Contributed by Joe Montero
What comes next? The arrival of Covid-19 has deepened the political crisis already under way, adding the prospect that it could bite deeper and sooner than anyone could have expected.
Every indication suggests we have not reached the peak yet. Focus will understandably continue to be on the needs of the hour. This does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t be thinking about what will come after, including how it will effect the emerging political crisis. A crisis where Australians are losing faith in the nation’s political institutions, the political parties and those who sit in the parliament.
Corporate business is also on the nose, seen as greedy and operating against the public interest. This came to a head last year, with the scandals and Royal Commission revelations enveloping the banks. It is also about much more than the banks. Day to day experience and the scale of tax dodging, tax evasion and money laundering in which mush of the corporate world is engaged, has left its mark.
Many Australians were starting to realise that the real aim of economic policies applied by government, have been to redistribute the nation’s income upwards.
A sense that there is an unholy alliance between the corporate world and the political institutions, oiled by the mates’ club and money, has emerged as part of the Australian consciousness.
Many, across political persuasions, had started to call for something done about it. Even though what this means was not spelt out clearly, it does not take away from the strength of public sentiment, which continues to exist today.
The appalling handling of the recent bushfires by Scott Morrison and his key ministers, hammered another blow against the standing of the nation’s political leadership.
They don’t remain in office because of their popularity. They do so, because the opposition has not been able to take advantage of the fact. Still. It seemed that Scott Morrison was now up against the ropes. Then came the Coronavirus.
Initially, it served as a convenient distraction to the problems plaguing the Morrison government. But it could not eliminate them. Consequently, whatever it did, the government was met with distrust.
Aspects of the rescue packages have been welcomed. But this didn’t hide that there remained significant holes in them, and a growing realisation within the broad community, that the majority are going to be slugged heavily, once the pandemic crisis period is over. Someone’s going to pay the bill, And it’s not going to be the top end.
Scott Morrison confirmed this last week, announcing a ‘snap back’ to where we were before Coronavirus. This means a return to the higher level neoliberalism; slashing government spending, major tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest, and keeping the budget surplus obsession.
Not that it will be easy to go back. If there is one thing the pandemic has taught, it’s that government intervention is necessary in a crisis. Morrison and his team have been forced by circumstances, to detour from their path. In doing so, they have undermined their own longer-run position.
It is why some of the pundits are suggesting they will not be able to return to the past. They are wrong. The reason is that the problem is systemic, and can’t be passed off as just the ideological prejudice of a particular leader and government.
Parliament is not the only place of power. Power exists in exclusive networks and boardrooms, with intimate connections the top levels of the public service, the judiciary, academia and media. This power especially penetrates the Coalition political parties
To change direction, Scott Morrison and his team would have to turn against this political power. It’s not going to happen. Even less, when there is a complete ideological commitment to press on.
Just as importantly, neoliberalism exists because the economy is failing. Neoliberalism is really about maintaining the bottom line through privatisation of the benefits, while socialising the costs. The real underlying problems are how economic activity is organised and how the market is operating. Morrison and his people are not going to take this on either.
Expect the pronouncement of another crisis. This time, it will be that we all have to tighten the belt to save the economy, and take the medicine for the good of future prosperity. The trickle down argument will probably be wheeled out again in some form. Paying the budget deficit will be said to be the main priority once again.
The difference now, is that there will be greater public hostility. The demand for greater government intervention in the economy will be stronger. Times like this, provide a rare opportunity to come together and put forward a clear alternative.
This is a time to decide what sort of society we want in the future. Do we want to revert to a selfish past, where individual greed comes first? Or build one where concern about others, equality, fairness, inclusiveness and working together, are valued and put into practice?
Sure. We are talking about systemic change; the necessity of confronting the prevailing political power, and the creation of a new economy, not driven for the enrichment of a few. We are talking of a new era of a democracy, rooted in active community participation in the decision-making process, and not just the right to cast a ballot every few years.
These are big goals. They may not be able to be realised soon and just like that. It might be a journey over time, aiming at a vision we strive to reach. But every journey must begin with the first step.
It is time to put away other differences and consult widely, to work out a clear alternative that resonates with the majority.
Here are a few contributions to consider and go for.
- A government that looks after people as its first duty, through intervention in the economy and society. The purpose is to ensure the nation’s income is distributed according to need, each is rewarded according to their contribution, and the burden is shared according to capacity to contribute.
- Government intervention to ensure that people, finance and other resources are mobilised, to build a healthy, balanced, fair and environmentally sustainable economy. Important parts of this are the provision of decent and properly paying jobs, rebuilding manufacturing, reducing excessive reliance on mineral and fossil fuel exports, ensure that the banks and other financial institutions operate in harmony with the needs of the economy and people of Australia.
- Work towards a politics and economy that are truly democratic, in the sense that the power is genuinely in the hands of the majority. This means creating assemblies in neighbourhoods and large workplaces. These assemblies must have the right to make major decisions and have them implemented. They must be able to carry out initiatives, like ensuring that government services are being delivered appropriately to their communities, engage in projects to build the local economy, and promote community well being and participation.