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?



A year in Abbottland




Twelve months into the Abbott government, its misdeeds could fill an entire book. But here I’ll attempt to summarize them, as it’s important we remember them all to maintain the rage. If you think this article is too long, blame Tony Abbott.

For 28 months, they promised to reveal all their policies and budget cuts ‘in good time before the next election’. In reality, they walked away from unwanted questions, hid major policies and cuts until 36 hours before the election, hid others until after the WA by-election, and continue to hide behind a series of reviews stacked with hand-picked ideologues who anyone can see will recommend a radical right-wing agenda.

They promised to govern for all Australians, and not pick winners. In reality, their every decision makes the rich richer, the privileged more privileged, and the powerful more powerful, while finding ever more humiliating ways to bully the poor, disadvantaged, and powerless. Abbott (along with his unprecedentedly powerful chief of staff Peta Credlin) has appointed a cabinet containing just one woman, no non-Christians, and no climate or science minister; surrounded himself with advisors who look, talk, and think like him (i.e. old, male, conservative, climate-change-denying business lobbyists); sacked public servants perceived as disloyal; abolished multiple expert advisory bodies; reinstated knights and dames; and failed to condemn extreme views expressed by colleagues and advisors.

They promised strong, stable, accountable government with a long-term vision for the future direction of the nation. In reality, they are not delivering this because their ideology is to palm off major decisions onto unelected corporate leaders ruthlessly pursuing short-term self-interest. The supposed wisdom of the market is disrupting, among other things, the formerly stable climate that has sustained humanity for millennia.

They promised to address climate change at no cost. In reality, they have approved, subsidized, and talked up relentless expansion of the fossil fuel mining industries driving the problem (including Clive Palmer’s mega coal mine); purged the words ‘climate change’ and ‘renewable energy’ from government communications; misquoted Wikipedia to deny the link between climate change and worsening extreme weather; attacked the Australian Research Council for funding too much climate science; abandoned the upper end of Australia’s emissions target range; snubbed then played an obstructive role at Warsaw climate talks; refused to contribute to a global climate fund; left climate off the agenda of the upcoming G20 conference; scrapped or scaled back their proposed climate programs; abolished most existing policies on climate, renewables, and energy efficiency (cutting total spending by three-quarters); and tried to abolish the few remaining ones (including the Renewable Energy Target, being reviewed by a panel stacked with deniers). These policies are to be replaced by paying polluting companies to do essentially nothing.

They promised household compensation without a carbon tax. In reality, they are trying to increase fuel tax for ordinary motorists while compensating mining companies and repealing the carbon price paid by polluting companies. (There is of course an environmental argument for raising fuel tax, but the inequity in Abbott’s strategy cannot be overlooked.)

They promised to improve the environment. In reality, they have slashed federal environmental programs; turned the Great Barrier Reef into a coal shipping lane; sought to revoke the World Heritage status of Tasmanian forests and claimed loggers are conservationists; suspended all new marine parks; presented redirected funds for tree-planting as new; delegated their environmental protection powers to the states; and granted themselves legal immunity from challenges to past environmental approvals.

They promised to look after rural communities, in particular, to protect agriculture by reining in coal seam gas (CSG). In reality, the Coalition is dominated by the Liberals (who have boasted about hoodwinking the Nationals); their policy is to extract every molecule of gas and they’ve attacked NSW’s CSG restrictions; and they are ignoring the climate crisis threatening the very existence of agriculture and rural towns.

They promised to protect Australia's sovereignty. In reality, they are agreeing to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in free trade negotiations, giving multinational corporations the power to sue a government for any policy that hurts their profits. This will have a gagging effect on the ability of governments to introduce laws to hold corporations accountable. They continue to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which involves ISDS.

They promised to liberate us from big government, and no mandatory data retention. In reality, only corporations and other elites will be freed from regulations which hold them accountable to the voting public, while women are held back, minorities and disadvantaged groups punished, and asylum seekers imprisoned with no right to know why. They’ve stymied the ACT’s marriage equality laws. They’ve cut funding to the Human Rights Commission and appointed as ‘freedom commissioner’ an ideologue who advocated shutting down the Occupy protests and believes corporations have human rights. They’ve withdrawn a grant to the Jewish Holocaust Centre, among others, that they see as pork-barrelling to minority groups. They’ve abolished an advisory body on corporate crime, cut funding to the corporate regulator, and watered down consumer protections on financial advice amid a banking scandal. They’ve abolished the independent monitor of anti-terrorism laws. They’ve announced draconian security policies which would remove a sunset clause on police powers to detain and search people, make it easier to arrest suspects without a warrant, ban Australians from visiting certain countries, allow ASIO to suspend passports, and remove the presumption of innocence for terrorist offences. They’ve defended spying on behalf of fossil fuel companies, and they want the power to routinely spy on every Australian online, a policy even they can’t explain — supposedly to prevent terrorism and crime when it’s difficult not to conclude the government represents a more present threat.

