11 Dec. 2009

SMH Election Petition

The Sydney Morning Herald has launched a campaign to amend the NSW constitution to get rid of fixed terms. A modest, and completely non-specific, reform proposal.

The principle that the people should be able to recall the government tends in the direction of democracy. Though the word 'recall' is being bandied around here, the petition does not include it: the simplest way to end fixed terms is to allow parliament to choose when to call an election. There's nothing particularly admirable about that principle. There's no reason to think that things would be better with it.

The campaign for a recall provision is effectively a secondary, subsidiary objective for the paper. This is a noble cause in itself, however. That said, in our current position, it's not possible to see any particular advantage to it. A new election would either legitimise the Labor government, or install a Coalition government that would scarcely be preferable.

The suggestion we would put forward is to abolish the state of NSW, and the states of Australia generally, as the way to deal with the entrenched corruption that can be found in their institutions. They are outdated colonial institutions for which there is simply no longer any need or advantage, only a financial burden to the taxpayer and an obstacle to clarity for the voters.

9 Dec. 2009

Keneally



I suppose we should find it rather comforting that our leaders aren't surrounded by a phalanx of security goons who would prevent this kind of thing from happening. This is, more realistically, probably because we have so many tiers of government that they can't afford that, not to mention that the NSW premier is just a placeholder and not worth protecting. Anyway, here's to our first American premier.

25 Nov. 2009

Ethics

The putative introduction of 'ethics' classes in NSW is pretty interesting, but hardly great news. It represents certainly a slippage in power of the old, religious ideologies, but indicates the intent of state to ensure that bourgeois ideology is inculcated into Australian workers one way or the other.

By the way, I'm opening this log up to comments as of this post. Let's see how it goes.

18 Nov. 2009

Recession-proof?

Notwithstanding the strenuousness of the technical definition of recession – such that the economy has to keep contracting for multiple quarters, and actually has to contract at that, whereas Ross Gittins points out very low levels of growth will look and feel like a recession – Australia seems to have dodged the recession bullet.

Well, part of this is clearly due to the stimulus package, which meant that the public purse took the hit for the team. But it wasn't Rudd or Swan's fiscal genius that meant that the Australian stimulus prevented recession whereas the American or British ones didn't – something else is going on. Basically, the Australian economy is – no surprises – different from those of Britain or America: less dependent on the financial services sector, more reliant on primary production.

The big surprise to me is that the demand for Australian primary goods hasn't collapsed. That is, that the demand for primary goods hasn't collapsed full stop. Why hasn't this happened? The answer is that Asian demand hasn't collapsed, because Asia's not in recession, and that's where all the coal and shit is going to.

Why hasn't Asian demand collapsed, though? Asian growth has been fuelled by exporting to First World countries, where the economy is in serious trouble.

Has demand for Asian goods outside Asia fallen? Yes, I think so, but not by that much: Asia makes what is cheap, so what is likely to still be bought in the bad times, and the stimulus packages have stimulated purchases of Asian-made goods. Retail spending is resilient in Britain, for example, and this has been ensured by public policy. Moreover, we have the Asian version of the stimulus, the reorientation of the Chinese economy towards domestic consumption.

Well, now what? Is everything going to be fine? I still can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop. The great flaw in the world economic system it seemed to me was that Asia was producing for markets who couldn't afford to buy, and were buying on massive credit lines extended, effectively, by Asia. This is precisely what precipitated the crisis, because the credit stretched to breaking point. Now some of the credit's been nationalised and everyone's trying to get back to business as usual, i.e. running up enormous amounts of credit and importing Chinese plasticware. I can't see this ending well: indeed, what I expect to happen is an almighty crash, again, and at some point there is going to be no restarting the credit-bubble-economy.

Australia is not immune: it runs a substantial current account deficit, if not as substantial, and is also (therefore) a credit-bubble economy, if not to the same extent as other parts of the Anglosphere.

Monopoly of Harm

One has to say that it is prima facie absurd to shoot someone to stop them harming themselves. You could argue that if they were trying to kill themselves, then wounding them to prevent it would be a public health intervention, but it seems that in this case the police were concerned to prevent their right to harm members of the public from being usurped.

14 Oct. 2009

You know NSW Labor is in trouble when Bob Carr starts criticising them.

So, the state government, notoriously dependent on gaming revenues, scraps a policy of continuous increase in the excise on those same revenues. Surely, this is self-defeating. Well, yes, but it may have its logic. Dependency on the gaming industry could conceivably lead to concessions to it, particularly if there is a belief that raising taxes beyond a certain point will harm revenues.

