Class and the fair go

Sally McManus

Class warfare is back in vogue … Sally from ACTU scares pants off bosses … Millionaire CEOs lobby MPs for tax cut … After the floods, no one wants to mention sewage disposal … Thomas Jefferson falls victim to fact-twisting media … History lesson: when UK started gay reform … Ahem, war crimes in Idlib but not in Mosul …

Voters unafraid of class warfare

Since World War Two, every time a Labor politician, trade unionist, academic or public figure has raised the prospect of taxing super rich corporations and individuals, the privately-owned mainstream press has hollered like hell. The usual accusations were trotted out: “This is class warfare” or “This is the nasty politics of envy”.

It was intimidating stuff. The underlying – but never openly stated accusation – was that those who argued for taxing the rich were “comms”, “dupes of Moscow” or simply “un-Australian”.

How times have changed. Those who now want changes to the tax system to obtain a fairer share from the super-rich have acquired a respectable place at the centre of the tax debate, while those who want changes to the negative gearing rort to stop greedy investors from buying properties to gain luxurious tax advantages are a welcome part of the discussion.

It has become so commonplace to criticise the negative gearing scam that even Philip Lowe, the powder puff governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, delivered some adverse comments this week. And then Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison pleaded with big business to do more to explain to voters how corporate tax cuts would help ordinary Australians to a healthier, happier and wealthier future.

Begging the fat cats to argue the case for “trickle down” economics – it was laughable.

In Liberal, Labor and National circles there is widespread agreement that rorting tax shelters must be ended (or curbed) and that wealthy investors (local or overseas) should be stopped from driving up prices in the property market while building a comfy sanctuary for their wealth.

The current diabolical situation means that the majority of Australians – employees or self-employed – are paying the lion’s share of tax revenue for schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure while the taxation freeloaders gain all the benefits – and do most of the complaining!

Ms Sally has her say

Sally McManus, newly-appointed ACTU general secretary, told the National Press Club in Canberra a few home truths which had the hacks squirming in their seats. She said:

  • “Inequality in our country is the worst it has been for 70 years and 679 of our biggest corporations pay not one cent of tax”.
  • “Our strike laws are out of step with international law. Our bargaining laws are inadequate and unable to deal   with the new and ever-changing business models being adopted by the big end of town”;
  • “Now the Fair Commission makes decisions to cut the wages and conditions of some of our lowest paid workers. And the mechanisms we have had to improve our living standards are no longer working.”
  • “In short, the very wealthy have too much power in our country and ordinary Australians – working people – do not have enough.”

In normal circumstances, there would be an enormous and instantaneous denunciation of Ms McManus from Rupert Murdoch’s stable of hacks and hackettes along the lines of “Go back to Russia” although nowadays it is just as likely to be “Go back to Beijing”.

However, her statistics and logic were both unchallengeable. The mild reception to her speech is ample evidence that the public mood has changed. Hard-hit working people know that their children and grandchildren cannot afford a home of their own, some cannot afford a family either, their jobs (if they have one) are precarious, the wages are stingy and they have little or no savings to fall back on.

Anger is rising. The average person is not a socialist, and certainly not a revolutionist. All they want is a fair go. Will the capitalist class concede some of their ill-gotten gains or will they fight to the death to hang on to their privileges?

This self-same battle is being fought in Europe, North America and Asia – in capitalist countries as well as those which call themselves socialist. It is shaping up as the main social conflict of the 21st century.

Will someone help Bill Shorten change his underpants?

Overpaid CEOs ask for more

While Sally McManus and her ACTU colleagues were putting the case for a higher minimum wage and a crackdown on tax rorting, a delegation of CEOs arrived to lobby politicians for a corporate tax cut.

What a furtive bunch. The besuited carpetbaggers snuck around Parliament House trying to corner Ministers and MPs to press their case. Individually, they may be outstanding executives, but they know little of politics and nothing about lobbying

The Business Council of Australia’s top team was out in force: BCA president Grant King; Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder; Qantas CEO Alan Joyce; Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev who was paid $12.3 million last year; EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna; Coca-Cola Amatil boss Alison Watkins; and BCA CEO Jennifer Westacott.

The whole exercise was deemed a miserable failure. They received virtually no publicity and Coalition ministers told them to wait for next month’s Federal Budget when all would be revealed.

