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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

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

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (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. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (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
(0)

Sick kids and paying upfront

(0)

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. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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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.

Rugby League, the National Anthem and Aboriginal peoples

Every year Rugby League has its state of Origin. Queensland plays New South Wales for 3 games over the mid-season. They are intensively competitive games, watched by millions. They are often the best rugby league contests locally or internationally.

The first game this year is on Wednesday 5 June. So what? many of my readers might ask. Well, rugby league can reflect the issues of the day. For example, Origin is steeped in fervent nationalism and starts with both teams lined up, singing the national anthem.

Not this year. Not all players. Four players have already said they will not sing the anthem. They are heroes for taking this stand.

Their reasons for doing so are born of the oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  The anthem does not represent me or my people, one of those 4 players, all Aboriginal or Torres Islanders, said.  Here here.

According to the NRL 12 percent of players in 2014 were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.  Based on Census 2016 figures, the figure in the general population is 3.3 percent, or 786,689 people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

When the Indigenous All Stars game was played earlier this year, not one of the 17 Indigenous All Stars sang the anthem. Not one. Mal Meninga, a very famous rugby league player, Australian coach and an Australian with South Sea Ancestry, supported them.

ATSI people are over represented in the poverty, crime, illness, early death and other figures.  Despite a so-called more enlightened approach to ATSI people now, white capitalism treats them much the same now as it did 50 years – stealing their children, marginalising their communities and destroying their lives.

This is because, as Patrick Wolfe wrote, invasion is a process, not an event. It lives today.

This means the problem is not just the anthem. The problem is the invasion and its lived and living consequences. That means the answer is not just refusing to sing the national anthem, although that is a good first step. It is a good way to introduce the invasion and the indigenocide that followed, and continues.

Indigenocide is a combination of genocide, ecocide and ethnocide of native peoples by the invading settler colony. It is destruction in toto.

The refusal of the Origin Four to sing the anthem is an individualistic response to these great historical truths. It is passive part resistance, bringing the reality of life for most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to a wider audience. Some of that rugby league watching audience might be sympathetic.

The anthem represents and expresses the indigenocide. Replacing the anthem with something better does not challenge the system that is indigenocide. It does however raise these issues. Our focus now could be on whether their teammates – from New South Wales and Queensland – join them.

If white players join the protest, they will be expressing solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and people. It will give us hope we can take the message of indigenocide further, and make the arguments for solutions.

One of those solutions will not be Ken Wyatt, the Noongar man who has just been appointed Minister for Aboriginal People. What better way to continue the systemic indigenocide than have an Aboriginal man appointed to head that Ministry?

It is time for a treaty. It is time to pay the rent. It is time to overthrow the systemic indigenocide of Australian capitalism.

John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Media outlets should contact him if they want to republish this article, to discuss payment details.

Bob Hawke – Australia’s Thatcher

Bob Hawke—Australia’s Thatcher

27 May 2019

Bob Hawke has been lauded for his consensus politics, but he waged a brutal assault on unions and Labor’s own working class supporters, argues Ian Rintoul in Solidarity Magazine.

Conceding defeat on election night, Bill Shorten said, “I wish we could have done it for Bob”. But Bob Hawke, who died just before the election, was more responsible than anyone for Labor’s loss of support amongst its working class base, and the decline of union membership.

There is a reason that Hawke was lauded across the political spectrum, including by the Murdoch press: Hawke was Australia’s Margaret Thatcher. Hawke’s “economic rationalism” was an early version of what is now known, and condemned, as “neo-liberalism.”

The tributes have celebrated Hawke as a man who brought unions and business together and introduced reforms that ensured Australia’s prosperity. But his Prices and Incomes Accord was a blatant wage-cutting exercise. Hawke shackled the unions while his reforms boosted corporate profits.

The floating of the dollar, financial deregulation, privatisation and labour market deregulation dramatically shifted wealth away from workers in favour of big business.

This set the scene for subsequent Labor governments’ slavish embrace of the market.

Even before entering parliament, Bob Hawke had a bad reputation as head of the ACTU. He was known as “the Fireman” because of his role in ending strikes and hosing down disputes. His first loyalty was to Australian capitalism.

Hawke took over as ACTU President in 1969, the year of the general strike to free jailed union official Clarrie O’Shea. Although rank and file struggle was on the rise, Hawke wanted to hold it back.

When Gough Whitlam was sacked as Prime Minister in 1975, workers spontaneously walked off the job around the country. But Hawke told them to go back to work, saying “don’t strike, donate a day’s pay to Labor’s election campaign”. With workers demobilised, Labor lost the election to Malcolm Fraser.

Hawke has been lauded for introducing Medicare, but the story is not so straightforward. Medibank (as Medicare was then called) had been introduced by the Whitlam government. After his sacking by the Governor-General in 1975, Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal government began dismantling Medibank.

Angry mass meetings of rank and file unionists pushed for Australia’s first general strike in July 1976 to save Medibank. True to his reputation, Hawke spent the strike day playing tennis. What could have been a major victory over the Liberals was turned into a defeat that allowed Fraser to dismantle Medibank as a universal health care system.