5 Oct. 2009

Legalise Abortion

The existence of this article goes a long way to support its own message: mainstream Australian opinion is outraged by the illegality of abortion in Australia. Not only is Australian abortion law cruel and oppressive, its also unpopular and undemocratic, representative of the power of certain powerful religious lobbies.

23 Sep. 2009

Environment, economics, migration

I'd file this Ross Gittins article under uncomfortable truths. It sheds light on no fewer than three worthwhile things: firstly that our leaders and we are in practice ignoring the urgency of the danger posed by climate change; secondly that GDP growth is being taken as more fundamental then environmental sustainability in our public discourse (a point I've up to now only heard made on the far left); thirdly that Australia is effectively addicted now to mass immigration.

Actually, Gittins doesn't make any of these points quite as I have, least of all the last point. What he says about immigration is simply that people by moving to Australia become greater burdens on the ecosphere. This is a correct argument as far as it goes. It does not have to be an anti-immigration argument. We can deal with this problem by reducing Australia's per capita unsustainability and wastefulness, and indeed should and must do so. Gittins of course is correctly cynical about the chances of this happening.

What he doesn't explore is how immigration ties to the obsession with GDP growth in a way that runs counter to a concern with the environment. Immigration is driven by economic imperatives: it's not popular, nor necessary to placate any external actor. Rather, it is urged on by the bourgeoisie that run Australia, and they want the labour – cheap labour, more to the point, labour which is notionally skilled but doesn't use its skills, which is non-unionised, non-English-speaking, marginalised. And the larger the population gets, the more of this they need (on average, notwithstanding effects of economic decline).

13 Jul. 2009

This article starts with a set-piece of Australian propaganda in the SMH. The scene is set: fog of war, accident, tragedy. The facts: Australian special forces killed an Afghan man. This fact is not in itself important enough to be newsworthy, however – Australians presumably kill Afghans all the time – but that this Afghan turned out to be an important Afghan, and ally of the Western occupiers.

The rest of the article actually is quite interesting, detailing a rather complex set of questions. The problem is the unwillingness of the Australian media to accept that the Australian military are engaged in the practices of bloodletting which has long been associated with imperialist occupations.

Compare indeed this article yesterday. The basic point of it is that an 'atrocity' – committed against enemy corpses – was committed by Australian troops in Vietnam in 1969. On the one hand, the 40 years that have passed allow an admission of what I haven't heard admitted in respect of Australians in the current conflict. Moreover, this doesn't insinuate Australian involvement in any illegal killings, only in the desecration of corpses, the implication being that all those corpses were killed legitimately in the conduct of war. I don't know if that's the case, but of course, Australians did kill civilians in Vietnam.

12 Jul. 2009

The reporting of the shooting of an Australian mining apparatchik in Indonesian-occupied West Papua in Australia is predictably a fog of sentimentality. The obvious individual tragedy that occurs when people are killed – we all have families, many of us have children, etc. – completely obscures the political issues, which are not personal, but larger. This man's personal motivations are relevant to him and his family: yes, surely he was trying to earn money to provide a relatively opulent life for his family in the Australian metropole. This is a consistent motivation among the servants of imperialism. In a sense, the concatenation of such motivations provides the motive force for imperialism: it may even be possible to say that such motivations are, in a strict sense, evil, because of the morally bankrupt behaviour that they lead people to engage in.

For whatever reason, this man has engaged in an operation which is utterly politically dubious: the theft of the patrimony of a colonised and oppressed people. Well should they shoot him. Of course, it's possible that it is not the Papuan resistance that has shot him. It is possible that pro-Indonesian forces shot him precisely to discredit the resistance. It is possible that he was killed for reasons having to do specifically with the politics of business, with commercial interests and bribes, for example. We have only speculation, but the media story casts what has happened banally as 'tragedy', regardless of any facts.

8 Jul. 2009

The Absence of Banking Sector Reform

The intervention of economists to demand a change to the banking establishment in Australia strikes me as rather noteworthy. As is pointed out in the linked article, we are in a period of consolidation between the 'big four', the cartel that already control banking in Australia. The intervention of economists is an acknowledgement of the central role of banking in contemporary capitalism, such that it really can't be left to such arrangements. The government response is even more telling: government is beholden to finance-capital, and will not act against it. The reaction by Christopher Joye, that the government is being 'complacent', is I think too kind. The British government has not been complacent in the crisis: it has acted to rescue the banking sector in a way that has yet to disturb established monopolies, but has rather helped them. Repeated and continuing calls to use the Post Office in the UK as the basis for a national bank, combined with the assets of nationalised banks, have fallen on deaf ears at the centre.