They promised to increase free speech (especially for criticism of powerful people), protect media and political freedoms, and support public broadcasters. In reality, they’ve attempted to promote free speech only for racists; cut funding for research they don’t like; cut funding to anybody who supports a divestment campaign against Israeli apartheid; appointed a blatantly biased Speaker; negotiated draconian copyright laws in TPP talks; secretively courted supposedly independent commentators at parties; intimidated the ABC for reporting allegations against them; cut funding for ABC, SBS, and community radio (and launched a further ‘efficiency study’ into the ABC by a former head of Seven); put right-wing ideologues in charge of public broadcaster appointments; banned Community Legal Centres from advocating policy changes; cut legal aid for Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, and environmentalists (as demanded by the mining lobby); cancelled all funding to international NGOs; defunded artists who refused sponsorship from a company owning refugee detention centres; defunded the Refugee Council because of its advocacy; forbidden public servants to criticise the government online; demanded a refugee activist remove from their Facebook page a photo of protesters blockading a bus transferring asylum seekers; removed the tax-exempt status of environment groups; replaced secular social workers with chaplains in schools; and established a national curriculum inquiry by two ideologues advocating right-wing propaganda be taught in schools. They are investigating trade unions (a rare voice opposing the present economic system) while ignoring corruption in more powerful institutions; they will reinstate a commission with draconian powers to investigate building unions; they propose to outlaw environmental boycotts; they’ve backed Queensland laws banning G20 protests; and their state-level colleagues are passing draconian anti-protest laws designed to silence political opponents.

They promised transparent government. In reality, they have attempted to shut down the flow of information by axing the Climate Commission; renaming coal seam gas to ‘natural gas’; barring Indonesian journalists from a press conference; requiring ministers to seek approval from the PM’s office before giving interviews (with calls frequently going unanswered); refusing FoI requests for incoming government briefs; claiming Abbott was ‘too flat out’ to talk to the media; deleting pre-election speeches from their website; announcing major environment-destroying policies over the Xmas break; defying a Senate order to release the TPP text; taking down a government website on nutrition; refusing to explain its claim that Edward Snowden has endangered Australian lives; allowing the infant formula industry to oversee its own honesty in advertising; misrepresenting a media release as a ‘Treasury analysis’; refusing to release a budget audit (by a leading business lobbyist) during a by-election; blocking Senate scrutiny of new government surveillance powers; criminalizing whistleblowing; and gagging the media on allegations that senior Australian bankers bribed government officials. On ‘Repeal Day’, they removed 10,000 regulations in one fell swoop without time to review the implications of the changes. They’ve admitted they want sport on the front page.

They promised to save the lives of asylum seekers, and not detain children. In reality, they instructed the Navy not to respond to distress calls, leading to a boatful of people drowning at sea. They’ve employed unlicensed guards; threatened to report gay asylum seekers to PNG police; denied facial reconstruction surgery for gunshot wounds; and scrapped an advisory group on asylum seeker health. Several asylum seekers allege their hands were deliberately burned while in a boat being towed back to Indonesia by the Australian Navy. One person has been killed and seventy-seven injured on Manus Island. They have now been detaining children for a year (and pregnant women), separated a newborn baby from his mother, and sent unaccompanied minors to Nauru. They revoked the community detention status of two children and kidnapped them from school, frightening other children at the same school into running away. They’ve attempted to reintroduce temporary visas meaning genuine refugees won’t be permanently settled in Australia, and eventually gave the Immigration Minister discretion to deny permanent residence based on secret conditions with no right of appeal. They try to coerce asylum seekers into ‘voluntarily’ going home, want to send them home if there’s only a 49% chance they’ll be tortured, have sent some back to war-torn Iraq, handed others (after superficially screening them by teleconference) over to Sri Lanka where they are likely to be tortured, and are negotiating to send detainees to Cambodia which is known for human rights abuses. These policies breach the UN refugee convention.

There is considerable overlap between the broken promises on transparency and saving asylum seekers, with Abbott and Scott Morrison denying media access to immigration detention centres, instructing asylum seekers not to talk to visitors, hiding information about boat arrivals (and justifying this by comparing them to a military enemy), fleeing reporters asking questions about the drowning incident, instructing public servants to incorrectly call them ‘illegals’, defying a Senate order to release documents on the issue, stopping media briefings on boats, refusing to place any credence in the burns allegations because Australian naval officers are above suspicion, making false claims about events on Manus Island, and agreeing with PNG to shut down an investigation into human rights abuses there. They denied the existence of an entire boatful of asylum seekers before detaining them at sea for a month then trafficking them to Nauru — and we would never have known about it if the refugees hadn’t contacted the media. Details are now finally beginning to come out at a Human Rights Commission inquiry, where it’s been revealed that the treatment of detainees is ‘torture’, staff call the detainees ‘clients’ to dehumanise them, guards have sexually abused child detainees, medication was confiscated from a 3-year-old epileptic girl, a psychiatrist was told to suppress evidence of detained children showing mental health issues, children are self-harming and attempting suicide, and generally the place is even worse than where the refugees came from. That shouldn’t be surprising because the entire purpose of the policy is to crush their hope.

They promised a foreign policy based on advancing freedom, decency, and poverty reduction rather than just security and economics. In reality, despite one commendable UN resolution on MH17, let’s not forget some of their less humane foreign policy decisions. They have apologised for (in opposition) having rightly criticized Indonesia, Malaysia, and PNG for human rights abuses; refused to help West Papuan activists against Indonesia’s abuses; banned a Malaysian democracy activist from visiting Australia; were slow to advocate for Australians jailed overseas; condoned torture and war crimes in Sri Lanka because otherwise would mean admitting people fleeing the country are legitimate refugees; gave the Sri Lankan government navy patrol boats to block said refugees; sent border protection vessels into Indonesian waters; authorised raids on an East Timor lawyer possessing evidence of Australian spying; opposed a UN resolution for an inquiry into Sri Lankan war crimes; defeated a UN move to ban use of nuclear weapons; raised the possibility of allowing Chinese troops to train in Australia; praised the ‘skill and honour’ of Japanese WW2 soldiers; and claimed Australia’s involvement in WW1 was in ‘a good cause’. They have cut $8 billion from foreign aid and removed poverty reduction from Australia’s foreign policy goals.

They promised to end class war. In reality, their policies are redistributing wealth upwards.

