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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
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Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
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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

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Adani: an injury to one planet is an injury to all workers

Adani tells you everything you need to know about politics in Australia.

The decisions by the Queensland and Federal Governments to give Adani various approvals to effectively mine a massive amount of coal is irrational.  It makes no sense economically. It makes no sense environmentally.

But to those involved it makes perfect political sense. Jobs, jobs and more jobs are their mantra.  It is a lie to win working class support. Given the big swings against Labor in the region and to the conservatives and reactionaries, it is working.

Despite initial talk of 10,000 jobs, on oath Adani admitted that in the construction stage there would be 1440 or so jobs. And once construction is finished? It is not clear what the number of ongoing jobs Adani will create is.

Recently, Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie suggested 100. So destroying land on the Carmichael mine is going to create only 100 jobs at the site. How many tourist jobs will it destroy? As many, if not more, is my guess.  Others have suggested the figure is about 800, although I suspect the figures from McKenzie are likely to be close to the truth.  Briefings, followed by unguarded moments and all that, eh?

Adani was never about jobs. Mining is one of the most mechanised industries in the world. In Australia for example mining contributes about 8.5% to GDP, but employs only 2% of the workforce (or around 220,000 jobs), As the industry automates even further, that employment figure will fall even lower.

Adani is a good example. The estimated investment cost is $16 bn. All that for 100 ongoing jobs, or to be optimistic 800 ongoing jobs.  Plus the destruction of the Galilee Basin, and associated land and waterways.  How much is the Great Barrier Reef worth anyway? See it before it dies.

Surely that $16 bn would be better invested in sun, wind and other renewable energy plus batteries? Not if you are, like the Coalition Government, (now joined by the Queensland Labor government) married to coal.  The decision to support Adani was political. This is a government of climate change deniers and climate change sceptics. Its first rule is to support big capital.

The ALP knew before the election it risked losing workers’ votes in Queensland by not being openly for the mine. It also knew it could lose votes in suburban seats if it openly supported Adani. Hence its equivocation, its nudge nudge, yes, after legal requirements are met, to the mine.

The other side of this means the Government had to lie to workers about the things that we hold dear – jobs, and living costs. And lie they did. Vague suggestions of thousands of jobs, plus a ‘commitment’ to lower power prices should be seen for what they are – bullshit of the highest order. All designed to swing workers behind the lie that is Adani.

It worked. Some workers, especially in the mining regions, fell for the lies. Our response should not be to abuse them but to develop policies that do address their and our jobs and living cost concerns.  Renewable energy offers that.

We can, and we must, make the arguments that our future has to be totally renewable. Such a shift will take a lot of money – about $370 bn over ten years under the BZE plan  for example – but it will help save our planet.

That altruism won’t win votes. But a comparison of jobs in reliable energy construction and then operation would suggest a much larger number of jobs in the renewable energy sector than the mining sector.  Much more. And prices will fall as a result. If they do not then impose price controls on the energy suppliers.

These are arguments that must be made.  The ALP will not make them. It is part of the coal bubble.  The Government will not make them. It will be up to us and our unions to make the obvious point – an injury to our one earth is an injury to all workers. The destruction of our planet is the destruction of the working class.


Eyewitness from Hong Kong as protests force a retreat on extradition bill

Hong Kong socialist Lam Chi Leung in Socialist Worker UK says the current protests sweeping the country show the politicisation of ordinary people

Mass protests in Hong Kong have forced the government to retreat
Mass protests in Hong Kong have forced the government to retreat (Pic: PA)

The government in Hong Kong has suspended a planned bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The climbdown follows huge demonstrations.

On the morning of 12 June, forty thousand Hong Kong citizens occupied the streets near Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and the government headquarters.

Most protesters were aged between 18 and 24.

Previously, on Sunday 9 June, an astonishing 1.03 million citizens joined the “No China extraction” mass demonstration. That was the biggest demonstration since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. On average, one in seven Hong Kong people joined the demonstration!

The official mainland China media said that demonstrations were surreptitiously engineered by Western powers. That is absolute nonsense.

The 12 June protest forced the delay of the Second Reading of the draft amendment to the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill – the extradition bill.

Currently Hong Kong is allowed to sign long-term fugitive extradition arrangement with all regions in the world except China. Hong Kong’s government wants to amend this bill so that the mainland authorities can extract suspects from Hong Kong.

The amendment would severely reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy. Due to the authoritarian regime of one-party rule in China, people lack protection from the law.

This would affect especially those who criticise the China government and leadership openly and those who organise the remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident every year, and Hong Kong citizens who have helped Chinese democratic activists to escape. All of these citizens would be in serious danger.


Hong Kong activists who have provided practical assistance to China’s labor, human rights, and social movement NGOs could also be extracted by the China government under the pretext of “endangering national security”.

The amendment would make Hong Kong citizens live in fear of “the consequence” of criticising the system and policies.

The police responded to the protests with violence. They not only employed tear gas and pepper spray but also fired bean bag shot and rubber bullets without warning. This resulted in 79 injuries, two of them very serious.

Both the Commissioner of Police and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam described the protest as a “riot”.

The protests against the Extradition Bill took place five years after the Umbrella Movement. The 81-day-long roads occupation for democratic elections in September 2014 ended in failure. This time, the protests have revived the morale of the masses to some degree.