1 Jul. 2009

Ross Gittins on tax cuts for the rich

Rudd's electoral me-tooism trumps his 'fiscal conservatism'. The result: tax cuts keep accruing to the rich, while the economy sinks and the hole in the budget widens.

21 Jun. 2009

Sydney water situation

There's now enough water in Sydney's dams that the water restrictions – which were hardly swingeing – will be lifted. Construction on a desalination plant, now more than ever clearly unnecessary, continues apace.

20 Jun. 2009

Same-sex recognition ironies

This SMH article nicely captures certain ironies around the state recognition of homosexual relationships. The basic irony is that the Australian government will suddenly go from completely refusing to recognise these, to mandating that they be recognised: that is, homosexual relationships will go from being utterly ignored by the state, to being closely surveilled; the state will now actively investigate benefit claimants to determine whether they are in homosexual relationships. This is particularly irksome to those who've been in long term relationships with one set of state arrangements in place, only now to be faced with a completely different set. For example, historically parents in same-sex couples were counted as single parents for the purposes of government payments; now, they face being hounded by the state in an effort to reduce their payments to reflect the financial status of someone in a partnership.

As it historically has, it seems to me that the only equitable way for the state to deal with people's relationships is to stay out of them. The state should not be in the business of trying to surveille people's personal arrangements, but rather should be giving benefits on the basis of people's individual circumstances, not on the basis of presumed economic bases related to sexual activity or cohabitation.

15 Jun. 2009

Cooked to death

For anyone who doesn't already know, the British Guardian's write-up of an Aboriginal elder 'cooked to death' (apparently the coroner's verdict) by a private prison-transport company.

23 May 2009

Article on anti-bypass lands right struggle

I find it extraordinary that articles such as Damien Murphy's Racism and violence emerge in fight over bypass can appear in the bourgeois press. This seems to me to be progressive journalism, pure and simple, which is only harmful to the interests of capital. The possibility of such journalism is one reason that I've historically championed the SMH. I don't see such journalism in the British print media, even that section of it owned by the Scott Trust.

11 May 2009

Rudd Money

Many of the poorest and most vulnerable will miss out on Rudd's $900 stimulus payments.

Rudd's stated aim in providing these payments is to stimulate the economy. Broadly, the poorer one is, the more likely one is to spend the payment, and the more likely one is to spend the payment on basic goods and services rather than luxuries. Any way you slice it, this exclusion of millions of the poor from the stimulus makes no economic sense.

What then is the logic? There are two possible ones: one moral-ideological, the other practical. I suppose both operate to some extent. Morally, the claim will be that only those who've paid tax 'deserve' a rebate, playing on the near-ubiquitous but baseless beliefs that earning money means that one deserves it, that money exists prior to and independently of the state and taxation, that money is real, etc.

Practically, the impetus is simply that it's middle-income earners that decide elections: the poor basically preference Labor; only those who are wealthier can be swayed, and I think many people come 2011 will still remember this bonus – they'll look at their new TV every day and remember Rudd's largesse.

28 Apr. 2009

Grants culture

I am embarrassed to be posting this only now, over a year after it first appeared, but I have only just come across it: Stephen Buckle's 'Starved for some loving attention' which is I think a near-perfect analysis of What Howard Has Done To The Humanities in Australia.

23 Apr. 2009

"All good things must come to an end"

This is the incredible comment made by KRudd in relation to the bonus first homebuyer's grant (SMH article), despite the unwillingness of Rudd and the rest of the Australian political class to acknowledge this in relation to the broader economy.

Pulling the plug on these grants as of 30 June will cause two things to happen. Firstly, it will further overheat the housing market, as thousands upon thousands of buyers scramble to get on the property ladder. Sensible sellers will also be scrambling to sell at the same time. In fact, if you want to move, make sure to sell your house before 30 June and buy after the 30 June, because for once we have advance warning of the date on which a property bubble will collapse. The collapse in value we will see starting on 1 July will exceed the value of the first homebuyers' bonus. It will be an implosion of property prices across Australia, probably unprecedented, since this will occur exactly as the global depression really starts to slam into the country. That is, it doesn't make sense to buy a house before June 30, only to sell one.

