Jesus was a refugee


I regularly drive past a Christian church in a suburb of Brisbane that has a reputation for being a ‘nice’ area. When I drive past as a service is concluding, the attendees are going to their newish model cars to return to their homes that, if they live in the same area, are worth more than the median price across the City of Brisbane. While generalisations are frequently incorrect, the attendees at the service seem to be older and more conservative than the general population: in this case, however, the area usually votes for the conservative side of politics so the generalisation probably has some merit. A week or so ago the message board outside the church carried the message: ‘Jesus was a refugee’. As I drove past, I thought that it was an interesting statement to make in a ‘conservative’ area and, being on a sign outside a church, they probably have the evidence to support the assertion as well.

The Political Sword usually stays away from religion — and this piece won’t go there either except to question why conservatives invoke ‘their god’ as a basis for their ethics and morals while promoting actions that are diametrically opposed to those promoted by their religious beliefs.

Let’s start with the obvious one. Prime Minister Abbott is a practising member of the Catholic Church, as are a number of his ministers. Regardless of the display of wealth from the Vatican (something that it seems is being addressed by the current leader of the Catholic Church), members of the Catholic Church around the world do some amazing things to help their fellow humans live better and more fulfilling lives. For example, the Sisters of Mercy’s website details a number of programs with worthy aims, such as eliminating human trafficking and assisting the homeless. Funding for these actions comes from the operation of commercial enterprises such as the ‘Mater’ or ‘Mercy’ Hospitals.

In contrast, Christian Abbott and atheist Gillard (and you could argue that as ‘ten pound poms’ they were economic refugees) led the race to the bottom on treatment of refugees by imposing increasingly draconian conditions in the treatment of people who literally risk all to create a better life for themselves and their families — with assistance from the ‘out there’ Christian Kevin Rudd. How are the actions of any of these people in accordance with Christian morals and ethics?

Not that Australia’s leaders are alone in overtly claiming to have a moral and ethical compass derived from Christian beliefs while observation of their daily actions would suggest otherwise.

Nearly a millennium ago, the Pope of the time (Urban II) called upon the armies of Western Europe to go to war against those in the Middle East who followed the Islamic religion. The Islamic people then vowed to wage a holy war (jihad) against the Christians. The Western Europeans continued their crusades to the Middle East until the 16th century after which they were ‘distracted’ by the Reformation. Clearly both sides in the conflict thought that ‘God’ was on their side.

The Reformation was the commencement of the rise of the Protestant churches within the Christian ethos. Until the 1500’s, if you were a Christian, you were a Catholic. While there were some theological differences between the different branches of Christianity, the Reformation was in part due to perceptions of corruption within the ruling elite of the Catholic Church (the Curia) and a subsequent lessening of political influence enjoyed by the Pope.

The American Civil War (1861 to 1865):

… resolved two fundamental questions left unresolved by the revolution: whether the United States was to be a dissolvable confederation of sovereign states or an indivisible nation with a sovereign national government; and whether this nation, born of a declaration that all men were created with an equal right to liberty, would continue to exist as the largest slaveholding country in the world.

Yet, religion played a part in this battle over equality versus slavery, as reflected in the speech President Lincoln gave at his second inauguration in 1865, a month before he was fatally shot. The relevant section is quoted below:

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

The history of conservatives marginalising their own people while claiming to be representing all, as Lincoln was suggesting above, continues in the USA. The USA, however, also has a long and proud history of ‘protest songs’ that question actions taken by, usually, Republican Presidents such as Nixon, Bush the elder and Bush the younger. It is easy to suggest that Bob Dylan made, and is still making, a living from protest songs. The Dixie Chicks suffered severe criticism for prefacing a song at a London concert with criticism of George W. Bush sending troops to Iraq and contemporary pop musician Pink released ‘Dear Mr President’ during the term of George W. Bush — it still resonates today.



This piece started with a reference to an outwardly conservative Christian church in suburban Brisbane and its statement that Jesus was a refugee. It seems that humans have a long history of discrimination against those who we perceive are not our equals. Superficially we’ve looked at Christians’ treatment of Muslims nearly a millennium ago, treatment of slaves in the USA and, in recent history, those that are less fortunate than the majority. It seems that traditionalists have commenced these battles — and progressives have railed against them.

So what is the difference between the Abbott and Gillard families coming to Australia as economic refugees in the 1960’s and current refugees attempting the trip from our northern neighbours?

Is the answer superior genetics?