People called for a workers’ and students’ strike last week.The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and the Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union showed support for it.

In addition, some young people established a picket line in the commercial district. Some suggested political strikes and this led to discussions on the internet. All these signs show that this movement has advanced in political consciousness compared to the Umbrella Movement.

It is not easy to mobilise a powerful strike in a short time. The socialist left of Hong Kong can push the discussions about political strikes toward a strategic conclusion that we need to establish mass self-organisation. It can also explain why the struggle for civil liberty is inseparable to the struggle for political democracy and economic equality.

Lam Chi Leung is a revolutionary socialist based in Hong Kong. This article first appeared in Socialist Worker UK (

The unfreedom of tax academia for the left

The Australian and other Murdoch outlets have been running a faux University freedom campaign for years now. As they lose more and more ‘sensible centre’ journalists – how much longer can Peter van Onselen stay there more or less on his own? – they seem to have become more strident in their condemnation of cultural Marxism, our takeover of Universities, education, and the like.

Apparently our Gramscian march through the Universities continues unabated. Let me interrupt their wet dreams with some personal reality of my march through the universities.

Recently I was looking back at the many Bills that became law when I was the Assistant Commissioner in charge of international tax reform. My team worked closely with Treasury on developing those Bills. We were, according to the relevant General Manager in Treasury at the time, the best ATO team, among the dozens, to work with, from their point of view.

I, along with one other senior ATO Officer, was the major ATO contributor to the 2002 Treasury discussion paper entitled The Review of International Tax Arrangements (RITA). See

Then there were the reforms made during the period I was in charge of the ATO contribution to RITA (both to the law and to getting the rest of the ATO ready for the particular reform). They include:

  • New International Tax Arrangements Act 2003, which among other things amended the Foreign Investment Funds (FIFs) and Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) regimes and made changes to Interest Withholding Tax and unit trusts.
  • New International Tax Arrangements Act 2004, which modified certain foreign investment fund rules; provided an interest withholding tax exemption for interest paid on certain debentures issued by eligible unit trusts; removed the need for certain income of a controlled foreign country resident to be included as notional assessable income; and prevented double taxation of royalties subject to withholding tax.
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Participation Exemption and Other Measures) Act 2004 which among other things reduced the amount of the capital gain or capital loss that will be subject to capital gains tax rules where Australian companies and controlled foreign companies sell shares in a foreign company with an underlying active business; extended the current exemptions for foreign branch profits and foreign dividends to all countries from 1 July 2004; and reduced the scope of tainted services income.
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Managed Funds And Other Measures) Bill 2004
  • New International Tax Arrangements (Foreign-owned Branches and Other Measures) Act 2005
  • Various Double Tax Agreements implementing policy from RITA, and the review of the anti- CFC and FIF rules leading to Foreign Accumulation Fund (FAF) rules. The anti-deferral rules review which produced the change from FIFs to FAFs (well after I had retired). 

The Board of Tax has estimated that these various international tax reforms have had roughly the same impact as tariff reductions for the economy about a 0.024% annual GDP increase.

I look back on my team’s achievements with pride.  Interestingly not one tax academic has approached me about these groundbreaking reforms. Not one.

From 1989 to January 1997 I was a tax lecturer in the law school at the ANU. I left in early 1997 after the promotion round saw five of six academics promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer. My crime had to been lead those 50% of Law School staff who had opposed the introduction of $9000 fees for the Legal Workshop, the almost year long course to enable those who had earned their law degrees to practise as lawyers. This mad me never to be promoted among the powerful conservative and soft left factions in the School.

I was a great teacher. I got rave reviews from students, year after year. My research was certainly unique, marrying left wing and Marxist ideas with tax law.  It was also regular enough, according to the creeping neoliberal standards Universities were then beginning to apply.

So I left the ANU and eventually, after ten months with the Welfare Rights and Legl Centre, rejoined the ATO.  I retired from the ATO in 2008 and began looking for a job with academia. After all, I had 8 years tax law teaching experience and a successful career as a tax administrator behind me.  My two years in 2010 and 2011 at the University of Canberra should have forewarned me, but it did not.

I resigned in disgust from there in November 2011 and over the next six or so years applied for tax law academic jobs. Of the 38 applications I lodged, I had one interview (because I knew one of the professors well.) I was doing a PhD, the new neoliberal apprenticeship requirement evidently.

I merely note that a number of my ATO colleagues from that time, without PhDs, have been employed by academic institutions. I should also add that a number of my tax teaching colleagues would, in my view, be less than ideal employees as tax administrators. They are OK gatekeepers for conservatism but not good educators.

So why am I unemployable? The excuse is often my lack of a PhD. Given my life experience, I doubt this would be a problem, if I were a conservative. There’s the rub.

Tax and legal academia is, by and large, conservative. It employs like minded people. For a socialist and Marxist like me who organised and took action against the neoliberalisation of Universities, this is a death sentence.

Is there a lesson from all of this? Tax academia is a bastion of reaction and conservatism. Lefties have to try to survive in this all-encompassing environment. For leftists and socialists, if you want a job in tax academia or want to keep it, do not put your beliefs into action.   

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery and an adjunct member of the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University.

It is time to resign, John Setka

I have been a long-time supporter of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union or its various earlier incarnations.