The use of a homebuyers' grant as a form of economic stimulus only works if it is supposed to keep values up throughout a recession - yet Rudd is abandoning it exactly as the recession starts to take hold. The obvious conclusion is that that I made as soon as the grant was announced: this is not a stimulus package at all, but rather a bailout of petty bourgeois 'buy-to-let' property speculators, which includes most of the political class itself.

Camden

The news from Camden is unbelievable Islamophobic twaddle: local residents believe that Islam is a religion of world domination, terrorism and intolerance. I can't help but find their comments hilarious, though doubtless there is very great cause for concern here. I suspect the reaction of most will be to rail against the ignorance and bigotry of the individuals involved, but this I think misses the point, which is that such Islamophobic discourses are alive and circulating in Australia today, discourses which are the Protocols of the Elders of Zion of Islamophobia. These people are simply repeating what they've been told. What we are dealing with here is a wider culture of Islamophobia, not some isolated cluster in the backcountry.

22 Apr. 2009

Advice to first-home-buyers

Jessica Irvine's article in this morning's SMH is simply excellent – I couldn't have put it better myself.

20 Apr. 2009

Australia adamant in defence of Zionist racism

Not much media prominence here for the Australian government announcement that they will follow the widely reported announcement of the racist Obama administration that Australia will boycott a UN summit on racism (SMH report).

It would seem that for the Australian government, as for the US government, criticism of Apartheid in Palestine is something that cannot be countenanced, even if this means refusing international cooperation against racism. That is, support for Israel trumps both the UN system and anti-racism. Of course, we knew this: anyone who is genuinely anti-racist could never support Israel, nor could anyone who has any respect for the UN system.

Notable is that the Australian Human Rights Commission, which seems to be operating rather independently of and occasionally in opposition too the Australian government, are nonetheless sending their own delegation.

14 Apr. 2009

ATM charges

Just over a month ago, Australia introduced, for some reason, rules by which all banks would charge the customers of competing banks to use their ATMs, typically $2 a withdrawal. This has kind of fucked those of us who use a credit union, since credit unions don't have big ATM networks of their own. I expect this will in turn fuck credit unions, since customers would save money by moving to a bank with the largest networks. In general, the bank with the largest network will tend to profit from this – it's essentially an engine of monopolisation and not, as the RBA claim, an attempt to increase competition. In light of big banks in the UK and US getting into such trouble of late, it's possible for banks to demand that the government funnel all cash into them to keep them solvent, and I suspect that this is what's happening here.

The big news is a tiny bank, Bankwest, which pays its customers' charges at rivals' ATMs for them. However, the only reason Bankwest does this is because it will has to – this may also be the case for the credit unions, but whether they will be able to, or whether Bankwest can keep this up, remains to be seen. If people move their accounts to Bankwest in sufficient numbers, something might be done, I suppose, but there's not much inducement for people to do this if their current bank has a sufficiently large network, hence little inducement for the large operators to change their undoubtedly lucrative new charging policy.

11 Apr. 2009

Fibreoptic rollout

This article by Peter Hartcher makes for fairly extraordinary reading.

Kevin Rudd's bold election promise in respect of internet access in Australia indeed played a key role in his victory, largely because it was perhaps the most important thing that wooed Rupert Murdoch to his cause (the next most important thing was Howard's contempt for the education system, or perhaps just Howard's arrogance more generally).

Rudd proceeded on his plan by attempting to find a private contractor to do the job. This failed, since there were none willing or able. The main obstacle was that basically the only entity that is able is the telecommunications monopoly, Telstra, and they have an arrogance to fit their monopoly status, combined with the greed of a private-sector corporation.

Rudd's solution here is exactly what one would advise: he decides to do the whole thing as a public-sector project (though one presumes much of the work will still be through private contractors). The main problem for this is that the project as he originally envisaged it, fibre-to-the-node, relied on the usage of Telstra's local copper wire networks. The boldest step of all then, is to simply roll fibreoptic cable to every household in the country, at a gigantic cost of over $40 billion, 49% of the funding of which is to come from public or private subscription.

The genius of this is that it not just sidesteps, but ultimately kills, the privatised behemoth Telstra: Telstra's copper wire network will be reduced to its scrap value once every household has fibreoptic cable.

But of course, this is hardly socialism: it's the government stepping in to do what business demands in terms of providing infrastructure. It's being done on a maximally market model, though there is perhaps here at best a synergy of public and private interest that indicates that capitalism hasn't completely outlived its usefulness to humanity.

10 Feb. 2009

Bushfire scapegoating

A narrative is being constructed around the Victorian bushfires of the last few days, the worst in Australian history, a narrative of "mass murder", in which arsonists have killed 180 or so people.