They promised to improve our country by growing its economy, creating a land of opportunity that would allow everyone to get ahead. In reality, the social health of developed countries like Australia is impaired less by poverty than by the economic, social, and political inequalities (not to mention environmental crises) promoted by an unrestrained market. The Liberals aim to remove all restraints from the free market system that tends to entrench these problems.

They promised to protect and create jobs by fighting restrictions on mining, supporting manufacturing industries, and promoting free trade. In reality, unemployment has grown to its highest level in 12 years; they are sacking government employees; they are allowing employers to hire an unlimited number of foreign workers; they dared a company to leave Australia; they are killing the renewable energy industry; and they are sitting back and watching the death of Australian manufacturing, caused partly by the mining boom and free trade which they continue to promote.

They promised to protect workers’ pay and conditions. In reality, they have reduced the wages of aged care and childcare workers and low-paid cleaners, have advised Fair Work Australia to cut penalty rates, will pay Green Army employees half the minimum wage and exempt them from work safety laws, have defunded Ethical Clothing Australia, have proposed to exclude the Northern Territory from labour laws, and are bullying companies (by threatening to withdraw industry subsidies) into cutting wages and blaming the carbon tax for job losses. They are forcing under-30s to wait up to six months before getting the unliveable unemployment benefit, then apply for 40 jobs a month to be eligible for benefits for six months, then repeat the cycle until they get a job. Yet, they are simultaneously cutting programs that would have helped people find work, implying they are trying to drive up demand for jobs so that people will settle for lower wages.

They promised to cut wasteful spending to reduce out-of-control debt and deficit. In reality, Australia’s national debt is smaller than that of most countries, and Hockey’s budget is neoliberalism masquerading as fiscal responsibility: it doesn’t significantly improve the fiscal position, it just transfers wealth from poor individuals to rich corporations. It pays for corporate tax cuts, fossil fuel subsidies, roads, fighter planes, and refurbishing the PM’s house through new taxes and spending cuts that hurt the poor, the unemployed, young people, university students, schools, families, women, domestic violence victims, the sick, the disabled, pensioners, charities, small businesses, emerging and struggling industries, public broadcasters, public servants (thousands of whom lost their jobs), local councils, Indigenous Australians, poorer countries, scientists whose research would advance human knowledge, and the environment which sustains us all. Despite increasing defence spending, it cuts soldiers’ wages by $20,000, and cuts welfare for orphans of soldiers. The only costs for politicians and high-income earners are blatantly tokenistic and temporary.

They promised to not cut education or health funding. In reality, they’ve made massive cuts including the Gonski schools program and National Disability Insurance Scheme. Their budget starves state governments of schools and hospitals funding to force the issue of delegating those responsibilities to them; increases student debt by deregulating university fees and lowers the income threshold for repayment; cuts numerous educational programs (though they somehow found money for more school chaplains, ignoring a contrary High Court decision); introduces co-payments for GP visits, emergency department treatments, diagnostic tests, and prescription drugs; reduces Australia’s contribution to the World Health Organization; cuts preventative health measures (eg. anti-smoking campaigns); and cuts myriad health programs (including for mental health which we’ll probably need more than ever in Abbott’s Australia). And they’ve proposed giving control over GP treatments to private health insurance companies.

They promised to relieve the cost of living for ordinary Australians through tax cuts, no new taxes, and no cuts to pensions. In reality, their tax cuts favour big business (and they’ve watered down Labor’s planned crackdown on multinational tax dodging); they’ve cut a tax break for low-income superannuation; they’ve imposed fees on those who become bankrupt; they’ve scrapped the first home buyers scheme; and their budget introduced several regressive taxes and harsh cuts to welfare. The latter include increasing the retirement age, cutting retiree concessions, cutting various family benefits (illustrating the government’s disregard for unpaid work), suspending welfare payments for parents of truant children, restricting and constantly reviewing access to disability payments while cutting services for disabled people, cutting payments for dementia carers, and a web of technical changes to indexation and eligibility thresholds across all payments. Moreover, they’ve set up a welfare review that is not consulting with community groups, and has canvassed simplifying 75 payments into four and restricting what recipients can spend their money on.

Abbott promised to be a Prime Minister for Aboriginal affairs and spend his first week as PM in an Aboriginal community. In reality, he has gone nowhere near said community, consolidated 150 Indigenous programs into five, paid Indigenous staff in his office less than others doing the same job, and described Australia as ‘unsettled’ before the British arrived.

They promised paid parental leave. In reality, it is nowhere in sight.

They implied by their attacks on Labor that they would not misuse taxpayer money or protect corrupt individuals. In reality, they have been caught claiming expenses for attendance at weddings and suchlike; ministers are now allowed to hold shares in companies; and they’ve redirected funds from one Royal Commission on institutional child sexual abuse to another on home insulation. Abbott, in response to a report exposing the role of his friend Cardinal George Pell in covering up Catholic child rape, falsely claimed Pell was the first senior cleric to take the issue seriously.

They promised hope, reward, and opportunity. In reality, ‘opportunity’ was code for ‘if you’re unlucky you’re on your own’, ‘reward’ meant ‘we’ll feather your nest if you’re already doing well’, and ‘hope’ meant ‘dream on’.

They promised to govern competently. In reality, when occasionally diverted from their script by an intelligent questioner, their ministers reveal a laughable ignorance about even their own policies.

