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Issue #1916      May 25, 2020

TRANSLATING THE POLITICAL SPIN

Governments and politicians spend millions of dollars on spin-doctors and other professionals to train them on how to handle the media and avoid saying what they really mean. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Economic Statement delivered to Parliament on 12th May 2020 is a fine example of political spin coaching unpopular measures in soft language.

A number of commentators described the statement as anaemic, but was it? The following are some extracts with explanations in plain English:

“Temporary and targeted, the new spending measures […]”

The term “targeted” suggests fairness, but there is nothing fair when it means more than two million workers are deemed ineligible for JobKeeper – casuals, certain categories of visa workers, gig economy workers, etc. Targeting means exclusion, not fairness.

As for the temporary nature of JobSeeker, there is nothing fair about restoring the unemployed to $40 a day in September. Nor should free early childhood education, which the Prime Minister insists on calling childcare, be a temporary measure.

MAKE THE PEOPLE PAY

“Australians know there is no money tree.”

“What we borrow today, we must repay in the future.”

Frydenberg is saying the people will pay. The “we” does not include big business or the rich. There will be austerity measures with cuts to social security payments, wages, public sector jobs, services cut, public health and education spending, community services and the arts.

The focus is on restoring the budget to surplus and big business profits.

“While there will be a significant increase in Government debt which will take many years to repay, our measures have been designed in a way that protect the structural integrity of the budget.”

Protecting the “structural integrity of the budget” means when the government withdraws its temporary payments to the unemployed and stood down workers; reverts to the $40 a day unemployment allowance; and end free early childhood education.

It will be a rapid return to its neoliberal agenda with balancing the budget a priority.

CAPITALISM WITH A “HUMAN FACE”

“For households, our actions are designed to ‘cushion the blow’ from the income shock and support consumption across the economy.”

It is true that the government’s three packages have the aim of supporting consumption and cushion the blow – but it is the blow to business, not workers and their families.

“We effectively doubled unemployment benefits with the introduction of a temporary $550 coronavirus supplement for jobseekers.”

If the government were doing it for the benefit of the unemployed, then it would not be temporary. It is to stimulate consumption as just stated.

“So many of our fellow Australians, through no fault of their own, are struggling and doing it tough.”

The implication is that those who were unemployed before COVID-19 were in that position due to their own behaviour and so less deserving. Hence the lesser amount of $1,100 per fortnight for them as compared with the $1,500 JobKeeper payment. It is a repetition of the same dole-bludger line that governments and shock-jocks have trotted out for decades.

There are two types of unemployed – COVID-19 “deserving” and pre-COVID-19 “undeserving.”

“We waived the waiting period, adjusted mutual obligation requirements and expanded the partner income test to ensure it reached those in need.”

If the unemployed are in need now, then they were in need before the economic crisis and they will still be in need in six months time and post-crisis. These acts of apparent humanity are not done out of concern for the well being of victims of the capitalist system.

Anyone on $40 a day is “in need” regardless of any virus.

LOOKING AFTER CORPORATE INTERESTS

The aim is to boost consumption at a time when businesses are collapsing.

“An early childhood and education relief package of over $1.6 billion will see over one million families receiving free childcare.”

“ […] the opening of schools will contribute nearly $2.2 billion”

These are also measures to boost consumption by getting parents back work.

“The motivation has been to encourage investment, boost cash flow, [...] and [provide] more workplace flexibility while preserving as much capacity across the economy as we build a bridge to the recovery phase.”

In practice, “workplace flexibility” only functions in one direction – in favour of bosses having more flexibility over wages and working conditions without a say or intervention by trade unions or workers.

“Unleashing the power of dynamic, innovative, and open markets must be central to the recovery, with the private sector leading job creation, not government.”

The government was forced to rely on the public sector to handle the health and economic crises. Much of the economic growth that has kept the Gross Domestic Product above zero in recent years was the public sector.

Governments should plan and have control over markets, not the private sector. Australia’s oil reserves are classic example. Why should the private sector build facilities and store oil which might not be sold for years? They won’t.