But this assignment of blame is dubious. The most deadly fires do not seem to have been caused by arson, and though some have been, the usefulness of this reduction of the issue to morality and individual responsibility, through the bourgeois logic of criminal liability, is moot. One cannot stop individual acts of arson – one can do more to prevent them perhaps than one can to prevent lightning strikes, but one can't prevent them entirely – and this means that this can happen again.

Why have the most deadly fires in Australian history happened today? Is it because there are more arsonists today? Or because there are more people living in fire-prone areas today? The first question is impossible to answer with any great degree of accuracy, and the second must be answered in the negative. Rather, we should point to two environmental factors: the first, the impact of Australian colonisation on the bush, which has been to disrupt its established balances, and indeed broadly to forbid fire, which has no commercial application, thus storing up trouble (arguably); the second, which we can point to more emphatically and with more evidence, is global warming. It can surely not be coincidental that the fires coincided with the most severe heatwave in Victorian history. And this cannot be coincidental to climate change caused by human activity.

19 Jan. 2009

Economic denial continues

America I think has tended to accept what's happening fairly well, albeit that there is some na├»ve hope focused around the new president; in the UK, denial about the crisis mainly focuses on denial about how long it'll last, but there's been a move from imagining it'll be a one-year thing to a more realistic 2–3 years. In Australia, however, denial continues. The Sun Herald yesterday led with a story about how NSW was in recession – but wouldn't be for long. The state government has now retorted that NSW is not in recession at all. The point is really not whether NSW is in recession or not, but rather that sooner rather than later the entire Australian economy will be in a state of collapse. Australia was sustained through the early noughties recession by the fact that primary production remained robust, in particular with there being good harvests, and a lack of exposure to hi-tech industry. Every significant segment of the Australian economy is today rampantly exposed, however. Primary production is primarily geared towards an Asian market that is in collapse, driven as it was by production for the US market primarily. The very significant financial services sector is in itself a sick economic segment. The tourism sector is dependent on overseas visitors who can easily not come to Australia. These are the three segments where the recession will start. The construction industry has already died in the arse, and the housing bubble is due to burst any minute once job losses feed through into forced sales and repossessions. The biggest Australian secondary industry, automotive, is highly prone to recession as it's easy for people and companies not to buy new cars. The education sector will be one of the last to go, with Asian students being unable to afford to come here in such numbers, and more importantly cease to be so interested in immigrating to Australia with the Australian economy in recession. With this goes the demographic increase that is in itself a driver of the Australian economy, particularly construction.

As I argued elsewhere some years ago now (3.5 years ago, I think), the Australian economy is a house of cards in which any slipping element can make the whole thing fall over. There is no way this precarious structure can weather the current international economic maelstrom.

15 Jan. 2009

Fiscal stimulus – Australian style

I note that the Sydney housing market is not behaving like it should giving the looming tide of economic depression – that in fact it remains buoyant, at least as reported by the Herald, a paper which is known for spruiking real estate, however.

Still, there are important things to note here. One is the giant injection of federal money into housing in the form of the increased first homebuyer's grant. I'm tempted to see this as a bailout of the speculative buyers and builders who are currently holding the properties that the first homebuyers will buy, and who are otherwise sitting on unsaleable houses. It is of course obviously also a subsidy to people to buy houses, but this in fact depends on the real value of houses, which is fairly difficult to determine. It's quite possible that in the longer term even with the grant, especially in more expensive properties where the grant is a relatively small proportion of the purchase price, that the homeowners will be left out of pocket in time.

The fundamental driver of any housing market is population growth. In recent times we've seen a massive additional impetus to it in the form of the wealth effect caused by cheap credit, the additional employment seen in the wealth-effect economy, and the high salaries in certain sectors that accompanied it, and then a further major impetus in the form of speculation. The wealth effect one can expect to now disappear – this includes the drying up of cheap credit, rising unemployment and lower household incomes. Speculation worked on a perception that property prices would just keep rising, and in current circumstances has itself largely dried up. This all spells a crash in housing prices. I doubt population growth will hold up either – the collapse of the economy will likely reduce immigration, a major component of Sydney's population growth, and may even result in increased emigration.

The real wild card here is what the government will do. The Australian government is still enamoured of the wealth-effect economy like so other governments, and is trying to jump-start it again, an attempt that may have short-term success, but cannot have long-term success. The value of those grants are being built into the national debt and will have to be paid off by the battlers they are apparently helping, so this 'free money' is rather illusory.