As Prime Minister, Hawke re-introduced Medibank, now called Medicare, in 1984.

The Accords

Hawke came to power in 1983 with the Australian economy still in turmoil following the end of the post-war boom in the mid-1970s. The country had just experienced its second major recession in ten years. But the union movement remained strong, and was still capable of fighting for significant wage rises.

Hawke set out to break this. With the connivance of most union officials of the day, Hawke introduced the Prices and Incomes Accord, which imposed savage wage cuts far more effectively than any Liberal government could have done.

The Accord also ended the principle that wage rises should be tied to increases in the cost of living, instead demanding increases in productivity through changes that forced workers to work harder in return for pay increases.

Unions that opposed the wage-cutting Accord were savagely attacked. When the Builders Labourer’s Federation (BLF) tried to break the Accord straitjacket, the Hawke government permanently deregistered the union in 1986, and collaborated with the bosses to drive the union out of the construction industry.

In 1989, Hawke used the RAAF to break the pilots’ strike, when they attempted to get a wage rise outside the limits of the Accord.

With wages determined through the bureaucratic Accord process, there was no need to maintain shopfloor union organisation and militancy. This resulted in the beginning of the enormous decline in union membership as it dropped from almost 50 per cent of the workforce when Hawke came to power to 40 per cent by 1990 and 31 per cent in 1996.

The aim of all this was to restore big business profits, massively shifting the economy in favour of the bosses.

The wages share of the economy fell from 61.5 per cent when he took power to less than 55 per cent when Labor lost office, amounting to a transfer of $50 billion from workers to the rich.

By the time Labor lost office in 1996, the average factory worker had lost $100 a week in pay in real terms, and full-time workers were putting in two hours longer a week at work.

Over the same period Labor also slashed corporate tax by 16 per cent from 49 per cent to 33 per cent. This meant it had to hold down government spending and make cuts.

The Hawke Labor Government overturned Whitlam’s system of free tertiary education and began gradually re-introducing university fees, finally introducing the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in 1989.

His government forced through privatisation—including of Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank—and tax cuts for the rich.

Hawke’s record on other issues like foreign policy and Aboriginal rights was no better. In the lead up to his election, Hawke had promised Aboriginal people national land rights legislation, but backed down rather than challenge the mining companies and the Burke Labor government in Western Australia in 1984. 

Bob Hawke attended the Barunga festival in the Northern Territory in June 1988 and promised a treaty with Aboriginal people by 1990. But that promise was discarded as quickly as the promise for national land rights.

Late in his life he was a strident advocate for establishing an international nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land “to solve Indigenous poverty”.

Hawke was also a loyal supporter of US power, offering regular briefings to the US embassy on his Labor colleagues during the period of the Whitlam government. He was also stridently pro-Israel, even calling for the use of nuclear weapons in the event of war with Arab governments.

Bob Hawke took Australia into the First Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq alongside the US in 1990. He bragged about his personal relationship with George Bush Snr and his role in getting Canada to also commit to the war.

Managing capitalism

The Labor Party has always sought to work within the system. When capitalism is booming, it is sometimes prepared to offer reforms to improve people’s lives. But when capitalism faces crisis, it ultimately sides with the bosses and imposes cuts in order to maintain corporate profits and nurse the system back to health.

This means that Labor governments end up attacking their own working class supporters.

For six weeks in May and June 1988, workers in the Department of Social Security (DSS) in Sydney fought against the Hawke government’s proposal to slash nearly 1200 jobs from the Department nationally.

The Hawke government sided more firmly with capitalism than even the Labor governments that had come before it.

Accepting the needs of capitalism meant abandoning many of the ideas Labor had once been associated with—from public ownership of assets to defence of the welfare state and increased government spending on services.

Hawke promised that the pain of the Accord would make workers better off in the long run by creating jobs and increasing the social wage. But after eight years of sacrifice workers were hit with another major recession beginning in 1990. Unemployment reached 11.25 per cent, and didn’t drop below 10 per cent until the middle of 1994.

By the time Hawke was removed as Prime Minister in 1991, his approval rating was down to 27 per cent.

The scale of the anger at Labor became obvious at the 1996 election, when the party was finally thrown out of office after 13 years in power.

Labor Senator Nick Sherry recalled that during the 1996 election mentioning neo-liberal buzzwords like “productivity” and “efficiency” around workers, was, “a good way to end your life”.

Hawke’s loyalty to capitalism never dimmed. As recently as 2014, as the union movement and community groups prepared to fight Tony Abbott, Hawke (and Keating) shamefully urged the Abbott Liberal government to slash spending and speedily repair the budget, boasting that they had made cuts worth $30 billion in 1986.

The unions held gatherings to celebrate Hawke on the eve of the election. But Hawke spent his life upholding capitalism and holding back workers struggle, even attempting to break militant unions.

The Hawke government shows just how much Labor is committed to running capitalism. Bill Shorten had already promised to work “co-operatively and constructively with business”. Shorten was suggesting holding a summit of business and unions after the election—not an actual Accord summit—but something similar.

