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John Passant

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March 2014



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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)



From the Labor Party to the Australian version of the US Democrats?

The push is on to break the link between unions and the Australian Labor Party.

On Sunday morning deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, told Sky News’s Australian Agenda that she supported removing the requirement for all ALP members to be union members in those cases where they ‘worked for themselves, …were retired, or … were employed in jobs that did not lend themselves to union membership…’

This follows on from leader Bill Shorten who during the week said he wanted to more than double membership from 44,000 to 100,000.  However Shorten didn’t paint a grand vision for Labor to do this by shifting the Party to the left, abandoning neoliberalism, adopting pro-working class and humane policies (for example on refugees) and opposing the outright bosses’ party, the Liberals.

Oh no. Labour would double in size by recruiting ‘… a broader base including the small business and science community.’

Maybe the ALP might double in size if it defended workers and attacked the bosses rather than sucking up to them.

Having more small business owners, the same people crying that the minimum wage shouldn’t be increased and that penalty rates are an abomination,  will only push Labor into being an out and out party of capital, both big and small.

Readers will know that I have characterised the ALP as a capitalist workers’ party and that the contradictions at its heart are playing out now in such a way that it is now a CAPITALIST workers’ party.

Its link to workers is through the trade union bureaucracy, a group who are not workers and not bosses but whose role is to retail workers’ ability to labour to the capitalist class. They argue with the bosses over the  value of labour power, not whether our labour should have a price on its head.

The best thing the ruling class in Australia have had for the last 31 years is a union bureaucracy utterly committed to the trickle down view of the world, that what is good for capital is good for labour, as long as we get a few crumbs from the table of the rich.

Nowhere is this more aptly captured than with the example of ALP linchpin and ex-union heavyweight, Paul Howes. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, the bosses’ paper, after he had announced his resignation as head of the Australian Workers Union, Howes said that ‘the only good thing about being in the working class is leaving it.’

He added that ‘when you harness the market in the right way it can be a fundamental force for good.’  Not only that, he thought the market was too powerful for even governments to fight. Talk about a complete and utter capitulation to capital. 

It is in this context – of Labor and much of the union bureaucracy worshipping at the altar of profit – that moves to reform Labor have to be understood.

Take for example the vaunted experiments with ‘democracy’. Bill Shorten beat Anthony Albanese despite Albanese winning 60% of the individual membership vote.  However there is a more fundamental objection to so-called democratisation and community voting exposes that reality.

On her facebook page Tanya Plibersek says:

‘We’re holding a community preselection so members of the community can have a say in who they want as Labor’s candidate for the state seat of Newtown. This is a fantastic new approach that will continue to build Labor’s links with the community. I’ll be hosting a candidates’ forum on Saturday at Club Redfern. Please come along to hear from the candidates!’

In other words in this particular contest you don’t have to be a member of the ALP to pre-select a candidate. This is similar to the open primaries in many US States where both the Republican and Democratic parties have primaries open to all to select Presidential candidates.

One argument here is that in 2008 Democrats crossed over to turn John McCain from an also ran before the voting started to select the 2008 Republican Presidential candidate into a front runner by the time Super Tuesday came around. This is despite that fact that Republican voters in those open primary states favoured Romney over McCain.  The Democrats’ voting in the Republican open State primaries swamped them.

As a generalisation the individual members of the Labor Party are to the left of the elected representatives on most if not all  issues. ‘Democratisation’ of the open primary variety looks like a way of toning down the impact of the already weak influence of the leftish membership on the leadership.

There is also serious talk about breaking the links between unions and the party. Unions provide the base of funding to the ALP and have the majority or large minority of votes at Party conferences and various powerful administrative committees at the state and national level.

Unions link the Party, no matter how thin and indirect the links are, to the working class.

Breaking the link between unions and Labor, opening up the pre-selection voting process to non-members, not requiring members to be unionists are all expressions, not of the democratisation of the party but its Democratisation, ie making the ALP nothing more than another party of the bosses. It is about turning Labor from a CAPITALIST workers’ party to a CAPITALIST party.

This is the end logic of embracing neoliberalism. It flows too from the change in elected member class, from working class to professionals and small business people or uni grad to union research officer or advisor to an MP to union leader to MP.

Despite the illusions the leadership might have in this being a process to attract new active members, it may force those people who want to change the world for the better to leave the ALP (after the fake democratisation reveals its real nature) or not to join it.