To add insult to injury, Abbott promised to be trustworthy and not talk down to voters but in reality has treated us with thinly disguised contempt. In opposition they blatantly misled us about their intentions, repeatedly assuring us there would be no surprises and no broken promises. Then in government they blindsided us with extreme right-wing policies, breaking too many promises to count. They have arrogantly insisted that they are the adults (particularly disturbing when you recall Abbott endorses smacking naughty children), and expect us all to support their government and everything it does because it represents ‘Team Australia’. They have taken our votes for granted, refusing to even acknowledge that 100,000 Australians marched against their government, and that Western Australia resoundingly rebuked them at a by-election. They have demanded the Senate rubber-stamp policies opposed by the majority of Australians. They feed us a never-ending stream of blatant lies and assume we are too stupid to notice.

Abbott is evidently following the Institute of Public Affairs’ blueprint to transform Australia in three years, like a right-wing Whitlam. Some educated guesses at what’s coming soon: abolition or sabotaging of the Renewable Energy Target; more cuts to the ABC; more welfare cuts; more regressive taxes, such as an increased Goods and Services Tax; more tax cuts and loopholes for the rich; more cuts to corporate regulations and the public service; more restrictions on workers’ rights; abolition of penalty rates; privatisation of public assets; school curricula promoting right-wing beliefs; delegation of more federal responsibilities to the states where Christian fundamentalists and other right-wing ideologues can push their agenda under the radar; and the implementation of as many IPA policies as possible.

When the next election rolls around, Abbott will do whatever it takes to try to lure us into voting him back in — but I reckon it won’t fool anyone. Abbott has shaken Australians out of our apathy; we have woken up to the fact that politicians are not acting in our interests. The rise of the internet means Australia can no longer be governed through the mushroom treatment, because we can all remind each other about the government’s litany of lies and bad behaviour.

The Abbott government represents an extreme version of the neoliberalism that has dominated politics for three decades, an ideology that when put into practice has been described as ‘totalitarian capitalism’. Its rhetoric about ‘individual freedom and free enterprise’ is acted on only when convenient to its true obsession — rewarding the ‘good people’ at the top of society and punishing the ‘bad people’ at the bottom. For all their talk about ‘progress’, they want to drag us back to the 19th century, before the welfare state.

If you’ve been reading this article and congratulating yourself that Abbott has yet to hurt or take rights away from you, how many more groups does he have to attack before you speak out against his government?

If you’ve been reading and nodding along, don’t just sit on your hands. Why not come along to your local March in August this weekend? Let’s show Abbott we know what he and his colleagues are up to, and we won’t stand for it.

Image source

Editor’s Note: Every claim made by James Wight in this piece is backed by reference to news sites and reports. So well researched is James’ original piece that a single paragraph could contain twenty links.

The editors at TPS removed all of those links but only for ease of reading. If anyone wishes to see all the links, James has kindly posted the unedited version with all links on his own blog at http://precariousclimate.com/



Whose freedom?


Many years ago, I think during the Reagan years, the US was on one of its regular attacks on China’s human rights record and the lack of freedom for its citizens, and I recall someone from the Chinese side replying to the effect that Chinese citizens could walk their city streets at night without fear. That response raises important questions about how we view freedom.

What is this nebulous thing that is freedom? (Note that ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ are generally interchangeable, partly because some languages, such as German and French, have only the one word for the concept while English uses both.)

The philosophers argue that there is a logical difference between freedom and matters such as justice, equality and morality but generally concede that these play a part in our perception of freedom.

A basic definition of freedom, that is still used, is that of John Stuart Mill who wrote in On Liberty in 1859:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it.

There have been two basic approaches to freedom:

  • One, that freedom comes from being rational and making one’s own choices on that basis, which includes the rational decision not to harm others by one’s actions. The ultimate (utopian) outcome is a society that does not require rules because everyone behaves in a rational manner — the perfect form of anarchy, not that any of the mainstream philosophers actually recommended anarchy.
  • The other, that freedom occurs when one is free from coercion and interference, that one is not forced to undertake activities or make choices over which one does not have some control.
In 1958 Isaiah Berlin called these ‘positive’ (meaning ‘freedom for’) and ‘negative’ (meaning ‘freedom from’) concepts of freedom. The ‘positive’ concept comes from a long tradition going back to the ascetics and was popular after the Enlightenment, arguing that a rational approach gave an individual the ability to determine which desires are ‘true’ (should be pursued) and which ‘false’ (should be ignored), which was seen as essential to genuine freedom.

The problem, even for those early proponents of the rationalist view, was that not everyone may have achieved the level of rational thought necessary to achieve that degree of freedom. For Isaiah Berlin, that gave rise to the totalitarianism of both the Right and Left (remembering he was writing only a decade after WWII and during the Cold War) because someone other than the individual could decide what was required to achieve freedom and impose on others their view of freedom and of what was necessary to achieve that higher level of rational thought.

Another criticism is that, like religious ascetics, one can achieve this personal freedom by reducing or eliminating desires and wants. In this situation, the person no longer desires to take any action that may run up against constraints, so it can be said that all actions they do desire to take are ‘free’. This can, however, lead to the acceptance of situations that are inherently not free — for example, a well-treated slave being content with their lot.

The slave analogy was also used to criticise the ‘negative’ concept because it is possible that a slave may be allowed to live a normal day-to-day existence without coercion or interference but still remain a slave. Under the definition, that is ‘freedom’ but it ignores that the slave is still liable to renewed demands (interference) from their master.

That has led to many attempts at refinement of the definition of freedom. This has meant such approaches as identifying those areas where we should expect to be free to make our own decisions: this is our emphasis on so-called ‘inherent’ human rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom in our personal/private lives and so on. To make it easier, we often break it down into those component parts, so, rather than talking about freedom as a whole, we argue about the specifics of each of those freedoms. There has been, and is, much debate about what should be included.