I remember joining with BLF members in 1985 and 1986 to fight the Hawke government’s de-registration of the union. In the short term they lost. However, their commitment to class struggle remained and so did the brutal reality of working in the building industry. As a consequence, the union remained alive and does so today, in the form of the construction branch of the CFMMEU.

In these times of class collaboration and surrender by many union leaders, and their Labor Party leaders, it is an absolute necessity to have a fighting union that uses strikes and other action to defend and increase wages, jobs and impose some safety responsibilities on the bosses. The CFMMEU are even prepared occasionally to break bad industrial laws, something Australian Council of Trade Union Secretary Sally McManus has so far only talked about.

It is why the bosses, and their political parties, hate them. It is why we must defend the union. That does not mean we must protect the leadership on all occasions.

Of course the government and the ALP will use this in different ways to divorce themselves from the union, in the case of the ALP, or smash it, in the case of the Coalition government.

Already the Government has signalled it will reintroduce its Ensuring Integrity Bill (or CFMMEU deregistration Bill,) a piece of proposed legislation defeated previously. There was no mention of resurrecting this legislation during the election campaign we just had. The government is trying to use the accusations against John Setka, the elected leader of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.

What are those accusations? The latest one is that he denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty for reducing the freedom of men. Setka calls it lies. Maritime Union leader Christie Cain says Setka’s comments have been taken out of context.  It is possible for something to be taken out of context, and to also be a lie, I guess. For me it seems far too convenient that this accusation comes out at a time when the ALP under fake left leader Anthony Albanese wants to expel Setka from the ALP.

If this was all, then there would be nothing to the attacks on Setka other than the forces of reaction opposing a militant union that keeps alive the idea of class struggle, and sometimes its practice.

It is unfortunately not all.  Setka has said he will plead guilty to charges of harassing a woman and breaching a court order.  If so, he should resign as secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.

There are two reasons for doing so. Women make up 46.9 percent of the workforce.  We cannot have a senior union leader who is guilty of crimes against them, as ACTU secretary Sally McManus understands.  On Thursday she called on Setka to resign, in the best interests of the union movement.

There is a second reason. To keep alive the idea and the reality of union militancy in these times of general union and worker passivity, he should resign. Setka has given the class enemy too much ammunition to allow him to continue in the role of the main union leader in Australia prepared to break the law and urge his members to take industrial action.

John Setka, it is time to go.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Mainstream and other for profit media should approach him for payment rates if they want to republish this article.

The Australian Federal Police acknowledge receiving my Freedom of Information request

I lodged my FoI request with the AFP to find details of any advice they had about the legality and constitutionality of the recent raids on the press. This is their acknowledgement of my FoI request.

') .  clean_pre('Dear Mr Passant


I refer to your application dated 10 June 2019, in which you seek access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the Act) as per your email below.


Your request was received by this agency on 11 June 2019, and the 30 day statutory period for processing your request commenced from that date. The due date for your request is 11 July 2019.

Information considered irrelevant to the scope of your request

The AFP, in its management of FOI requests, excludes the following information on the basis that is irrelevant to the scope of a request:

- Names of AFP members, other than the Senior Executive.
- Direct telephone numbers, signatures and mobile telephone numbers of AFP members.
- Duplicate documents, including duplicate emails. The AFP will only provide emails where they form a final email chain and the authors/recipients are contained within the final email.
- Information that is publicly available, for example, newspaper articles, online publications including information available on the AFP Information Publication Scheme and the AFP disclosure log.

If you object to the AFP excluding any of the above information, please advise this office within seven days of receipt of this email.


You will be notified of any charges in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Fees and Charges) Regulations, should they apply, in relation to your request as soon as practicable.

Information Publication Scheme

Please be advised that effective 1 May 2011 and in accordance with section 8(2) of the Act, an agency is required to publish information on the AFP website following the notification of a decision in respect of a freedom of information request. Details of the decision will be published in a Disclosure Log which can be found at

The requirement to publish information released under FOI reinforces the objectives of the FOI Act to promote a pro-disclosure culture across government and to increase recognition that information held by government is a national resource. Exceptions to the requirement to publish information would apply to personal information and information concerning the business affairs of a person if it was considered ‘unreasonable’ to do so.

If, however, after noting the above, you wish to raise any concerns about the publication of information concerning your request prior to the notification of a decision, please advise this office in writing before 11 July 2019.


Name of


The police, the constitution, freedom of information and a free press

Australia does not have a right to free speech. However the High Court has ruled that there is implied in the Constitution a right to political communication. Like all things constitutional, written or implied, this is subject to the Court’s interpretation.  I think it fair to say it is a fairly narrow right, and one the Court keeps narrowing.

However, it is likely to be important in the cases of the Australian Federal Police raids recently on the Canberra home of Anika Smethurst from News Corp, and the ABC offices in Sydney. Certainly, it appears the ABC is going to argue against the raids and one of their arguments will be that the police actions breach their implied constitutional right.

What is this implied right? To quote a friend:

‘An implied right is a right that flows from the existence of another right or constitutional quality as opposed to being specifically noted.

‘The implied right of freedom of political communication flows from the fact that we have a system of publicly-chosen representative democracy, and that system inherently requires political communication.’

To quote academic Leanne Griffiths:

“The High Court held that the Constitution established systems of representative and responsible government in particular under sections 7, 24, 64 and 128 and that the freedom to discuss political and government matters was indispensable to these systems of government.”

