John Passant

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Me quoted in Fairfax papers on tax haven use
Me quoted by Georgia Wilkins in The Age (and other Fairfax publications) today. John Passant, from the school of political science and international relations, at the Australian National University, said the trend noted by Computershare was further evidence multinationals did not take global regulators seriously. ”US companies are doing this on the hard-nosed basis that any [regulatory] changes that will be made won’t have an impact on their ability to avoid tax,” he said. ”They think it is going to take a long time for the G20 to take action, or that they are just all talk.” (1)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Real debate?

System change, not climate change



Pyne’s strategic retreat

The Illawarra Mercury on opponents of the higher education reforms and Pyne’s supposed back down.

John Passant, of protest group UOW Uncut, said the concessions were a temporary measure designed to persuade undecided senators.

‘‘This is a strategic retreat – one step back to enable the war to continue,’’ Mr Passant said.

‘‘The real game is fee deregulation. The moment they get that up, then over time they can increase the funding cuts and start to think again about real interest rates.’’

Read the full article here.


Why didn’t Tony Abbott make a speech about this death, in custody?

Carol Roe – justice for Julieka: My granddaughter died in a cell begging for help. Please give us answers.

My granddaughter died in a cell begging for help. Please give us answers.


She had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain. Locked up for days without proper medical attention over $1000 in unpaid fines – at just 22 years of age, my granddaughter died in her cell as a result of her injuries. She begged for help.

Justice for Julieka. Sign the petition here.

Canada – why the shock?

Glenn Greenwald:

Canada learns you don’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to you.

Read the full article re-posted in the Stop the War Coalition here.

Labor green with envy over Whitlam

The Australian Labor Party and the Greens, two parties of neoliberalism, are fighting over the legacy of Gough Whitlam.

Whitlam’s 1975 Budget, under Treasurer Bill Hayden, was the first attempt at introducing neoliberalism in Australia. So bad was it that the Fraser coup government kept the rotten Hayden budget.

This is what started the cat fight among the political kissing cousins.


The response from some Labor caucus members was to accuse the Greens of being grave diggers.  Anthony Albanese spent much of one interview condemning the Greens for using the photo of Whitlam. He was always a Labor man, Albanese thundered, and to worship graven images and false idols was a heinous political sin.

No doubt, and like all good Labor men and women his main role was to manage capitalism. So although the Party has changed markedly over the last 45 years, the desire to manage capitalism remains at its core. That means the party has changed over time, but that there is continuity in that change.  As I have argued elsewhere it has moved from being a capitalist workers’ party to a CAPITALIST workers’ party, perhaps on the way to becoming a CAPITALIST party.

Whitlam’s task was top modernise Australian capitalism. A fit and educated workforce was a key to that, and for a short time the needs of capital coincided with the demands of an active working class many members of which struck in 1974 for better wages. strike rates then were up to 100 times higher than now.

That short time disappeared as the post war boom collapsed on the back of falling profit rates across the globe. Anticipating Hawke and Keating, Hayden and Whitlam implemented an austerity budget in 1975 in response to the economic crisis gripping the world and Australia.  Whitlam, like Hawke and Keating to come, remained loyal to the central Labor goal of managing capitalism.

However, the Greens do have a point. Whitlam did abolish university fees from 1974 (and I was one of the beneficiaries in my third year at University). The Hawke Labor government under education minister John  Dawkins abolished fee free higher education in 1989.

Whitlam, under pressure from his working class base, ahd set up a universal health care scheme. It was Hawke Labor who first introduced a GP co-payment in 1991, initially announced as $3.50 per GP visit, watered down to $2.50 and coupled with a similar cut to the bulk billing reimbursement rate. The change of leadership saw Keating ditch this unpopular measure in March 1992 after it had been in place for 3 months.

In other words, Whitlam was a man for his times, a right wing Labor party leader forced by pressure from below and by inaction by conservatives over their 23 years in power to introduce some reforms which benefitted workers.  However he came to power at precisely the time the global crisis of profitability was hitting Australia and the social surplus out of which reforms could be paid for was drying up.  His response was the austerity Budget of 1975.

If Labor hacks like Albanese were serious about reclaiming Whitlam’s legacy they’d abolish university fees and loans, make universal health care a reality, oppose the war in Iraq, abolish the gender pay gap, legalise same sex marriage and take visionary action to address climate change. They’d welcome refugees, stop the Northern Territory Intervention and basics card, announce a royal commission into deaths in custody and begin negotiations with Aboriginal peoples to recognise sovereignty and pay the rent. They’d abolish restrictions on unions and the right to trike. That is just for starters.