In January 1941, Franklin D Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. He spoke in the context of the war that was then raging in Europe, and in terms of a new world order following the war, but the underlying aspects of those freedoms remain relevant, particularly the latter two which are not commonly picked up in the current liberal views of freedom.

Attempts to define freedom also led to consideration of the nature of the constraints that are imposed. At different times, words like ‘intentional’, or ‘offensively’ have been added to the definition of what limits one’s freedom: that is, the act that limits your freedom must be intentional and not merely an accident, or in some manner be offensive rather than defensive, to count as a genuine constraint. An element of ‘domination’ has also been considered: that covers the slave ‘problem’ in the sense that even if a slave is allowed to act in a free manner by their master the slave is still subject to ‘domination’. This, however, can also be answered by the earlier approaches to freedom, on the basis that a rational human being would not choose to be a slave and therefore runs counter to Mill’s condition that freedom includes not impinging on the freedom of choice of others.

The difficulty is matching the philosophic logic to the reality of society. Even the philosophers recognised that some rules were required, that we could not each be left to pursue our own ends without some constraints that protected the rights and freedom of others. This is the ‘social contract’ that became necessary when humans began living in societies rather than small or extended-family groups of hunter-gatherers. In the larger groups we gave up some of our freedom for the benefits, including the security, that society conferred. And when our societies became democracies, we were said to be free because people gained an active role in their own government or, in other words, became involved in determining the authority that was exercised over them, rather than being subject to the arbitrary will of a monarch.

The two shapes of freedom actually overlap to a considerable extent (as you may have guessed from what has already been said) but also give rise to the different political approaches of the Right and Left.

The Left emphasises the ‘positive’ freedom in its approach, considering that an individual cannot achieve freedom, or the higher level of their rational being, if they are poor, uneducated, condemned to no choice but physical labour, are part of a persecuted minority, and so on. Or, as some have said, freedom is meaningless to someone who is starving or has no home, although by the technical definition they may well be ‘free’. That gives rise to the Left and progressive view that physical and social conditions are also determinants of freedom and need to be addressed. In this view, removing constraints to freedom includes improving the individual’s capacity to exercise his or her freedom.

The Right, the neo-liberals (libertarians) and the economic rationalists, are more concerned about ‘negative’ freedom, the reduction of constraints, particularly by government, to individual decisions. They place a high priority on property rights, both physical and intellectual, (which was included by some early philosophers) as a way to maintain freedom, and include in that the capacity of labourers to ‘own’ and trade their labour. But this ignores the history of how many property rights were acquired: the landless peasants of South America, for example, had their land stolen and, if freedom means defending property rights, whose rights should prevail, those of the peasants or the current landholders? That is not an issue the Right likes to address.

G A Cohen, a Marxist political philosopher, also argued that lack of money is a constraint to freedom and attacked the logic of the Right’s view, describing it in this way:

Freedom is compromised by interference, but not by lack of means.
To lack money is not to suffer interference, but lack of means.
So poverty does not carry with it lack of freedom.
The primary task of government is to protect freedom.
So, relief of poverty is not part of the primary task of government.

C B Macpherson, a trained economist and also a political philosopher, developed an argument in the 1960s that early philosophers on freedom, like Hobbes and Locke, were bound by the values of their time and so developed their concept of freedom around the market, contractual obligations and property: the concept that an individual is the sole proprietor of his or her skills and owes nothing to society for them — what Macpherson called ‘possessive individualism’. Macpherson was criticised by both Right and Left. He also engaged in a debate with Milton Friedman. While Friedman claimed that history showed ‘that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom’, Macpherson countered that Friedman’s own examples showed ‘that political freedom actually came first and that those who gained that freedom, the property-owning elites, used it in their own best interests’, opening the doors to unrestrained capitalism.

Marx’s view of alienation relates to the disconnect between labour and its product. In Britain, it arose following the enclosures, whereby the peasants lost their access to the commons. Despite a considerable lack of freedom in feudal times, the serfs had access to land to provide for themselves and it has been estimated that they were able to retain anything from 50% to 70% of the product of their own labour. The loss of access to land meant that they had only their labour to sell, even to obtain the basic necessities of life. In essence, one form of a lack of freedom was exchanged for another. If I have no choice other than to sell my labour to survive, is that freedom?

In Nazi Germany, an Aryan German citizen could be quite happy and free as long as he or she was willing to accept the pogroms against the Jews, the attacks on the communists, and the denigration and persecution of other minorities, including non-Germanic foreigners. Was that a rational decision? Was it just acceptance of the views of the majority? Or was it manipulated by propaganda? They are questions vital to our sense of freedom.

It also brings us to a very murky area regarding our own society: the role of advertising, government manipulation of popular opinion, and even, as we saw in the lead up to the 2013 election, manipulation by the media. Brainwashing is definitely recognised by the philosophers as being counter to freedom even though the brainwashed person apparently ‘freely’ makes his or her own decision. Advertising and other manipulations may not be brainwashing per se but, to my mind, they are sailing very close, particularly as psychologists provide the manipulators with more and more knowledge about how we, as humans, make our decisions and choices. (I read recently that there are more psychologists employed in advertising in the US than are employed by hospitals.)

Kovie Biakolo, a young American woman who has her own blog, made some perceptive comments about freedom (or lack of it) in this modern context:

I believe that our society enslaves us in many ways. In the first place, consider how we work and why we work and how we are taught to work. … The premise is to pay bills and to buy things, many of which we are convinced to want in the first place. We become enslaved to our organizational practices and to our careers and, of course, to the almighty dollar. … Beyond our financial enslavement, think of the messages we consume everyday. We are told what is beautiful, what is politically popular to ascribe to, and the type of person we ought to want to be.

