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Issue #1713      December 2, 2015

Fulfilling the dream

We all have a dream of the kind of life we want. Generally, what people dream for is modest. We dream of security, a safe and protected environment, a job that pays a liveable wage, a secure roof over our heads, affordable healthcare, a good education for our children, access to culture, and a world free from war. These are very natural, moderate dreams, but even this is denied to many.

And why? It is because of the rapacious greed of a diminishing number of national and international parasites that currently control the world’s economies. In their never-ending demand for more and more, they deny our dreams in order to fulfil theirs.

Anybody who thinks that this recent change of leadership will bring our dreams to fruition is misleading themselves. What has changed is the leader, not the policies. Unfortunately, the bulk of the people who share our dream have been conditioned by both sides of politics and the media to believe that our desire for a better life contributes to the government’s financial woes. This conditioning is accepted and has become part of the people’s psyche.

Today, we accept as the norm, processes and policies that have no place in a decent society. We have been brainwashed by lies, sound byte propaganda, almost like subliminal advertising. We are encouraged to see poverty in all its pernicious forms as if it is unfortunate but inevitable. We talk about “acceptable” levels of unemployment. We view housing as a commodity only for the fortunate, not as a right for all. We generally accept, without question, that privatisation is more efficient than public ownership. We are constantly brainwashed about corrupt unions as if therefore unionism should be dispensed with. We accept the term “free market” as if markets are free. Wars have become the new negotiating tool and are accepted as inevitable. We no longer discuss peace. Trashing the environment is okay, as long as it’s good for the economy.

Vilified

We have remained silent while whole sections of our community are vilified, marginalised, made scapegoats: asylum seekers, Muslims, unionists, Indigenous Australians, to name a few. We have seen them locked up, victimised, exploited, even tortured … and we have remained silent. We have remained acquiescent when our governments, without any consultation with Parliament, wage wars of aggression against innocent people around the world in the name of democracy, while we witness much of that same democracy destroyed at home.

While giving lip service to democracy, we lock up and torture those trying to escape the very wars we have inflicted on them and which we prosecute without genuine justification. And we can’t even use the words that Jesus was purported to have used: “Forgive them father, they know not what they do”, because the ruling class, the international parasites, know exactly what they are doing. They are astronomically increasing their share of the common wealth, which we and our forebears have created, and they are imposing an austerity regime on us to ensure they are free to do so.

All of the processes that I have described that are alien to a decent society are bundled into a program now well known to us as “austerity”. Austerity is a word we are becoming accustomed to and some say, well, the national debt has to be paid and we all have to pull our weight. The previous Treasurer went much further: he divided our nation into “lifters and leaners”. He believes that the leaners are those on benefits (the aged, the unemployed, the poor) and the lifters as large corporations, politicians, the wealthiest section of our community.

Austerity con

The need for this austerity is a con and it is working. Austerity is necessary, we are told, because we are in huge debt. In order to service this debt, we must all accept a more austere way of life. However, the debt is not ours, we didn’t incur it and austerity is not being imposed on those that did. How has austerity affected those who are called the leaners? To reveal some aspects of this, I draw on a report by St Vincent De Paul, the social arm of the Catholic Church.

They said, and I quote from sections of that report:

“Australia currently faces the paradox of poverty in a land of plenty. Vinnies believes a good government acts as a good global citizen: it does not build its prosperity at the expense of others. The statement argues that a good society does not humiliate any of its people. People are humiliated when they are denied the essentials of life – a place to live, a place to work and a place to learn.

“What is austerity policy? Austerity is a word that describes a range of policies that generally involve central government reducing its spending. There is a range of flow-on ramifications from these policies. These include service cuts and reducing the size of the public service, outsourcing to private or not-for-profit providers, devolving powers to local government, and trying to place more responsibility in the hands of individuals themselves. Vinnies believes any austerity measures that result in cuts to essential social expenditure, such as education, housing and income support payments are politically rather than economically motivated. We are concerned that our identity as a nation is changing, becoming less fair, kind, and compassionate on the one hand and more individualistic on the other.”

What has austerity meant overseas? St Vinnies says, “In the United Kingdom, austerity was a core plank of Thatcherism, and has since been revived by the UK Conservative Party with the ‘Big Society’ policy from 2010. Austerity in the UK has resulted in deep and universal funding cuts. Social housing spending has been reduced by 52% since 2010, and this seems to have contributed to a 14% increase in homelessness over that time. There have also been cuts in spending on mental health services, leading to increased relapse and readmission rates.

“Local communities have not been given extra resources to help manage their new responsibilities – in fact, local governments have had severe funding cuts. Charities have not had funding increased to meet increased need – in fact, there has been a 35% funding cut to the religious and community sector. Volunteering and charitable donations have not increased. In short, the vacuum in services has not been filled in any way. Moreover, outsourcing has resulted in predictable drops in the level of care and service provided, as the corporate structure of the providers is geared towards profits rather than people.”