The question of Labor linking or not linking to the trade union bureaucracy is the wrong one. The real question is how to build a workers’ party committed to socialist revolution. That task for the revolutionary left involves becoming the place those people in Labor and near it and even more so outside it who want to build a better world turn to and join in that fight. Labor’s neoliberalism and inhumanity help open up that possibility.



Pingback from From the Labor Party to the Australian version of the US Democrats? | OzHouse
Time March 30, 2014 at 10:12 pm

[…] Mar 30 2014 by admin […]

Comment from MarkH
Time March 31, 2014 at 2:12 am

If Labor has never truly been the party of workers which organisations in society have been in Australia?? It seems the union movement themselves have to be the ones to make their own running in standing up for workers.

The Accord may have been wrongheaded but it WAS the union movement that agreed to it with Labor. It has to realise it can’t keep a political party as it’s feifdom while Australians move away from organised labour as their workplace representation.

You say the ALP is looking like becoming the US Democrats….I thought the argument has been that the ALP always was. A party of the union leaders rather than a party for the union members, the workers.

I don’t want a formal end to the links with the union movement…just a recognition that Australia’s demographics has changed since 80’s. ALP membership needs to diversify accordingly. If the ALP had a hand in killing it’s own support base then it has to face up to that as a reality. I’m not sure trying to recapture past glories is the answer.

Also the trend away from mass party membership is reality. It says more about organised politics in general than does about the ALP specifically. The ALP is just another symptom in my view.

Having said that , even as a member of the ALP, I remain unconvinced that either keeping the links OR breaking them will help in the current political climate while-ever the ALP capitulates to LNP talking points on policy grounds. Voters will just go for the real thing instead of being fooled by the fakes.

Comment from Kay
Time March 31, 2014 at 7:39 am

Actually, I had no idea that ALP membership was restricted to those who have union membership. No wonder the ALP’s membership is so low, given the very low union membership in the workforce these days!

I have never joined any political party. I prefer to remain free to criticise any party and to switch votes as I see fit. But during my entire working life I was always a member of the relevant union (it was not compulsory) because I recognised the benefits that unions have brought to workers over the past century or more. But there are many workplaces and situations where unions have no coverage. So none of these people can join the ALP? And what about retirees like me? Retirees can’t join the ALP? No wonder the ALP appears to be unfriendly to retirees, and to be fawning over unions!

As I said, I have no interest in joining ANY political party, but it seems this ALP membership rule is anachronistic and self-defeating for the party. Heavens above – I even know some small business owners and contractors who are very pro-ALP! This article by John just shows how anachronistic socialist views are as well – with its obsession with a distinct dichotomy between “workers” and “bosses”. Hardly 21st century thinking.

Democracy is best served by having at least two opposing and well-supported parties, freedom of speech and the press, and a robust debate on all issues. And citizens are best served by having reasonable choices on who to support at any one time. But then again, socialists don’t want democracy – they want a ‘revolution’.

Comment from Geoff
Time March 31, 2014 at 8:36 am

What is the the official name of the organisation of the revolutionary left in Australia?
What is its postal address?
What is the membership cost?
This information is essential those opposed to the ALP’s betrayals are to organise themselves!

Comment from John
Time March 31, 2014 at 9:24 am

Good question Geoff. There are two main organisations on the revolutionary left in Australia – Socialist Alternative and its paper, Red Flag, and Socialist Alliance and its paper Green Left Weekly.

Both have branches in the major cities and elsewhere.

Comment from John
Time March 31, 2014 at 9:27 am

Labor and the Liberals as opposing parties? Ha! Over details maybe, not over the big picture of neoliberalism on which both major parties agree. What socialists want is extending democracy, into places so far forbidden, like the workplace, so that those who produce the wealth vote on what is to be produced etc.

Glad to see you think the distinction between bosses and workers is so last century. Gina Rinehart is just one of us eh?

Comment from Kay
Time March 31, 2014 at 10:15 am


Once again, very lazy. Of course Gina Rinehart is a “boss”. That’s an obvious example of the many who are indeed “bosses”. (Is that the simplistic, lazy approach you use and expect to win debates?)