Genetically, Abbott, Gillard or Rudd’s personal gene pool is very similar to that of any other person alive.

If it is religion, the differences again are not that great.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches that there is one God in the universe, giving Muslims a monotheistic worldview Also like Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches about the ministerial office of the prophet, although not all of these faiths agree on who is, and who isn't, a prophet. For example, Christians believe John the Baptist was a prophet and Jews and Muslims don't. And Muslims believe that Muhammad was a prophet, yet Jews and Christians don't. All three faiths also believe in an afterlife, although the makeup of those destinations can be immensely different from each other.

Both faiths insist that you must be a practising member of the faith to enjoy the ‘afterlife’. Muslims and Christians also share similar beliefs regarding how they live their life on earth will affect their ‘afterlife’ (here for the Muslim belief and here for the Christian version).

If the reason for the failure to address the arrival of refugees with humanity is because we as a nation didn’t ask them to come, then the Indigenous people of Australia didn’t ask the English to invade in 1788 (and it’s a pretty good bet to surmise they themselves didn’t ask permission some 40,000 years earlier), just as the English and French most likely didn’t take the opinions of the ‘first peoples’ in the US or Canada into account either.

Is it because those of the Muslim faith want to take over the world? If you believe the media, maybe: it is more likely, however, that only a small radicalised group within that religion has such lofty aims. Don’t forget the Catholic Church was responsible for the Crusades to the Middle East (which occurred for a period of around 400 years) and that up until very recently the Catholic Church claimed the only way to ‘salvation’ was to be a practising member of the Catholic Church.

It doesn’t make sense that anyone or anything can support two diametrically opposed arguments at the same time to the elimination of all other arguments — as Abraham Lincoln alluded to in the inauguration speech discussed here. In a similar way, those that use a religious book promoting living a good and just life to justify murder, rape and pillage (such as routinely demonstrated in the religious wars that have engulfed parts of the world in the past millennia) have to be dishonouring the text they claim to be a fundamental belief.

Who demonstrates the morals and ethics of their chosen religious text better? Is it the conservative political leaders who stand by and watch people starve or suffer ill health or the Sisters of Mercy and other religion-based organisations that actively channel profits from provision of services to help those less fortunate? Is it those conservatives who suggest that ‘stopping the boats’ is a worthy aim or those that suggest that Jesus was a refugee and accordingly we should assist and care for those that have felt the need to make the refugee journey? Is it the conservative people who invade a country and impose a rule of law or those with religious beliefs that go about their daily lives and attempt to help someone in need? Without being religious, I know where my vote would go. It isn’t to the conservatives.

What do you think?



Words, words, words


Lenore Taylor reported in August that Tony Abbott had told a ministerial meeting that the party had not broken any election promises, not one. My first reaction was that this was the sign of a narcissistic personality, someone who cannot bear to be wrong. On second thought, I pondered that perhaps it is true. After all, as Humpty Dumpty said:

When I use a word, … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

Was Abbott merely playing Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, and using words, words, and more words as he intended them, not as the electorate might understand them?

Take a careful look at Abbott’s and Pyne’s statements regarding education and the Gonski reforms. ‘Gonski reforms’ — what are they? ‘Gonski’ is not mentioned, although the media continued to refer to Abbott’s proposed education funding by the shorthand ‘Gonski’. Why does this make a difference? — because the Gonski funding reform was actually about improving funding for disadvantaged schools and that was a key aspect supported by the electorate.

Thus, when Abbott said he was on a ‘unity ticket’ with Labor on education, people took that to mean that he supported Gonski, but that wasn’t what he said, although it was clearly the impression he meant to leave. Mainly he spoke about funding and implied that there may be changes, by emphasising that an Abbott government would reduce the ‘command and control’ (a military phrase, for which he has a penchant) in Labor’s funding model. So although he spoke about the ‘funding envelope’ and promised no school would be worse off, the media coverage and the public perception continued to relate that to ‘Gonski’ and the (unspoken) issue of educational disadvantage. That led to further problems and the famous double backflip.

On 26 November 2013 Pyne announced that the new government would only honour the Gonski funding model for 2014 and develop a new funding model for subsequent years. He suggested that, as well as Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory not being included, Victoria and Tasmania had also ‘not signed bilateral agreements’ with the federal government. What the premiers of those latter two states quickly pointed out was that they had signed ‘heads of agreement’, or in other words the outline of the agreement, or an in-principle agreement. But according to Pyne, in Humpty Dumpty words, they had not signed the agreement. When does an agreement become an agreement? Even courts recognise that verbal agreements can be legally binding.

