The Guardian • Issue #2097


Budget time: Building what? Who for?

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2097

Overshadowed by more important events, the Future Made in Australia plan was meant to be Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Big Idea. It sounds like a good thing. Australia making things again! Renewable energy superpower! Education for the future! What’s not to like? With a Federal Budget approaching, it’s worth having a closer look.

Media reactions to Albanese’s plan have taken one of two approaches: horrified neoliberal, or satisfied centre-left. The horrified neoliberals are aghast at the idea of government playing an active role in the economy. For them Comparative Advantage – countries should stick to what they’re good at, and buy things they’re not good at making – is like the law of gravity, unbreakable. Never mind that if they’d followed Comparative Advantage, Japan and Korea would be making just fish hooks and pickled cabbage, instead of cars, ships, computers, and telephones; governments should not pick winners!

Centre lefties are delighted at the idea of the government taking an active role. They point out, rightly, that the government has always tried to “pick winners.” The Liberal-National Coalition committed us to $9.3 billion dollars for an Inland Rail project that’s still not there, although the cost has since gone up to $31.4 bn. $17.4 bn has gone to private schools, but like military spending, that’s somehow immune to criticism by otherwise hard-headed neoliberals.

Governments always have a role in the economy. When they pretend they’re not planning it, they’re really leaving the planning to the corporate sector. Capital certainly does not mind actively planning an economy in its own interests. The important question is not “Should Albanese take an active role in the economy?” All governments do that. The real question is this: what is he planning to do?

The government says they’re going to spend big on renewable energy. They’re not going to stop spending a lot on subsidising fossil fuel production. Spending on Defence was slipped into the Future Made in Australia announcements. Our children need technical skills for the future for sure, but the ALP, like the Coalition, wants a workforce that can service nuclear-powered submarines for our future role as a US military outpost under AUKUS. Defence Minister Richard Marles recently announced that Australia is going to lift spending on the military to 2.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, the highest it’s ever been.

The Guardian will keep a very close eye on the coming budget, but it’s bound to include colossal funding for AUKUS, and other military projects.

One feature of any plans for the Australian economy is that it’s always about what ‘they’ should do with ‘our’ money. Under a capitalist system, that’s as good as it gets – maybe ‘they’ will do nice things, like building solar panels or fast trains, maybe they will do bad things, like giving our money to the already-wealthy through private school funding, and subsidies to big companies. Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman, has received $840 m in loans and grants to help her company mine for rare earths. For the USA, our ‘progressive’ Labor government builds runways for bombers, bases for foreign troops, and shipyards for nuclear-powered submarines.

A country run by the workers would build for the people, not for the rich. Our parliament is building the future for big capital, for corporate donors, and for the USA. We could have free dental, free education, enough housing, and job security, if working people ran Australia.

Join the Communist Party of Australia! Support the Party and the Guardian! We are working hard for a future where the people choose what gets built.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More