That raises an issue related to personal freedom and also to the concept of the rational being: that is our view of ourselves, our identity (or identities), and our autonomy in relation to that. It is accepted that many of our identities are socially constructed but we exercise our autonomy by deciding whether or not we accept a particular identity and exercise our freedom in deciding how we authenticate that identity socially. Thus I am a brother, a husband, a grandfather, identities over which I had (and have) no, or little, choice and which have social expectations attached to them but I do, or should, have some freedom to decide how I fulfil those identities. Other identities I may choose, including things like my political character and again I should be free to choose how I express that (writing for TPS for example). Freedom, then, can also be reduced if the choices to express identity are limited, whether by government or social constraints (majority values) — this is one place where issues like gay rights fit into the debate on freedom.

In my pieces earlier this year, ‘Whither the Left’, I raised the issue of the new working class, the university educated whose knowledge and intellect has now also become a commodity, just as labour did, to be sold in the market. Does this change the nature of the debate about the rational person being free? Once education was seen as a means to improve freedom by enhancing understanding and rational thought but if education now merely creates another commodity to be sold, where does freedom lie?

Jeff Sparrow recently addressed some aspects of freedom in a piece regarding comments by the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson. He concluded with a major issue for the Left and progressives:

… the Left does need to think about freedom. It’s symptomatic of our marginalisation that [the term is] increasingly deployed by conservatives rather than progressives. There’s an urgent need to reclaim freedom, to rearticulate the concept as a synonym for liberation rather than exchange.

What can progressives do to give ‘positive’ freedom a positive image?

What can progressives do to show that freedom is about more than free markets?

How can we put freedom back on the political agenda in a country that already thinks it is free?

What do you think?



What is the Hockey budget all about?

Does anyone out there know? Does Hockey know? Does Cormann? Does Abbott know? Do his Cabinet and his backbench know? The commentators and the voters have their ideas, but do they really know what is behind the Hockey Budget?

Readers will not find a definitive answer here; I don’t know more than anyone else. Rather this piece presents some plausible reasons why Hockey would bring down such a budget. I will leave it to you, the reader, to reach a conclusion, and if you are so inclined to make your suggestions in the comments section.

There is a surprising consensus among political commentators, economists, the Federal Treasury and the people about the effects of the budget, namely that it disproportionately penalises the middle and lower income earners. Proportionately, the wealthy are penalised less. Why is this so? What ideological position finds this acceptable? What economic argument supports this approach?

A superficial answer to the question: ‘Why would Hockey bring down such a budget?’ — the answer the government has used from the outset — is that there is a ‘budget emergency’, that the nation’s finances are ‘in crisis’, a ‘debt crisis’, and therefore radical corrective measures are needed, and now. Yet from the outset this was seen as the charade it is by economists and all but the most sycophantic Coalition commentators. There is no crisis, no emergency demanding immediate and drastic action.

Politicians, economists and journalists alike do agree though that structural defects exist in the budget that have their origins with several previous governments, defects that need correction to enable the delivery of the services that Australians want to be continued into the decades ahead: universal health care for an ageing population, disability care, a good education for all, jobs for all who can work, and infrastructure to support our growing population. Almost universally, the same people agree that corrections need to occur over the years ahead. While some agree that the corrections might usefully be commenced now, the majority does not see that they need to be corrected urgently, in a single budget, and certainly not by draconian measures.

The ‘crisis’, the ‘emergency’, was no more than a political strategy devised by the Coalition to soften up the electorate for the punitive budget it intended to bring down. There was no emergency or crisis, but the strategy served to preemptively answer the question the people were bound to ask: ‘Why would Hockey bring down such a destructive budget’? The Coalition hoped the answer would be obvious.

For the history of the so-called crisis, re-read the excellent piece by 2353 Debt crisis: what debt crisis?

If any reader still needs convincing that the ‘emergency’, the ‘crisis’ was fictitious, read Hockey’s own words, uttered in a radio interview during his July visit to New Zealand: ‘…there is no crisis in the Australian economy, nor is it in trouble.’ He made no mention of a ‘budget emergency’.

Even Tony Shepherd, the hand picked chair of Abbott’s pre-budget Commission of Audit, whose task it was to find budget savings, said there was no budget emergency. Most economists agreed.

So let’s look for what might be behind Hockey’s budget. What would motivate him to bring in such a punitive one?

The possibilities canvassed here are:
 
1. The budget reflects the Coalition’s political ideology.
2. The budget reflects an economic position.
3. The budget reflects a political intent to reorient the social order.

Proposition 1: The budget reflects the Coalition’s political ideology
 
The Liberal Party website mirrors its ideology in the statements of beliefs in its Federal Platform. Among the many laudable beliefs listed there, the following are relevant to this discussion:

We believe:

‒ In the innate worth of the individual, in the right to be independent, to own property and to achieve, and in the need to encourage initiative and personal responsibility.

‒ In the creation of wealth, and in competitive enterprise, consumer choice and reward for effort as the proven means of providing prosperity for all Australians.

‒ In the principle of mutual obligation, whereby those in receipt of government benefits make some form of contribution to the community in return, where this is appropriate.

In the section on the economy, we read:
 
Liberals want an economy that provides quality jobs and high living standards across the nation. Achieving these goals in a competitive global marketplace means we must have on-going economic reform.

Liberals believe the best strategy for jobs and prosperity includes:

‒ giving priority to sound economic fundamentals, including responsible fiscal management, low inflation, low interest rates, rising employment levels, low net debt and high real business investment;

‒ supporting the role of small business
 
‒ encouraging workplace reform…

Note the words: ‘we must have on-going economic reform’ and ‘workplace reform’.

