorate, the last thing he wants is to provide Labor a platform from whch to spruik the ‘good news’: recession avoided as a consequence of Labor stimulus, interest rates low, and investment in education in infrastructure essential to the future of our economy. And then there’s Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN), and its crucial role in paving the way for the future knowledge economy.

Abbott’s claim to greater ‘competency’ in managing the economy doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And anyway: politics concerns values: matters such as distributive justice and compassion for the poor and oppressed that run deeper than “technocratic management.”

Finally: as we have considered in depth here already, Abbott is attempting to deceive us with a “sleight of hand” on austerity. He wants us to focus on conservative initiatives on mental health and aged care: but in doing so he wants to distract us from savage austerity elsewhere – health, education, infrastructure, welfare – cuts that could spiral into the tens of billions.

Labor is not yet committed to tax and social wage reform of the scale that this author is fighting for. But the difference between Labor and the Conservatives is tens of billions in austerity, the abandonment of crucial infrastructure such as the NBN, an uncertain future on industrial relations, and an outdated neo-liberal economic outlook that would have seen Australia into recession if Abbott had had his way.

Vote 1 for Labor; or for the Greens: but for Australia’s sake put the Liberals and Nationals last.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Election Fiction versus Political Reality

above: the author, Justin George

In this article, Justin George considers the shallowness of discourse surrounding the 2010 Australian Federal Election.  Spin and trivia overshadow political substance, obscuring the narrowness of choice between the main parties.  But regardless, rather than counselling resignation the author calls for mobilisation and hope.

by Justin George

The vacuousness of the current Australian election is the culmination of several trends that have been shaping and directing Australian politics over the last 15+ years.

From the time of the ALP brokered ‘Accord’ between unions and business to allow for the introduction of Hawke and Keating’s free market reforms, to the push to the right and conservatism of the Howard years that resulted in a jingoistic and antiquated form of nationalism and political dialogue, Australian politics and political parties have drifted to the right of the political spectrum for the last twenty or more years.

The ‘wilderness’ years of the ALP during the Howard reign, saw it completely shake itself of any meaningful remnants of its past as a worker’s party. To share power in modern Australia requires appealing not to working class interests or improving the daily lives of the majority of the population, but to ensure and secure the wealth, privilege and power of those at the top-Corporate Australia.

Both the ALP and LNP have moved away from their traditional, ideological bases. The disconnect of the ALP from any meaningful popular working class base is mirrored by the trade unions themselves as both have sought power over true representation.

The Liberal Party under Howard moved away from the principles of classical Liberalism, where concepts of freedom, justice and minimizing the intervention of government in people’s lives emerged from a rich theoretical heritage, to a Liberalism that serviced the economic realm solely. This was combined with a social conservatism that abandoned Liberal notions, outside of economic policy, completely.

The result has been a politics in Australia that is firmly framed by the right, with a two party dominated system where both parties rely upon and pander to business for financial support to replace the lack of meaningful popular bases within the country.

In a feedback loop, each party has moved more to ensure business support and funding. The further disconnected they have become from traditional bases, the further their reliance on business has become. This in part also explains why both parties have needed to embrace the rhetoric of populist politics to camouflage their policies’ true benefactors.

All of this has been driven by the current corporate media environment we see in Australia today. In this environment only two companies own and control all the nation’s major newspapers and television stations. The result, here, is that only one nationally available newspaper is published - run by billionaire Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s media empire spans the globe reflecting his rightwing, neoliberal position via a cynical form of crass populism.

As media ownership becomes concentrated and as people’s spare time becomes more pressed, the pressures on politics and media are to strip away meaningful debate. Exploration of ideas, of policies and their merits, are forsaken in favour of sound bites, catchphrases and the more entertaining clash of personalities.

The economic structure of corporate media also drives this process. A focus on profit rather than providing a public service to the population drives the current media model. A general rejection of intelligent and challenging programming that does not assume a lack of intelligence on behalf of its audience has seen a rise in sensationalist and vacuous news and current affairs coverage that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

The dumbing-down of news, and particularly politics, to a circus - a real life soap opera of personalities - makes for splashy headlines and easy to produce but highly rating television segments and news programs. This strategy is designed to increase audience ratings - which then enable television stations to sell advertising time or space at higher rates. This facilitates - for the right price - the meeting of a captive audience to a company’s particular product or service.

Politics then becomes another profitable media extravaganza: cheap to produce and to market, but yielding excellent returns. Finding or developing a political narrative rather than political content and meaning becomes the primary focus. In this manner we see elections being a clash of personalities and special interest stories: of Julia Gillard’s husband; of Tony Abbott’s sporting pursuits; the drama of Kevin Rudd being pushed out of office- the ‘who said what to whom’. If a narrative line plays itself out, or a more exciting or controversial narrative can be found then the story changes quickly and like Orwell’s memory-hole the previous issues or stories are quickly forgotten.

It is this framework that politics and political parties - especially during an election - pander to. Rather than challenge the reduction of important issues and ideals to mere soap, political parties cater to it.