Hawke’s endorsement of Shorten said that his background as union leader would be an asset, and that it would give him, “the experience to achieve consensus with business, unions and community-based organisations”. Anthony Albanese has also been trying to wrap himself in the legacy of Bob Hawke.

But the “consensus politics” of Bob Hawke meant that the interests of the working class were always subordinated to the interests of profit and the corporations.

The power to change the system does not lie in parliament. It still lies with the workers who walked off the job when Whitlam was sacked and with the builder’s labourers and the unionists who fought against de-registration of the BLF.

In the 1980s, handfuls of socialists opposed Hawke’s Accord and the enterprise bargaining system that it led to. Now tens of thousands of workers understand that the system is broken.

“Voting Labor” was never going to be enough to challenge the inequality that is part and parcel of the capitalist system.

Over the next period we need to build socialist organisation and fan the flames of every bit of struggle—strikes, rallies, demonstrations—to fight for a society that puts human need before the profits of the bosses.

Do not send Assange to the US

As readers would know, I have no love for Julian Assange. I want him sent to Sweden to face inquiries and possible prosecution over allegations of sexual misconduct (e.g. rape.)

I oppose sending him to the United States for any reason. The reality is the ruling class there want to imprison, if not execute, Assange for revealing the truth. The US is a vicious, brutal military machine serving the interests of its own big capital. It is an imperialist power which carries out crimes against humanity, as Assange has clearly shown. See for example his Collateral Murder video.

At this very moment President Trump is considering pardoning a number of US soldiers guilty of war crimes in the countries they have invaded over the last 20 years. He has already pardoned one. So, the intentions of the American ruling class seem clear – destroy anyone who exposes their war crimes, and free those who commit them.

The two messages are clear. By the latest pardon and proposed pardons, Trump is telling his invading troop it is OK to kill innocent people. It is fine, indeed encouraged, for US service men and women to commit war crimes. President Trump will protect you.

At the same time Trump is telling journalists not to expose those war crimes, or else. We will imprison you (or rather attempt to imprison you) under the Espionage Act. Look at what they did to Chelsea Manning for providing the information exposing US crimes to Assange.

She was in jail for seven years. In 2017 Obama commuted her sentence. She has since recently been jailed twice under the Trump administration, both times for refusing to testify against Assange in US Grand Jury investigations into his alleged crimes. She is at this very moment in jail, and will remain there while the current Grand Jury continues its persecution of Assange.

The initial US charge against Assange was one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. On Thursday the US filed 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act.  This Act is normally used against spies or whistleblowers and leakers from the US intelligence members.  Or, I might add, against the left.

Apart from Assange and Manning, for socialists and anarchists familiar with history, those charged and sometimes imprisoned include, according to Wikipedia:

Victor L. Berger, labor leader and five-time Socialist Party of America candidate, Eugene V. Debsanarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, … Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel EllsbergCablegate whistleblower Chelsea ManningWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.’

In other words, the Espionage Act can be a tool to suppress dissent. In Assange’s case it is a tool to punish him for revealing unhelpful truths about the American dictatorship and to suppress others who might be tempted to do the same.

Clearly Assange is a journalist. Bringing secretive government information to the attention of the public is journalism. Indeed Assange and Wikileaks won a Walkley Award from the MEAA, the Australian journalists’ union (my union) in 2011 for their revelations. It was an honour from Australian journalists given to a journalist for great journalism.

The Australian government has been very quiet about defending Australian Assange from US imperialism. Prior to the election Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after Assange’s arrest that he would get the same treatment as everyone else. This is a devious way of saying he will get no help from the Australian government against the US.

This should not surprise us. The Australian government is a partner with US imperialism. That partnership strengthens Australian imperialism in the region.  The Morrison government will do nothing to upset the close military and economic ties it has with the US.

So, while our government is talking about in effect legislating ‘religious freedom’ for anti-gay hate speech, it does nothing to defend free speech. In Assange’s case it supports suppressing it. The Australian government will sacrifice Assange on the altar of the US Alliance.

Assange won’t be the last, as the other victims of the Espionage Act listed above hints at. If the US can prosecute him under the Espionage Act it will be able to prosecute journalists anywhere for the ‘crime’ of revealing US war and other crimes. It will shut down the release of powerful dissenting material.

For example, many mainstream media outlets revealed the Wikileaks material. Will they too be prosecuted under the Espionage Act? Possibly not, but they will likely err on the side of silence in the future.

Trump may have overplayed his hand. In attacking Assange he is attacking the capitalist press. More importantly from my point of view he is attacking you and me and curtailing even further our already limited ability to read about and understand the crimes our governments carry out, let alone report on them.

We must defend Assange against extradition to the US.

Could Jeremy Corbyn lead the Australian Labor Party?

I know. The idea of Corbyn leading the Australian Labor Party is ridiculous. For a start, he is a British MP.  Second, he has his hands full leading the British Labour Party, on the way to possibly becoming Prime Minister in the near future.