So is the budget a reflection of those beliefs and preferred strategies? Possibly, but the extreme nature of the budget hardly reflects these benignly stated beliefs.

To get a deeper understanding of Liberal ideology, take a look at the wish list of the extreme right wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, which has an acknowledged and profound influence on Coalition thinking.

It is not afraid to state its views brazenly; it does not sugar-coat them as does the Liberal Party platform.

Among the first seventy-five wishes the IPA published are the following:

‒ Eliminate family tax benefits
 
‒ Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a percentage of GDP

‒ Legislate a balanced budget amendment which strictly limits the size of budget deficits and the period the federal government can be in deficit

‒ Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them.

That comes closer to explaining Hockey’s harsh budget. The IPA loathes government spending and taxes, adores a balanced budget, hates deficits, despises the ‘nanny state’, and advocates economic and industrial relations reforms, born of its fervent advocacy of free markets, minimal government oversight and regulation, and industrial relations that favour the employer.

If you have any doubt about the influence the IPA has on the Abbott government, read the article in Crikey, which reported that the IPA has added another 25 items to its wish list, and that almost half of them are on Abbott’s agenda.

Abbott himself said at an IPA function: ‘So ladies and gentlemen that is a big “yes” to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me.’

Crikey reported that in a Sunday Age article last year, John Howard acknowledged the influence of the IPA: ‘…the IPA is a Trojan Horse for scorched earth neoliberals trying to “condition the public attitude on these [policy] matters.”’

It is reasonable to conclude that although the Liberal Party platform reads benignly enough, innocently enough to allay fears about its intent, the Coalition is really following the radical neoliberal free-market ideology of the IPA.

The IPA advocates lower taxes, especially for the wealthy. It wants a return of income taxing powers to the states. The preferential treatment given high-income earners in the budget, and the penalties imposed on the less well off, are consistent with IPA wishes. The Treasury analysis of the budget released early in August starkly revealed the extent of the imbalance between the treatment of the wealthy and the less well off.

It showed that the combined effect of the budget’s saving cuts which disproportionately penalised the lower income earners, and the changes in tax that benefit the wealthy more than the poor, is that ‘an average low income family loses $844 per year in disposable income (earnings after tax and government payments) due to the budget. Middle-income earners forgo $492; while a high income family is down by $517.’

Hockey’s angry response to this revelation in Fairfax Media was: ‘That story is wrong because it fails to take into account a range of things like the fact that higher income households pay half their income in tax, low income households pay virtually no tax’. He went onto say that each wealthy taxpayer pays for the benefits enjoyed by four on welfare — his ‘lifters’ supporting the ‘leaners’. In other words, he is saying that the progressive tax system that this nation has had in place for many years is unfair to the wealthy. Clearly he is opposed to progressive taxation, at least to what we have in Australia. Moreover, are his assertions correct? Do high-income earners pay 50% tax? No. For the current financial year, it is only when taxable income exceeds $180,000 that the taxpayer pays the maximum of 45c for each additional dollar over that figure. The ‘effective tax rate’ for such people is 30 to 45% depending on how much above $180,000 the total taxable income is. So Hockey is exaggerating and is therefore misleading, a misdemeanor for which he chides his own Treasury. Remember that these Treasury figures about the effects of the annual budget on taxpayers are the ones usually revealed in the budget papers, but not this year. With the assistance of ‘Freedom of Information’, we now know why.

In an online survey accompanying the Fairfax article, people were asked: ‘Does Joe Hockey's budget hit the poorest the hardest?’ The options were: ‘Yes’, ‘Yes, but that is fair because they pay less tax’, ‘No’, and ‘Not sure’. 90% answered ‘Yes’. The other figures were 4%, 3%, and 3%. Even allowing for the unreliability of online polls, this result is hardly equivocal; the people (17,292 of them) had made up their minds. Only 3 and 4% thought the budget was fair.

It is reasonable to conclude that political ideology is behind the Hockey budget, an ideology shared by Abbott, Cormann and most of Abbott’s Party Room, and that the more strident version of it, the IPA version, is the real ideology rather than the party platform so soothingly replete with motherhood statements. They seem unaware that the people do not approve of the budgetary manifestation of their ideology, if the above online poll and other polling feedback is any indication.

Proposition 2: The budget reflects an economic position

This follows from the Coalition’s ideological position. It favours free-markets, private enterprise, light government regulation, industrial relations that favour the employer as grossly exhibited in WorkChoices, low taxes for the wealthy, and ‘mutual responsibility’ for those receiving benefits, crudely captured in the words: ‘dole bludgers’ must work for the dole, should be forced back to work, should receive no support for six months, and, more recently, must apply for forty jobs a month. The ‘lifters’, those hard workers who have been doing so much laborious heavy lifting for so long, can no longer support the ‘leaners’, the bludgers who sit around all day watching TV and boozing their welfare money.

What is Hockey’s preferred economic model? We don’t know. We hope he has given it serious thought.

From what we can see, he is not Keynesian. He opposed the second and larger tranche of the stimulus during the GFC, all the time lambasting expenditure on the Home Insulation Program, which the Coalition classed as a catastrophic disaster that killed people and burned down houses, as well as roundly criticizing the Building the Education Revolution Program, which was labeled as a grossly mismanaged, overly expensive and an unnecessary exercise. Clearly Hockey would not have used such stimulatory measures.