Pyne blamed the press gallery for the eruption that followed, suggesting ‘It’s not my fault if some members of the press gallery don’t understand the complicated nature of the school funding model.’ Abbott supported him, saying that ‘Our pre-election commitment was that there will be exactly the same quantum of funding …’ — here we are back to the ‘funding envelope’, perhaps the same envelope on the back of which budget calculations are made.

Eleven days later, Abbott, with a sheepish looking Pyne beside him, announced that the government would provide funding for four years in accord, in dollar terms, with the previous Gonski model. Pyne added:

… no school, state or territory, can be worse off because of the Commonwealth’s actions.

But Abbott was also back onto ‘command and control’, insisting his funding would remove the control that the Canberra bureaucracy would have been able to exercise under the original Labor agreements on funding. What he was saying effectively removed any concept of overcoming educational disadvantage, but that was never reported and perhaps not so easily seen amongst the words he used. That did, however, come back to bite Abbott and Pyne when they were forced to concede that they could not guarantee that no school would be worse off because, in reality, how the money was spent was now a matter for the states — no more ‘command and control’. Pyne’s little addition that no school would be worse off ‘because of the Commonwealth’s actions’ was vital: the fact he phrased it that way suggests that he was already aware that the ‘promise’ of no school being worse off was in tatters.

That announcement came after Pyne had reached ‘in principle’ agreements with the previous non-signatory states. Is an ‘in principle’ agreement the same as a ‘heads of agreement’? While Pyne had earlier claimed that Victoria and Tasmania had not signed up because they had only signed ‘heads of agreement’, now he was claiming validation of his approach because he had an ‘in principle’ agreement. For Pyne, like Abbott, an ‘agreement’ is what he says it means.

Embedded in that debate was whether or not an amount of $1.2 billion actually existed. Labor had initially kept that amount for the states and territory that had not signed up but it was removed in the PEFO prior to the election. That allowed Abbott and Pyne to claim that they were putting an additional $1.2 billion into education. If it was previously foreshadowed, is it an extra amount? In the sense that it had been temporarily removed, perhaps it is, but it was always intended that those jurisdictions should receive some increase in funding. In Humpty Dumpty’s world, our normal understanding of words is not sufficient to clarify when money actually exists, and that also became central to the 2014 budget.

The education debate helped give rise to the classic $80 billion ‘savings’ in education and health in the budget. Labor attacked these as ‘cuts’. What is the difference between a ‘saving’ and a ‘cut’? — or is there a difference?

When Labor attacked it as a ‘cut’ Abbott responded that it did not exist as it was never included in any Labor budget, so nothing had been ‘cut’. The dollar amount certainly wasn’t in Labor budgets but Labor’s funding formulae would have led to increased health and education funding over a ten year period. The deals Labor had negotiated on education lasted up to six years (not just the four that Abbott was then supporting) and were ‘back-loaded’, meaning more money was paid in the later years rather than at the start of the agreements. The details do not really matter because if the money wasn’t there can it be a ‘saving’? It is a little like a game some mates and I used to play when we stayed out too late at Friday night drinks after work: we would calculate how much we had ‘saved’ by each bus that we missed. Abbott avoids the word ‘cut’ but still insists it is a ‘saving’. For the States it is a cut in the sense that they will now not receive, in the future, money that they were expecting, even if that expectation was not set in concrete. It is the same as someone being told they can expect a pay rise and on that basis planning to buy a new car but the pay rise doesn’t eventuate, and so, nor does the new car. For Abbott, that means they haven’t lost anything but he has saved by not giving the pay rise. See what I mean about Humpty Dumpty words. In this context, Abbott is saying that it can only be a ‘cut’ if it is the reduction of something the states already have, ipso facto, if the states don’t yet have it, it’s not a cut!

The changes to health and education also reflect the meaning of ‘agreement’ as used by Pyne. When Abbott was forced to concede that cuts to health funding would occur in the current financial year, and not four years into the future as he originally maintained, that involved scrapping or making unilateral changes to a number of agreements with the states and territories, particularly the national partnership agreement on public hospitals. So even a negotiated and signed agreement may not be an ‘agreement’ when the word is used by Abbott and Pyne.

