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Issue #1677      March 18, 2015

State of the nation

An address given at the Melbourne Unitarian Church by Marion Harper, honorary Secretary Melbourne Unitarian Church, January 18, 2015

“Although we give lip service to the notion of freedom, we know that government is no longer the servant of the people but, at last, has become the people’s master. We have stood by like timid sheep while the wolf killed – first the weak, then the strays, then those on the outer edges of the flock, until at last the entire flock belonged to the wolf.”

So Slavery so what are our freedoms? What is the state of our nation? It is a state of extreme corruption, manipulation of information, lies, lack of compassion, excessive greed on a massive scale both in government and without, and all this from the big end of town. Those in power are happy to bomb nations out of existence but can’t build a sustainable society. They can find money for destruction but not for construction. They prefer dirty, profitable coal to clean green energy. They worship at the altar of private and belittle anything public.

They admire the rich and famous and condemn the impoverished and the homeless. We are a fractured society, of minor wealthy and major poor. In Australia and around the world we have widespread austerity. Austerity is not the product of a deficient grasp of macroeconomics or a failure of “social dialogue”: it is a conscious blueprint for expanding corporate power. The program has been practised and refined for decades in the developing world everywhere, with similarly disastrous results.

In Australia it has led to poverty, huge and growing unemployment and unacceptable levels of homelessness. Universities have become businesses instead of places of free and academic learning. Taxpayer-funded services, such as gas, electricity, telephone and water, essential to our wellbeing, built and owned by the people, have been privatised to benefit mainly foreign companies, thus priced out of the economic reach of many people. Our highly valued health care system, based on the principles of equal access regardless of income, is being slowly but deliberately eroded.

Leaners and lifters

Government spends our money recklessly on wars that we should not be involved in, denies global warming, destroys our environment, signs “free” trade agreements that are detrimental to our whole community and sells off our birthright, wastes huge amounts of our tax dollars on self-interest and lifestyle while accusing the majority – the creators of all wealth – of being leaners not lifters.

In 2011 the Prime Minister, this good Christian man, a man who aspired to becoming a priest, made a public statement prior to his election:

“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.”

This is a government of liars, cheats and corrupt individuals who treat the electorate with contempt. You will remember that prior to the election of this discredited government, Beacon published a “wish list” that was compiled at a prestigious dinner organised by the very right-wing Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Present at this expensive dinner were the moguls of big business and media. Indeed, guests of honour (or dis-honour) at the dinner, for those of you who don’t read Beacon, were Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and, of course, Tony Abbott, prime minister in waiting. It was chaired by media hack Andrew Bolt. I don’t recall any other organisation or the media exposing that wish list as fully as this church did, yet it is this wish list that provides the basis for the policies that the Abbott government are committed to.

This cabal of powerful business, media and corporates, like children running wild in a lolly shop, gleefully promoted their personal interests and demands into this wish list that was to be the Liberal Party charter. (Payment for their help in the election: why not? They were the very forces that funded Abbott’s campaign, and the Murdoch media propaganda machine conned a large section of the community into voting for him.)

Wish list

There were some 75 “wishes”, some of which have already been implemented, some temporarily or permanently thwarted in the Senate, and some still waiting to be introduced. This list should be mandatory reading for everyone as a clear demonstration of both the power of the corporates to control governments and their disdain for the needs of the majority of Australians.

Of course we have moved on since the publishing of that list, and as you will all know, the list was followed by the government’s so-called “independent” Audit, again prepared by representatives of the corporates and again to con us into believing that if our country was not to sink financially their agenda must be implemented in full. They insisted on savage cuts to the social program, to a campaign to destroy the trade union movement by falsely claiming it was riddled with corruption and to implement the plunder of every service required for a decent life for the people (services not provided by grateful governments, but fought for by past generations of workers through the trade union movement).

Money was always readily available, of course, to allow government to embark on another abortive costly war in Iraq and Syria and to continue to subsidise their conglomerate mates.

So, it would seem that in fact we are really governed by an extreme right-wing cabal, organised by the IPA.

So who is the IPA?