Scott Morrison’s comment in attempting to justify the recent Australian Federal Police raids on journalists that ‘no one is above the law’ got me thinking. Presumably the AFP had checked that they had the power to undertake these raids, and that they would be or were in accordance with the law and their powers.

That got me thinking about the Constitution and the implied right of political communication.  Surely the AFP would have sought advice to make sure their actions in raiding the journalists were, at least in the opinion of eminent lawyers, in accordance with the constitution?  After all, no one is above the law.

So on Monday 10 June 2019 I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Australian Federal Police to ask them for copies of all the documents they have on the legality and constitutionality of the raids on Smethurst and the ABC.

After all it would seem strange if the AFP ignored the highest law in the land, including implied rights that flow from it.

I have also argued it is the public interest for such documents to be provided, without cost.

I will keep you informed of what happens.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Any media wishing to republish this article should contact John for his permission and rates.

Israel Folau, freedom and hate speech

The Israel Folau case worries me. Rugby Australia sacked Folau for his proselytising post that said:

WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters HELL AWAITS YOU Repent! Only Jesus Saves.

Despite Folau’s claim this is a quote from the Bible, the actual passage from Corinthians 6:9-10 makes no mention of hell. It says that these sinners will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And nowhere does the passage contain the word WARNING, upper case or lower case.  Both WARNING and HELL AWAITS YOU are Folau additions.

I may be splitting hairs. On the other hand it may be a track that hair splitting lawyers will take.

Folau’s intention clearly was to quote the Bible to warn we sinners that we face eternal damnation for our sins. Only embracing Jesus Christ (and repenting our sins) can save us.

There is another passage from the Bible that comes to mind. In
the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, verse 7, Jesus says: ‘He that is
without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

The context in which Jesus was said to have said this was
that the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had committed adultery
before Jesus. In accordance with the commandments, they wanted to stone her to
death.  They asked Jesus what his
thoughts were. 

His answer shows the problems with quoting the Bible. The whole document is riddled with contradictions which you can use to justify or condemn a position.  For example, as many have pointed out, the Bible seems to condemn tattoos.  Certainly, many fundamentalist Christians believe it is a sin to get a tattoo. Leviticus 19:28 says ‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourself.’

Folau has tattoos. That is his choice. As is his religion and any rationalisations he makes to reconcile the word and his actions. But Folau goes beyond exercising that choice when he wants to impose his views on the rest of society, or, in slightly different language, to convert the rest of us to a life in Jesus Christ.  

For example Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. The Bible appears to condemn same sex activity as sinful.  Leviticus 18:22 says, ‘[Men] shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.’ Leviticus 20:13 says, ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.’

Paul in Romans also warns against homosexual activity. He says at Romans 1:26-27 ‘For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.’

The material explanation for this homophobia in ancient times was the need for the particular tribe to survive in difficult circumstances. The material explanation for current Christian homophobia (#notallChristians) is its loss of state power as capitalism developed and the working class fought for democracy. Capitalism also benefits from expanding markets. This has meant that the various Christian leaders in the 1800s began to emphasise the pie in the sky aspects of Christianity and denounce ‘harmful’ sins such as homosexuality to keep their congregations together. One way of doing this, as politicians in Australia know all too well, is to create a fake enemy and vilify them.

Religious freedom is a catchcry of reactionaries and conservatives. Let’s be clear. The power of the hierarchy of the Christian churches and their close association with Australian capital continues unabated. It is this power that demands enshrined religious rights to cement the hierarchies’ power and reinforce Christianity’s major role in allowing capitalism to dominate our thoughts and prayers.

I am all for the protection of the rights of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, gays and lesbians etc etc in a society that Christian power-brokers dominate. Those powerbrokers are not only the likes of convicted child abuser Cardinal George Pell, but the Scott Morrisons of the political class. For too long the cosy relationship between the Christian messages of submission and subservience, and indeed of hate, and Australian capitalism have dominated our society. Only a revolution can free us from that.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that many Christians feel under threat.  Telling them they aren’t under threat makes no difference. Indeed, other religious people, who do suffer religious intolerance, such as Muslims or Jews in Australia, are joining with Christians on this.

Given its pervasive role in Australian capitalism, enshrining Christian religious freedom is in my view, objectively unnecessary.  Nevertheless, just as we need some protection for freedom of speech, and the press, I support giving religious freedoms protection.  I do not however support giving the religion of the capitalist class free reign to impose its beliefs on the rest of us or to indulge in hate speech.

What Folau said may be hate speech. For a 14-year-old rugby fanatic and player struggling with their sexuality, Folau’s words could be hurtful. So, having a massive support system at school and in society for these people – protecting them from Christian hate speech in effect – is a must.

Safe schools anyone? Hang on. These are the very programs the ‘freedom loving’ right wing is shutting down.

The other problem I have in the Folau case is the power we give to employers to set the agenda of their employees even outside work. As a senior public servant for example I was careful not to express political views on social media until I retired. Why should I be so restricted? Should Folau?

The case of public servant Michaela Banerji and her appeal to the High Court after being sacked for anonymous political comments reverberates with me. Where is the free speech brigade in defending her rights as well as Folau’s? Why is the employer able to restrict free speech outside work hours?

