People trusted Holden

In the 1970s and 1980s the slogan was ‘People trust Holden’; and they did. General Motors Holden had spent a lot of time and money over many years marketing Holden vehicles as Australia’s own car and as a result Holden sales were going gangbusters.

While a considerable amount of design, engineering and manufacturing was done here for a long time, it was always General Motors Head Office in Detroit, Michigan that called the shots. The message we got from General Motors in 2013 when they announced they would shut Australian vehicle manufacturing down in 2017 was that Holden was nothing more than a General Motors business unit where return on investment was the key requirement. Admittedly, the Abbott/Hockey 2014 budget didn’t help.

The cars produced across Australia were commodities, as were the staff who did their best to provide a product they were proud of, as were the people in the distribution network and the consumers who bought a Holden. We were reminded how ‘Australian’ Holden was during February this year when GM announced that they would no longer sell Holden badged vehicles (imported from manufacturing plants around the world like lots of other commodities) anywhere as they were concentrating on their ‘home‘ (read USA) market and China.

Those that manage GM believe like all commodities, the Holden vehicles on the road today will outlive their usefulness and be disposed of. Some will mourn the passing, some (inside and outside Australia) will retain and treasure an example of Holden engineering and production, others will gradually forget the commodity ever existed and from General Motors viewpoint, once all the statutory obligations are addressed (to the letter of the law at least), the world will move on.

So much for trust. Trust is a mutual relationship where both sides have an implicit belief that everyone is looking after the interests of all parties to the agreement. Arguably, Holden did deserve our trust in the 1970s and 80s as for the majority of that time they were producing well designed and safe (by the standards and technology of the day) vehicles in Australia and selling them domestically and internationally.

GM aren’t the only body to have forgotten people aren’t commodities. It’s not hard to make the argument the Coalition Government came to power on a promise of trust in 2013 and have been breaking that promise ever since — by treating us all as commodities.

While the current A(bbott), T(urnbull) , M(orrison) Coalition government is not the first in Australia’s history to leverage income support for those that need it for political ends, the use and often threatened widening of the compulsory use of the system that requires 80% of income support to be placed onto a debit card is a new depth in the persecution of those that for some reason have the need for help — not belittlement. It is a scandal that parents cannot pay for school excursions, uniforms and the like with the card because the schools are not ‘approved’ by Indue ,the contractor that manages the ‘Cashless Welfare’ debit card for the ATM Government.

Indue cards can’t be used at cash machines as converting the balance on the card to cash is against the rules and if the communications or EFTPOS systems go down you can’t buy anything either. The stigma is real and ongoing and the whole process seems to be designed in a manner to dehumanise people and treat them as a (unwelcome) commodity. However Indue is certainly cashing in on the system. Reports in 2017 claimed the card system costs the government about $18.9Million during the trial phase in a few locations, or around $10,000 per card issued, with no evidence to suggest there is any benefit or subsequent cost reduction as the card gets rolled out elsewhere. If it cost the banks that much to issue a debit card we’d all still be filling out withdrawal forms for our passbook accounts and hoping to get to the bank before it closed for the weekend.

Until Australia was affected by COVID19, the Australian unemployment rate has been bouncing around 5% for quite some time. Some ‘unemployment’ is inevitable, for example on the day of the survey some will have left their previous job and not started their new job, school leavers or new arrivals in the country have yet to find work or companies like GM have determined that a number of employees are no longer required given the strategy worked out in the boardroom usually in some place far removed from the ‘factory floor’.

While ‘assistance’ to find other employment will probably be given by GM as an act of appeasement to public relations, a lot of the soon to be ex-Holden employees would be fearful of under-employment. According to the Government, if you are working at least one hour a week you are considered to be employed and while that is probably correct in a literal sense, the rate of pay would have to be considerable to ensure those employees working one hour a week could live comfortably on their income. The University of New South Wales noted the underemployment — usually those employed casually and for various reasons needing more hours — to be at 8.1% prior to the last Federal Budget — discussing why there needs to be some attention paid to the issue by the ATM Government. Of course there wasn’t, commodities are there to do the bidding of corporations and then thrown on the scrap heap.

As further evidence of the ATM Government treating people as commodities, while the companies such as Paladin who have contracts supplying the ‘guards’ and ‘support staff’ at the ‘detention centres’ are raking in millions while treatment of refugee seekers over the past decade who have been sent to detention centres offshore is nothing short of abysmal. Also consider the underfunding (and even greater underdelivery) of the NDIS, or the second rate NBN delivered by those who should have known better. Minster responsible at the time, Malcolm Turnbull was one of the founding directors [his merchant bank held a 25% share] when Ozemail (one of the first hugely successful ISPs in Australia) was floated on stock exchanges in 1996, and clearly demonstrated little regard for those that have no alternative to NBN technology.

The pre-COVID19 and (currently) post September 2020 Newstart/JobSeeker payment (the income support for the unemployed or underemployed) is described by the Business Council as one of the elements of ‘entrenched disadvantage’, rather than allowing those who rely on the support payment to live with some dignity, the ATM Government chooses to spend taxpayer money on Community Development Grants that according to The New Daily is a scandal far bigger than ‘sportsrorts’, propping up environmentally damaging industries, and only attacking the Victorian and Queensland (ALP) state premiers that choose to listen to the advice of their health officials, despite the Liberal premiers of Tasmania and South Australia making similar decisions.

Unforgivably and worse than the examples above, when a $60 BILLION error is made in the forecasting of the need for the COVID 19 specific JobKeeper payment, rather than extending the blanket of care and concern to those that were left in the cold the first time around (those in employment for under 12 months, University and Local Government staff, workers on most visa arrangements, arts workers to name just a few), Morrison and Frydenberg’s initial reaction is to claim that they don’t intend to make ‘massive changes’ to the temporary assistance measure.

Just as people trusted Holden in the 1970s and 1980s and eventually saw the reality of a foreign multinational that really didn’t deserve the trust, Australians have demonstrated time and time again in the past few weeks that they understand and respect those that treat them as individuals such as the national and state medical officers in their COVID 19 briefings. We acknowledged a lot of them this time last week. However, once the world stops talking about COVID 19 (which will inevitably happen), the ATM government will expect us all to be back in the salt mines making money for the entitled few like good economic units always do. Which is exactly what conservative governments have always done.

What do you think?

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