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John Passant

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February 2010



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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)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Barnaby is not a buffoon

Barnaby Joyce is not a buffoon, and the Labor Party (and sections to the left of it) dismiss him at their peril.

His comments about Chinese ownership of Australian assets and his questioning of the ability of Australia and some states to repay government debt represent the day to day concerns of millions of Australians, in particular middle class elements like farmers and other small business in rural and regional Australia.

Joyce conflates individual private debt with Government debt, perhaps deliberately, to garner support among the middle class threatened by rising interest rates and their alienation from the economic gains of the last twenty years.

He suggests the Australian banking cartel – the four pillars – should be broken up. While some free market economists make the same argument, in the minds of small business the banks are the most obvious expression of the evils of big business and are an ongoing and favourite target.

Just over a decade ago rural and regional Queensland elected 11 One Nation members to the Queensland Parliament. They won 23% of the vote.

This movement reflected the political resentment of the  rural petit bourgeois, caught as it saw itself between big business (often the banks)  and ‘big’ labour.

This resentment found expression too in the overt racism of One Nation and its attacks on Aborigines and asylum seekers.

The demonisation of the dark skinned also appealed to some unemployed and unorganised workers.

One Nation was essentially a protofascist movement, with its middle class base, its support among some of the lumpen proletariat and less class conscious elements of the working class and the glue of its racism to hold the disparate elements together.

The Party collapsed, in part because then Prime Minister John Howard moved to bring them within the conservative fold, through racist dog whistling around refugees and through a conscious effort to appeal to their petit bourgeois class interests with rhetoric about and a reality of  low interests rates interspersed with attacks on aborigines and Muslims.

The disaffected middle class in the countryside remains. It still feels powerless and caught between forces beyond its control.

It worries about its own debt levels and whether its businesses will continue.  The global financial crisis has externalised that worry.

Rising interest rates in Australia will only increase that class anxiety.

It is not surprising then that Joyce raises concerns about Australia’s ability to repay its sovereign debt, despite the fact that our debt to GDP ratio is among the lowest of the major economies.  

Joyce’s worries reflect his own economic experience and that of his constituents. Rationality has little to do with it.

Middle class concerns of course do not a Finance Minister make. Yet Joyce’s concerns about debt (which elides neatly into government spending) and Chinese investment into Australia are echoed in more  ‘respectable’ bourgeois circles.

Glenn Stevens, head of the Reserve Bank, recently linked in obtuse bureaucratic language government stimulus spending to increasing interest rates.

On China, Australia’s most recent Defence White paper is built on the idea of possible conflict with China in the coming years. 

The development of Chinese imperialism as a challenger to American global hegemony presents particular challenges for the Australian bourgeoisie who are keen to exploit the rapid growth of Chinese capitalism yet expand into (or at least defend under the banner of US imperialism) a region China wants as its own backyard.

Thus Joyce’s China concerns are bourgeois as well as middle class.

As one Government insider put it to The Australian in 2008, ‘the Government is telling China Inc that “it can play in our sand pit but it cannot own it”.’ This is little different to Joyce’s argument that ‘we can’t have another Government owning Australia.”

The Greens too share this ruling class concern, warning at one stage against communist control of the mining industry.

While China is now Australia’s major trading partner, investment between the two countries has historically been low.  That is now changing as the Chinese ruling class look to secure resource and energy supplies.

According to law firm Minter Ellison ‘the value of Chinese investment proposals considered by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board has jumped from $2.6 billion in 2006-2007 to $34 billion last financial year.’

We need to put this in perspective. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ‘the US supplies one third of all foreign investment. It is the largest single country source.’  Australian investment into the US is half of all our external foreign investment.

US foreign direct investment into Australia was $95 billion in 2008 and its total stock of investment almost $420 bn (roughly similar to that of the UK).

In other words, Australia as a capital importing nation depends on the US and UK for capital to develop its trade with the likes of China, Japan and South Korea. 

The neoliberal keynesianism of Europe, the US and Australia has seen government debt replace private debt as the driver of the global economy.
Such is the symbiotic nature of global capitalism that it is China, Japan and the Middle East which are financing  the massive US government debt through Treasury bonds and the like.

US public debt is around $12 trillion dollars – 83 percent of US GDP. Greece’s is over 110 percent.

Of course the US is not Greece – it is the most powerful economy in the world.  And Joyce was talking about a remote possibility. 

His obsession with public debt – he also questioned if some of the Australian states could repay their debt – reflects his own economic position and that of the small businesses and unorganised workers he appeals to.

Of course his anti-Chinese stance is, as well as being a a reflection of the material interests of some sections of the bourgeoisie and their concerns, also a dog whistle to the racists in his support base.

His call to abolish foreign aid fits within a nationalist, inward looking almost autarkic capital that appeals to support on the basis of its Australian rather than capitalist characteristics.

Joyce is also a climate change denier.  Again his farming constituency believes the world is for their plucking and this global warming ‘nonsense’ impacts their capacity to continue their profitable activities.

Typically Joyce targeted public servants as being one way to pay for the Opposition’s Orwellian ‘action plan’ on climate change.  Bureaucrats – part of the powerful over whom the rural petit bourgeoisie seemingly have no control – are convenient targets to assuage that sense of powerlessness.

Joyce has the economics and populism of One Nation.  That economics is part of the material reality for many in this country.

The lack of industrial action by workers gives no alternative focus for the forces that Joyce is harnessing, and being harnessed by, in a reactionary direction.

We cannot ignore the Joyces of the world and the potentiality of the forces they represent.





Pingback from Interest Rates » En Passant » Barnaby is not a buffoon
Time February 13, 2010 at 9:58 pm

[…] Read the rest of this great post here […]

Comment from Jim
Time February 14, 2010 at 10:18 am

I think it’s apalling that the Labor Party attempt to silence anyone who speaks out on any important issues. They all stick together like a pack of serpants and pull down anyone who questions their actions or motives. Is this how they would like to see a democracy operate, by eliminating the virtues of ‘freedom of speech’? I am convinced that the national interest is never as important as their political gain. It is equally appalling the economic situation of the states and their blatant dictatorial, socialistic way of governing. They have totally disregarded the will of the people and instead implemented the will of the Labor Party. They had the audacity to criticize John Howard of twisting the truth but the Labor Party have taken twisting the truth to a whole new level, never before seen in the history of Australian politics. I’m sure Mr. Howard is disgusted by what he is witnessing today, only two years from him leaving government.

Comment from Arjay
Time February 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm

The reality is that we live in a oligarchy and matters very little which party is in power.If the communists get in power as in Czechslovarkia,it will be no different.

Obama uses left wing socialist policies as a cover. The corporates love big Govt and socialism since they get more of the medical dollar as people are forced to pay more taxes to buy their drugs.We also have the big issue of over servicing as people run to the Dr with minor aliments.

Today we have an odd combination of Global Corporate oligarchies working in tandem with the communist green movement.Both have the same objective ie absolute power over the masses with no democracy.

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