In defending the budget, Abbott said it was ‘fundamentally honest’. ‘Fundamental’ has a few inter-related meanings:

  • forming a necessary base or core, of central importance
  • relating to the essential nature of something or the crucial point about an issue
  • so basic as to be hard to alter, resolve, or overcome
If used in the first way, it echoes John Howard’s core and non-core promises. Or if used in the second way, is the budget only honest in its ‘essential nature’, perhaps implying there may be parts that are dishonest? Would he dare suggest that the budget is so honest no-one could challenge it (the third meaning)? I would think not but don’t put that beyond Abbott. In fact, in Humpty Dumpty speak, Abbott is using the word in all three ways. It leaves him free to respond to questions in any way that suits him at the time.

He went on to say that ‘the most fundamental commitment I made was to get the budget back under control.’ It is true that the opening promises of his 2013 election launch were:

We’ll build a stronger economy …
We’ll scrap the carbon tax …
We’ll get the budget back under control …
We’ll stop the boats.
And we’ll build the roads of the 21st century …

No mention of health or education, the aged or unemployed, or other welfare recipients, at least not in these opening ‘core’ or ‘fundamental’ promises. If you look at them, they are the promises that he does appear to have done most to keep (even if his view of a strong economy is somewhat at odds with the views of those outside the IPA or those who are not economic rationalists). Given his history of not reading important documents, perhaps he can only remember those opening promises, or perhaps his advisers have not yet gotten past them. Whatever the reasons, it appears that these are Abbott’s ‘fundamental’ promises. Did the electorate understand before they voted that ‘fundamental’ related only to the opening promises of his speech and not to the many other promises made in the subsequent pages? Or was Abbott saving that explanation for later?

Another matter was in March when Abbott and Morrison celebrated that it had been 100 days since an asylum seeker boat had reached Australian shores. Note that it was Australian ‘shores’. What do they mean by ‘shores’? They mean actual landfall because it does seem that at least one boat was in sight of Christmas Island, before it was taken back to Indonesian waters, which would suggest it was in Australian territorial waters (extending 20kms off shore). And perhaps it does not include reefs. Another popular site for people smugglers back in 2000-01 was Ashmore Reef, another Australian territory less than 150kms from the Indonesian island of Rote. We have heard nothing of it under Operation Sovereign Borders. If a boat had landed there, we would no longer be told but they would definitely be on an Australian ‘reef’, though perhaps not a ‘shore’. What may be a ‘shore’ can thus be very flexible — it may depend on whether the tide is in or out! We have also learned in the High Court challenge regarding the boat from India that ‘shores’ also does not include the deck of an Australian vessel, even though that is effectively Australian territory.

Now just a word or two on Abbott’s military phraseology. We have Operation Sovereign Borders and Operation Bring Them Home, which are self-explanatory. When Abbott and Morrison first announced Operation Sovereign Borders at a joint press conference in Brisbane prior to the election, Abbott said of it, ‘we will have the appropriate command and control structures’. Recognise that phrase? In this context, he was using it to highlight his ‘adult’ approach to asylum seeker boats but in the education debate he used it as a pejorative phrase describing Labor’s approach. Is it a positive way to approach policy issues or a negative way? Obviously Abbott can use it as both. ‘Command and control’ is bad if it is Labor but good if it is Liberal. Does that sound like Humpty Dumpty?

Abbott promised an ‘adult’ government. But he has also used that word in a couple of other contexts. When the state governments reacted angrily to the education and health ‘cuts’ in the budget, Abbott said:

… we make no apologies for wanting the states to be grown up, adult governments that take responsibility for the programs that are theirs, for the institutions that they run.

Being an ‘adult’ government, then, is not something that automatically applies to Liberals but only to Abbott’s own government. Even state governments of his own political persuasion are not ‘adult’ if they can’t manage the reduction in future funding, and it is not Abbott’s problem now, it is theirs, so they need to grow up. And he said of the unemployed, who would now not receive unemployment benefits for six months, that ‘Being an adult means taking responsibility for the choices you make and making the best possible choice in the circumstances you face.’ Has Abbott been taking responsibility for his choices? Perhaps not, but that does not matter because the way he uses the word it is his government that is ‘adult’ by definition — everybody else needs to be told when to grow up and how to be ‘adult’.

Abbott promised going into the election that his would be a government of ‘no surprises’. Well, certainly no surprises for Abbott. Like Humpty Dumpty, he was the only one who understood what he meant.

In the end none of this matters. In a quote from Abbott’s swearing in as prime minister, which I have referred to a couple of times in earlier pieces, he said:

We hope to be judged by what we have done rather than by what we have said we will do.