But of course, you know the reason why I have framed the question the way I have. After the election disaster on Saturday, Labor’s leader Bill Shorten resigned the leadership. Where is Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn?

Five leading Labor politicians are circling for their chance to lead the party. None of them are Corbyn’s bootlaces.  Instead of a new beginning, whoever leads Labor it will be more of the same conservatism, with a slight whiff perhaps of vaguely left-wing policy. Having said that, the election result has probably killed any notion in the eyes of the leadership contenders of a policy program that makes Labor a target in any way.

Chris Bowen is a New South Wales Labor Right member and the Opposition’s Treasury spokesperson. He is considering whether to run for the leadership.  As Immigration Minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments he ran Australia’s concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

As Treasury spokesperson Bowen drove Labor’s tax the rich, not so rich and some poor people campaign, all to paint Labor as better economic managers than the Coalition. His neoliberal standard for judging this was and is Budget deficits or rather Budget surpluses.

His tax proposals would have bought in billions, not only from the well-off but from others less well off. His minor tax proposals allowed the Coalition to mount a scare campaign about a retiree tax that, apart from being utter bullshit, won votes for the Coalition.

Bowen famously told voters that if they didn’t like Labor’s tax proposals then vote for someone else. They did.

Bowen is not a Corbyn. Unlike Bowen, Corbyn’s program is of nationalisations and taxing the rich to provide support to the rest of society.  And unlike Bowen, Corbyn has never run offshore concentration camps like Manus Island and Nauru.

Bowen’s proposal to abolish franking credit refunds would have hit some less-well off people as well as the rich. I have an alternative suggestion. Tax the rich (and only the rich) till their pips squeak.

Tanya Plibersek is also considering her options. She was Shorten’s Deputy and so she should share some of the leadership blame for the electoral disaster.  She won’t. 

Plibersek is from the NSW Left. Unlike UK Labour, the left in the ALP is virtually indistinguishable from the right. At best they want to be nicer capitalist bastards.  Plibersek is no Corbyn. She, unlike Corbyn, is an insider and hack. She is part of the problem.

Anthony Albanese, who has announced he will run for the leadership is also from NSW Labor’s left.  He has been a key leadership figure for some years, at the centre of Labor’s neoliberal policies and actions for two decades.

In the battle between him and Shorten for the leadership in 2013, Albanese won the membership vote. Shorten won the Parliamentary Party members’ vote by a greater margin to claim the leadership.  The irony is that in terms of electability the Party members were probably a better guide than the Parliamentary members, as 2016 and now 2019 show. The Right’s irrational fear of the soft left drove them to Shorten and electoral defeat, twice.

The other right wingers who might stand are Tony Burke from NSW and Jim Chalmers from Queensland. Both are insiders, not left wing or even outsiders standing on principle, which Corbyn was. They are as far removed from Jeremy Corbyn as Theresa May.

The party that gave us Bill Shorten is about to repeat the mistake and give us someone from the same inbred political gene pool.

As well as the Parliamentary members and Party members 50/50 divide on votes, there are also State and faction considerations. The Deputy likely will come from a different State or Territory and a different faction to the Leader. This makes Jim Chalmers a good running partner for Albanese, or Plibersek, and my guess is they are all trying to work out some deal that has a left/right/NSW/other state outcome and present that as a grand compromise to the Party.  We shall see.

The right will want to keep the leadership. Bowen’s tax policies and the use the Liberals were able to make of them perhaps rule him out. Burke is from NSW so any deputy would have to be from the left and outside NSW. No candidate stands out.

If Chalmers or Burke are not the Right’s leadership anointed (assuming Bowen has too much electoral baggage) then it will be Albanese as leader and perhaps Chalmers as deputy, or Plibersek and perhaps Chalmers. Shorten is backing Plibersek and she is talking with Chalmers about being her Deputy.

I cannot contain my enthusiasm. Another Labor hack to lead Labor nowhere.

No, there is no Corbyn inside the ALP. Might he or she come from outside the Parliamentary Party? As Martin Hirst said:

‘The charming and exciting thing about Corbyn is that despite decades inside the British Labour Party he has not abandoned his Parliamentary socialist principles. Few in the Australian Labor Party hold to or even seem to believe in these ideals any more.

‘Given the seemingly terminal lack of effective left opposition and movement for change inside the ALP, can a Corbyn figure come from somewhere else?’

I had thought long term it might be ACTU Secretary Sally McManus.  I wrote in 2017, based on her fighting words that we had to break bad (industrial) laws:

‘It is early days and they are only words — so far. McManus heads a conservative trade union bureaucracy whose driving philosophy since adopting the Accord with the Hawke Labor government in 1983, and its various mutations over the years, has been class collaboration rather than class struggle.’

Two years later and it appears the old boys club that is the ACTU has won. The Change the Rules campaign McManus spearheaded was basically a meek elect Labor campaign. It failed even at that basic level, and now the bankrupt union bureaucrats have little idea what to do, other than spout platitudes and continue the great mistakes of the past.