My investigation found that the IPA is indeed a right-wing, corporate-funded think tank based in Melbourne. It has close links to the Liberal Party of Australia, with its executive director John Roskam having run for Liberal Party preselection for a number of elections. Following the 2007 federal election defeat for the Liberal Party, The Australian journalist Christian Kerr noted that a new group of federal Liberal politicians were “receiving support from former Howard government staffer John Roskam” at the IPA.

The IPA key policy positions include: advocacy for privatisation and deregulation; attacks on the positions of unions and non-government organisations; support for assimilationist Indigenous policy (cf. the Bennelong Society), and refutation of the science involved with environmental issues such as climate change. It is a non-profit company. It has a restricted membership of 54 people. It was established in 1943 by GJ Coles and a group of businessmen based in Melbourne who appointed Charles Kemp as its first director. From the outset it had close ties to the Liberal Party under its leader Robert Menzies. Australian journalist Paul Kelly argues that the IPA’s CD Kemp was “probably the principal architect of the original Menzies platform”. Throughout the 1980s the IPA’s primary focus was on issues such as economic policy, privatisation and industrial relations policy. It dabbled in a few broader issues, such as the role of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the role of churches in public policy debates. It wasn’t until 1989 that the IPA began to pay any sustained interest to environmental issues. Since then it has campaigned against the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, promoted the use of genetically engineered crops and defended the logging of native forests.

Failing people

So what is the “state of our nation” resulting from the biased wish list and the Abbott government’s compliance with what is the corporates personal constituency? It would be a foolhardy person who would disagree that this country nationally and internationally is failing its people and their needs in a way never seen before and removing or cutting essential programs and whittling away our democratic processes at a faster rate than has ever happened historically.

Public outrage over the budget has been long and sustained and we can be proud that we played no small role in this. However, the fight is not yet over and these campaigns must be maintained and strengthened because politicians believe they have time on their side.

It is no coincidence that the budget was preceded by a meticulously planned campaign to discredit the union movement – a fundamental ally of working people. Aided by the reactionary Murdoch media, the Abbott government has painted an extremely false picture of “corruption” in the union movement, suggesting the whole union movement is tainted when, like the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, big business and the banks, there are some varying degrees of corruption that need to be removed like a cancer.

However, there is no plan for a royal commission into corruption in the banks, among many politicians, the housing industry and other sectors of big business. Their practice of contracts for friends worth billions, kickbacks, spending taxpayers’ money on a champagne lifestyle, tax evasion, privatisation to enrich their mates, secrecy about how they spend our taxes, refusal to acknowledge the environmental crisis, are all far more pervasive and dangerous to the community than a few alleged crooks in the trade union movement.

But these are whitewashed while the trade union issues are highlighted daily in the media. Indeed, as an example if you need one, in The Age (25/11/2014) there was a feature article from Peter Reith, former notorious workplace relations minister in the Howard government, accusing the now Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of being under the thumb of the CFMEU that he referred to in the media as “a union of thuggery, intimidation and links to unsavoury individuals”.

Peter Reith and his mates are an authority on thuggery, intimidation and links to unsavoury individuals. Cast your minds back to the MUA dispute of 1998 where Reith organised thugs with balaclavas and dogs to confront wharfies to “intimidate” them in their struggle for their jobs and their future. Thuggery and intimidation in full, Reith and his Liberal government had close links with “unsavoury individuals” from Patrick [stevedoring]. The waterside union had a proud record of defending members from appalling exploitation and an even prouder record of supporting the needs of the wider community.

This became apparent with the extraordinary display of comradeship and support from the many thousands of ordinary Melbournians who descended on the wharf to support the wharfies. My lasting memory is of being there with my family and watching with anger as the mounted police rode toward us to remove us, when behind those representatives of the state marched 500 hardhat-wearing CFMEU members, not thugs, to support their fellow unionists whose only crime was struggling to maintain their jobs. The police were forced to retreat. Nobody will ever destroy my faith in the union movement.

