Comment and Analysis

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US has led many to ask where is our Corbyn or our Sanders and to question whether conditions in Australia are ripe for a similar break to the left.

Because Australia was buffered from the worst of the GFC, due mainly to the mining boom, some argue that conditions here may need to get a lot worse before people are prepared to get behind a left platform.

Let’s look at some social indicators in Australia today.

The Sydney Morning Herald published audio on July 19 from a Liberal Party function in Sydney at which former Western Australian state MP Michael Sutherland described anti-fracking campaigners and refugee rights activists as "a bunch of cockroaches".

Federal government hospital spending rose by 80% in the decade to 2014, from $23 billion to $42 billion. This has led to a renewed push by conservatives for a new state income tax to fund health costs.

A hallmark of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was responding to falling opinion polls by holding press conferences full of totalitarian imagery, announcing moves to weaken civil liberties or intensify persecution of refugees in the name of keeping Australians safe from the apparent existential threat of terrorism. His successor, Malcolm Turnbull, is trying to out-do him.

I’ve often heard it asked, “Is Australia a racist country?” only for the question to be railroaded by a series of semantics: “What does that even mean?”; “How can a country have a collective mindset?”; and “You can’t confer a universal attitude onto a population of 24 million, surely?”

Politicians and commentators tell us there are such things as Australian values. The same quibbling arguments about whether Australia is collectively racist apply to so-called national values.

If there is one thing to be wished for, it is “humanity”, the most vital and forgotten word.

Humanity had already died before the time of the Crusades. Humanity had already died before the Thirty Years’ War. Humanity had already died before Hitler proclaimed: “Winners are not judged. Nobody ever checks whether they lied or not”.

I can understand Brian Boyd’s frustration concerning the Superannuation Guarantee Scheme (SGS) in “Superannuation: A Generation Betrayed” (Green Left Weekly #1144 and #1145).  The original promise was short on delivery.

He is right to point out the inequity that existed in providing superannuation for workers prior to 1992.

There is no genuine reason why Australia cannot have 100% renewable electricity in less than a decade, at sharply reduced prices.

In May a vice-president of Sempra Energy, one of the largest utility firms in the US, caused a stir by stating flatly that there was no longer any technical obstacle to powering California with 100% renewables.

If South Australia were a country, its citizens since July 1 would have been paying the highest residential electricity prices of any nation in the world, edging out Denmark.

Throughout most of Australia, the new financial year brought spiralling energy charges. For an average Canberra household without rooftop solar, the combined cost of electricity and gas over 2017–18 will rise by $580.

Infamous right-wing ideologue Andrew Bolt penned a "column of shame" about Venezuela in the Murdoch media on July 13. The column is a clear example of what might be dubbed "Bolt's Law": anything he writes is the opposite of the truth unless proved otherwise.

The shock resignations from parliament of Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters highlight one of the many undemocratic features in the Australian Constitution.

Much has happened in the four years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s announcement that no one who sought asylum by boat would ever be given protection in Australia.

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July 19, 2013: Rudd's offshore resettlement announcement

Many councils across Australia have local laws that restrict free speech. Most people are unaware of these laws, until there is an issue that engages them enough to want to exercise their right to free speech and set up a stall, hand out leaflets, get petitions signed and maybe organise a protest rally.

Only when a council officer tells them they have to pack up and leave, do they realise there are undemocratic laws on the books.

Countless abuses have occurred in the four years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s announcement in 2013 that no asylum seeker who arrived by boat will ever be resettled in Australia. Here are six key reasons to join the calls to evacuate all those detained on Manus Island and Nauru now and bring them to Australia.

A conference on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian justice will be held at the University of Sydney over July 28–29.

Free and open to the public, the conference will be the largest ever held on BDS in Australia, with three keynote lectures, four discussion panels and more than 30 separate talks on a wide array of topics.

Australian special forces routinely commit war crimes in Afghanistan.

Such a conclusion is strongly suggested by hundreds of pages of secret Australian Defence Force documents leaked to the ABC, which were revealed on July 11. 

The news that a trillion ton piece of ice just broke off from the Larsen-C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula is a reminder that global warming is real and dangerous.

While climate scientists say this had been expected, they also say it is connected to global warming. As ice shelves help keep land ice in place, when one breaks it allows land ice to slip into the ocean and drastically contribute to sea level rise.

For years climate scientists have been warning that time is fast running out to stop the worst effects of global warming.

Last month, One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson said children with a disability, and austistic students in particular, were putting extra pressure on teachers and schools and should be educated separately.

There was an immediate response from politicians, commentators and some academics. All were unanimous in their condemnation of Hanson. But was there any truth to her comments? What do teachers who work with students with a disability say?

It doesn't take much to set off Tony Abbott and his right-wing shock-jock chorus, does it?

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull referred, in a speech in London, to the historical fact that Robert Menzies went to great pains back in 1944 to not call his new political party “conservative”, but rather the Liberal Party, Abbott and crew started howling.

The dispute between the Australian Greens and the NSW Greens, which erupted during the debate over the federal Coalition’s Gonski 2.0 funding bill, is puzzling to many.

This is because both Green parties agreed not to support the Gonski package on the basis that, even after amendments, it was still inequitable.

However, it appears that NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon become the patsy for another, more significant, battle in the Greens — one which goes to heart of the type of party it aspires to be.

Superannuation should provide a comfortable retirement for the several million workers who signed up to the 1983–95 “superannuation revolution” by the ACTU and Hawke-Keating Labor governments. But what should be in a super account to provide a comfortable retirement for this “pioneer” generation?