I have a suggestion to working class union members. Strike for better wages and in defence of jobs.  Do so, against the wishes of the union bureaucrats.  We need to break the bad industrial laws in place and those coming under the re-elected Morrison government.

Then maybe the struggle will throw up a mild Keynesian like Corbyn, someone who looks very radical because of the rightward shift of Labor’s politics over the last 36 years.

20 May 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the success of rolling general strikes that left wing trade unions organised to free Clarrie O’Shea from jail and effectively destroy the industrial relations penal powers. There is a lesson there for workers, and trade union leaders.

There are many Corbyns out there. Let’s build a working-class movement of strikes and other resistance for them to come forward. And for us to have a chance of reversing 36 years of neoliberal policies and win real gains for workers.

What now?

The Coalition has retained government. At the time of writing on Sunday it has 74 seats, Labor has 66 and various independents and minor parties, including a Green, hold another 6.

Five seats are in doubt with 4 potentially going to the Coalition. This would give it 78 seats in the new Parliament, enough to provide a Speaker and still have a majority.

Of the others, the Coalition can count in any confidence motion on the vote of Katter, Starkie and Steggall at least, giving them enough leeway to survive for a while, before their internal divisions (over climate change for example) pull them apart just as those climate change divisions have been doing since 2009.

How is it possible the Coalition has retained power? I thought after the leadership changes, the infighting, the inaction on climate change, and the stagnation of wages, among other things, that the polls and betting agencies were broadly right about a Labor victory. In my more pessimistic analysis I thought Labor would win 76 seats. I was wrong. Completely wrong.

According to Antony Green there is a swing Australia wide TO the Coalition of 1.5% compared to the 2016 election. In Queensland, at around 3.4%, the swing against Labor is even more pronounced.

On first party votes the swing against the Coalition was 0.7% and against Labor was 0.8%. Despite this the coalition gained 3 seats and Labor lost 4. Right wing parties like One Nation and United Australia Party helped win it for Morrison and co. Palmer’s $60 million in advertising was well spent, for the Coalition.

In Tasmania the swing against Labor was 3.9%. Despite the swing against the Government being 1% there, they picked up 2 seats compared to Labor, who lost two.

On top of that, the swing to Labor in Victoria of 1.8% was not strong enough to deliver any new seats to the Opposition (other than those already factored in because of the redistribution).

South Australia and Western Australia have remained unmoved in terms of seats.

To blame Palmer for the loss, or Murdoch, or whoever, is to blame the symptom for the disease. The position of the Queensland mining branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union on the Adani coal mine captures the problem. In April it demanded Labor candidates in Queensland sign a pledge supporting for coal industry jobs.

The end result of Shorten prevaricating on Adani and sections of the Queensland working class accepting the lie that coal mines mean jobs was a primary vote of 26.7% for Labor in Queensland, a disastrous result. Its national primary vote of 33.3%, itself disastrous, looks almost good by comparison. It isn’t.

Labor has a problem. It is only receiving one in three votes, a result that raises questions about its future direction, if not its future.

The main explanation for the defeat has been that Labor’s policy program was too ambitious. This is nonsense.

It paints a few minor tax changes, some fiddling with greenhouse gas emissions and a bit of spending on cancer patients as momentous. As I pointed out in discussing Labor’s franking credit proposal, Labor’s cack handed seeming attacks on the 1% were more an attack on a range of people including workers and those less well off. They advanced these policies because they are trapped in the logic of neoliberal budget surpluses.

Indeed, being trapped in the logic of capitalism is the problem for Labor. But how could workers vote for their class enemy?

Well, the ACTU Change the Rules campaign reinforced the lie that change comes from above and not from below. Vote Labor and all will be good. It will not.

The quality of workers’ lives under capitalism in a period of global recession depends on the level of class struggle. Low class struggle means low class consciousness. Couple this with an identified trend away from unions the further you move away from the major centres of population and you have a recipe for disaster in places like Queensland.

Strikes and other forms of class struggle challenge the dominant (neoliberal) worldview that your boss is your friend and that strikes do not work or win. They make working class ideas acceptable and show that workers united can win their demands and ultimately run a new world.

In this environment campaigning around voting to change the rules does nothing to inject the one factor that can win a better life for workers, class struggle. To change their rules, break their rules. Strike.

As Australia prepares to enter an economic downturn, there is one choice for the union bureaucrats – class struggle. The alternative is continued irrelevance.

And could Labor win back workers in Queensland for example? Yes, a bold program that rejected Adani, and that promised a decade long transition to renewable energy with pay and jobs for miners and similar guaranteed in the new industry, would be a good start. Tax the 1% to pay for it. But the ALP is not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the UK. It is not even Bernie Sanders.

This is a weak, conflicted government of old white men. It could be dispatched with a big round of class struggle.

There is a choice for workers – class struggle or ongoing immiseration. My hope is that workers organise irrespective of what the grey men and women of the union bureaucracy want and strike for higher wages, to defend current jobs and create new ones and to build a new world based on renewable energy.


Labor to win between 76 and 82 seats?

