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Public Opinion

"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Published: 2014-10-02T13:36:39+09:30


going after the welfare state


The Abbott Government's rhetoric is that they are absolutely determined to stop the trajectory that Labor left, which is debt going to $667 billion in 10 years, which is $25,000 for every man, woman and child. They won't give up on doing what is right to address the legacy that Labor left. We are paying a billion dollars a month every single month just to pay the interest on Labor's debt. Without change, that is ratcheting up to $3 billion a month.

The reality is not crushing debt and budget emergencies. Neoliberal philosophy holds that all welfare recipients are “bludgers” and all taxpayers are “battlers”. The Abbott Government's position is that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for another person’s livelihood, particularly if that livelihood comes from pensions or other transfer payments.

The welfare state is the problem, not its beneficiaries. For neo-liberalism it is unfair that cleaner, a plumber or a teacher is working over one month full-time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian. Hence the rhetoric of lifters and leaners. The war that the neo-liberals in the Abbott Goverment are waging is the destruction of the welfare state.

sleep walking to the future


The first tranche of the Abbott government's new anti-terror legislation---the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) yesterday passed the Senate yesterday with bipartisan support. This amends the ASIO Act 1979 by adding a new section 35P (amongst others) to extend existing state and federal prohibitions on the disclosure of information regarding policing for anti-terrorist purposes.

The bill gives intelligence organisations the power to access personal computers and the "entire Australian internet" with a single warrant. These powers don't go far enough since ASIO also wants mandatory data retention laws for telecommunications and internet service providers.

(image) Leunig

More specifically, the legislation just passed allows ASIO to use third party computers and networks in order to hack the target of a computer access warrant; a measure the government has argued is necessary because of increasing technical sophistication among surveillance targets. The legislation also changes the definition of computer for the purposes of warrants to "one or more computers", "one or more computer systems", "one or more computer networks", or "any combination of the above".

Journalists and whistleblowers (such as like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning) will now face up to ten years in gaol if they disclose information about "special intelligence operations" (SIO) (and whether any particular operation is an SIO will itself be kept secret). There is no “public interest” defence. The spooks get what they want from the politicians.

historical amnesia


The Abbott Government continues to say that its intervention in the 3rd Iraq War is for humanitarian reasons. It is, the ministers say, a limited intervention to assist the Yazidi minority group in Iraq earlier this year after Isis attacked them. Now we have an estimated 100,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State (Isis) advances across north-east Syria. Recall that the US armed IS to fight the Assad Syrian regime.

Does Australia step into help the Iraqi Kurds? Australia was only meant to be involved in Iraq not Syria, according to the Abbott Govt at the invitation of the Iraq Government. On the other hand, Abbott has said that Australia was committed to containing and degrading and destroying Isis to combat the threat posed by the IS terrorists. Does that mean there will be military action in Syria without the Syrian Government's cooperation? You don't send in the SAS to run humanitarian missions.

(image) Ron Tandberg

There is little acknowledgment by the Liberal party that the 2nd Iraq war had been "wrong", that Australia went to war under false pretences in Iraq, and that the destruction of Iraq has resulted in the emergence of IS, homegrown terrorism and Australians participating in terrorist activities in Iraq. For the Liberal party there are no lessons to be learned from the errors of the past, because there were no errors and there were no disastrous consequences of the previous military interventions.

Red Alert, Hollywood style


So we have a counter terrorism raid with over 800 police bursting into homes in Sydney, Brisbane and Logan, hovering helicopters, 15 arrested and detained, four charged. Oh, and the media were duly recruited and the major mainstream TV outlets supplied with footage of the commando-style operations, filmed and supplied by the police themselves. The police also helpfully supplied still shots of the action to the newspapers.

(image) Leunig

In this terror drama terrorist sympathisers in Australia were foiled plotting "an extravaganza of brutality" and this indicates the existential threat of “home-grown terrorism", the “enemies within”. Why, even Australia’s half a million Muslims are not “fitting in”, and their very presence is a threat to social cohesion. There is angst about Muslim incompatibility with “Western/Australian values”. Islamaphobia is being stirred by the shock jocks on talk back radio.

Australia's poor policy reform capacity


In his ANU Policy Outlook 2014 keynote, "Public policy resilience and the reform narrative", at the ANU Ken Henry, the former Treasury Secretary, argues that policy reform proposals are unlikely to be implemented, and even less likely to prove resilient, unless accompanied by a compelling narrative.

