As the federal government lurches from crisis to crisis, the hand-wringing and finger pointing in the mainstream press continues. A piece by Murdoch mouthpiece Janet Albrechtsen published in the Australian on February 18, blames the Australian public. Titled “We, the people, are the threat to fiscal reform”, Albrechtsen continues the conservative mantra that argues that government budget debt is intergenerational theft.
She wrote: “According to record low polls for the government, we, the people, have told the Abbott government it will be obliterated at the next election for aiming for a budget that spends only as much as it earns.”
In describing Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s apparent back-down following the Liberal Party leadership spill Albrechtsen said: “If it’s fair to censure the government for errors on the reform front, we should be equally straight shooting about the chief reason reform has stalled in this country. We, the people, are one of the biggest hurdles for a reforming government.
“A modest Medicare co-payment with carve-outs for the needy and the young? No thanks. A sustainable university funding model? No thanks. A fairer pension system to better fund those in need as the ageing population grows? No thanks. Reining in disability payments so those in genuine need are better cared for? No thanks. Fewer middle-class perks — think baby bonuses, family benefits, childcare rebates — so money can be better directed to the poorest? No thanks.”
Leaving aside Albrechtsen’s partisan and glowing charactarisation of the budget measures, according to Albrechtsen the problem is we’re just too selfish and don’t know what is good for us. Her contention is that if voters don’t suck it up and swallow the bitter budget pill this could lead to Abbott becoming an even greater economic populist which would make the Coalition even more indistinguishable from Labor, resulting in an even worse situation than we’re already in. In other words, there is no alternative.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s the trend of neoliberalism has been to try to dismantle or privatise the social welfare and utility systems and to impose austerity on the population.
For all of the faults with the former Soviet Union, it did act as a bulwark against the brutality of the capitalist system. That is not to say that the Stalinist regimes were not brutal in their own right but it was an alternative system that ensured the health, education and living standards of its citizens and which the capitalist systems had to try to match.
Meanwhile in Germany the results of a multi-year research project under the federal program "Democracy Initiative strengths" conducted by Berlin's Free University were released on February 23. Around 1400 respondents from across Germany were asked to rate statements about democracy and society. The study found that 59% of Germans in the formerly communist east considered communist and socialist ideals a good idea for society, compared with 37% in western Germany.
The survey also found that 62% of Germans believe there is no genuine democracy in Germany because industry has too much political influence and that the voice of the voters plays only a subordinate role. Forty-two percent agreed that social equality of all people is more important than individual freedom.
It is interesting to note that 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, left-wing ideas still have traction among a large section of German society. The fact this is occurring in the heartland of Europe’s capitalist powerhouse is encouraging.
The political system is broken, but not in the way that Albrechtsen or any of her peers in the media are willing to admit. Despite the argument that government must be run like a business regardless of the social consequences, these ideas don’t appear to be gaining the traction amongst the wider population – whether that is in Greece, Germany or even here in Australia.
The response from those in power appears to be that it’s not the system that’s the problem, it’s the people. That’s why we need alternative media like Green Left Weekly to show that there is an alternative to the neoliberalism and austerity and to provide an antidote to the never-ending stream of justifications coming from the cheerleaders like Albrechtsen for an unjust system.
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