The Guardian 23 April, 2008
A vision or more of the same?
Did Australia’s carefully selected "best and brightest" come up with a "vision" at the 20-20 Summit — a vision which will be implemented later by the government? Or did it become mainly a glorified "talk-fest"?
Kevin Rudd’s opening remarks sound like carefully crafted rhetoric that has frequently come from politicians who want everyone to believe that they intend to implement the "will of the people" and that their policies will build "a new Australia" to use one of Rudd’s phrases.
Whatever changes take place in the future will be built on the already existing Australia. There is not going to be any fundamental changes to the system of capitalism or the fact that the class struggle is a reality. Nor that at present the big corporations actually run the country, control the economy, run the banks, the media, insurance companies, etc.
Furthermore, despite the confident talk, Australia is increasingly facing the severe consequences of the US-generated economic crisis which is resulting in many losing their savings, investments and some, their homes. This situation is going to be reflected in the May budget and the economic crisis will, almost certainly, intensify by the end of the year.
Ideas adopted by the 20-20 Summit include the call for a Republic, an Aboriginal treaty (which is strongly opposed by the prime minister), the formation of a "seamless" national economy and taxation reform (whatever is meant by these very generalised objectives) and a Bill of Rights (or will it be watered down to a Charter of Rights?) There were plenty of motherhood statements like "more collaborative government", "better integration with the Pacific", "improved education", "a health equalities commission", a "sustainable cities program", etc, etc.
But then, what was the objective of the Summit anyway? The Australian (21/4/2008) sums it up in its Monday morning headline — "Summit backs Labor’s agenda". The final say about what is to be adopted and implemented will rest with PM Rudd and the ALP government’s Cabinet.
It seems that Australia’s "best and brightest" come from only one side of the railway tracks. Where were the workers from the shop floor, the building sites, the mines and the wharves? Where were the homeless and the families suffering "mortgage stress"? Where were those who campaigned tirelessly by knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and ringing voters — the foot soldiers who put the Rudd government into office? The number of trade unionists were few and their voices largely unreported. Where, if at all, did the discussion take place on workers’ rights at work, even though this was a major issue which won the ALP the election last year.
Rudd’s favourite theme is the creation of a seamless national economy if one is to judge the number of times he has mentioned this term. It was pushed hard by the business lobby which was well represented at the Summit. Along with "seamless" goes the idea of the abolition of the states or at least the curtailment of their powers over many key issues of the economy. It means the unification of all laws regulating businesses by the federal government or to hand over to industry, letting "the market decide"
When the Hawke government was first elected in 1983, Bob Hawke convened an Economic Summit. It let loose the economic rationalist agenda which resulted in massive privatisation and strengthened the power of the corporations while curtailing the influence and power of the trade unions. Almost everyone cheered at the time of that gathering.
While the abolition of the states may also be welcomed in some quarters if it results in the strengthening of the dictatorship of big capital, its long term consequence for workers and their families could be even worse than the results that flowed from Hawke’s Economic Summit.
Another big issue is the question of a treaty between the Australian state and the Indigenous people, the former occupiers and owners of the Australian continent.
Rudd is clearly opposed to this and would also downgrade the concept to a Charter of Rights. A treaty would be a much more comprehensive document between two equal national entities. The Indigenous people and their supporters are set for a bitter disappointment if they imagine that by saying "sorry" that this meant some fundamental shift.