Capitalist markets (monopoly capital) go where quick, maximum profits can be found and not where people’s needs are. For example, when pharmaceutical products are researched and produced, the aim is private profit. As a result, Big Pharma is not interested in diseases that are endemic in countries where the mass of the population cannot afford to pay their inflated, monopoly prices.

Thousands of people are sleeping rough because of a lack of affordable housing – a result of privatisation of public housing stock and abdication of responsibility of governments.

The government plans further privatisations including government agencies – using the excuse that the budget must be balanced which is a load of codswallop.

“Fifth, continue to grow the economy, create more jobs, guarantee the essential services Australians rely on and keep Australians safe.”

This is the fifth point in the government’s much-heralded five-point plan. It is stale rhetoric which tells us nothing. Privatisation will not guarantee essential services. Spending $40 billion a year on the military, fighting the US’s wars and supporting the US military-industrial complex will not keep Australians safe. But it will rob Australians of essential services as the government attempts to plug the hole in its budget.

NEOLIBERALISM

“The values and principles that have guided Coalition reforms in the past must guide us again in the future: encouraging personal responsibility; maximising personal choice; rewarding effort; and risk taking whilst ensuring a safety net which is underpinned by a sense of decency and fairness”

“Encouraging personal responsibility” – the government is abdicating its responsibility for the well-being of society. It is about self-reliance, self-provision, dog-eat-dog, small government, and a shrinking social security system.

“Personal choice” – a version of “blaming the victim”, such as it is the fault of the unemployed themselves if they are unemployed as if it is a “personal choice” to become unemployed. Capitalism relies on a reserve of unemployed workers to keep the lid on wages and working conditions. There will always be unemployment under capitalism.

“Rewarding effort” – if you are poor, then you obviously didn’t make enough effort. You are hardly deserving of a hand up. You are clearly a “leaner”, not a “lifter”, to quote former Coalition Treasurer Joe Hockey.

ATTACK ON WORKERS

“The proven path for paying back debt is not through higher taxes, which curtails aspiration and investment, but by growing the economy through productivity enhancing reforms.”

Consistent with its neoliberal approach and past practice, corporate taxes will be reduced, likewise for the wealthy. For every billion dollars reduction in company taxes another billion is added to the budget deficit. This makes it harder to achieve the government’s holy grail of a budget surplus.

The aim is to boost profits and line the pockets of executives and shareholders (mostly overseas). Any new investment will be either offshore or if it is in Australia, it will be in job-destroying technology. It is the tired old neoliberal “trickle down” policy that delivers little if anything to workers. But it means the government will clobber social security recipients and public servants with billions of dollars in austerity measures and cut funding to the states. An increase in or expansion of the GST is not out of the question, despite government denials.

“Reskilling and upskilling the workforce […]”

This might be credible if the government had announced additional funding and abolished fees for TAFE and universities. Without some concrete measures, it sounds as though the plan is to rely on visa workers.

“ […] cutting red tape to reduce the cost burden on businesses and the economy […] ”

“Cutting red tape” is a euphemism for deregulation – in the workplace and in industry such as for building and food standards.

“[…] and tax and industrial relations reform as a means of increasing our competitiveness.”

Tax reform is a cover for cuts in the taxation of corporations and the wealthy.

The reference to “industrial relations reform” is euphemism for union-bashing, for even harsher, punitive anti-union laws than exist now. The government and employers’ agenda is a life without unions unless they are yellow company ones.

The drive to increase competitiveness means reduce the cost of labour – wages and occupational health and safety conditions – to the same level as in third world countries and slash corporate taxes. Once again the aim is to increase profits at the expense of workers.

This statement sends clear messages to the big end of town that the new normal will be neoliberalism on steroids. It is a signal to workers and the wider community that they face a massive onslaught if they do not mount an all-out offence against the government and their big business mates.

Perhaps this statement was not so anaemic after all!

Next article – THE MILITIAS IN BRAZIL

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