Henry states that the core narrative that has been used to support economic policy reform efforts in Australia for the past 30 years goes like this: reforms that enhance productivity and cut costs, including labour costs, build international competitiveness; international competitiveness drives exports; exports drive growth; growth drives jobs; and jobs support living standards.

(image) David Rowe

He argues that recent reform proposals to deal with the economic consequences of the mining boom, and to contribute to international efforts to lower carbon emissions, have been presented tentatively, have been poorly understood, and have not proved resilient. He adds:

The fact that major policy initiatives in these areas have proven fragile has been cause for some questioning of our policy reform capacity. But really, given our national fixation with a simplistic reform narrative constructed on concepts of "international competitiveness", "exports", "growth", and "jobs", we should not have had high expectations of policy success in these areas.

We can also see this the mercantilst narrative crippling of efforts to position Australia for the Asian century.

banging the drums of war


The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) has signalled that the terrorism threat level in Australia could be raised to high from medium. The rhetoric is that of manufactured fear is about a death cult over there posing a threat in this country.

There’s no credible information that the Islamic State (IS) is planning an attack on Australia. Nor is there any indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters (Islamic State) operating in Australia. So there is no actual or imminent threat to the nation from the Islamic State.

(image) Bruce Petty

That doesn't stop the war hawks from their fear mongering to scare a war weary population by implying that there are ISIS sleeper cells living in Australia and that they are a grave and unprecedented threat (far worse than al Qaeda!). The two people arrested in Queensland were not planning a domestic attack nor were they connected to the Islamic State.

just short sighted politics


The Abbott Govt celebrates the removal of carbon pricing and the mining tax and stopping the asylum seeker boats from reaching Australian shores. That represents a roll back of Labor's policies and the rhetoric is that ridding the country of a minerals tax will boost income and create jobs even though the investment boom is over, the price of minerals is falling, and the mining tax raised very little money.

The next stage of Chinese development will likely see its citizens spending more on consumer goods, and this in turn means a reduced, demand for the raw minerals from Australia. What then of its medium and long term reforms as distinct from the short-sighted politics and protecting the interests of the miners and fossil fuel companies?

(image) David Rowe

The removal of the increase in compulsory superannuation from 9% to 12% indicates that it has none. Superannuation is one key way to further the "end of the age of entitlement" agenda as it shifts people from the old age pension to superannuation. It's self reliance par excellence. All it has done is to cut the rate of increase in the old age pension. This is hardly forward looking from a government anxious to tout its neo-liberal credentials.

here we go again


It's mission creep under the guise of humanitarian help--to prevent genocide against beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq. It follows the RAAF humanitarian supply airdrops to thousands of people still stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. Australia's’s response to Islamic State (Isis) should be on humanitarian aid.

Mission creep that is a continuation of the war of terror. Last week Australia was dropping food and water to prevent a humanitarian crisis. This week Australia is dropping weapons in a region where the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), one of 19 organisations that Canberra lists globally as terrorists, is active. The SAS is also involved as they will provide protection to the crew when they land in coming days in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to deliver arms and munitions.

(image) Martin Rowson

So Australia has intervened into a civil war by supporting one terrorist organization --the PKK-- against another --the Islamic State (IS) that is tacitly supported by Saudi Arabia, which Australia sees as one of the good guys who are part of the West. Australia is a gun runners for the Kurds at the behest of the United States. Australia also supported IS in its opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. Will Australia now support Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, as an ally in the fight against Islamic State (Isis) extremists? If the US does Australia will follow suit.

closing down of Australia’s renewable energy industry


The Renewable Energy Target has been a success. It's built up a wind and solar power generation industry at a very low cost to electricity users and, along with carbon pricing it has helped to reduce pollution and energy efficiency. It has helped to create Investment in windfarms, solar PV'S and other large-scale renewables, created jobs, and help to start the shift to decarbonize the Australian economy.

But its killing the coal-fired power generation industry. So the Abbott Government comes to the defence of the fossil fuel industry. The abolition of the carbon pricing gave coal-fired power generators a windfall and the proposals to kneecapping the Renewable Energy Target will give them a second windfall.

(image) David Pope

The Warburton RET Review argues there are cheaper ways to reduce greenhouse emissions than by changing the way we generate electricity – clearly implying no change in electricity generation is necessary. Hence the defence of the fossil fuel industry and the status quo. There is no need to change the dominance of electricity generation by the fossil fuel industry.

establishing authoritarian rule?


Contrary to the rhetoric from the Abbott Government Australia doesn't have an imminent debt crisis or a budget emergency. Australia has a long-term structural budget problem caused by an ageing population, which the Coalition is not seriously addressing.

