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Issue #1805      November 29, 2017


Hooley dooley, rightio!

Last week a member of the federal cabinet secretly sent News Corp minutes of a meeting in which cabinet had discussed implementing an official inquiry into the avaricious conduct of Australia’s big banks. Holding an inquiry is part of Labor’s platform, but the government has defended the banks and maintained cabinet unity on the issue. However, many MPs are nervously aware of simmering public resentment concerning the banks’ long record of ruthless loan agreements, low interest on customer deposits, unjustifiable transaction fees, the sacking of branch staff, branch closures and many other issues.

Some backbench coalition members favour establishing an inquiry, and National Party member Barry O’Sullivan has even drafted his own bill to do so. The cabinet has so far refused to consider the idea.

However, according to the leaked document, one coalition MP has said that if Liberal MP John Alexander is beaten at the coming Bennelong by-election, “all bets are off”, i.e. Turnbull will face a leadership challenge and rebellious conservative members may cross the floor to vote in favour of a bank inquiry. The reasons for the split don’t simply lie in the toxic personal relationship between the Prime Minister and his predecessor, arch-conservative Tony Abbott, nor is the banking inquiry the only issue involved.

Conservative governments serve the interests of big capital by helping corporations maximise the exploitation of their workers and by privatising public services. Yet parliamentary battles don’t only concern the struggle between labour and capital, or the contradiction between private and public interest. They often reflect global conflict between blocs of capital, which may result in divisions within conservative ranks, with outcomes for a wide range of seemingly unrelated issues.

For example, marriage equality might seem to be a matter of personal conscience. Yet the battle within the coalition over this issue reflects a major corporate struggle that has preoccupied the government to the virtual exclusion of other important issues since Turnbull seized power two years ago.

Abbott’s ultra-conservative faction, which opposed marriage equality, is determined to preserve the dominance of the fossil-fuel industries, particularly coal, in energy generation, and to slow down or even halt the rising influence of corporations involved in renewable energy production.

Before he became Prime Minister, Turnbull indicated he was concerned about climate change and willing to back the rise of renewable energy. Yet in order to hang on to power and avoid a major split within Coalition ranks he’s had to placate the Abbott faction repeatedly, most memorably by trying to force energy corporation AGL to keep the aged, vile and nearly crippled Lidel coal-fired power station in operation well beyond its official 2023 closure date.

In a further concession, the government implemented the marriage equality survey, rather than opting for a parliamentary conscience vote, and is currently considering introducing legislation concerning religion that may contradict current anti-discrimination laws. But the appeasement strategy hasn’t made the energy issue go away. During the Queensland state elections coalition candidates were dogged by demonstrations protesting over coalition support for the massive new Adani coal mine.

Last week billionaire mining magnate Gina Reinhardt awarded former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce $40,000 for being a good farmer. Joyce, who was recently forced to resign and fight a by-election because he violated constitutional law, was delighted. “Hooley dooley, rightio!” he exclaimed, declaring he would use the money for his farm. However, he subsequently hurriedly declined the award after he realised that his constituents, many of whom are farmers enraged at the prospect of government-approved coal seam gas mining in their vicinity, might interpret the prize as a reward for services rendered to the mining industry.

And last Thursday, rather than facing a parliamentary defeat because of defections from his own ranks over the proposed banking inquiry, Turnbull closed the House of Representatives until the commencement of debate on the marriage equality bill, which from next week will claim the House’s attention for the rest of the year. Some 53 bills on crucial issues (including child abuse) are now in abeyance as a result.

These events provide blatant evidence of corruption. The lesson is that if you want honesty or good government you have to put into government a party or coalition that isn’t beholden to the big corporations. There’s no other way.

Next article – Kentucky Fried health care

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