Consider that carefully. He is basically saying ‘all bets are off: as from the day I have become PM, we start afresh, ignoring all I have said before, and only what we actually do from now on counts’. Why wasn’t that statement given more prominence by the media at the time? It is a catch-all statement wiping the slate clean of election promises and starting over: it is a clear statement that his election promises were vacuous.

As with so many of Abbott’s statements, it is easy to find another that is contradictory, unless we understand and accept that he uses words as Humpty Dumpty did — they mean what he chooses them to mean, no more and no less!

What do you think?



Middle Australia: a new narrative for Labor?


Tucked away in one of the last Fairfax-Nielsen public opinion polls in mid-July is the intriguing fact that although the ALP was leading on a two party preferred basis, and Bill Shorten was preferred as Prime Minister to Tony Abbott, Abbott was ‘way ahead of Mr Shorten on the issue of “vision for Australia's future'’, leading 54 to 38 per cent’. It’s an odd finding in the sense that while voters appeared to think Abbott has a vision, a good number of them don’t seem to like it. It’s a worrying finding in that many voters don’t think Labor has a vision. A similar problem dogged Julia Gillard as Prime Minister: journalists said she didn’t have a ‘narrative’, a story that linked together Labor’s policies into a coherent vision.

I find this a bit surprising, because I’ve always assumed Labor does have a vision that has been summed up as a ‘fair go’. But apparently this vision either doesn’t resonate with voters or isn’t being adequately communicated. Or maybe Labor isn’t being true to it?

I can’t really comment on what appeals to voters; after all, they voted for Tony Abbott. A small but significant number of them have since changed their minds, at least for the time being, perhaps having seen in Joe Hockey’s budget just what vision the LNP actually has for Australia — free markets, small government and burgeoning inequality. It’s worth noting, however, that even when public opinion polls were looking dire for Labor before the last election, many of the policies of the Labor government were actually quite popular. Essential polling suggested that a majority of people would be prepared to pay more taxes for better government services, and spending on health and education, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the NBN all attracted majority support. More recently, polls suggest that a significant majority support putting a price on carbon. So there’s at least some evidence that voters approve of policies whereby government intervenes in the free market to even up the playing field, or to require polluters to pay for their pollution.

The result of the last election is therefore proof positive that Labor isn’t adequately communicating its message. Of course it was difficult for the party to do this when the Murdoch-owned print media was solidly — ridiculously, extravagantly — against them. Then there were the negatives: the changes of leadership, the disunity, the sense that the government was somehow not legitimate. Abbott’s relentless negativity was allowed to dominate the debate, leaving little free air for a more positive message from the government. Labor policy was suffocated in the public mind, partly by clever tactics by their enemies. But maybe the message wasn’t clear enough. It’s unfortunately not good enough to make logical arguments in favour of sensible policies; you have to grab the public imagination as well.

It’s hard to judge how Labor in opposition is selling its policies. At this point in the electoral cycle, conventional wisdom dictates that an opposition is not required to present alternatives to government proposals: their role is supposed to be to critique what the government puts forward. Anything they do say is unlikely to be given prominence in the mainstream media. Furthermore, Bill Shorten has said that the first year in opposition should be spent reforming the party; new policy development should follow on from this, the assumption being that new members should be able to contribute through reformed structures to what the party decides. I don’t entirely buy this. The party needs some basis on which to offer criticism; what they say is wrong with the government’s proposals should reflect Labor’s vision. Specific policy proposals can possibly wait until nearer the next election, but everything Labor members say — in parliament, in press conferences, in their electorates — should reflect Labor’s vision. So it’s worth being clear what that is.

There are also obviously some areas where the problem is not lack of stated vision, but failure to live up to it. The most glaring example is Labor’s policy on asylum seekers — check out this bitter cartoon showing Julia Gillard putting out ‘the light on the hill’ because ‘it attracts the boats’. Labor will struggle to present itself as a party that believes in a fair go, however expressed, while it continues to defend off-shore processing on Manus Island and Nauru. There is no easy solution to the asylum seeker dilemma, but the present position is poisoning any attempt by the party to portray itself as caring about people.

They aren’t safe on economic and social policy either. Labor in office faced the same budget realities that Joe Hockey is dealing so poorly with now and, if re-elected, would face them again if they continue to accept the prevailing economic doctrines. The revenue side of the budget is in crisis, with receipts falling below spending, even if, as under Wayne Swan, spending is also cut back. Think of the reaction to the Gillard government’s placing of single mothers on Newstart after their youngest child turned 8, even though this was already policy for new entrants into the scheme. Labor tried to run the line that being in work is better than being on welfare, and so it is, but this means creating more jobs, and government has only limited capacity to influence employment these days. Even if Labor can resist the pressure to promise balanced budgets, it will likely make cuts to existing entitlements, and while there is room for reduction of welfare for the well off, such as changes to superannuation, on past evidence there could be problems with fairness in selling a message either promising cuts or, much more justified but harder, increasing taxation.

