I’ve been fairly harsh on the UK and the US because I like focusing on what neoliberal economics does to a country. The UK under Thatcher and the US under Reagan have brought about wonderful case studies in the harsh results of late-stage-capitalism, if you know where to look and you’re wearing the right pair of glasses
But at the end of the day I still call Australia, I still call Australia, I still call Australia home. Our descent has been slower, and far more insidious for it. Famously we weren’t hit all that hard by the 2008 global financial crisis, at least not compared to all sorts of other people all around the world. Greece, for instance. What’s been advertised as slick financial policy, though, has just been a steadier hand on the Jenga tower.
Ours is no less wobbly, we’ve just kept it from falling until now.
The US has concentration camps for children? We have island lairs. The UK is sabotaging its public infrastructure to ‘prove’ that government can never be as efficient as private entities? I could be boring and point out Telstra and the NBN cuts, but instead I think I’m going to point out we’ve been doing that to our welfare system to make it as unusable as possible.
So let’s talk about the biggest issues that are affecting Australians right now, that most Australians couldn’t tell you. I know, because I’ve asked.
Our right wing party, the Liberal-National Party or L/NP take massive fundraising donations from the mining industry. It’s no wonder, then, that the entire country is sacrificed on a carbon altar for them.
In 2014, the government ended a mining super-profits tax which has cost Australia 7 billion per year in revenue, money that has come out of the pension fund. Australians are expected to lose $100,000 from their retirement funds over the course of their lifetime because of this decision.
Youtuber FriendlyJordies – how blessed are we to live in an age of actually independent journalists on tap? – asked Queensland analysts what the center-left Labor party had done in its first term in office. He summarizes the exchanges as boiling down to:
“So what has Labor accomplished with its first term?”
“Try to reverse the damage the L/NP did while they were in office.”
“It doesn’t sound like they did shit?”
“I don’t think you understand just how much damage the L/NP did.”
This included cutting 14,000 teachers, firefighters and nurses, and using the money from public downsizing to spend on coal exporting.
That 4,000 staff cut from hospitals was a huge one, too. Our hospitals and staff are great, sort of, but there isn’t enough of them. They try, but they’re full beyond capacity. Normally I’d avoid anecdotal evidence wherever possible, but I’m in a rather good position here. When my appendix got infected earlier this year, I had to wait over two hours to see a doctor after having a GP sign off that, yes, I had all the appendicitis warning signs and it was an emergency. I wasn’t allowed to have painkillers until I was cleared by a doctor. I arrived in the hospital on Saturday night, and it wasn’t until Sunday night that I got allocated a room, and Monday morning that I was able to have surgery. I had to spend about 24 hours, with a badly infected appendix, waiting in the emergency area because there simply wasn’t the staff to take care of me.
While I managed to get some fantastic people-watching experience in, by the time I actually had my surgery my appendix had necrotized and burst, making the surgery that much worse than it had to be.
So where did all that money go?
Well, a billion-dollar loan to the Indian mining company Adani to build the largest coal mine in the world in Queensland, despite Aboriginal land right disputes. Actually, adding amendments to undermine laws made specifically to make it harder to screw over Aboriginals out of their land, because keeping those laws would just be inconvenient.
The mine is projected to cost $4.2 billion dollars, of which the Queensland government under Campbell Newman tried to cover most of during a time when the price of coal halved, and hasn’t since recovered.
Everything here seems to come back to mining, in the end.
The Liberals will keep banging the drum over the importance of mining to the Australian economy, and there are three ways to look at it:
The first is that it’s 60% of the value of Australia’s exports. This seems to be the number that justifies the gutting of Australian welfare and public service on the carbon altar. But that’s just one way to look at it.
The second is its total contribution to Australia’s GDP, which is only 8%.
The third is its total employment. It only holds 2% of Australia’s workforce.
If you’ve been following these articles for a while, now, it shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to walk you through the steps of what’s happened here. First thing’s first: Take it for granted, for a moment, that things are structured currently so that financial capital can be used as a substitute for political capital, through lobbying, media coverage and the like, right? Cool.
Mining has 8% of the GDP with only 2% of the workforce, meaning it’s a lot of money shared between very few people. Better than that, it’s heavily capital dependent, relying heavily on land rights and machinery, meaning most of the money goes to the least amount of people possible. As a result and we see a lot of legislation happening to support it, even when it’s against the majority’s best interests. It should be no surprise that the mining industry is one of the largest political donors in the country. Mining entrepreneur Paul Marks donated $1.3 million to the Liberal government in 2016, which allowed him to sign otherwise-shady deals with Chinese state companies. For reference, the value of all individual political donations that year was put to only 6.5 million. It means a full third of the Liberal Party’s donations from individuals came from a single mining magnate.
By this logic, then, the more a group donates to right wing political parties, the harder they’re trying to screw over the general population for private interests.
Mining, as an industry, spent 1.8 million on donations, outspent only by the finance industry (2.7 million) and the property and construction lobbies (3.5 million). If that’s how bad the country is being sold out for mining interests — and I’m going to come back to that when we start talking about the environmental impact — then logically we’re somehow being screwed over worse by banks and property developers, right?
