Contributed by Joe Montero
The government’s debacle over the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has been described in some quarters as an example of the prime minister’s inept leadership. If only it was so simple.
Malcolm Turnbull’s headache exists because the factions most intent on absolute market liberalisation and big brother style politics, not only continue to have a stranglehold on the Liberal and National parties. They are tightening it.
As their captive and the resulting internal battle, the government is once again caught in a paralysis, where policy transforms into inaction. The most reactionary elements within the parties and fitting.
Although he is part of it, this is not just a Tony Abbott thing.
Speculation about the continuing survival of the prime minister as leader has risen again. His enemies are showing that they might be prepared to cross the floor and vote down the NEG. Through their opposition to the latest modest change, shifting the control over the emissions target from the policy to the minister, they have hung out Malcolm Turnbull’s essential weakness for all to see. He is plating into their hands. The reactionaries are also announcing a determination to keep on being the champions of the fossil fuel industry.
At the very least, the way he has handled the affair, has ensured that Malcolm Turnbull has made his own contribution to the government’s instability. He is a dead man walking.
Being champions of the coal, oil and power companies is only part of it. In the bigger scheme of things, this is a grab for political power, and the purpose is to realise their vision of Australia’s social transformation into their version of libertarianism. To convert the government and the public sector, into provider to the private sector and assistant for higher level exploitation of labour.
There is no room for sentimentality in this vision. Government provision of welfare and other services that even out opportunities to an extent, have no place in this, and must be done away with as far as possible.
They see their rivals in the Liberal and National parties as a barrier against achieving this, and standing for unwarranted government interference in what should be a “free” choice of the private sector. Hence there are few qualms about creating political destabalisation. It is a means to an end.
Those who do not want to go down this road, find themselves increasingly marginalised within the parties and government. Although their opponents have not yet achieved total dominance, the real conservatives have not been able to offer any credible alternative. They have been reactive, rather than giving political leadership. There is a very good reason for this. Being the true conservatives, they seek to keep things as they are.
The problem is that what exists at present is not working well at all. Accumulated failures of economic and social policies to deliver benefits for moatr of the population over a considerable time, have made them unpopular. Australia wants change, and this is not being offered.
In contrast, the reactionaries are offering change of a sort. It is their strength. Although this might be bad change, it is also their strength, as it coincides with the interests of many major corporations operating in challenging times. The fossil fuel industry is an obvious example, although not the only one. These corporations give support to the reactionaries. A special mention should be made of the media monopolies, and the Murdoch empire is the most obvious.
Corporations facing a systemic crisis that is reducing their rate of profit, seek to find new avenues to close the gap, and this is driving the push for change towards a free for all market, destroying job security, forcing down real wages, and cutting back government resources, while socialising the cost of doing business, through massive tax evasion, government handouts and raiding public assets.
The only answer to this is a clear-cut alternative. One that puts people first in constructing the future. As a society, we must channel resources to building a new economy. One for all and equitably distributing the gains, ensuring sustainability, and democratic and collective participation. Combined, they could provide the economic and social engine to build the future.
Debate over the NEG should be within the scope of this bigger picture.
Turnbull’s offer is no answer. It does not even meet existing commitments to carbon emissions reduction and it does not support alternative energy technologies. It will delver nothing at all. The eleventh hours refit, to try and get the numbers in the parliament has not changed this. The reactionaries argue that shifting regulation to the minister, sets the path for bigger future emission cuts. No necessarily. This is a two-edged sword, which can just as easily work the other way around.
If Labor goes against it and Turnbull’s enemies within the Coalition do as well, the NEG is dead in the water. This would be a good thing.
Opposition is not enough however. The controversy over the NEG provides an opportunity to broaden the scope and present a real alternative.