And so the last day of electioneering and voting has arrived. Thank the gods the 5 weeks of lies, rubbish, obfuscation and vagueness have finished.

Here is a list of seats to keep an eye on. It is based on the latest aggregated odds of 7 bookmakers fielding on the result and taken from information in the Australian Financial Review. Aaron Patrick in today’s Fin says:

‘Betting on seven commercial [betting] markets predicted Labor would win 83 and the Coalition 60 seats.’

It is not comprehensive in the sense that seats with seemingly safe majorities could swing wildly to the other sides or sides. But it at least gives us a guide as to what is likely to happen. Another note of caution. Betting in individual seats is perhaps not strong enough to ensure accurate predictions.

Finally, the Newspoll on Saturday morning in the Australian has it Labor on 51.5% two party preferred and the Coalition on 48.5%

We start off by assuming that because of re-distributions the current state of the House is notionally Labor 72 and the Coalition 73.

Let’s start with Queensland.

Herbert

This is a seat won by Labor’s Cathy O’Toole by 37 votes two party preferred in 2016. It is too close to call. With odds of $1.26 for the LNP, compared to $3.30 for Labor, the bookies have the LNP in Queensland winning the seat. Why? Adani and the lies about jobs for the region. As a pessimist, let’s give the seat to the LNP, for the purposes of seeing who can/will form government.

That means Labor, on this assumption, will have 71 seats, the Coalition 74.

Forde

Forde is held by Liberal Bert Van Manen on a margin of 0.6% in 2016. The bookies have Labor at $1.30 compared to the LNP’s $3.20. Let’s give that to Labor.

So now we have Labor on 72 seats and the Coalition on 73.

Petrie

Luke Howarth holds this for the LNP on a margin of 1.7% The bookies have it as close but favour Labor on $1.66 compared to $2.10 for the LNP. Let’s give that to Labor.

So now we have Labor on 73 seats and the Coalition on 72.

Capricornia

The Nationals Michelle Laundry holds Capricornia by a margin of 0.6%. The bookies have it even stevens at $1.85 each for her and the Labor candidate. Let’s err on the side of caution and give this to the Nationals. No change.

So we have Labor staying on 73 and the Coalition on 72.

Dickson

In Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson we find the Labor candidate, Ali France, on $1.60 and the incumbent on $2.10. Let’s continue being pessimistic and put this close seat into the Liberals basket.

Labor stays on 73 and the Coalition on 72.

Flynn

Flynn is even closer than Dickson, at $.170 for the LNP and $2.00 for the ALP. Pessimism rules. Let’s keep that with the Nationals.

The status quo remains Labor on 73 and the Coalition on 72.

There are other seats like Leichardt, held by LNP member Warren Entsch on 4.0% and Bonner, held by the LNP’s Ross Vasta on 3.4%, which might also be in contention. Let’s assume they remain with the Coalition. So we are still stuck in status quo territory of Labor on 73 and the Coalition on 72.

Can WA help Labor?

Cowan

Cowan is held by Labor’s Anne Aly on a 0.7% margin. This may fal to the Coalition. However the betting agencies have Aly on $1.16 and the Liberal candidate on $4.50. At those odds, let’s keep it in the Labor camp so our count remains 73 to Labor and 72 to the Coalition

Hasluck

Liberal Ken Wyatt holds Hasluck by a margin of 2.1%. This seat could change hands. The odds are $1.44 Labor and $2.90 the Libs. Let’s give this as a win to Labor.

Labor 74 Coalition 71.

Swan

The betting odds have this going to Labor’s Hanna Beazley, the daughter of former leader Kim Beazley. She is $1.50 to win it. The Liberals Steve Irons ($2.35) holds it by a margin of 3.6% so let’s play conservative and keep it in the Liberal camp.

Pearce

Christian Porter, the current Attorney General and future leader of the Liberals, holds this by a margin of 3.6%. The betting ($1.50 for him and $2.40 for his Labor opponent Kim Travers) sees us keep it in the Liberal fold. It remains Labor 74 to Coalition 71.

Stirling

Vince Connolly is contesting this for the Liberals after sitting member Micahel Keenan retired. Keenan held the seat for the Liberals by a margin of 6.1%. The betting agencies have Labor’s Melta Markey at $1.72 compared to $2.00 for Connolly. Let’s play safe, given the margin, and keep this in the Liberals’ camp. 74 Labor, 71 Coalition.

What about Tasmania?

There are five seats up for grabs in Tasmania. Four are held by Labor and one by independent Andrew Wilkie. Two of Labor’s seats are in contention.

Braddon

This is close. Labor’s Justine Keay holds it but her odds at $1.90 are slightly behind the Liberal Party’s Gavin Pearce on $1.80. Let’s continue the pessimistic theme and give this to the Liberals. Labor 74, Coalition 72.

Bass

Bass is the other seat some commentators suggest might be up for grabs. Am I being too optimistic, given the margin in Labor’s favour is 5.4%, and Labor’s Ross Hart has odds of $1.36, compared to $2.75 for the Liberal’s Bridget Archer, to keep this in Labor’s camp? I do not think so. Labor 74, Coalition 72.