However, out in there in the community there are large numbers of those who are definitely “workers” but who also have an interest in the continuing success of capitalism via their reliance on superannuation/pension funds and ownership of company shares. You know, the ‘mum and dad’ investors and those covered by the SG(A)A. Are they simply “workers” who would welcome the destruction of today’s capitalistic society? I doubt it.

Most Australians seem to be doing fairly well under neoliberalism. And your socialist ‘democracy’? It has never come to fruition anywhere yet. And if it ever did, human greed would quickly turn it into a “some are more equal than others” situation. Look at all the regimes around the world that have started out as socialist/communist revolutions with all the best of intentions – and deteriorated into something far more repressive and unequal than democratic capitalism.

Comment from Christopher Derrick
Time March 31, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I’m really looking forward to the Candidate selection Forum and looking at the processes at work for Newtown.

Take plenty of notes !

Comment from Kay
Time March 31, 2014 at 3:56 pm

What happened to my response to you?

Comment from John
Time March 31, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Dunno. What did you say?

Comment from Kay
Time March 31, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Sorry – it has now been printed. Earlier on it wasn’t there even though the later one from Christopher was. All OK now.

Comment from d. l. white
Time March 31, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I always look for a measure of objectivity when I read Books, follow the media or internet comment. From where I sit with splinters in my rear You most often tick the objectivity box and I am pleased to say you are well ahead of the Andrew bs’s and Des hsh’ts of this world. Much more in the vein of Pilger, Klein and Chomsky.
Kay I agree that Aussie seems to be doing OK at least on the surface But how does one explain a current account deficit of 667 billion dollars if our neo-liberal masters of any political persuasion are doing such a good job. All the western so called democracies are collapsing economically and don’t tell me that the greed of the international trading block is not a significant force in this reality. Since the globalised de-regulation of the major world economies International trade has gained control of the world market and so control of the economic wellbeing of every country in the world. If you fail to understand where I’m coming from just read “The Borderless World” by Kenichi Ohmae, A good look at “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein would not hurt either. Make no mistake capitalism is not driven out of altruism, it takes any and every course open and even forces doors to open, sometimes with bloodshed, in the pursuit of profit. Australia’ market place is dominated by the product of slave labour. I you don’t believe this statement I suggest that you Google “free trade zones” Criticisms; then pursue this line of inquiry. International traders buy cheap from these zones then sell dear in the richer countries and siphon off considerable profit in the process. This profit does not stay in our country nor do the traders pay appropriate tax and so we now have a black hole in our balance of payments. Of course there is a great deal more to this picture and I still seek a clearer view but I do care and will continue to make the effort.
Denis L white

Comment from Kay
Time April 1, 2014 at 7:07 am


Fair enough – capitalism is not pretty – very much ‘survival of the fittest’. You make some very valid points here. I guess my problem is that under this very very imperfect system, there are still many millions of people who are managing to live quite comfortably (either by virtue of their own efforts, or courtesy of the welfare state). And actually, more and more people are being lifted out of poverty every year (China is an example of this). If you look back through history, in general people used to be much worse off, often living in subhuman conditions with wide spread starvation. So things overall are much better than they used to be – the trick is to extend the benefits wider and wider throughout the world. Unfortunately, so much of the world is wasting their meagre resources in internal wars and conflicts (the Middle East, Africa) – and despite John’s views, the US is not responsible for most of these conflicts, but human greed and bigotry are.

Yes, many capitalist countries are struggling with huge deficits – the result of the mismanagement of economic inputs versus outputs. I have no doubt that the coming Budget will hit ‘middle class welfare’ fairly hard to start to claw the Budget back from the indulgences of Labor. But it won’t be the end of the world, even for self-funded retirees like myself (we expect to be hit fairly hard). Life will still be very tolerable. My biggest beef with capitalism is the obscenely high incomes received by those at the top of major corporations. I am extremely disappointed that governments, especially Obama, did not have the guts to rein in these obscene incomes when the GFC provided a perfect opportunity to do so.

Maybe the average person only gets the crumbs from the capitalistic table, but my concern is that perhaps these crumbs are better than that provided by any alternative system. I concede that the socialist model sounds wonderful, but it has not worked anywhere in the world. Plus, I have absolute faith in basic human greed. I think that no matter how well intentioned these socialist experiments might be, human greed will triumph and the end result will be worse for more people than the current imperfect system.