Incidentally, the top dogs in the pro-business lobbying industry tend to be favourites of the Labor side of politics. Ms Westacott was elevated to the NSW Premier’s Department by premier Morris Iemma in the mid-2000s and the head of the Property Council of Australia – the body fighting tooth and nail against any limitation on negative gearing and property rorting – is Glenn Byres, a former press secretary to another NSW Labor premier, Bob Carr. What a crew.

Parish news: after the floods

NSW Northern Rivers region where I live has just been drenched by epic floods. So have cities and towns along the Queensland coast. In the aftermath, Prime Minister Malcolm “Snowy” Turnbull and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian paid commiserating visits. These are federal and state seats that the Coalition must win when elections are held.

There was one stark omission from their press statements and the wall-to-wall media coverage. No one mentioned the unmentionable matter of sewage.

The Tweed river in flood

But the fact is that sewage treatment plants in this region have been damaged beyond repair. They were destroyed during the floods and millions of litres of untreated raw sewage flowed into local creeks and rivers. Toxic waste “ponds” (why don’t they call them swamps?) overflowed as well. Toxic chemical waste was washed away as well, entering the river network to poison fish, frogs and platypuses.

A priority of rebuilding these communities is upgraded sewage treatment plants based on the models now in use in Germany and Scandinavia. Will it happen?

I doubt it. “Snowy” Turnbull and Berejiklian say the priority must be to get business back on its feet. New sewerage and chemical waste plants aren’t even mentioned. Cash-starved local councils aren’t saying anything either: don’t mention the sewage seems to be their policy.

Ratepayers will be slugged over the next few years to pay for the shocking neglect of sewerage infrastructure which hasn’t been upgraded for decades. Councillors who jump to attention to serve greedy developers have done nothing to provide a modern and efficient response to human and industrial waste.

As far as I can see this is a spending, disease and environmental scandal waiting to happen.

Jefferson under-quoted

The New York Times and The Washington Post, two bastions of America’s free enterprise press, have joined forces to fight the Trump administration’s war against the White House press corps and the media in general. It is a worthy fight which deserves public support because an essential ingredient of a modern democracy is freedom of expression.

Likewise, an essential ingredient of modern dictatorship is the suppression of free discussion and ideas.

Lazy US reporters and commentators keep wheeling out the Thomas Jefferson anecdote that if he had to choose between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would prefer the latter. Everyone reading the quotation has a good chuckle before slipping back into a state of somnambulance [sleep walking].

At the risk of being accused of being a spoilsport, it should be noted that a couple of years after making the (above) observation, Jefferson wrote that state libel prosecutions against “some of the most prominent offenders” in the press “would have a wholesome effect in restoring the integrity of the press”. By then Jefferson had become America’s 3rd President (1801-1809). Trump would probably agree.

When gay reform began

Homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain until 1967. Gay men were jailed, banned from employment in many professions, driven to suicide and self-harm, subjected to electric shock treatment and tortured with psycho-drugs.

Badgers – not many in the Lords

Reform was led in the House of Lords by the 7th Earl of Arran who had previously used his Westminster platform to argue for the protection and care of badgers. Born Arthur Strange Kattendyke David Archibald Gore, Lord Arran led the campaign as a tribute to the memory of his older brother, a homosexual, who took his own life a few days after succeeding to the Arran title.

Arran’s decriminalisation legislation, the blandly named Sexual Offences Bill, faced a rough passage. One day he received a parcel of human excrement at his office. Under the impression it was paté, his secretary told his lordship: “I threw it away, Lord Arran. It wouldn’t keep.”

In the Commons, right-wing Tory Sir Cyril Osborne told MPs: “The vast majority of our people consider, rightly or wrongly, that sodomy is wrong, unnatural, degrading and disgusting, and I agree with them.”

Celebrated war hero, Lord Montgomery, since revealed as having a lifelong penchant for the company of young men, told fellow peers that “the act of homosexuality in any form [is] the most abominable bestiality that any human being can take part in, and which reduces him to the status of an animal.” “Monty” thought the proper name for the Bill should be “A Charter for Buggery”. He startled Honourable Ladies and Lords by calling for the age of homosexuality to be fixed at 80 when, he explained, “at least one has the old-age pension to pay for any blackmail which may come along”.

Lord Goddard, a former Lord Chief Justice, informed the House that he had heard of “coteries” where “the most horrible things go on. As a judge one has to listen to these stories which really make one feel physically sick.”