I am going to break the territorial approach and look at seats where Independents might win it, or lose it.

Wentworth

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat which at the by-election in 2018 fell to independent Kerryn Phelps. Given the margin is just 1.2% and the fact Liberal voters vented their anger in the by-election last year at losing Turnbull as PM and local member, and with the odds for Phelps being $4.0 compared to the Liberals Dave Sharma on $1.22 I am giving this to the Liberals.

Labor 74, Coalition 73.

Cowper

The Nationals’ Patrick Conaghan holds this seat with a margin of 4.5%. Independent Rob Oakeshott is mounting a strong challenge, and the bookies have him a slight favourite at $1.72 compared to Conaghan’s $1.93. Given the margin, and the odds, let’s play conservative and keep this in the Nationals’ grasp.

Labor 74 Coalition 73.

Farrer

Former Liberals’ Health Minister Sussan Ley holds this traditionally safe seat by a massive 20.5%. It might be in play because of the Murray-Darling Basin disaster. The betting markets have Ley at $1.85 and the Independent Kevin Mack at $.180. This seems too close to call, and given the huge margin, let’s play safe and keep it with Ley and the Liberals.

Labor 74, Coalition 73.

Indi

Independent member Cathy McGowan won the seat in 2016 with a margin of 5.5%. She is retiring and has endorsed independent Helen Haines. Both the Liberals and the Nationals are running candidates in the seat. The betting markets have the Coalition odds at $1.60 and $2.20 for Haines. Let’s give that to the Coalition.

Labor 74, Coalition 74.

Time to turn to NSW. Let’s start with the independent challenge to Tony Abbott in Warringah.

Warringah

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott holds this seat with a margin of 11.6%. Independent Zeli Steggall is putting in a strong challenge. In betting markets she is $1.40 to win, while Abbott’s odds are $2.65. Given the big margin, name recognition, the nature of the elctorate, I am going to play safe and keep this with the Liberals.

Labor 74 Coalition 74.

Labor could also lose a seat or two in NSW. The obvious one is Lindsay.

Lindsay

Lindsay, won by Emma Husar for Labor at the 2016 election, could fall to the Liberals? Why? Husar is not recontesting and the internal Labor battles this highlighted might see some voters switch to the Liberals. Labor’s margin of 1.1% may disappear. The betting markets have the Liberals at $1.64 compared to Labor’s $2.02. It is too close to call, but let’s err on the side of conservatism and give it to the Liberals.

Labor 72 Coalition 75.

The other seats I look at in NSW could fall to Labor.

Gilmore

Former Labor Party president (yes!) Warren Mundine is standing for the Liberals. The angst surrounding the departure of former Liberal member and Turnbull supporter Ann Sudmalis, plus the pre-selected Liberal candidate being dumped by the PM for Mundine and now running as an independent, make this a potential Labor win. Labor is $1.30 and the Liberals $3.00. Those odds are too great, and given the turmoil among the Liberals, and the fact that Mundine is a Labor rat, I am going to risk this one as a win to Labor candidate Fiona Phillips.

Labor 73, Coalition 74.

Reid

The Liberals’ Fiona Martin holds the seat by a margin of 4.7%. The betting has it a toss up, with Labor’s Sam Crosby on $1.80 and Martin on $1.90. By my reasoning there is not enough there in these conservative calculations to give the seat to Labor. So my conservatism means the situation remains the same, with Labor on 73 and the Coalition on 74.

South Australia

Boothby

The Liberals hold Boothby by 2.7%. There is some chatter that it could fall. The betting markets have the Liberals candidate Nicolle Flint on $1.30 and the Labor candidate Nadia Clancy on $3.00 For our election result purposes let’s keep this as a Liberal seat. So the status quo remains – Labor 73 to the Coalition 74.

Northern Territory

Solomon

Again, there is some chatter that Labor’s Luke Gosling could lose Solomon. His margin is 6.1%. Betting markets have him on $1.35 compared to the Liberals’ Kathy Ganley on $2.85. Given the margin and the odds, let’s keep this with Labor.

Labor 73, coalition 74.

That leaves Victoria to decide.

Corangamite

Corangamite after a redistribution is notionally Labor. The Liberals’ Sarah Henderson holds it by a margin of 0.03%. Labor’s Libby Coker is favourite with the bookies at $1.32 compared to Henderson on $3.10. Given the small margin, the redistribution, the swing against the Liberals at the last State election, and the odds, let’s keep this in Labor’s seats. So the running tally remains the same at 73 Labor, 74 Liberal.

Dunkley

The Liberals’ Chris Crewther holds the seat with a margin on 1.0%. Labor’s Peta Murphy is on $1.10 in the betting markets, while Crewther can get you $5.75. This is a Labor win.

Labor 74, Liberals 73.

Chisholm

The Liberals held this seat at the 2016 election with a margin of 2.9%. With a new candidate, Gladys Liu, against Labor’s Jennifer Yang, and betting markets in favour of Lang over Liu by $1.35 to $3.00, I am giving this one to Labor too.

