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Thursday, April 21, 2016

From Aged Care to Austerity ; Issues of Concern to Progressives as the Federal Budget Approaches




above:  Scott Morrison will likely bring down an Austerity Federal Budget in May ; But he is taking a harder line on Superannuation Concessions than Labor.  Labor needs to 'up the Ante' on Superannuation Concessions to maintain as much credibility as it can on Distributive Justice.

Dear readers; 

The following letters have been written over the past month ; Most have not been published (except here).  But I hope that here (at my blogs) they will promote reflection and debate.   This time we’re looking at the following:

·        Superannuation Concessions

·        liberal rights and the trashing of Cory Bernadi’s Office

·        Labor and Negative Gearing

·        Life Expectancy for the Mentally Ill

·        Aged Care

·        The Threat of Austerity in the Upcoming Morrison Federal Budget.

Dr Tristan Ewins


Labor needs to up the ante on Superannuation Concessions

Turnbull’s tougher stance on Superannuation Concessions raises the prospect of it ‘outflanking’ Labor on one front pertaining to distributive justice.  The tax concessions threshold stands to be cut back from incomes of under $300,000/year to those under $180,000/year – compared with Labor’s current target of  under $250,000/year.  (‘The Age’, 20/4)  Malcolm Turnbull has wasted much of the ‘small l liberal kudos’ and political capital he had won after deposing Tony Abbott.  To win the Federal Election, Bill Shorten and Labor cannot afford for him to ‘claw it back’.  As a minimum Shorten must now match Turnbull’s policy.  Even better: he must outbid Turnbull on distributive justice ; and the related theme of Budget repair without Austerity. Indeed Labor should welcome the opportunity for a degree of bipartisanship on an issue where its ‘distributive justice instincts’ were already demanding a stronger policy. Richard Denniss of The Australia Institute has projected that Superannuation Concessions will soon cost taxpayers  $50 billion every year : mainly in the form of an effective subsidy for the unambiguously well-off.  (paid by the rest of us)   A responsible policy would aim to cut this expense by half as a minimum; targeting the well-off specifically; and done as soon as is humanly possible.

 

Andrew Bolt was wrong on liberal rights re: trashing of Cori Bernadi’s Office

Andrew Bolt  (Herald-Sun, 21/3) condemns “leftists” and “socialists” for the trashing of Liberal MP Cory Bernadi’s office.  And indeed the tactics of those people were questionable at best.  In a picket line there is a clear physical objective – which can interfere with the profits of a private business – and thus deliver leverage to workers over wages and conditions.  Similarly boycotts of the goods of a country or a specific company can achieve leverage in a comparable way.   But the protestors against Bernadi achieved no leverage over government policy through their actions.  And while Andrew Bolt often agitates for free speech, he appears to have nothing to say about Mike Baird’s repressive anti-protest laws.   The problem with mistaken protest strategies can be that they play into the hands of the illiberal forces (ironically in the Liberal Party) who are now threatening our civil liberties.  A truly liberal and democratic society not only supports free speech – but also defends the right to protest, and even the right to engage in civil disobedience. Those rights are now under threat – and whereas Bernadi abhors ‘Leftist totalitarians’ the real threat to our rights comes from within his own party.


Negative Gearing Changes Just the First Step in Restoring the Australian Dream

Labor MP Andrew Leigh  (21/3)  rightly argued that increasing supply is the key to making housing affordable for more Australians.   Labor’s anti-Negative Gearing policies should encourage a shift to building new properties – hence helping to facilitate that crucial objective. But if we really want to increase supply we need to look at many billions invested in non-clustered public and social housing.  To provide for those people thus enabled to enter the housing market we also need to invest in the amenities and infrastructure provided in emerging suburbs.  Young families need transport and communications infrastructure, hospitals and schools, parks and gardens – to achieve the living standards they need and deserve.   But this is only possible via a significant public investment .   That goes against the grain of the Turnbull Government’s emphasis on cutting expenditure – which sabotages the Commonwealth’s revenue base - and hence its ability to provide for these things.  Company Tax cuts (read: corporate welfare)  are the last thing this country needs to provide for skills, infrastructure, social capital – all necessary for a successful economy and society.