A telling example of this appalling policy is the impact on low-income families, for example, in Yorkshire. According to the Yorkshire Evening News, they experienced soaring hospital admissions for malnutrition. In 2014 there were more than 27,000 suffering from malnutrition in a wealthy nation like the UK in the 21st century.

Recent fiscal policy in the United States has also seen austerity measures take hold. What began as a banking crisis soon saw the blame and the cost pushed downwards, and local units of government, and individuals, appear to be paying the price. Limitations have been placed on local government spending, which has seen cuts in pensions, and increased user fees. Privatisation has also taken hold, along with selling public assets. As well as this, there have been severe cuts in public sector employment, in some areas as much as 70%. Very lean local government has proven unable to deliver the range of services required of it; for example, a surprising number of cities have had to turn off their street lights due to an inability to pay providers.

“Death of a future”

Austerity across Europe has resulted in massive poverty and no resolution of the problems that face those countries. There are no dreams for people in any of these places, just the nightmare of poverty and no future. Meanwhile, politicians in Australia and in other wealthy First World nations give no leadership, have no solutions except further hardship for the majority while wealth and power are centralised in fewer and fewer hands.

Associate Professor Lucas Walsh, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Education at Monash University, seemed to sum it up well in The Age (08-09-2015) in an article headed “World’s problems rob our children of a future”. He says, in part, “The image of Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdee lying dead on the beach evoked widespread outrage and despair, but something deeper and equally distressing was lying on that beach, the death of a future ... the future seems bleak. Young people must navigate seas of uncertainty and are acutely aware of this.”

Professor Walsh says, “Figures published this year suggest that 73 million young people worldwide are looking for work.” He concludes: “If there is one final effect of that image of Aylan on the beach it is to signify the death of a future ... one can only hope that his death is more than this week’s trending item on social media, but a catalyst for a whole new way of thinking about our shared problems of humanity. We are no longer talking about the end of history, but the end of the future.”

We have to do more than dream. We need drastic action. In the UK, where the Labour Party has elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the Murdoch media lost no time in describing him as an outrageous socialist who would destroy the country. I was privileged to attend one of his meetings in the UK. Twelve hundred people packed into a hall to hear him speak. These meetings were duplicated across the UK and resulted in a surge of membership to the Labour Party, exceeding 400,000. Corbyn is not calling for the overthrow of capitalism (more’s the pity). He is calling only for a radical overhaul of that system in Britain. Yet the ruling class and its lackeys, including many in his own party, are screaming blue murder and will stop at nothing to destroy him. So, what dreadful proposals has this “terrible” radical called for?

I quote here from part of his address to the meeting I attended:

“For those of us both within and outside the world of politics, it’s been a summer like no other. We have been making the point for the past five years of ideologically driven austerity that it doesn’t have to be like this, that austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity. A fuse has been lit and a new kind of more inclusive, less personalised politics has been let out of the bottle. There is an optimism about this campaign that has attracted people to come to meetings and debate political issues.

“Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a fundamental change of approach to our politics is long overdue. Despite the barrage of attacks; hysteria and deliberate misrepresentation of the positions we have put forward, it is our message which is resonating. What is extreme is not the popular proposals we are putting forward but this government’s cynical attempt to pay for a crisis on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable. This was a crisis brought about by rampant speculation in the City and the deference of successive governments to that corporate lobby.

“Our campaign, guided by ideas of social justice and prosperity for all rather than a select few, is one of pragmatism: for a strategic approach in which business, the state, and the population work cooperatively to create wealth; and for that wealth to reach all sections of society and all regions and nations of our country. Our approach to policy making would be to democratise and open up our politics. If elected I will appoint a shadow cabinet of all talents, drawing in all wings of the party and our swelling membership to debate the future direction of our Party and country. Labour must become a campaigning force dedicated to defeating the Conservative’s politics, and then to defeat them electorally in five years’ time.

“Our party has been reinvigorated in this leadership campaign and the Tories should be under no doubt – we will use the surge in excitement about progressive politics to pursue them at every turn and focus our energies on a massive growth in campaigning politics. We conceded too much of the economic narrative to George Osborne over the last five years. Far from losing because we were not ‘aspirational’ enough, we lost because we failed to articulate a convincing enough vision of how those aspirations would be achieved.”

How we need this vision here, with a conservative anti-union, anti-worker, anti environment government, albeit one with a new leader, a leader who is constrained by half of his parliamentary team voting against him because he is too “moderate” for them.

With a Labor Opposition here with little positive policy and scared into submission by the media and a desire to get into office, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK has a dream and it is one vigorously shared by hundreds of thousands in the UK.

Our dreams won’t be realised by Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten. If we want our dreams to become reality, we have to build our own movement. Corbyn shows it can be done. We urge those who share this vision to join us. Together we can achieve it.

A talk given at the Melbourne Uniting Church on September 20, 2015 by Marion Harper, Honorary Secretary of the Melbourne Uniting Church.

The Beacon

Next article – A children’s story – The Little Chilli Pot That Could Not

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