The crocodile tears from these Labor Party hypocrites is cover for their neoliberalism. In honouring Whitlam they dishonour the reforms working people forced Gough to introduce.

Bigger than Barry Spurr

It’s rare for the left to receive gifts from the establishment writes Daniel Lopez in Red Flag.

Yet the leak of Professor Barry Spurr’s private email conversations is a gift if ever there was one. And we can happily predict that this gift will keep on giving.

Spurr has been suspended. And better still, the emails reveal a long list of recipients: friends and colleagues who presumably share his bigoted views. I imagine a lot of frantic inbox clearing took place in the days after the scandal broke.

The hostile reaction to Barry Spurr’s bigotry has been heartening. Students have protested, and all his allies in politics and the academy have been conspicuously silent, or have distanced themselves from him.

However, this scandal speaks of more than just one (or a handful) of bigoted cranks. It illustrates a couple of important realities about academia and politics.


My Razor Sharp interview on Monday 21 October

This is the link to my 30 minute Razor Sharp interview with Sharon Firebrace on Monday 21 October. We discuss the Liberals on the nose, Labor as the default, the East-West tunnel, ICAC, the corporatisation of democracy and much much more.

The Whitlam Government

I wrote this almost 2 years ago on the 40th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam Labor government. It seems still relevant today as we look back on Gough Whitlam’s life.

Forty years ago the Labor Party won government for the first time in 23 years in Australia. Gough Whitlam, one of the most right wing members of the Party, came to power as Prime Minister on the back of massive social movements and a strike wave in the late 60s and early 70s, both of which shifted society to the left.

To give you some example of the militancy, strike levels in the late 60s and into the 70s reached up to 1200 working days lost per thousand worker. Today the figure is less than ten.

In 1969 rolling general strikes across the country, organised by left unions, forced the bosses to release jailed union leader Clarrie O’Shea after 5 days inside and turned the penal powers into a dead letter.

It was this workers’ and societal militancy which forced the right-wing Whitlam to introduce some socially progressive reforms.

Even then, Whitlam’s narrow electoral victory was essentially on a program of modernising Australian capitalism and providing some cost effective social benefits for workers around education and health for example that were also major benefits for capital.

Whitlam’s victory also reflected the obvious fact of the forthcoming defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam and the massive social campaigns against that war. Contrary to popular belief, it was the Liberal Government in 1971 which effectively ended Australia’s military participation in the war.

The Whitlam Government introduced free university education and a universal health care scheme of sorts. It sewered working class suburbs in places like Western Sydney. It recognised China. It re-opened the equal pay case when it came to power. It ended conscription and pardoned the draft resisters. It officially ended Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war.

There was a real left in the Whitlam government. Deputy Prime Minister (for a time) Jim Cairns was one of the leaders of the anti-Vietnam movement. This left had a commitment to social spending and redistribution from the wealthy to the less well off.

The failure of the ALP left to fundamentally alter society in favour of workers is a salient lesson to all would be Jim Cairns of today. The ALP is a capitalist workers’ party and that reality, and the reality of capitalist democracy, limit its actions in government.

The Conservatives obstructed some measures such as universal health care. Whitlam went early to the polls in 1974, retained power and passed legislation to set up Medibank at a joint sitting of Parliament.

Workers went on strike throughout 1974 to win real wage increases.

However, managing capitalism means making sure that capital is profitable. The global economic crisis – the fall in profit rates around the globe as a consequence of the way capitalism is organised – was beginning around the time Whitlam came to power. The surplus out of which social spending could come was drying up.

The Australian economy worsened, unemployment went up and inflation skyrocketed. The bosses wanted a government in power that attacked workers. Whitlam tried, bringing in Bill Hayden to deliver a horror budget, a budget the usurping Fraser government kept.

Whitlam’s attacks on workers were not enough for the bourgeoisie and their Liberal Party engineered a parliamentary coup that forced Whitlam out and saw Malcolm Fraser easily win the 1975 election.

Whitlam’s government bought some social democratic reforms to Australia – about 25 years after the process had begun in European and other countries after the second world war. However that Government lived by the sword of capitalism; it died by its sword as economic crisis engulfed Australia.

It was a lesson later Labor governments have taken to heart – managing capitalism means first and foremost making sure the bosses get their profits at the expense of workers.

The Hawke Labor government was the first neoliberal government in Australia and co-opted the trade union bureaucracy into a process of shifting wealth to capital from labour to address declining profit rates.

The alternative to a neoliberal ALP is not a return to a Whitlamite ‘nirvana’. First, it wasn’t a nirvana. Workers were still exploited, making all the wealth the bosses expropriated.