Now Banerji is not Folau. She is not on a $4 million contract. She does not have people hanging off her every word. It may be appropriate in the case of high paid professionals to have their employer restrict their freedoms, if they want to enter into a contract of employment. It does not strike me as appropriate when that person is on say the median wage of about $65,000 a year.

The balance between religious freedom and hate speech can be a fine line. I want Folau to be able to repeat his Church’s assertions about the words of Jesus. I also want vulnerable people not to be offended, upset or suicidal as a consequence.

In Folau’s case I think there is both a practical and a legislative solution. Despite my misgivings about the power employers seem to be giving themselves in their employment contracts to control their employees outside of work, in Folau’s case he has made a commitment that if employed by the National Rugby League he would be subject to stringent supervision and control over his social posts. So, while he can preach his Christian homophobia to the like-minded, he won’t be able if he joins the NRL to proselytise his homophobic hate speech.

One issue is whether any potential team mates would work with Folau. Certainly, the NRL has a policy of rehabilitating those who have broken the law. They should extend that approach to Folau, and show him what it really means to love your neighbour as yourself. However, if the player’s association will not accept him, that is good enough for me. Time to play rugby in France, Israel.

Legally, there may be an opportunity to link freedom of religion and hate speech. Yes, if the government is intent of making political capital out of the issue, then let’s legislate for religious freedom. Couple that with strict criminal laws that make it a very very serious offence to spread hate speech.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. For-profit organisations wanting to republish this should contact him to discuss payment.

Free speech in Australia

Am I living in a police state? On Tuesday the Australian Federal Police raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. On Wednesday it was the turn of journalists in the Sydney offices of the ABC.

They were looking for information that they could use to prosecute whistle-blowers who provided the information to journalists. That is only part of the problem.

The ABC report, called the Afghan Files, exposed the murderous actions of Australian troops in occupied Afghanistan. They killed unarmed Afghan men and children. In March this year David McBride, the leaker, was charged for releasing that information. He could be jailed for revealing the crimes of our government and its troops. As a recent quote, attributed supposedly to Edward Snowden, has it:

‘When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are being ruled by criminals.’

True. And what the recent events, plus others show, is that we are now in the age of the secret state. For example Smethurst’s report revealed that intelligence authorities were discussing greater powers, in effect to spy on Australians. Clearly the government does not want sensitive material that exposes its machinations, its crimes or its lies being released to the public.

The whistle-blowers in the Smethurst and ABC cases are not the only people the Government are pursuing. Former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery and ‘Witness K’ are facing trial and jail for revealing the truth that Australian spies bugged the negotiating rooms of the Timor- Leste negotiators in the talks to carve up the revenue for the sea between the two countries.

It is not just those revealing spy or military actions who are under attack. Former Tax Officer Richard Boyle faces many many years in jail for spilling his guts about the ATO and its heavy handed tactics against small business. Public servant Michaela Banerji, lost her job for posting, anonymously, comments critical of the government.  She is now arguing before the High Court that she has the right to freedom of political communication.

And then there is Julian Assange. The attempts to extradite him to the US for exposing the crimes of US imperialism are a clear attack on the right to free speech in the US, and a warning to journalists around the world. The Australian government is complicit in this attempt to suppress information we should know about. Chelsea Manning, the person who provided him with the files, has served 7 years in jail already (after President Obama commuted her 35 year sentence) and is currently back in prison for refusing to talk to a grand jury investigation into Assange.

Our esteemed Prime Minister has defended the recent police raids on Smethurst and the ABC. No one is above the law, he says. That is clearly not true. Politicians often appear to be above the law, especially conservative ones in power.  In the US Trump is the classic example. In Australia, one needs only to ask how the AFP inquiry into the leak of material from Senator Cash’s office is coming along. Or whether any leak from Minister’s offices is ever investigated.

In a truly democratic society, all the behind the scenes politicking around Adani, the real economic benefits, the real costs, the approval processes and the real job figures (100 according to National Party Deputy leader and Minister Bridget McKenzie) would be public so we could make informed decisions. It isn’t.

The latest AFP raids mean that anyone who revealed government held information about Adani would be investigated for potential ‘crimes’.  Adani whistle-blowers and journalists would become criminals for revealing the truth. Meanwhile the environmental crimes against humanity that Adani is committing continue, supported by a powerful faction of the political class.

If, as Scott Morrison asserts, nobody is above the law, where are the investigations into, let alone charges against, potential war criminals like John Howard? Or against those who run the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru, people like Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison? Not to forget Mike Pezzullo, the head of Dutton’s department and the man who referred the Smethurst story to the AFP.  It seems, to echo George Orwell, some are more equal than others.  

The second reason for the government pursuing Smethurst and the ABC is to shut journalists up. The Government wants to make sure journalists refuse to provide information that exposes the government and its crimes, misdemeanours and lies. This is information we have a right to. It is a clear signal from Morrison, Dutton and the like that they will use the Federal Police as part of their ‘evidence gathering’ to prevent future unwelcome releases both by the leakers AND the press.

It may have the opposite effect.  It could embolden contacts (perhaps) and journalists (more likely) to release ream after ream of the dirt they have or that this government is hiding. It would for example be great to see the Murdoch Press taking a more critical role against the government and exposing its many secret sins to Australians. However, this approach limits the response to brave whistle-blowers and journalists.   We need a systemic response to this ongoing erosion of basic bourgeois rights.