I’m going to say something I don’t normally say: I think I’ve talked enough about banks and private capital for the moment. A royal commission begrudgingly found that our banks were doing awful, awful stuff but that’s not really a surprise, is it? It’s the usual stuff you know the banks are doing that’s totally illegal but they’ll never be punished for anyway, the usual embezzlement and fraud and petty criminality.
To make our priorities blatant, the Australian government spent five times more on the plebiscite vote for gay marriage, when polls showed 72% in favour, than it spends annually on banking regulators. It prioritizes spending money on hate groups to give them an equal representation to the LGBT for a few months than it does on… curbing the criminal activities of its second-largest donors, yeah that makes sense.
What’s far more interesting is our real-estate and property industries, which as an industry spend nearly double what mining does.
Let’s talk about Jonathan Sri. He’s my local representative for the Green party, our lefties, and is an absolute bloody legend. Jonathan Sri is not only the first Greens councilor in Queensland, but he’s also a saxophone playing spoken word poet. He’s actually been labelled the “Rapping Rainbow Scarf Man”, and he lives on a house boat so he can afford to donate half his pay to charity. Actually, when he was asked about that, he said;
“It’s about practising what I preach. Our housing policy for the state election was really reasonable. It’s solid policy but because it’s a challenge to the property industry and the political establishment you’re attacked.”
I mention him because he’s written the best article I can find breaking down the predatory property market in Australia.
You see, despite our wide open space full of nothing, land is at a premium somehow, especially around the cities. In general we pay a higher ratio of income-to-rent than London. The only country on Earth with less affordable housing is Belgium. The solution, we’re mostly told, is more private housing.
More private housing, says the government, as the property developers donate more to their campaigns than the banks and the mines.
In Queensland, 20,000 homeless and 29,000 waiting for housing assistance is already a problem. What we also have, though, is as many as 19% of homes being kept vacant by property developers to keep prices artificially high on the houses that are sold.
When new property is built, it’s bottlenecked to keep prices high. In Sydney, house prices have gone up 70% over the last five years, the median price increasing by $500,000 and now many of the lowest earners have to spend more than 30% of their income on renting, with home ownership looking out of the question for people before their mid-thirties.
That means that it’s harder for people to move from renting to home-ownership as well. What this means is that fewer people are benefiting from house price increases as more are forced to rent: Spending more of their income on somebody else’s asset.
The state of Victoria is currently trying to combat this with a 1% tax on the value of vacant homes, but it’s not federal yet, and I’d be surprised if it’d be enough on its own.
So what is the government doing? It’s looked at the housing bubble – and it is a bubble – and realized that it’d be a huge problem to property owners if the housing market were to crash to prices sustainable to current incomes. It’d be devastating to property developers and asset owners, who are also their largest campaign donors. However, housing prices continuing to go up into unaffordable levels means… well, it’s harder to buy them, isn’t it?
It’s said that to be liberal is to hate the problems but love the causes. I think the meaning of that phrase is best conveyed with the practice of negative gearing in Australia. Huge tax breaks and government-leveraged loan programs are set up for first home buyers, which is sweet. Government will make it so that you can afford to buy the house.
Here’s the problem though. It needs to do that because of how high prices are, and by doing this it makes prices artificially affordable at these levels. That’s the whole point of the practice.
As a result, the government is spending a gut-busting sum on providing housing only to the people wealthy enough to be able to afford the housing with those subsidies. It means everyone’s tax dollars are being spent on making housing too expensive for most people, and giving it to the only people who can afford it. It’s robbing from the poor to give to the rich.
The government spends $6 billion dollars a year on negative gearing subsidies, no tax breaks for renters, and recently halved capital gains taxes to the tune of a loss of revenue of $6.5 billion per year accessible only to society’s wealthiest, meaning $12 billion a year is being spent on allowing developers more profits on an inflated housing market while only $9 billion a year funds Australia’s entire higher education system.
The Greens plan would be to spend that $6 billion a year on housing projects, making 20,000 affordable government houses per year until 2050. It’s been called a radical plan, but honestly, that’s the amount the government would need to spend to break the property cartel. The plan would largely be subsidized by the rent income from the portion of the housing not dedicated to social housing, and increases in mining royalties.
Again, we come back to mining. We always seem to.
I think we have enough context now to explain the situation with the Great Barrier Reef foundation.
After reading all this, you’d probably be surprised to learn that the Liberal National Party spent $444 million dollars on a protect-the-reef charity, the Great Barrier. I know I was. Heck, I couldn’t believe it. No, really, I couldn’t actually believe it, and neither could a lot of people.
It turns out that money was given as a no-compete, no-bid awarded contract. It turns out the Foundation only had six full-time employees at the time the half-a-billion was given to them in a lump sum, upfront. It turns out its founders come from the fossil fuels industries, either energy or mining executives. It turns out only the Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, his assistant, and the head of the foundation were at the meeting where all that money was given. It turns out that meeting was supposed to be secret. It turns out the Foundation supposedly didn’t know about the meeting until it happened, a pleasant surprise. It turns out there was no due diligence or stipulations on how that money was to be spent. It turns out that its fundraising track record is tens of millions from fossil fuel executives. And it turns out those donors are also huge Liberal party donors and supporters in turn.