I think, however, the problem with Labor’s vision is deeper than asylum seekers, or single mothers, or any other group they might in the future fail to treat fairly. Labor is, like most centre-left parties the world over, still wedded to a neo-liberal understanding of economics. After all, they were the government under Paul Keating that did most to usher in the era of the floating dollar, reduced tariffs, privatisation of public assets, lower taxation and spending cuts. At the heart of this set of policies is the belief that because wealth trickles down, measures that promote equality are only achieved at the expense of greater national prosperity. You can have a safety net, but only if you can afford it. Look at the whole thrust of the Hockey budget, with its narrative that welfare spending is out of control. It’s all very well to say that Australia is a rich country and can afford proper welfare but even when times are good it’s hard to convince people that they should give up something for someone else. It’s the old ‘you’re working to pay someone else’s welfare’ lifters and leaners line that Hockey is still using. Neo-cons can use the language of fairness too, when the trickle-down paradigm remains unchallenged.

Labor needs to come out decisively with a new story. Small government, tax cuts for the rich, competition in health and education are all recipes for greater wealth inequality — Labor must unequivocally reject all elements of such policies. To their credit, some Labor figures, such as Andrew Leigh and Jim Chalmers, are talking about wealth inequality and the destructive effects it has on communities. But the party as a whole still uses the language of ‘the fair go’ in ways that are compatible with the trickle-down theory. The ‘fair go’ addresses the people who lose out under neo-liberal capitalism, but doesn’t look at the rich — those who benefit completely disproportionately from the current economic arrangements. We need a story that values the real wealth producers in society.

Economists’ views, even in the mainstream, are changing. Many now agree that trickle-down economics doesn’t work for the public good. And a significant number are now arguing that prosperity and greater equality aren’t alternatives; in fact you can’t have one without the other. Rich people do not generate most of the jobs in society — small business and middle class consumers do. My consumption fuels your business; the more people in a position to consume, the more profitable your business. Instead of top-down economics, we need ‘middle-out’ economic policies.

According to Eric Liu & Nick Hanauer, its foremost proponents, ‘middle-out’ economics offers a new, or at least revived, explanation of where prosperity comes from — ‘a "circle of life"-like feedback loop between consumers and businesses’ that creates conditions ‘that allow both middle-class consumers and the businesses that depend on them to thrive in a virtuous cycle of increasing prosperity for all.’ This means that a prosperous economy revolves not around a tiny number of the very rich but around a great and growing number of middle-class consumers and small businesspeople. It follows from this, Liu and Hanauer argue, that:

  • Demand from the middle class — not tax cuts for the wealthy — is what drives a virtuous cycle of job growth and prosperity.
  • Rich business people are not the primary job creators; middle-class customers are. The more the middle class can buy, the more jobs we'll create.
  • A nation has the right and the responsibility to decide where the jobs created by its middle class will be located — here or off-shore.
  • Trickle-down has given us deficits and a decimated middle class.
  • Middle-out economics means investing in the health, education, infrastructure, and purchasing power of the middle class.
  • Middle-out economics marks the difference between what is good for capitalism broadly versus what protects the vested interests of a select group of capitalists narrowly — and it invests in the former.
You can read further explanation of this term here, and see what sort of policies arise from this view of how the economy actually works best for the community. Unsurprisingly, they include creating a truly progressive tax system, investing in the skills and health of the middle class, pushing for a fairer and more equitable split between workers and owners of the value created by enterprises, and investing strategically in the industries of the future.

Labor already has policies in most of these areas — though it needs to do more. But even more important, it needs a message that isn’t just about improving welfare, or even levelling up the growing inequality that arises from the unregulated free market. It needs a message that can’t be derailed by the cry of class war — however spurious that cry is. It’s not just about a fair go, and greater equality of opportunity. These messages will fail if the electorate thinks the Liberals are better economic managers, that fairness is unaffordable, and that wealth will, as they claim, trickle down. Labor needs to tie its policies into a narrative that embraces ‘middle-out’ economics — a narrative that values ordinary people as workers, consumers and taxpayers, who together create the wealth of our society.

What do you think?