This is a battle between the secretive State and the so called Fourth Estate. This is a battle between different components of the capitalist system.

What we have in Australia is limited free speech. We live in a limited democracy in which every three years we get to choose between one of the competing parties of capitalist managers. The debate between the major, essentially similar, pro-capitalist parties dominates our profit driven press and its hangers on, like the ABC.

Of course, there are some differences between the ALP and the Coalition. But they (and the Greens, One Nation etc etc) are united in their support for capitalism, the exploitative relationship between capital and labour, and bosses expropriate that extra value workers create to make their profits. Where they differ is sometimes over the rate of exploitation, and how best to manage the system – cooperatively or confrontationally or mixtures in between – to continue that exploitation.

What those of us who believe in more than just freedom for Graham Richardson and Gerard Henderson to debate the way forward for capitalism want is a truly democratic society.

The current erosion of free speech has a common beginning. First, they come for the refugees and unionists.  Who knows for example that it is a crime for journalists to report the truth about the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru? Who knows for example that is illegal for unions to strike outside the very limited few months during the bargaining period?

These attacks on the rights of these seeming political bogey men and women make restrictions on free speech acceptable to many. Then they can come for the whistle-blowers and journalists.

 As George Orwell (again!) says: ‘In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ I will continue to write from the Press Gallery. I will agitate for my colleagues in News Corp and Nine Media, the ABC and other outlets, to tell the truth. But unlike them, I do not have the resources, nor the ability, to protect whistle-blowers that the capitalist Fourth Estate has.  Nor do I alone have the collective capacity to defend free speech.

Ultimately a free press depends on the capacity of journalists themselves to defend their rights. In the end that means striking collectively to uphold press freedom.  As Sally McManus says, it is necessary for unions to break bad laws.

I agree with McManus. Now is the time for workers at News Corp, Nine Media and ABC to go on strike for free speech.  Other unions like the building unions could join them in a strike for freedom. Otherwise the erosion of our basic freedoms under capitalism will continue unabated.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Media and other for profit organisations should contact John to discuss the rates for republication of this and other articles.

Put the bankers, not journalists, in the dock

Two things happened on Tuesday that caught my attention.

The first was the decision of the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut the cash rate by 25 basis points or 0.25%, from 1.50% to 1.25%.

According to the RBA, the cash rate is ‘the overnight money market interest rate.’ It is essentially the rate the RBA lends at in the overnight money market.

The cut flows on to other commercial rates, including home mortgage rates and interest earning deposit rates, at the discretion of the banks themselves. Two of the major banks – the Commonwealth and NAB – have said they will pass on the full rate cut of 25 basis points to their standard variable mortgage holders.

Two – Westpac and ANZ – have said they will not. ANZ will cut its mortgage rate by 18 basis points, not the full 25, while for Westpac its rate cut will be 20 basis points. The partial cut means more profit for these two banks.

The second event that got me thinking (and I will write more on this in later articles) was the raid of the Australian Federal Police on the home of News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst. Over a year ago Smedhurst wrote a story based on what appeared to be leaked information that Australia’s security agencies were pushing for legislative changes to enable them to spy on ordinary Australians. The ABC reports that ‘the new powers, if adopted, would go to the ASD [Australian Signals Directorate] to secretly access bank records, emails and text messages without leaving a trace.’

As an aside, my long ASIO file shows that as a socialist I am not an ‘ordinary’ Australian. Evidently working for a world of justice and equality makes me an enemy of the current society and a major target for one of Australia’s quasi-STASI to spy on.

Remember the Banking Royal Commission? It exposed a culture of greed and dishonesty in which banks ripped off customers for their very big profits. The thing about Australia’s banks is that they are so good at ripping us off they have been among the most profitable banks in the world, year after year after year. They make super profits (or economic rent in the language of bourgeois economists.)

So on the day the AFP raided a journalist’s home, and two of the big four banks refused to pass on interest rate cuts in full, I started thinking – why hasn’t the AFP raided the homes of senior bank officers in pursuit of evidence in any potential criminal cases against them?

Why not? Well the banks are a key part of Australian capitalism, which is why Scott Morrison voted 26 times against holding a royal commission into them. It is not just that they account for about 9 percent of GDP. It is also the key part they play in many of our lives as providers of long term big debt to purchase our homes over our lifetimes.

Upsetting the banks would upset Australian capitalism and the key role finance capital plays in underpinning the ongoing viability of the system. So the Government will not touch them. After the Royal Commission it has been a case of business as usual for the super profitable banks.

Neither the Government nor the Opposition have proposed any actions that challenge the power of the banks. No rent or super profits tax, no price controls, no people’s bank, no nationalisations. Not even meaningful regulation. Nothing but the nonsense of ‘more competition’.

Put the bankers, not journalists, in the dock.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. If you are a media organisation and want to reprint this article, contact John for permission and rates.

The lessons of Tiananmen Square

Dennis Kosuth tells the story of the revolt that shook China’s rulers. Reprinted from Socialist Worker, written ten years ago, still relevant.

THE CHINESE national anthem, like for most countries, is militaristic, jingoistic and–unless one is a fan of marching–difficult to listen to.

Unlike most others, however, it begins with the line “Arise, all who refuse to be slaves” and calls on the people to “stand up.” The lyrics were a product of the nationalist revolution of 1949, in which, following the defeat of the Japanese colonialists four years earlier, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was victorious in a civil war over the Nationalist Party.