Unsavoury individuals

Our nation state is in the hands of unsavoury individuals – many politicians who do not hesitate when it comes to lies, misinformation and introducing brutal policies that affect the most vulnerable in our community in order to increase the power and profits of their mates. The treatment of people seeking asylum – this is the real thuggery. Corruption among politicians, corporations and individuals has been publicly exposed, but like icebergs, what lies below the surface unexposed is far greater than the little we have become aware of.

I have said before and I say again that Australia is a capitalist society and therefore a class society despite the efforts of both major parties to deny this. The struggle goes on between those who have power and those who don’t, and if this struggle didn’t occur, if there was no struggle to defend ourselves, we would be pushed back to the slave labour of Third World countries, which is exactly where this government would like to take us. The state of our nation is dire. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider and will continue to grow under these policies.

A new Oxfam survey has revealed a great and growing disparity between Australia’s rich and poor. According to Oxfam’s report “Still the Lucky Country?” the gap continues to grow as Australia’s wealthiest were found to be not paying enough tax. Tax evasion by these conglomerates is rife, and while government gives lip service to the need to tackle it, very little is ever done. There is growing concern about the inequality in Australian society as a result of people who have “too much influence”. The report said Australia’s wealthiest one percent is richer than 60 percent of the population. The nine richest people in Australia have a net worth equal to the entire bottom 20 percent of the nation. The state of our nation means that vast numbers of people, particularly young people, are either unemployed or underemployed.

Youth unemployment is particularly acute. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has released a new report on the growing scourge of youth unemployment and underemployment in Australia, which is at the worst level since records began in 1978 with more than 580,000 Australians aged 15 to 24 either underemployed or unemployed.

Today, young people are more likely to be underemployed – to have some work but want more hours – than at any time in the last 36 years ... There is an old saying that a country should be judged on its attitude to the young and the old, and on this basis our country should be judged harshly. Youth are being scrapped by this government and so are the elderly.

We live in a punitive society. We punish without looking at cause. We marginalise Aboriginals, Muslims, youth, the poor, and blame them for their position in our society. If our society provided affordable education, secure work, socially just programs, and if we didn’t tie our foreign policy to greedy adventuristic US wars, there would be less chance of our young people becoming antisocial or wanting to be involved in foreign wars.

State of the world

It is my view that the state of our nation is also the state of many nations of the world. That is because we truly do live in a global world exploited by such organisations as the World Bank and the IMF, manipulated by US imperialist forces in order to serve the interests of world capital. So please note that more than half the world, nearly 3 billion people, live on less than $2 per day. The GDP of the poorest 48 nations (a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their name. The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from the people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money. The underdeveloped world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants. Twenty percent of the population in the developed nations consume 86 percent of the world’s goods. A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people. Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of who reside in Asia, and they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and conscience of the world. That is around 11 million children per year.

The issues of concern about the state of our nation and the world are so many that one talk simply cannot cover them all in one address, but I want to conclude with a statement from a much loved and well-read book, which is at the same time, a source of pride and a warning. That book is The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England by Raymond V Holt. Holt concluded his book with the following statement that I believe can still teach us valuable lessons today.

“The 19th century almost to its close was a century of hope and those who lived in it found it easy to believe in progress. They knew what immense changes for the better had been made in it. They could point not only to the physical improvements in health and housing and the comforts of life, but to a better education, a higher degree of freedom and a sense of responsibility spread among millions who in previous centuries had no share at all in the shaping of their own lives. They could rejoice in an increasing humanitarianism in all aspects of life and they hoped for still better things to come.

“They even dreamed of a world in which the satisfaction of men’s common needs by trade would lead to co-operation and not antagonism and make an end of war ... Men and women in the 20th century will try to solve their problems in their own way, but if they abandon those ideals of truth, liberty, humanity and democracy which animated the best minds of the 19th century, the time may come when the historians of the future will look back with longing on that century as in some ways a little oasis in the history of man. And as later generations painfully take up again the work of striving to create a society in which the head is held high and the mind is free, they will wonder why those who came before them lost their nerve and threw away the gains of centuries.”

Our task as Unitarians is to continue to take up that work in 2015.

The Beacon

Next article – For international peace and security

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