NSW GREENS SENATOR told the ABC’s Insiders program on July 2 that, globally, mass movements are on the rise and that she could see a change in how politics works. She also said that parliament was “important to me, but it is not the main game”.

Green Left Weekly’s SUSAN PRICE caught up with Senator Rhiannon at the Students of Sustainability conference in Newcastle on July 4 and asked her about politics today. 

Much has been made of the fact that on June 23, the same day the Fair Work Commission slashed penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers, federal politicians were granted yet another pay rise.

As the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility to legislate for marriage equality, councils are increasingly being called on to take a lead.

On April 26, former mayor Councillor Rose Hodge moved a motion that the Surf Coast Shire Council fly the Pride flag continuously from May 17 (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia) until the federal government passed a law in support of marriage equality.

This year, progressive people in Australia have had more cause than usual to pay attention to international politics.

US President Donald Trump on the right shows the depths to which capitalist politics can plunge while British Labour leaderJeremy Corbyn on the left has given many cause for new hope and inspiration.

The historical and current injustices following the establishment of industry superannuation and the subsequent undermining of this important social policy initiative needs to be scrutinised.

Members and supporters of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) rallied on July 4 outside the WA Fair Work Commission (FWC) in protest against Murdoch University’s application to terminate the union’s enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

This move by university management is unprecedented for a large public institution and has been described by the NTEU as “the nuclear option”.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has re-launched his verbal war against his successor Malcolm Turnbull, with obvious relish.

In recent speeches, Abbott criticised leaked internal Liberal Party moves to bring forward a bill for marriage equality; called for an end to all new spending except for national security and infrastructure; and advocated freezing the country's — already inadequate — renewable energy target.

Over the past decade, the Australian Education Union-led (AEU) schools funding campaign has put the issue at the front of the national political debate. It has convinced governments at federal and state and territory levels to sign on to funding agreements.

Power and gas prices are set to rise by a huge 16–19% on July 1, bringing a profit bonanza to the big three electricity companies — AGL, Origin and Energy Australia.

This unpopular price hike comes in the context of record low wage growth, record high housing prices and record levels of household debt.

The federal government is covering for the price hikes by blaming state governments for ruling out unconventional gas (Victoria), or moving too fast to renewables and not planning ahead (South Australia).

How bad are things today when even the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia agrees workers are feeling too insecure to demand wage rises.

Speaking at the Australian National University on June 19, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe said: “People value security and one way you can get a bit more security is to not demand a wage rise.” Although his argument was about the impact on economic growth, it highlights the level of insecurity felt by workers today.

After years of student and staff dissent about the presence of Broadspectrum on campus, University of Newcastle quietly announced it would be ending the contract at the end of this year, two years earlier than agreed.

The university had contracted Broadspectrum, formerly known as Transfield, to manage the facilities, waste and security on the Callaghan, Ourimbah, Port Macquarie and Sydney campuses.

Many environmentalists were disappointed, if not outraged, at Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, released on June 9, which sought to stabilise the existing electricity market.

At the same time, the failure of the privatised and deregulated electricity grid led NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham to call for its nationalisation as the only way to solve its intractable problems.

The following is a statement issued by participants of the StandUp2017 conference that concluded with a rally in Mbantua (Alice Springs) on June 26.

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Rosalie Kunoth Monks: “You better believe it, when the Intervention first hit in 2007 community councils were decimated.”

Matthew Ryan: “Trying to get the government to listen to us, is like a brick wall.”

The Independent member for Cairns Rob Pyne made the following statement in the Queensland parliament on June 16, while holding up a piece of bleached coral.

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This is coral — bleached coral. Be scared. Be afraid. It will not hurt you, but the global warming that killed it will. This bleached coral is the canary in the coalmine.

For Raymond “Bubbly” Weatherall, a Gamilaraay man from the Gunu Gunu and Biridja clans, the outcomes of the Uluru meeting at the end of May have not changed his mind about the tokenism of Constitutional Recognition.

“Throughout the campaign, as well as at the Uluru meeting, no grassroots voices had really been listened to or given proper weight in the discussion”, he told Green Left Weekly.

“The Uluru statement was just another government voice through the mouths of Black people — Megan Davis, Pat Anderson and Noel Pearson.”

Life is about to get a lot tougher for 700,000 workers and their dependents when the penalty rate cuts hit on July 1. It is also the day politicians will get a 2% pay rise.

Full and part-time workers in the retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmacy industries are the first to be hit. The ACTU calculated that casuals in the pharmacy industry will face an annual cut of up to $6000 as the result of a February ruling by the misnamed Fair Work Commission.

The NSW Teachers’ Federation released this statement on June 24.

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In the early hours of Friday morning, the [Malcolm] Turnbull government pushed through its school funding legislation. This new funding scheme will have very serious ramifications for all teachers and students in our public schools.

NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon is again the target of a very public attack. This time it is not being led by the Murdoch press but by the Greens federal parliamentary caucus. Former Greens leader Bob Brown has also stepped in and repeated his demand she step down.

Attacking Rhiannon for sticking to her principles has become a passtime for the right-wing of the Greens.

"The NSW Coalition government's 2017 budget might be better described as the ‘biggest con-job in the Western world’," Susan Price, Socialist Alliance candidate for Ashfield in the upcoming Inner West Council elections, said on June 21. She was responding to state Treasurer Dominic Perrottet's declaration that his inaugural budget was "the envy of the Western world".

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