If you asked him whose economic model he prefers, which would he chose? Is he a follower of the Chicago School of Economics, a neoclassical school of economic thought that rejected Keynesianism, (which favours higher government spending in a recession to help the economy recover quicker, rather than waiting for markets), in favour of Milton Friedman’s ‘monetarism’, (which emphasises the importance of controlling the money supply to control inflation). Monetarists criticize expansionary fiscal policy arguing that it will cause inflation and therefore will not help. Does Hockey subscribe to the thinking of Friedrich Hayek from the Austrian school, who advised Margaret Thatcher, and later joined the Chicago school? His seminal book, The Road to Serfdom, became widely popular among those advocating individualism and classical liberalism, a position close to Hockey’s.

Does Hockey subscribe to the trickle-down theory of economics that proposes that supporting the wealthy with tax breaks and incentives will create jobs and grow the economy, the benefits trickling down to those at the bottom of the pile? If so, does he realise that ‘trickle down’ has been debunked by hard data that shows that it increases inequality? The poor get richer along with the wealthy, but at a slower rate, so that the gap widens. John Quiggin has shown this in his book Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us (Princeton University Press, 2010), described in the TPS piece Joe Hockey should read about John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics.

Ronald Reagan and his economics adviser David Stockman were ‘trickle down’ believers. Renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith rejected it, noting that ‘trickle-down economics’ had been tried unsuccessfully in the United States in the 1890s under the name ‘horse and sparrow theory’: 'If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows’.

There is ample evidence that inequality results in discord, civil dispute, and when gross, revolution. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz has documented this in The Price of Inequality, reviewed in the TPS piece Focus on political ideology: Joseph Stiglitz More recently, Thomas Piketty, in Capital in the Twenty First Century traced the path of inequality as far back as the eighteenth century, proposed that it results from the growth of income from capital exceeding the rate of economic growth, and described its adverse effects.

Does Hockey think inequality, increasing inequality, is acceptable in this country?

Already in Australia we are seeing the harmful social effects of a budget that is bound to increase inequality, one judged by a large majority of the people as simply unfair.

So what is Hockey’s preferred economic model? Does he have one? Does he know what it is? We can judge only from his actions, and they point inexorably to a belief in trickle down economics. We seem to be headed for another version of Reaganomics, this time Hockeynomics. That is what his budget advances: more inequality and more unfairness, unless his extreme budget can be stopped in its tracks.

Proposition 3: The budget reflects a political intent to reorient the social order

This is a plausible proposition. We know how vindictive Abbott is. We know how he delights in punishing his enemies. In the piece, Say no, no, no to Tony Abbott , it was predicted that if elected he would be vengeful and weak. We have now seen both attributes on display. His vengefulness has been exposed in his Royal Commissions into the HIP and unions, and more recently the Bill Scales inquiry into the NBN. He is determined to pillory his political enemies. Is this budget another act of vengeance against his traditional enemies — the workers, those on lower incomes, those on welfare? It looks like it.

Abbott operates in George Lakoff’s ‘Strict Father’ mode, as it seems does Hockey and Cormann too. Even when Hockey seems reluctant to do so, he goes along with Abbott — his future depends on it!

Take a glance at the TPS piece about Lakoff’s book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think titled The myth of political sameness to check the words used habitually by those who use the Strict Father model of political morality: ‘discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, authority, competition, earn, hard work, enterprise, property rights, reward, freedom, punishment’, and so on. Recognise this language?

Look at the Hockey budget and ask yourself if it is an act of vengeance, an act of retribution against those who are not traditional Coalition voters: the workers, the less well off, those on welfare; and a leg up for those who are: the wealthy, the elite, the business people. It looks that way.

It looks like this Hockey budget accomplishes the Abbott agenda of hurting those he despises, those who don’t support him, those who are not in his camp. Is this at least part of the answer to ‘What is the Hockey budget all about?’

Where does all that leave us?

I don’t know. I don’t know why Hockey brought down the budget he did, and why he continues to defend it so strongly despite opposition from much of the Senate, disapproval among commentators and economists, and dismay in much of the electorate? We can only surmise.

Does Hockey himself know why he has produced such a budget?

Is it partly because of his Liberal political ideology, one influenced by the extreme neoliberal position of the IPA? Is it partly influenced by his preferred model of economic thought, perhaps the views of Friedman, Hayek or the proponents of trickle down economics? Is he familiar with these economic models? Has he studied them closely? If so, has he reached a rational conclusion about the most appropriate for this nation at this moment in time? Or is he wedded to one no matter what the nation’s economic situation, like so many mainstream economists?

We hope he has studied economics. We hope he knows about and understands the various models that exist. We hope he has selected one rationally after careful consideration. We hope his actions are not ad hoc, carelessly adopted to match his political position, or his prime minister’s agenda.

Is Hockey’s budget partly the result of the intent to reorient the political order to one more in tune with his and Abbott’s political philosophy? Where everyone works hard for whatever wage is available? Where those who don’t, the bludgers, the leaners, are punished, forced into work or suffer the consequences of their reluctance, their resistance? Where those who provide employment, the lifters, are held in high regard, and supported with tax breaks and enticements?

I don’t know the answers to the questions I pose. I can only surmise, only hypothesise. But I suspect that all these propositions are valid, and operate in varying degrees.

I do hope, perhaps vainly, that Joe Hockey — not your ordinary Joe — has thought deeply about what his budget is all about, that he has arrived at his budget conclusions after searching his mind and his soul about what his budget is intended to achieve, why this is so, and whether his fashioning of it is likely to achieve its purpose.

I hope too that he has reflected deeply on his budget’s fairness, and whether it is consistent with what the majority of the electorate appears to want for this nation, an egalitarian society where the ‘fair go’ reigns supreme, where opportunity is available to all, where harmony pervades and unites our people.

What do you think Hockey’s budget is all about?