There is no ‘I’ in Team


Welcome to ‘Team Australia’.

The usual connotation of the word ‘team’ is a group of people that pull together for the common good. Business these days seems to encourage people to form teams, whether the purpose is the development or implementation of a new product, or to attempt to build comradeship between employees.

The concept of ‘team’ is so ingrained into Australian culture that the different bus depots in the Brisbane Transport bus network compete for the best decorated bus at Christmas, the competition being judged by Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. It apparently builds teamwork and co-operation between the drivers at the different depots.

The theory seems to be that the process of building the ‘team’ will encourage the participants to complete their jobs at a higher level than they would otherwise because they have a sense of belonging to a like-minded group.

Socially most people have been involved with a sporting teams — from the local Under 7’s, who usually have only a vague idea that the ball has to be hit, kicked or thrown in a general direction (and no one should really care if it isn’t), to the high achieving athletes who are paid millions per year to demonstrate exceptional skills and ability in a particular area of sport. At the higher levels of sport, large quantities of electrons and printers ink are either used or wasted (depending on your opinion of the sport in question) in analysis of the events of the past week and how those events translated into a win or a loss last weekend.

Over the time the team is together, good coaches will attempt to engender a sense of equality across all the members of the team — and demonstrate that all members have skills to contribute, regardless of their time with the group. The ‘old hands’ will have the ‘culture’ of the organisation (regardless of the team’s purpose) while the newcomers will inject some different experiences to the group. The longer serving members will, if they have any intelligence, listen to the different ways of doing things and, if found sound, may incorporate them into existing programs which will improve the entire group’s performance in the future. The newer members will assimilate the ‘culture’ of the team from the longer serving members.

In an environment that promotes equality, it stands to reason that if one or two of your team mates are having an ‘off’ day, you will step in to give them a hand. If someone is ‘having a blinder’ (to flog the sporting metaphor to death), other members of the team are usually inspired sufficiently to improve their own performance. Regardless of the performance on the field, there is usually a form of celebration after the event to either congratulate or commiserate with each other.

So, if the Abbott Government comprises the coach and support staff for ‘Team Australia’, it stands to reason that they will be demonstrating to us, the team members, that we are all equal, all capable of greatness and, regardless of how long ago or how we got into the team, we are all welcome and valuable players. Let’s look at the evidence.

1. A team is a group of equals.

In the budget, the Abbott government introduced a $7 co-payment when accessing primary health services — effective from July 2015. (The measure is yet to be passed by the Senate.) The University of Sydney suggests that the elderly and chronically ill will be disadvantaged as a result of this measure:

"The introduction of co-payments won't be shared equally," report co-author Dr Clare Bayram said.

"It will particularly affect people who need to use more medical and related services, such as older people and those with chronic health conditions.

"The proposed co-payments regime is likely to deter the most vulnerable in the community from seeking care due to higher costs that they would face."

Also in the budget, unemployed Australians will have to meet obligations to apply for 40 jobs per month, as well as performing a number of hours of community service (dependent on age) in order to be eligible for the ‘Newstart’ (unemployment) benefit:

Australians under 30 will be required to do the heaviest lifting in order to keep their dole payments.

Those in the youngest working age bracket will be asked to work a minimum of 25 hours community service a week and apply for at least 40 jobs a month.

If you are over 60, you do not have to work — but volunteering to do so would be appreciated! Probably the best evidence of the process is this:

Work for the dole is already an optional program for all job seekers. As part of the recent budget, the government introduced mandatory work for the dole in 18 high unemployment trial locations. That program applies to long-term unemployed people who are 30 or younger.

The government will not wait for the outcome of those trials to extend the program to job seekers across the country.

Job seekers aged under 30 will be ineligible for payments for six months after applying for benefits despite taking part in work for the dole and being required to apply for jobs.

Thousands of Australians who are under 30 are in relationships, have mortgages and/or children. Is it equitable that this group of people could literally lose everything if their employer ‘restructures’? We see regularly in the media that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of workers are ‘no longer required’ by a number of companies (as well as the current federal government when elected), and we are also seeing an increasing rate of unemployment. One could also ask how they are going to afford the expense of making the 40 job applications a month or get to the places where they will ‘work’ if, because of their age, they are not eligible for any government support for six months. It looks like some are more equal than others.

2. Members of a team are capable of greatness.

Australians are used to hearing about how great it is to live here. In comparison to a number of countries around the world, we aren’t doing too badly. However in a global environment where the emission of carbon is a concern due to the effects on the atmosphere, Australia is removing an effective carbon price.