In October 1949, Mao Zedong, leader of the CCP, addressed tens of thousands in Tiananmen Square, announcing the creation of a “People’s Republic” free from imperialist occupation. Meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” Tiananmen is the entrance to the Forbidden City, the part of Beijing from which many emperors–figuratively and physically sealed off from the population–ruled China.

Four decades later, over the course of several weeks, hundreds of thousands would again “stand up” and occupy Tiananmen, supported by millions of people around the city and the country.

The 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising shook China's rulers
The 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising shook China’s rulers

This was the Tiananmen Square rebellion, and its participants were “standing up” not to colonialism and occupation, but to economic crisis, corruption and autocracy–against a government that claimed to stand for socialism, but in reality ruled with an iron fist over an exploitative and oppressive system.

This regime eventually struck back against the Tiananmen uprising, crushing a revolt that threatened to shake its rule.

WHAT HAPPENED over the course of those spring weeks in 1989? How did the conflict come to the point where so much blood was shed?

From the beginning, the system established by Mao’s CCP was a state capitalist command economy, not socialism. The party and state bureaucracy made all the important decisions about society, with the aim of accomplishing national economic development along the lines of the Russian model established under Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian rule.

By the 1970s, the ruling faction of the Chinese government, led by Deng Xiaoping, steered the country toward “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” This meant unleashing free-market forces in the countryside, where 80 percent of the Chinese population lived, and developing industry in multiple coastal cities through foreign investment and the use of Western technology and management techniques.

In order to further this economic strategy, the government had to educate a homegrown army of technicians, engineers and managers by expanding access to education. As part of this move, it was important to relax the political control of the CCP to some extent. Greater latitude to think and debate freely, especially within educational institutions, was a necessary precondition to economic reform.

Economic reforms did lead to 10 percent growth for almost every year during the 1980s, but there were still sharp ups and downs as the economy lurched forward. By 1988, the country was deep in an economic crisis, with inflation spiraling out of control.

While China’s first efforts were modeled on Stalin’s multiple five-year-plans, and Deng later incorporated free-market forces into his restructuring policies, both strategies had the common denominator of setting priorities based on the need to compete in an international capitalist economy.

This economic competition with the outside world was the whip that drove China to advance its economy at any cost necessary. Like Stalin’s Russia, the rhetoric of socialism was merely a tool to motivate workers to produce more.

By the end of the 1980s, increased political freedom resulted in people feeling they could finally air their discontent. The ruling class, already divided as a result of internal battles over how to carry out its program, was unable to alleviate the economic crisis. On the contrary, while workers suffered from price inflation and mass layoffs, officials and businessmen were seen to be living better than ever. This was the tinder for the revolt.

HU YAOBANG, the former general secretary of the CCP, died on April 15, 1989. Two years prior, he had been driven from his position in the party in disgrace because he was seen as challenging corruption.

In an obvious reference to then-84-year-old Deng, posters appeared around Beijing declaring: “The wrong man has died…Those who should die still live…Those who should live have died.”

The first protest march on April 17 to Tiananmen Square only numbered in the hundreds, but the chants were indicative of the mood: “Long live Hu Yaobang. Long live democracy. Long live freedom. Down with corruption. Down with bureaucracy.” As protests continued, Hu Yaobang became less a focus, and dissatisfaction with the status quo sharpened.

At its heart, the Tiananmen struggle was for bourgeois democratic rights–like those in a country like the U.S., where people have the freedom to vote and protest, even though a small minority holds political power in the interest of the rich. But compared to the CCP dictatorship, such democratic rights would have been a step forward.

The Tiananmen movement was being led by students and intellectuals, and had sympathizers among a small minority of the ruling class. Its demands found resonance within society at large, especially among the quickly growing urban working class.

As with any struggle, there were a variety of political ideas within the pro-democracy movement. A significant number of students identified with Western culture and economic systems. With Deng declaring, “to get rich is glorious,” it isn’t surprising that some people would take those words seriously, and want some idealized version of capitalist society.

Because of the temporary classless position of students–with the potential to become workers, bureaucrats or businessmen–many saw sense in appealing to a section of China’s rulers to give them some political power, in exchange for their support.

Some sections of the students wanted to keep their struggle pure, separate from the rest of society. Others were aware that the movement had struck a chord with a significant section of society, giving it a power it never would have had otherwise.

Regardless of whether students were conscious of it, however, the mass character of the struggle–and the potential it represented–stirred fear among China’s rulers, who prepared a bloody response.

Hu’s official state funeral was to take place on April 22, across the street from Tiananmen Square. The night before, tens of thousands of students from universities and colleges across the city began pouring into the streets. The march grew to 100,000 and stretched more than two miles.

Nothing like it has been seen in China since the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. Every Beijing institution was represented, including students from other cities.

Unperturbed by the presence of police and soldiers, the students refused to clear the square. As the octogenarians who ran the country were walked, wheeled and carried into Hu’s service, chants of “Long live democracy, down with autocracy” could be heard echoing across the square.

From the party’s perspective, this insolence could not go unanswered. The People’s Daily editorial carried Deng’s line characterizing the demonstrations as “planned conspiracy and turmoil, its essence is once and for all to negate the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system.”