I do appreciate your concerns though. And I admire your continued efforts to understand the current world situation. Perhaps I am too focused on enjoying what little I have before I cark it! At my age, life-threatening conditions are always just around the corner.

Comment from d. l. white
Time April 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Kay I sincerely value and appreciate your response to my comments. In my heart I wish that “Socialist Alternative” could become a political force and I share John’s idealism. I take your point about the pre-eminence of human greed however not all people are so disposed. Most people across the planet would just like to survive a natural lifespan and enjoy the journey. If you are under any illusions about the altruism of the American military industrial complex find a copy of ” Killing Hope ” by the American historian William Blum.
To focus on the present situation it seems to me that the current global economic orthodoxy which swept the world in the 1980s has allowed transnational corporate trade to dominate the global marketplace and therefore the economies of most countries in the world. The problem arising from this domination is that these corporations buy cheap from slave labour countries [free trade zones exist in 112 countries] then sell high in the richer western countries. The effect on the poor countries is that they remain poor through competition with each other while in the richer countries their manufacturing and labour base has been destroyed through inability to compete with the slave labour. Historically the richer nations gained their wealth and developed their cultural identities partly by exploiting the resources of undeveloped countries but mainly through mechanisms of protection of their own imperial interests. The current global free market economic orthodoxy has been taken up around the world and caused the removal of these protections, de-regulation in Australia. Global de-regulation has allowed corporate monopoly to thrive on a global scale in place of sovereign determination at a national level. We as voters and our political representatives no longer control to any significant effect our social or economic destiny. Any concept of balance in the social\economic agenda seems to have disappeared and anybody who raises the question is denigrated and isolated from the discourse as if they were caught in the depths of insanity. Meanwhile the population show the classic symptoms of ignorance, hypocrisy and obedience to this status quo.

Comment from d. l. white
Time April 1, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Sorry; on consideration of my further response to you I appear to be guilty of gilding the lily somewhat.

Comment from Kay
Time April 2, 2014 at 5:54 am


I guess we all see the gross imperfections of our current capitalistic system (except if you’re on some obscene income). I just can’t see any practical alternative that doesn’t have the danger of worse outcomes for the majority. I wish I could. In my view, human greed and the lust for power will always prevail in the longer term. But this ‘the rich get richer, the poor get poorer’ process must have some horrific end game if it is allowed to continue unabated. I can therefore understand the attraction to the promises of socialism, especially to the young. I continue to hope that the voting booth will deliver some modifications to capitalism, at least here in Australia, that will curb these obscene incomes and help to equalise things a bit better. Vain hope, I guess.

Comment from Harry Feldman
Time April 3, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Vain hope, indeed, Kay.

It’s undeniable that millions of ordinary workers in the ‘advanced’ capitalist world manage to sustain a comfortable standard of living. But at what cost? Apart from a small number of academics and professionals, few actually derive any fulfilment from their day jobs. Even within such societies, there are plenty who need to choose between food and medication or other such life affirming decisions from day to day. And then there are the billions who barely subsist from one meal to the next. I reckon it’s quite a stretch to suggest that a system that tolerates such a state of affairs can meaningfully be said to ‘work’. It smacks of ‘I’m alright, Jack’. Whether capitalism has indeed lifted more people out of poverty than it has sunk in it is an empirical question that depends on tendentious definitional and measurement issues. From where I sit, it looks like the trajectory is towards more and more poverty with less and less support for the afflicted. That ‘both sides of politics’ in every major economy have adopted a platform of neoliberalism and ‘austerity’ suggests that the slide is likely to continue, whoever anyone may vote for.

Just as undeniable is that few workers are actively contemplating revolution. It’s no secret that ‘the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class’. We have all grown up under capitalism, imbibing what passes for common sense with our mothers’ milk. Assumptions like that the only way to distribute goods and services is through the medium of exchange, that we require figures of authority to guide out actions, that profit is the just reward for industry and risk, that social fictions like family and nation reflect some kind of biological necessity…sneak in below the radar. But even though they are ubiquitous and seldom questioned, they don’t stand scrutiny and are ultimately quite fragile. You have probably observed within your own lifetime fairly fundamental changes in assumptions about ‘women’s role’. What gives me hope is the knowledge that nobody has ever successfully predicted what the last straw is going to be – when people in our millions are going to stand up and shout, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’