 

Neglect of the Mentally Ill “A kind of Creeping euthanasia”; a Response to ‘The Age’

Catherine Armitage of ‘The Age’(‘A kind of creeping euthanasia’, 11/4/16)   is to be commended on her article exposing the rate at which mentally-ill Australians are dying well before their time.  That is, that the mentally ill (almost half a million Australians with a serious mental illness)  are on average dying 30 per cent earlier than other Australians – not just because of suicide, but mainly because of preventable physical illness.  That is, 9000 Australians dying as a consequence every year. This far outstrips the road toll and suicide rate combined several times over.  With the Federal Election now looming it is to be hoped that this will develop into an ongoing campaign in the Australian media, including in ‘The Age’: a campaign which will not relent until there are comprehensive and fully-funded government programs to ‘Close the Gap’ on life expectancy for the mentally ill, much as there are programs to ‘Close the Gap’ for Indigenous Australia. 

 

Responding to Morrison:  Austerity not the Answer!

Apparently Scott Morrison is under pressure to cut spending in the upcoming Federal Budget rather than raise taxes. (Herald-Sun, 17/4, ‘p 11)  What some people don’t understand, though, it that there is no ‘magic pudding’, and that cuts to health, education, infrastructure and welfare will have enormous ramifications.  Without increasing progressive taxation – which takes more from the rich than the poor – then there are two possible consequences.  Either the quality of services and infrastructure: like broadband, roads, health, education, aged care  – will suffer.  Or there will be privatisation and/or user pays.  There will be more $100,000 degrees.  State schools will suffer – as will our skilled workforce and economy.  And Australia will continue to lag behind in the quality of its broadband.  The problem with this is that ‘collective consumption’ through taxes can actually give voters a ‘better deal’ in their capacity as tax payers than as isolated private  consumers. Medicare demonstrates this.   But the Liberals have an Ideological fixation on ‘ever smaller government’ which defies practicality and common sense.  Supposed Christians like Abbott and Bernadi also ignore an older tradition of Christian Democracy which had no issue with a mixed economy and a ‘fair welfare state’.

We need a strong response on Aged Care ; This needs to be made a top issue in the impending Federal Election

Sarah Russell (The Age, ‘We’re ignoring the needs of our ageing population’, 17/4) draws attention to the under-funding of Aged Care : quality of training, staff pay,  conditions, morale, and numbers of staff on premises.  The result is poor service regarding turning in beds, assistance with eating, dressing and showering.  But the problems with Aged Care and Rights go deeper.  Those in residential care often simply don’t have anything to do but stare at TV and walls all day.  Similarly those ‘ageing in place’ (at home) can be lonely, socially isolated, and bereft of meaning in life. Hence appallingly
high levels of suicide amongst the aged. (especially men)  A common response is for policy makers to throw their hands in the air at ‘the ageing of our population’.  But the current  Aged Care budget  is $17 billion out of a $1.6 Billion economy – or approximately one per cent.  An indexed annual $5 billion/year boost could make a big difference: providing programs for social engagement, purpose, entertainment and mental stimulation, moving away from ‘user pays’, increasing pensions, and providing skilled staff numbers which are desperately needed. – We need an ongoing campaign to make this a top priority in the upcoming Federal election.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Defending the Left on so-called Political Correctness


 
 
Shutting down debate can create a cultural pressure cooker, something which critics of Australian universities dismiss with their glib references to ‘left wing political correctness’, writes Dr Tristan Ewins.


It has become commonplace for conservative commentators to make the accusation that our universities are enthralled to ‘left wing political correctness’ and ‘Marxism’.  But the narrative of political correctness itself can be deployed to shut down debate; such as in right-wing circles where there was once the common dismissal of the Left as promoting a mentality of ‘save the gay whales’. In other words, there existed an insensitive mentality which dismissed the rights and experiences of those of non-heterosexual orientation as nothing but political correctness.