Of course, the Greens and Labor trying to get the money back is allowing the Liberals to taunt them with; “But I thought you cared about the environment!”.
They do. You don’t. Of course this is shady. The CSIRO — our widely respected branch of scientists — is panicked about all this money going to overhead costs on executives who are, again coincidentally, Liberal party donors.
And nobody I’ve asked here has heard about it. Nobody. Blows my mind.
Well, it doesn’t really. We’ve also been imposing a lot of harsh anti-journalism laws lately.
According to The Conversation, “Australia is a world leader in passing the most amendments to existing and new anti-terror and security laws in the liberal democratic world.”
It shouldn’t surprise you. It wasn’t that long ago that popular protest was the only thing that stopped border security doing random stop-and-searches for anyone ethnic looking to check their VISA and deport them immediately.
New laws being put forward include such charming measures as 10 years jailtime if you don’t unlock your phone for the police, 20 years jailtime for obtaining whistleblower documentation, unlawful searches if you plan to protest mining (while at the same time mining without a permit has changed from a $1 million fine to a $5000 notice), and a new espionage bill means it’s now trivial to be charged with a five year treason sentence for protesting mines.
Activist group GetUp sent out this pamphlet, and having read through the bill myself, I have to say many of these conclusions are plausible. While some of them are unlikely, the law as-written does make these sentences possible, which is fairly chilling.
Laws like this have already had an effect on making it harder to report on our offshore concentration camps, which are still a problem.
I’m not using that term lightly, either. mass hunger strikes might be the beginning, but four people sewed their mouths shut in protest of the slave-like conditions. These are people, mind, who have been charged with no crime, and have attempted to seek asylum in Australia. Seeking asylum is not a crime.
We make deals with buffer nations to prevent them from coming here and turning back, and doing some extremely shady illegal stuff to have them sink the boats before we resort to these offshore penal colonies. The politicians responsible say it’s the Australian thing to do when, bloody hell mates, I think you need to chuck a squizz at our national history a little bit harder.
It also helps that News Corp owns half the continent. We’re Rupert Murdoch’s spawning grounds, after all. As a result, you see the Liberal Party spend $30 million on Fox Sports, the champion home of SportsBet. This is done while cutting $43 million from the ABC’s journalistic divisions and freezing their spending.
We have fantastic public broadcasting at the ABC, which is where many of the citations here either came from, or my citations referenced them. They’re honestly really good. However, it’s competing against the majority of Australia’s news, much of which comes under News Corp in some way, which is… well, “The Daily Mail, but bogan” is the best way to put it.
What do they have to say about Australia’s beloved “Aunty”?
This publication is, of course, glowingly supportive of the Liberal party, and muck-raking of the lowest order.
And about SportsBet. Australians lose $24 billion to gambling annually, or $1300 per person, per year average. No wonder VICE was so eager to expand their territory here… or possibly just because Rupert Murdoch owns them, too, now.
As a result, we’ve been investing heavily in working out what drives Australians to these vices, and are working to… I’m just kidding, it’s hugely profitable, so we’ve been clearing the way for new luxury casinos.
Most of you reading this aren’t Australian, so there’s the obvious question: “All of this was very interesting, but how does this affect me?”
Australia is a first world country with a Banana Republic economy. An over reliance on tourism, natural resources and shady banking practices is the hallmark of a developing nation, not a developed one. We’ve paid lip-service to trying to make a more exportable culture industry, but our film industry is so badly mishandled that “Made in Australia” is a sign of a failed product, and we bankrupted all our video game studios like Pandemic and Team Bondi.
We went from being responsible for the Matrix to being accountable for Ghostbusters. American producers call the Australian film crews “white Mexicans”, according to some of my friends who worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean set.
So what have we been doing to try to diversify our economic portfolio?
Sure, that’s what we needed, gun running and drug dealing.
The purpose of this has been to turn Australia into a resource pit for other countries. We were once a scientific capital of the world. No, no really. We were huge innovators in medicine: Ben Carson did his residency here, we invented the cochlear implant, the pacemaker, and industrialized penicillin. We were leaders in aerospace, it was Australia that got the radio back from the Apollo astronauts, and it was Australia that invented the RAM and SCRAM jets
Now we’re massively defunding universities, completely defunding technical colleges, and sabotaging all attempts to improve internet infrastructure to a usable level.
Australia’s interests are basically being sold out wholesale overseas. Rather than working to develop our industrial sector, more and more money is being taken away from those areas and put into raw resources. We’re now second only to Saudi Arabia for emissions, and worse than Kazakhstan in education. We’re only doing better than Romania and Turkey.
And as long as this trend continues, Australia is going to be forced harder and harder into being the geopolitical equivalent of a shady dude offering black market goods from a battered white-panel van in a middle-class suburban mall parking lot.