Your ‘absolute faith in basic human greed’ may be deeply held and perfectly understandable, but it can’t even form part of an argument. It transpires that even in the here and now, with the tentacles of capitalist relations of production extending into every nook and cranny of the world, societies remain where ‘greed’, as I think you understand the term, does not exist, where, to coin a phrase, an injury to one is an injury to all and a benefit to one is a benefit to all. You may believe me or not, but I have observed this at first hand. Furthermore, even in our very own dog eat dog society, there are those who willingly put their very lives on the line without remuneration – surf lifesavers and bush fire brigades spring most readily to mind – suggesting that naked shortsighted ‘self interest’ is far from the only factor motivating human beings. And it comprehensively undermines the view that human beings, or human societies, are inherently greedy and that we can never build a society without greed.

If you imagine that a socialist revolution is anything other than democratic, then your view of either revolution or democracy departs radically from what socialists mean by those terms. As John points out, what our rulers are pleased to offer us dressed as ‘democracy’ never extends into the workplace or the family, etc.

Comment from Lorikeet
Time April 4, 2014 at 9:48 am

A functioning democracy does not have only 2 parties. That is known as a skulduggerous duopoly working hand in hand for their corporate masters.

I think d. l. white has made some excellent points here regarding the global status quo and the enormous power wielded by multi-national corporations.

Kay is a Coalition voter with a bit of Greens thrown in, due to the fact she has worked in a job or jobs where Greens ideologies were practised in order to rake in revenue for the government and make life hard for Australian farmers.

I would love to hear input from d. l. white on the connection between multi-national companies’ power, the abuse of workers and service recipients, and the superannuation system (which is only super for those on high incomes).

Comment from Kay
Time April 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm


I appreciate the time you devoted to giving a very detailed, well argued and comprehensive response to my comments.

Maybe my scepticism about socialism is too influenced by how the former and current communist countries have been governed. I do know that today’s socialists now disown these earlier efforts at socialism/communism. John calls them “state capitalism”. But I do believe these revolutions started out with the best of intentions, with people having an expectation of fairness and equality. And in the end, all they got was totalitarianism and repression – and much worse. I think George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ summed it up very well.

So, with that history, I fail to see why any future socialist experiment is likely to turn out much better – in spite of all the best of intentions. And I put basic human greed and lust for power as factors in this outcome – notwithstanding the fact that many many people do demonstrate altruistic behaviour, as you describe.

Maybe I am just a pessimist – or, as I see it, a realist. I think capitalism is indeed very flawed, but there are a huge number of people living in capitalist countries that are reasonably content with what they have – at least they have shelter, food and the basic necessities of life.

Sure, most people work to live, as opposed to live to work. Never for one minute of my lifetime was I so happy in my employment that I wouldn’t have quit immediately if I had won Lotto. And most people probably feel the same. But I am unconvinced that a socialist model would provide as comfortable a financial outcome to people as the current capitalist system does – home, car, holidays, welfare safety net, superannuation, reasonable freedom of speech etc.. I’m talking about Australia, of course – and other western capitalist liberal democracies.

I am not aware of any country where a long-term democratic socialist system prevails – devoid of capitalism. And where people live in peace, harmony and fulfilment, with sufficient to satisfy all their needs. Do you?

Comment from Kay
Time April 6, 2014 at 9:36 am


There are a few things I know about you: you are an ex-public servant who didn’t work long enough to accumulate any superannuation (you spent the small amount you did save); you are incapable of understanding the benefits of compulsory superannuation for ALL workers (or maybe you are jealous of those who have worked long enough to have some superannuation, and don’t want anyone to have what you don’t); you agree with the US right-wing militia mentality of a left-wing, globalist conspiracy known as the New World Order, courtesy of the dastardly UN with all its Conventions etc..; you are convinced there is a movement (probably via the UN) to euthanase a large proportion of the population; and you have a hatred of environmental/conservation policies.

Sure, I worked for QNPWS – but I also worked for ANSTO (nuclear research) and CSIRO (fuel and shale oil research). Not always working for “Greens ideology”, but I have certainly had a passion for wildlife and conservation all my life. And this is bad? I have also worked very closely with farmers on mutually beneficial agricultural practices – like significantly increasing crop yields by planting wildlife corridors (it helps to prevent soil and nutrient runoff, and protects water quality, just for starters). Your ignorance about the intersection of farming and the environment is breathtaking.

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