On the Right particularly, there has also developed a narrative around so-called Left elites who enforce political correctness, and who are out of touch with mainstream Australia. Some Left narratives are far from the thinking of mainstream Australia on some issues, although one must not forget that at times in this country’s history, racism, sexism, and contempt towards other minorities was considered mainstream. The shift in this country’s view of minorities and women has occurred only as a consequence of the leadership provided by the Left and Centre-Left.

Specifically, the off-hand dismissal of narratives around the ‘invasion’ of this country can also be seen as reinforcing insensitivity towards indigenous people, and consolidating the kinds of perspectives that reinforced the narrative of terra nullius: the narrative that the continent we live on was unoccupied (or more specifically ‘there was no sovereign state’ before colonisation), legitimising settlement.

On the other hand, the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australia need to be resolved through a process of recognition, reconciliation and compensation. There has to be a point at which the nation moves on together. But this is not really possible, though, without a Treaty process.

“There is demand for critical thinkers.”

Red-baiting and promoting misunderstanding and confusion around Marxism is another common tactic deployed by conservative forces. It is true that an array of repressive regimes identified as Marxist throughout the 20th century. But it is also true that prior to the rise of Leninism and Stalinism, Marxists were the strongest advocates of free, universal and equal suffrage. (Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, much of Europe used a weighted suffrage system which granted voting power overwhelmingly on the basis of wealth, entrenching the control of the nobility and bourgeoisie despite an exploding working class vote for the social democratic parties.) Some of the strongest critics of Stalinism and Leninism were other (democratic) Marxists.

Many democratic Marxist narratives retain force, and do not rest on any totalitarian world-view. At the core of Marxism is the desire for a society based on the distributive principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need”, as well as the aim of empowering every individual to reach their full potential through immersion in the breadth and depth of human culture: from music, literature and art, to sport, philosophy, economics etc. This is a side of Marxism rarely acknowledged by its critics.

Finally, criticisms around employability miss the mark. The humanities and social sciences have long been condemned by those who opposed a critical society: a society which subjects itself to criticism, and does not take Ideological assumptions for granted. For some people, however, there is a technocratic outlook for which nothing matters except the technical demands of the labour market, and the imperative of maximising GDP. That said, there is demand for critical thinkers who can conduct research and criticism, and can express themselves fluently. Sometimes narratives around employability are more about shutting down criticism and pluralism in our democracy.

“It’s time we rejected right-wing narratives.”

To conclude, it is only fair to concede that sometimes parts of the Left do not tolerate internal dissent around their orthodoxies. And the relationship between parts of the Left and the principle of free-speech has become inconsistent and unclear. Pluralism generally means you engage with your political and intellectual rivals rather than just shutting them down. Shutting down debate can create a cultural pressure cooker, which over the long term builds up resentment. Though for instance when faced with a real and present danger of fascism that may warrant a rethink.

Also modern identity politics often revolves around a series of identities – around gender, sexuality, race etc – which are sometimes promoted in a kind of arbitrary hierarchy rather than through an integrated analysis. At the same time, also, parts (not all) of today’s Left have largely abandoned their traditional narratives around economic justice, economic democracy and equality, effectively distancing themselves from the working class and the working poor.

The problem is not so much with the critique of socially-constructed identity so much as it is with the method of an arbitrary hierarchy, and the abandonment of older Left narratives on the struggle for equality, and on the failings of capitalism. Here, though, the commonly-deployed term cultural Marxism is absurd for anyone who has an understanding. It was economics which was at the core of the old Marxist orthodoxy.

It’s time we rejected right-wing narratives around so-called political correctness. Ironically these very narratives shut down debate. They promote exactly the same kind of distortion and intolerance that so-called Left elites are accused of engaging in by the conservative Right.

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