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Issue #1719      February 17, 2016

Culture & Life

The lucky country

The ruling class in Australia used to try to persuade the working people that this was “the lucky country”. To a very limited extent – and only to that extent – it was true. It was a harsh and unforgiving land, prone to drought and fire. A few of the early settlers were certainly lucky enough to be able to appropriate all the land they could see. They quickly became members of the ruling class, if they were not already part of it. They were the squatters, and they became notorious for their arrogance, their ruthless dispossession of the Aborigines and their attempts to establish an aristocracy in Australia.

The advent to power of the ultra-reactionary Commonwealth government of Bob Menzies kicked off a campaign by capitalist corporations to push governments out of running any enterprises or even running essential services.

The majority of the people who settled in Australia, however, were workers, refugees from the enclosures of the common land in England, or from the “clearance” of the Scottish crofters from their Highland farms, or from the famine that similar profit-driven seizures caused in Ireland. They learnt the hard way that life as a free selector or small farmer in Australia was harsh indeed. Most found they had to augment their income by taking employment with the “lucky” big graziers, as drovers, boundary riders, or shearers.

The settlers’ contempt for the greedy would-be aristocracy and the equally despised rich men who made sure they ended up in possession of the colony’s gold reserves, led to a strong belief in egalitarianism, sentiments that had driven both the French and American revolutions half a century earlier. Trade unions were soon formed in Australia and won significant improvements in wages and conditions. The country’s economy was buoyed up by gold and wool, and employers could afford to be “generous” to their employees. But when workers in the wool industry itself – specifically shearers – took major industrial action over union rights, the employers ruthlessly smashed the union.

The “lucky country” remained lucky only for the boss class. At the same time, while mining spread all over the country, wherever suitable minerals could be found, manufacturing developed in several centres scattered around the coastal fringe. The small population combined with an economy largely based on primary industry necessitated the direct involvement of the state in providing infrastructure and establishing industries.

By the end of the Second World War, a very wide range of industries and services in Australia were being provided by public enterprises, owned either wholly or partially by state or Commonwealth governments. However, the advent to power of the ultra-reactionary Commonwealth government of Bob Menzies kicked off a campaign by capitalist corporations to push governments out of running any enterprises or even running essential services. They could all be undertaken by private companies (for profit) so why shouldn’t they?

Well, for one, this would involve changing the role and function of government itself, from providing public service to facilitating private profit. This process, the looting of the public sector for the benefit of private profiteers, was continuously and steadfastly promoted by the country’s capitalists and the political forces that support capitalism. The latter included not only the Liberal Party and its clone the National Party, but also the Right-Wing (the dominant faction) of the Labor Party. The process continues today, and as far as capitalism is concerned will continue until the private sector includes every enterprise, industry and service.

To achieve this end, the capitalists are undertaking a wide-ranging frontal attack on the working class wherever possible across the whole world. Workers are losing their rights in country after country, working conditions are being broken down, and people are being forced back into having to endure living conditions that their grandparents fought to overcome.

More and more of the wealth in each country is concentrated in the hands of a numerically tiny elite. That elite group will never have enough: their greed will always drive them no matter how much they have. In Australia at the moment, even the concept of bourgeois democracy (hardly a threat to capitalism) is under ruthless attack. The mass of the people are not even to be allowed to control their own local government affairs, in other words to govern themselves in their local communities. Instead local councils are to be forced to amalgamate into a restricted number of “super councils”, whose councillors will have much less actual contact with individual community members.

This process is deliberately designed to give more power and influence to US-style “lobbyists” on behalf of corporate interests while making it harder (or next to impossible) for ordinary people to protect their localities from the predatory practices of profit-hungry property developers.

With the full backing of the Turnbull LNP federal government, the Baird LNP government in NSW is running a TV campaign in support of the council amalgamations. The ad asserts boldly that the system of local government in NSW is “broken” but of course produces no evidence of any sort. Then it has the gall to say that the Baird government is fixing the problem (by the forced council amalgamations).

But the bit that takes your breath away is the assertion that this is being done “After listening to the community and councils”. Forced amalgamations are presented as the LNP acting to restore democratic control, giving the people a say once again. But as my local community newspaper points out (under the heading “Death of democracy”): “Sixty-one percent of residents of the Wyong Shire [where I live] and 57 percent of businesses did not believe amalgamation was a good idea, yet the Baird government claims to have a mandate”.

Even bourgeois democracy is too democratic for the ultra reactionaries who have muscled or lied their way into government in capitalist countries all around the world. At the very time when the people are demanding action from their governments to stop the growth of poverty and unemployment, these reactionaries want the people to have less say, and to tighten their belts and make do with less generally.

No wonder avowed socialist and campaigner for the poor, Bernie Sanders is polling so well in the US primaries. If he actually wins the Democratic nomination it’s going to be very interesting election.

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