Instead of being intimidated, however, students were enraged. Meeting on the night of April 26, the Provisional Beijing Students’ Union called for a mass march the next day. Thousands gathered on campuses across Beijing, broke through police lines and came together in a procession of 150,000. The government’s ultimatum had been met with open defiance.

While hardliners in the CCP wanted to squash the movement through fear, General Secretary Zhao Ziyang sought a different approach, trying to placate the students. In his speech, he implicitly undercut Deng’s editorial assertion and stated that there was “no great turmoil.”

The old guard, of course, saw such conciliation as weakness. While the divisions had existed in China’s ruling class previously, they were now clear for all to see.

The debate over how to deal with the protesters fell along similar lines to the argument about how to move forward with China’s economic development. This was reflected, too, among the students, who held a variety of opinions as to the direction and speed that reforms should take.

The Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev–who was presiding over his own policies, called perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), to reform state capitalism in the USSR–was due to arrive in Beijing on May 15. This would be the first visit from a Russian head of state since the split between the USSR and China in the early 1960s. The world lens would be focused on Beijing.

Meanwhile, students had embarked on a hunger strike to revitalize the movement, which had been waning in strength after Zhao’s intervention.

The hunger strike was a success at raising the level of sympathy for the students’ cause. On its fourth day, when 600 people were taken to the hospital, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the square to show their solidarity. British journalist Michael Fathers described the scene:The following day, the students staged their biggest demonstration yet. At their encouragement, more than a million people took to the streets…Sympathy demonstrations broke out in at least 24 cities across the country…

Schoolchildren thrust tiny fists into the air, led by their teachers in chants of “long live democracy, down with corruption.” Workers arrived from Beijing Brewery, the Capital Iron and Steel Works and the Beijing Jeep Corporation. “Get up and stand up for your rights,” chanted a group of teenagers, carrying a black-and-white banner bearing the image of Bob Marley…

Of all the slogans, placards and flags on view in and around Tiananmen Square, the most worrying for the leadership was surely the long red banner carried by short-haired men in uniforms. “The People’s Liberation Army,” it announced in gold letters.

THIS WAS the apex of the struggle, with demonstrations held in cities across the country. It was clear to the ruling bureaucracy that it had to act soon if the status quo was going to be maintained.

The army began its invasion of Beijing early on May 20, but the citizens of Beijing rose up to protect the students. As Fathers wrote:

The people’s army had been outmaneuvered by the people. Without orders to open fire, troops sat disconsolately on the back of canvas-covered trucks, cradling their AK-47 rifles. Around them swarmed not only students in headbands, but workers, old women, middle-aged cadres, all of them chanting “Go home” and “The people’s army should love the people.”

This outpouring of support materialized because ordinary people supported the students against the government. While the workers didn’t necessarily share all the political positions of the students, they were fed up with the system for their own reasons, and when the government ordered the invasion, they knew whose side they were on.

The Beijing Autonomous Union had been founded only weeks before by workers who wanted to do something around inflation and corruption, and saw their official state-run union as passive at best, and obstructionist at worst. As one of their posters summarized:

We have calculated carefully, based on Marx’s Capital, the rate of exploitation of workers. We discovered that the “servants of the people” swallow all the surplus value produced by the people’s blood and sweat…There are only two classes: the rulers and the ruled…The political campaigns of the past 40 years amount to a political method for suppressing the people…History’s final accounting has yet to be completed.

Many students felt they had a friend in Zhao Ziyang, and that Deng’s overall project of modernizing China was a step in the right direction. Most workers, on the other hand, were less enthusiastic about Deng’s reforms, because they were the gears upon which China’s economic development turned. The workers who took part in the struggle wanted independent organizations to defend their class interests.

But on the whole, the working class was unorganized. Its leadership in the struggle wasn’t an option, so that role fell to students and intellectuals.

On May 30, the “Goddess of Democracy,” a 30-foot plaster version of the Statue of Liberty, was erected in Tiananmen. But the number of students in the square was diminishing rapidly, and the arrival of the statue did little to bring in more support.

The Army moved in with a final assault on June 4, using tanks and live ammunition. The resistance, while heroic in its attempts to stop the advancing army, was ultimately futile.

It’s difficult to say how many died, since the victor wanted to downplay the bloodshed in its version of history. Needless to say, the brunt of the violence was borne by the common citizens of the city, who had only buses, barricades and their bodies with which to confront the armed soldiers.

Much ink condemning the Chinese government was spilled in the Western media after the fact, and the image of one lone individual stopping the advance of a line of tanks was played and replayed.

But once the blood and broken bodies had been swept from the streets, the Western powers from which the condemnations came were all too eager to get back to business as usual with China.

Sadly, some organizations on the left today … continue to this day to make excuses for the CCP’s slaughter at Tiananmen, on the bizarre reasoning that the Chinese government remained a defender of the working class.

This kind of twisted thinking has to be rejected outright if politics for true working class liberation, in China or anywhere else, are going to be put forward. Socialism is the polar opposite of the barbaric regime that crushed the Tiananmen Square revolt.

Anyone who believes in justice will look forward to the day when the Chinese working class, one of the largest in the world, will lead the struggle not only for its own emancipation, but the freedom of every oppressed group in China. When they do, they will be following in the tradition of the students and workers who gathered in Tiananmen in the spring of 1989.