Hence we have ‘Moving Forward’ vs ‘Real Action’. Hence we have debates so heavily scripted that the purpose of having a debate is itself lost. This is visible in both parties’ policies, especially the craven and ugly narratives being played out regarding asylum seekers, immigration and all the fears and resentment it carries. Policies like that attract headlines and vocal support from Murdoch’s lackeys and shoulder shrugs or mild handwringing from the Fairfax media.

This corporate media environment facilitates the appearance of difference between the parties. By removing the need for meaningful difference, news media helps enable the appearance of difference via its soap opera narrative coverage. In another cyclical process, the shift of Australian politics towards the right has also driven the media to find stories and divisions where few actually exist. As the parties become similar on what matters, media coverage spends more time on the remaining superficial differences.

Both the ALP and LNP are parties of business: only the degrees vary. To compete, the ALP moved to the right. Now out of power, the LNP has found it necessary to move even further to the right. In an attempt to not be undercut, the ALP, with Gillard at the helm, has sought to trend its policies even further to the right again.

The ALP seeks to mask its politics with an appearance of concern for ‘working families’ and the like. The Liberal-National coalition isn’t restricted by such niceties. The fundamental policy and ideological substance shared by the two remains the same.

The lack of difference then sees debate centring on how much, if any, tax should be placed on the mining industry. Or which market driven response to climate change is preferred. Or who can be the most ruthless to desperate people arriving from war-torn countries.

The debate is not on whether the market is fundamentally flawed in addressing climate change, which is an effect of the wasteful inefficiencies of the market that now threaten environmental collapse.
The debate does not centre on whether the mining industry should be nationalized with public control deciding how profits are distributed for public benefit.

The debate does not centre on the fact that our military, or our allies, are directly responsible for the destruction that forces people to flee their homes in leaky boats.

Such a politics would require principles and courage, a respect for democratic notions.

The mining tax ‘furore’ especially demonstrates the increasing vulnerability of our meagre democratic processes to big business and media manipulation. The modest attempt by Rudd Labor to cut into mining companies’ profits, and therefore their power, was responded to by an industry threat to remove the government from power via a 200 million dollar media assault.

This highlights how all parties involved pursued their own interests and forgot about the Australian people. The ALP kowtowed to the mining lobby, avoiding a campaign against it during an election year. The mining companies obviously were seeking to maintain their exorbitant profits, not caring about the environmental and other costs that come from practices. The media not only received a situation that could be easily framed into an appropriate narrative, it also was happy to receive the money from the mining companies for the advertising space to protest against the tax.

The difficulty of a principled, truly democratic and participatory Australian politics emerging is thus evident. If introducing substantive changes that seek to shift power from corporate Australia back to the Australian population were introduced it would face challenges much greater and widespread than witnessed with Rudd’s mining tax.

It is in this manner that both parties are parties of corporate Australia. To challenge their masters would see them removed from political power either from without or from within as we have seen recently. The result then is an interconnected race towards a hollow democracy lacking in real choice or democratic participation, driven by image instead of substance.

However, just as the problem is a web of interrelated issues, potential solutions also rely upon addressing these interconnections. Addressing the corporate strangle hold on Australian politics involves in the short term refusing to participate in the two party system. Voting for independently funded parties helps undermine the two dominant parties’ power base. If third parties are successful, election reform and parliamentary reform could bring about an end of the two party system in favour of proportional systems such as those in Europe where a range of political actors shape policy rather than merely two.

Media ownership reform is needed. Australia has the least diverse media ownership in the world. TV and newspapers provide a vital role in educating and informing people about what is happening in their society, a vibrant media means a healthy democracy.

Reject sensationalist news media. Turn it off or don’t purchase it. Demand meaningful content, and support small independent operations that provide critical information about those in power. Democracy means informed citizenry.

In the longer term, corporate, market economics must be seen for what it is- inherently anti-democratic, environmentally unsustainable and unreformable. Our economic, political and media realms all need active popular participation, with processes that engage people, facilitating democratic input and direction on how we organize our lives, how we make decisions, the principles that guide those decisions and the media that reflects, questions and analyses those decisions.

Further, we need a politics that addresses the needs of a majority of the population; and that seeks to empower the population; engaging them in the political process rather than one designed to create apathy and cynicism.

It is easy to be cynical in the modern world. To do so often feels like rebellion, but it merely masks an acceptance - and thus a complicity - with the world as it currently stands, and those small few who benefit from it. Elections remind people of this reality: of how little say we have in the current workings of power.

That, however, can be changed in both the short and long term. It requires demanding more from those in power; critically engaging in politics; rejecting cynicism in favour of principles such as democratic participation, equitable outcomes, and sustainability.

In doing so, Australian politics still holds potential be filled with substance: such as to improve and enrich our lives rather than maintaining the current state of popular disillusionment. In promoting popular mobilisation and hope: a better world remains possible.

Justin George is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne and Participatory Society Advocate. His writing can be found at

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