An ageing population means the government needs to spend more (on pensions and health care) it will also receive lower income tax. If the government does nothing it will experience a rise in the structural budget deficit.

(image) David Pope

The Coalition is more concerned with using the rhetoric of national security and terrorist threats in Australia to put in place the steps to establish authoritarian rule. One of these steps is the way the proposed national security legislation that ASIO is demanding that journalists could be jailed for revealing intelligence operations. Journalists could face penalties even if they did not explicitly know what they were reporting on was linked to a special intelligence operation.

selling austerity


The Coalition has changed its budget rhetoric.

It has dumped the budget crisis/ rhetoric and sovereign risk in favour of there is no need to worry as most of the appropriations bills have passed the Senate and that there is no problem if the Senate doesn't hurry up with the rest of the budget. The rest --Medicare co-payment, deregulation of universities, tough new arrangements for the unemployed etc--- amount to $25 billion.

The bullyboy tactics to impose austerity haven't worked. Australians haven't bought it, and they are skeptical of the government's selling of austerity and the need for a shift to a deregulated market. They see unfairness.

(image) David Rowe

There is a medium term (a decade) for a consolidation of the budget, given the end of the mining boom and and the ageing population. There is a need for debate over how that consolidation will happen given the lower income growth than in the past decade.

the severed head picture


Here's the picture of the child clutching the severed head of the Syrian soldier. According to the mainstream media the young boy (seven years old?) pictured with the severed head is the son of convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf, who escaped Australia on his brother’s passport late last year, three months into the Coalition's watch. It's all Labor's fault says the Coalition.

The politician's banging the drums of war are saying its iconic of the horror of the home grown terrorist threat and are the reason for the new anti-terrorism laws and mass surveillance of the Australian citizens, both of which require a lessening of citizens civil liberties.


This brings the threat of the civil war in Syria and Iraq home: our children are threatened by barbaric people who train their children to be terrorists. But the LNP stands resolute and firm to defend Australia's national security against the barbarism and brutal violence of the jihad terrorists. The terrorist attack could be any day now. That's the conservative rhetoric of the picture.

it's the inequality folks


It is now pretty clear that the Abbott Government, in turning away from the public service, has contracted out its public policy to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) turned away from the public service and that the task of the Abbott Government is to implement the recommended policies. When Hockey refers to the federal government having an overarching plan that will balance the books and avoid a fiscal crisis he means the outsourced plans.

The economy i is being managed for our benefit for the benefit of the big businesses that dominate it. Increasing inequality is the consequence, and people are acutely aware that the 2014 Hockey Budget is designed to increase this inequality. They are seen to be seeking to reduce income support provided to the lowest income earners in Australia.

(image) David Rowe

As the economy transitions away from its reliance on resources projects the Abbott Government is seen to have little interest in reduce inequality, as it moves to unwind both welfare provisions and the progressive nature of our tax system. Senior ministers imply that inequality (including gender inequality) is not just unavoidable, but also beneficial.

a diversionary tactic


The Abbott Government continues to think of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS ) as a terrorist organization along the lines of Al Qaeda, thereby implying that it will conduct terrorist operations in the west and in Australia.

The Islamic State is in fact a state in a region where the European drawn boundaries, that used to mark out Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, are collapsing. The shape of this region is being redrawn by the Islamic State expanding its territory. The Sunni Muslims are using their army to establish their own systems of government in their own territory. Let them. Iraq can collapse.

(image) David Rowe

Despite the sabre rattling by the Abbott Government Australia will not fight the advance of ISIS. For what national interest reason would it do so? They will just hang onto the coat tails of the US which has just re-engaged militarily with the conflict in the region with its modest airstrikes to protect the Kurdish region.

a pantomime


The widespread surveillance of activity on the phone and online advocated by the spooks and government allies in the name of security paints us all as potential criminals. Just in case we do the wrong thing, or are up to something, it would be best to keep an eye out.

When we haven't consented to that, the surveillance becomes invasive. WikiLeaks, the phone-hacking scandal, the Snowden files indicate he extent to which our communications are being monitored by the e triumvirate of state, press and data-harvesting corporations.

(image) David Rowe

The menace is within say the spooks. An emergency is threatening. Mass surveillance is needed.

So how wide is the proposed surveillance. It's very unclear what stuff is going to be subject to surveillance. Behind the pantomime and confusing messages the emphasis on security does appear to sacrifice individual liberty through state intrusion into our phone calls, physical location, and our email and browsing history.