Second there can be no return to the halcyon days of the late 60s and early 70s because the system has aged, profit rates now are much lower than then and the long recession can only be overcome by massive economic crisis or revolution.

The first alternative is a return to the militancy of the late 60s and early 70s. Then the task is to build a fighting alternative, a revolutionary socialist organisation committed to a society based on democracy and satisfying human need.

Gough Whitlam


Gough Whitlam has died at age 98 writes Tom Bramble in Red Flag.

I await the torrent of tributes from politicians who will praise his government’s social reform program in Australia but who themselves have spent their entire careers trying to bury it – free education, expansion of welfare programs, land rights, women’s rights, improvements to public service conditions and so forth.

Whitlam’s was the last Labor government that actually introduced reforms that improved working class life as opposed to the “reform” agenda of subsequent governments that have stripped away the meagre protections afforded Australian workers.

But the Whitlam government was a product of its time: it emerged out of a wave of working class and student militancy in the last years of the long post-war economic boom. This drove Whitlam into terrain that no subsequent Labor government has gone.

Its main priority was to give Australian capitalism a new lease of life, modernising it by cutting tariffs, recognising China and expanding public health and education to improve productivity (i.e. the rate of exploitation).

It needed to do these in an environment where workers, students, immigrants and Aboriginal people were banging on the door demanding change.

Whitlam, although having the image today as a crusading reformer, was right wing. On taking over the leadership from Calwell in 1967 he pushed the party’s policy on Vietnam hard to the right; he purged the left wing Victorian branch and made an open pitch to the middle class.

He supported state aid to private schools, opposed union action on political issues and strongly backed the US alliance. Whitlam joined the Liberal government in denouncing the 1969 motion passed by Victorian unionists calling on Australian soldiers in Vietnam to mutiny. If the left in the party today hails Whitlam as its hero, its predecessors hated his guts.

The ruling class, which had been prepared to give him a go in his early years, turned on the prime minister in 1975 not because he was a mortal threat. The working class militancy which had driven his reform program did not abate during his term in office. In 1974 the strike rate peaked.

At the same time the world economic crisis arrived on Australian shores. The ruling class now demanded a savage attack on the working class to squash strikes and roll back wages and welfare reforms. The government tried to oblige. The reformist treasurer Jim Cairns was sacked and replaced by the right wing former Ipswich cop Bill Hayden. The new treasurer’s first budget put the whole reform program into reverse.

And when the crunch came, the limits to Whitlam’s reform project were demonstrated starkly. Whitlam came from the establishment – he was a QC whose father had been Crown Solicitor – and he never broke from it. When the ruling class turned on him in 1975, he capitulated.

While urging his supporters to “maintain your rage” against the Kerr Coup, his actions (helped in large part by the ACTU and left union leaders) demobilised the hundreds of thousands of working class Australians who saw the coup, rightly, as an attack on the things they had won. They were loyal to Whitlam as a symbol of the gains that they had made since the late 1960s. Whitlam, however, betrayed them by channelling their anger into an electoral contest which, once the mass campaign had been choked off, had only one possible outcome – a landslide to Malcolm Fraser.

Labor leaders, crying today for Whitlam and waxing lyrical about the wonderful era of reform, have moved so far to the right that Fraser, the wealthy grazier from western Victoria and tool of big business, is now to their left. That is the best indicator of Labor’s entire trajectory since 1975 and confirmation that the party is an absolute barrier to a revival of the radicalism with which Whitlam is today so fondly (and wrongly) identified.

Like all posts on this site comments – hit the comments link under the heading – close after 7 days.

Proud to be an economic girlie man

The other day Australia’s Finance Minister, Mathias ‘the terminator’ Cormann, called Opposition leader Bill Shorten an economic girlie man.

Cormann of course is a tough economic he man. So tough in fact he is picking on the poor, pensioners, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, students and low paid workers. He is not a he man; he is a bully, a bully for the rich and powerful, picking on the powerless.

Cormann is not just a bully for the 1%. He is also a sexist. He views the world through gender stereotype eyes and lives in a world where being a girl signifies weakness and softness.

I am all for weakness and softness when it comes to looking after the disadvantaged, the poor, the low paid. I am for being tough on the rich and powerful – the exact opposite of the Bible according to Matthias Cormann and the Liberals, and Bill Shorten and the Labor Party.

Unlike the book of Matthew (and the neoliberals) I don’t believe the poor will always be with us. They are a creation of capitalism. We have enough in Australia (and indeed globally) to feed, house and educate everyone. Only by overthrowing the system that produces want among plenty can we eradicate poverty. That doesn’t make me girlie, manly, boyish or feminine. It makes me a socialist.