Labor 75, Liberals 72. .

La Trobe

La Trobe is held by Jason Wood for the Liberals on a margin of 3.2%. The betting markets have him at $3.00 and his Labor candidate Simon Curtis at $1.33. That makes it Labor 76, Liberals 71.

This is just enough for Labor to form government. Just. The cross bench – one Green and 3 independents on these figures, will make life very interesting.

Other doubtful seats in Victoria include Casey, Higgins and Kooyong. As part of my worst case scenario I am predicting, with my pessimissm/realism factor locked in, that they all remain with the Liberals.

Deakin

Deakin, held by Michael Sukkar for the Liberals, might also be in play. His margin is 6.4% but his closeness to Peter Dutton calls this into doubt. The markets have him on $1.77 and the ALP candidate Shireen Morris on $2.00. This is close, but let’s leave it for our worst case analysis with the Liberals.

Labor with 76 to 82 seats?

So, according to my rough and ready worst case betting analysis Labor ends up with 76 seats, enough to provide the speaker and a majority on the floor in case of a tied vote. If they can convince an independent to be speaker, they will have an absolute majority.

If I am slightly less pessimistic Labor could end up winning Reid, Capricornia, Stirling, Flynn, Deakin and retain Braddon. This would give it a workable majority in the House of around 82.

The swing will not be uniform and will differ within States and Territories, and between States and Territories. And I may, simple man that I am, have missed a seat or two in contention. And of course there will be surprises across the nation. However, if I were a betting man, I’d put money on Labor winning about 81 or 82 seats, enough to form a workable majority.

If it happens, will a Labor government make much difference to wages?

Of course, a Labor government will make a difference to the industrial landscape. Its minor industrial law changes, plus the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, are welcome. But like much of Labor’s program, they do not go far enough.

Sally McManus has warned that the right to strike is almost dead but then side-tracks us into the ACTU campaign to “change the rules”. Workers need more than words. Change the rules translates to Vote Labor and a Shorten government will fix things up. This ignores a couple of important facts.

There has never been a legal right to strike in Australia. At best, there have been periods when Parliament has allowed strikes but closely controlled them and imposed financial – and sometimes penal – penalties on “offenders”. 

Fifty years ago (almost to the day), John Kerr (yes, that one) gaoled union leader Clarrie O’Shea for “contempt of court” for failing to open up the union’s accounts. The union had had fines imposed as a result of taking industrial action. 

Rolling general strikes across Australia, organised by left-wing unions, saw the fines paid by a rich benefactor and O’Shea released from jail after five days. The employers and the government were too frightened by the rolling general strikes to use the penal powers for some time.

In recent times, both Labor and LNP governments have legislated restrictions on strikes. Paul Keating, for example, gave us Enterprise Bargaining and limited strike capacity to the bargaining period. John Howard gave us the hated Workchoices, built on the philosophy we are all individuals capable of negotiating our own best wages and conditions. 

The Rudd Labor Government’s Fair Work laws were WorkChoices Lite. Among other things, they kept the restrictions on striking, only allowing it in the bargaining period.

Shorten Labor in power won’t enshrine a general and unqualified right to strike in law.

Striking is a key to understanding why wage rises are low today. Outside the bubble of Parliament, women are over-represented in the low paid sections of the workforce and in part-time work. The Morrison Government has done nothing to confront the structural imbalance that is the gender pay gap.

The Labor Party has promised to address this gap. But given the problem is an expression of the capitalist system in Australia it is difficult to see how this can happen without mass strike campaigns led by women workers in female-dominated sectors.

Despite Australia being (according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) the wealthiest country in the world, poverty – which, to continue a theme, is gendered – remains high.

Wages growth has been very low in Australia since 2013. As Greg Jericho and Gareth Hutchens said in The Guardian:

‘… the average Australian household has less disposable income in real terms than when the Liberal/National Coalition took power in 2013. And the major reason is persistent low wages growth.’

That persistent low wage growth helps explain the underlying disquiet with politics and the major political parties. But some people did alright. In 2017-18, profits grew five times faster than wages.  This continues a trend in place since the mid-1980s.

Saul Eslake in The Conversation has helpfully put the wages and profits share of national income since 1960 into one graph for us to see the long-term results:

(Source: The Conversation)

Without radical policies, that trend is likely to continue.

Another key set of figures which help explain the political, economic and social morass we find ourselves in, including low wages, are the strike statistics. In 2018, strikes and other industrial action remained at historic low levels.

Director of Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, Jim Stanford, found a close statistical relationship between the level of industrial action and the growth of wages over time:

(Source: The Australia Institute)

The lack of strike action not only leads to lower wages, but it also blunts our class consciousness and reduces our political awareness. This has all sorts of political consequences, including the long-term trend to fewer first votes for the Labor Party.

Labor’s wish and prayer proposals for a living wage, and for increased wages for child care workers, are welcome, but do not go far enough. Without an unfettered right to strike and workers exercising it, any minor wage benefits Labor gives will be eaten away by the bosses in their war on wages.