Senator Cory Bernardi from South Australia uses similar arguments today to oppose same sex marriage while some Australian judges could be heard channelling Goddard’s views only 30 years ago. (Perhaps some still do?)

When his ground-breaking Bill was finally approved by both Houses of Parliament, Lord Arran was asked why he had succeeded in persuading his ermine-clad colleagues to pass homosexual law reform by 116 votes to 46 while he had no success with his efforts to protect badgers. His lordship paused for a moment before replying: “There are not many badgers in the House of Lords.”

War crimes in Mosul and Idlib

On March 17 US-led warplanes bombed an apartment block in the besieged Iraqi city of Mosul killing many civilians. Some reports said “scores” of people had been killed, others said “hundreds” and another said “up to 200”. Washington suspended its bombing campaign and official apologies were issued to the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

Were Australian RAAF fighter-bombers involved? An anonymous spokesperson said that there were “no specific allegations against Australian aircraft”. What does that mean? Sounds evasive as all hell. Why haven’t Australia’s embedded journalists provided an answer? They seem too busy editing “front line” footage to go to air in time for this year’s Logies and Walkley awards.

On April 4 Syrian government warplanes bombed a civilian target in Khan Sheikhun, a town in Idlib province in northern Syria. Chemical weapons were reportedly used but this was denied by Damascus. Within 24 hours the attack was condemned as a “war crime” by politicians and human rights groups in Washington and London.

Why are the bombing attacks on rebel-held Mosul and Khan Sheikhun treated so differently by the Western media? Both represent the terrifying use of bombs on civilians caught in the crossfire of a war which is not of their making.

One bombing (Mosul) was a “mistake” while the other (in Idlib) was a “war crime”. That’s all right then, so long as Australians weren’t involved!

Bombing Damascus – the back story

Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, a military theorist, was correct when he said: “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”

So when people around the world see horrifying TV pictures from Iraq and Syria they are watching “politics by other means”.

In this context, “war crime” becomes oxymoronic (has there ever been a war throughout history that was crime-less?) and people are drawn into a propaganda war fought tenaciously by all sides for different, and conflicting, political objectives.

Trump wants you on his side, Bashar al-Assad wants you on his, Vladimir Putin wants you on his, ISIS caliphate-builders want you on theirs and Kurdish nationalists want you on theirs. None of them support the Iraqi people or the Syrian people.

On 20 August 2012, President Barack Obama told reporters: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to others players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

In other words, he would order the bombing of Assad’s headquarters in Damascus to bring about “regime change” because the “red line” had been breached – Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people.

As we all know, Obama backflipped and refused to order “bombs away” on Damascus. At a press conference in Stockholm on 4 September 2013 he stuttered: “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

Why the backdown? Some highly placed sources in Washington claimed Obama was suspicious of the conflicting intelligence reports on Assad’s chemical warfare.

Since then, regime-changers have been working to unveil another chemical weapon scenario. The aim is to present Trump with another “red line” and dare him to step over it. If he does, Trump will be deemed to be tougher than Obama; it will restore relations between the White House, the CIA, the Pentagon and the NSA; and cement his relations with the Israeli regime.

Another hint of America’s escalation of war in Syria came this week when he dropped Breitbart crazy Steve Bannon from the US National Security Council.

Bannon, a virulent critic of Washington’s deepening and costly 14-year involvement in the Middle East, has become a patsy (or a scapegoat?) in Trump’s desperate manoeuvring to cling onto the presidency.

Quote of the Year from Fairfax Media

“Our pro-investor, pro-consumer view of business is central to our influence in the economic and business community. We believe in the merits of market-based solutions to economic challenges and an Australia that rewards aspiration and hard work.

“Fairfax journalists will be retained to cover federal politics, state and local news, world news, business and the economy, sport and breaking news. But in other areas such as entertainment, arts, travel, food and parenting [?], Fairfax will use contributor and syndicated content.”

  • Fairfax Media statement announcing another set of job cuts worth $30 million

2 comments

  1. Love the Lord Arran story!

    The combination of the the free floating sewage and the hundreds of unvaccinated kids around your way might produce some very interesting new diseases. Dreadful!

  2. Badgers! Great stuff…sadly not the kind of writing we’ll ever see on the arts in the Fairfax media again.

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