There is no real difference between a carbon pricing scheme and parking regulation. In the case of carbon pricing, the emitters of a product that has been demonstrated to cause detriment to the quality of the climate globally are charged for emitting the product. The emitters have two choices — either pay the price or change their production process to reduce or eliminate the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Councils across Australia regulate parking for a number of safety and accessibility reasons — if you are prepared to reduce other road users’ safety or accessibility due to your own perceived needs, you will be fined for the ‘privilege’ of doing so. The current government’s ‘Direct Action’ policy is similar to paying a reward to everyone who does not park properly.

Regardless of the semantics of the repeal of the carbon pricing scheme, a number of internationally renowned commentators were appalled:

It has been led by EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and environmental activist Al Gore, who said Australia was "falling behind other major industrialised nations in the growing global effort to reduce carbon emissions".

Conservation groups have also been scathing, and many experts have been left scratching their heads.

Roger Jones, a Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, called the repeal "the perfect storm of stupidity".

"It's hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making," he said.

"A complete disregard of the science of climate change and its impacts. Bad economics and mistrust of market forces."

The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, a group of close to 600 scientists, released a statement that said:

Securing Australia's environmental heritage for its future citizens and the global community will be undermined without strong environmental legislation and leadership that empowers government agencies, communities and local environmental organisations to protect rainforests.

Hardly evidence of engendering the potential for greatness in the team, is it?

3. All members are welcome and valuable members.

There is still a long way to go before all members of the ‘team’ can feel welcome and valued. There is considerable discussion on the inequity shown to refugees that arrive here in leaky boats versus 747’s — and the treatment each group receives.

Reported widely in the past few months has been a number of racially-based attacks on public transport in Sydney. Two of them are here (where the woman responsible was found guilty) and here (where four teenagers were arrested early in August).

The first racist incident ‘went viral’ on the Internet prior to any action being taken to identify and deal with the offender. The authorities seemed much more willing to act quickly in the second incident. While The Conversation’s article reporting the first incident suggests that the reaction to the offensive behaviour may be a turning point in treatment of racial abuse in this country, there is still a long way to go.

In 1995, the Federal Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act which, in part, made an act discrimination if it was intended to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ on the basis of ethnic origins or race. In 2011, radio and television presenter Andrew Bolt fell foul of this law when he claimed that nine ‘pale-skinned’ indigenous people ‘had chosen to identify as indigenous for professional or financial gain’. Then Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis, writing in The Australian on September 30, 2011 claimed:

By making the reasonable likelihood of causing offence or insult the test of unacceptable behaviour, in any political context, section 18C is a grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse. While some have pointed out the analogy with the limitations on free speech in the defamation laws, the threshold at which speech may be unlawful because it is defamatory is much higher: the traditional formula is that it must be likely to bring the victim into "hatred, ridicule or contempt"

and,

Section 18C, as presently worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed.

Apparently Bolt and his wife dined with Abbott soon after the judgment and Brandis made it a high priority to remove the ‘offending’ Section 18C from the legislation upon being appointed Attorney-General in the Abbott Government. As the ABC reported in April:

In a heated exchange in parliament, Senator Nova Peris — the first Indigenous female senator — asked Senator Brandis: "Won't removing 18C facilitate vilification by bigots?"

He responded: "People do have a right to be bigots, you know. In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted."

The repeal of Section 18C did not pass parliament. Abbott rang Bolt early in August and advised that the proposed repeal was not going to happen. Bolt then told the world on his blog and claimed:

To associate it with me meant so many people of the left thought that any law that could be used against me must be pretty good, and I think that’s poisoned the debate.

The ironic thing to note (apart from Bolt’s ‘its all about me’ comment) is that the IPA (a conservative ‘think tank’) is so offended that they still can’t offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of ethnic origins or race, that they are planning an anti-Abbott advertising campaign!

Abbott’s ‘Team Australia’ can be compared to Queensland Premier Newman’s ‘Strong Choices’ campaign, where every comment by the LNP Government has somehow linked back to the chosen phrase for some time. See this article in the Brisbane Times for some pithy examples. At the end of the day, is it all hollow rhetoric and marketing to ensure survival beyond the next election?

While there is no “I” in team, there are three in ‘vindictive’ as well as one each in ‘horrible’ and ‘racist’. Is it possible to have a team where the Government is vindictive to those who can’t find work, horrible to our senior citizens who potentially can’t afford primary health care, or racist to those who are perceived to be different?

What do you think?