The rise and fall of free education

Cartoon: Carlos Latuff

Free education was won through consistent protest in the 1970s and can be won back now through consistent protest writes John Rainford in Green Left Weekly.

By the mid-1880s, all of the Australian colonies had passed education Acts based on the principal of “free, compulsory and secular” education. This mirrored similar legislation in Britain where the Factory Act of 1833 had made it unlawful for children under nine years of age to be employed in textile factories.

In 1878, the Factory and Workshops Act extended this to all factories and limited the working hours of children under 14 years of age.

The welfare of children in Britain was further provided for by the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 that made school attendance compulsory until the age of 10. Across the whole of Europe, between 1840 and the 1880s, while the population increased by a third, the number of children attending school increased by 145%.

Publicly funded elementary education in Australia and elsewhere was linked to the extension of suffrage. This was the “civilising” function that Thomas Paine had argued in the late 18th century had to be exercised by government in the transmission from despotism to civilised society.

An emerging Labour Party was onto it from the start. The first platform of the Labour Electoral League in NSW, which saw 35 Labour men elected to parliament in 1891, called for “free, compulsory and technical education, higher as well as elementary”.

Education for the common good would enable the universal citizenship that was the promise of universal political suffrage.

In Victoria in 1948 almost 75% of students in the final year of secondary school were enrolled in private schools. But in the decades after this, the rapid expansion of Australia’s education systems saw universal secondary education, upper-secondary and tertiary education become increasingly important factors in the life of a growing number of citizens.

The high-water mark was reached in 1975-76. In 1948-49, the proportion of education spending provided by private sources was 20.3%; in 1975-76 this had fallen to just 5.6% – 0.35% of GDP.

It was, of course, the Whitlam Labor government that introduced free tertiary education in 1974. It was a policy Whitlam spelled out at the ALP campaign launch at Blacktown in 1972: “Education is the key to equality of opportunity … we believe that a student’s merit rather than a parent’s wealth should decide who should benefit.”

Even though student fees in 1973 were less than 5% of higher education income and were paid by only 20% of full-time students, the abolition of fees initiated a public policy shift by establishing a universal rights-based approach to educational programs.

For the ALP and its rank and file members it became a point of differentiation with the Liberal Party that they were proud to proclaim. Its public popularity was shown in opinion polls where 75% of respondents were opposed to tertiary education fees when the Fraser Liberal government attempted to reintroduce them for second and higher degrees in 1976 and 1981. On both occasions, this public support bolstered student protests that defeated the proposals.

But what the Liberal Party couldn’t do the ALP could, with the turn to neoliberalism of the Bob Hawke government. In 1986, the Labor government announced that a Higher Education Administration Charge (HEAC) of $250 per student would be introduced the following year.

The rationale for tertiary education fees was provided by a committee set up by the education minister John Dawkins and chaired by the former NSW Premier Neville Wran.

It established as fact the fiction that fee abolition was unable to broaden participation. The inconvenient truth that between 1974 and 1987 the proportion of women students had risen from 38.5% to 50.1% was explained away in class terms, that “participation by women in low socioeconomic groups has not improved”.

The report went on to establish a myth that has been perpetuated since by both major parties: “The fundamental inequity in our present system of financing higher education is that small and privileged sections of the community who benefit directly from access to higher education make no direct contribution to the costs.”

Free tertiary education was abolished by 56 votes to 41 at the ALP conference in Hobart in June 1988. Among the opposition was the then Victorian Premier John Cain, who argued that the cost of free tertiary education could be easily funded from budget surpluses at a time when the company tax rate had just been reduced from 49% to 39%.

The Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) was introduced in 1989 as a deferred fee of $1800 per full-time student, repayable through the taxation system. Once introduced with bi-partisan support, the only trajectory for the fee was upwards.

As to the spurious rationale of private rather than public benefit from higher education, as far back as 1964 the report of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia (known as the Martin report after the chairperson Sir Leslie Martin) commissioned by the Menzies government, had reported that the benefits of higher education to individual students were but “a fraction” of the benefits accruing to society as a whole.

In 2001 an OECD report found that an additional year of education raised output per capita by between 4% and 7%.

A more recent OECD study reports that it is the Australian public that profits most from higher education while students bear the majority of the costs. Students now contribute 55% of their tertiary education costs compared with an average of 30% in OECD countries. Male students repay $6 for every public dollar of higher education funding and females $4.40.

The economics of higher tertiary education fees don’t make any sense. But to the major parties the politics of privilege do. Which is why we will see a return to what Whitlam abolished in 1974 — parent’s wealth and not student merit will determine access to universities.