Last night, the ABC TV program Lateline included a segment where presenter Emma Alberici interviewed one of the senior members of the Australian ruling class, Michael Chaney.
Unlike some of the buffoons belonging to that class, Chaney is urbane, charming, personable, pleasantly-spoken, articulate and oh so reasonable. His formative years were spent at Aquinas College, which, together with his family, can take credit for grooming and nurturing these qualities.
Speaking of family, Chaney’s father Sir Fred was a member of the reactionary Menzies Cabinet, while one brother was a conservative Senator, and another is a Supreme Court judge. Michael Chaney is in business, is Chancellor of the University of WA and heads a federal government advisory body on international education, so the family embraces capital, politics, education and law in its areas of influence.
The Lateline segment can be viewed here (http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3748800.htm) and there is also a transcript of the interview. It is worth watching at least a portion of the segment just to get a feel for how smooth, how unassuming, modest and refined is our ruling class member Chaney.
But perhaps I’m concentrating too much on the person. After all, if this were a diatribe against Clive Palmer or Gina Rinehart or Twiggy Forrest a myriad of bourgeois voices would demand that we “play the ball and not the man/woman”. So what did he say?
Firstly, Chaney was asked for his opinion on the National Insurance Disability Scheme.
“Well, you know,” he began, “there are many causes that people would like covered. I mean I don't think many people in our community would deny the worthiness of that cause. The Opposition supported it, the Government supported it. The question is whether these sorts of things can be paid for….”
Despite his acknowledgement of bipartisan support for a “worthy cause”, Chaney took a bash at the “size of government”, a favourite hobby-horse of the corporate-financed Centre for Independent Studies of which he happens to be Director.
Returning to the topic, which he again stated to be one of a number of “terrific ideas”, Chaney effectively put the kibosh on the NDIS, saying: “no one would argue with many of them, but we need to be able to pay for them, and you can't just keep spending money without getting the revenue.”
I was at this point busy picking myself up off the floor.
We shouldn’t be having this “terrific idea”, the NDIS, because the government can’t get the revenue to pay for it.
And who has been running campaigns against the pollution tax, against the resources super profits tax, and campaigning to reduce government expenditure from 35% of GDP to 30% of GDP if not Mr Chaney and his cronies in the ruling class? And who would howl like a wolf in the night if, in order to increase its revenue base, the government adopted a financial super profits tax?
Perhaps the Chairman of the National Australia Bank. Now, who might that be? Oh, it’s the saintly Michael Chaney in another of his roles as finance capitalist.
The banks are raking it in, as this opening paragraph from yesterday’s Murdoch rags made clear:
“AUSTRALIA'S big four banks are tipped to pocket more than $13 billion - a record high half-year profit - after refusing to pass on interest-rate cuts in full and sacking thousands of staff.”
And if we were not all convinced by the avuncular tut-tutting “great-idea-but-pity-you-can’t-have-it-‘cos-we-won’t-let-you-tax-the-super-rich”, Chaney sealed the fate of the NDIS with a dire warning about Australia heading for a crisis of Cypriot proportions: “ In the end you end up like the countries we're seeing now in Europe that have very high levels of debt and very few ways of getting out of it.”
Emma demurely asked whether such a scenario was likely, and Chaney smilingly assured her that unless “hard decisions” were taken, we’d end up like that “basket-case, Ireland”.
That provided Alberici with a hook into other areas of “hard decision”, like increasing, rather than lowering, company taxes to pay for the Opposition’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme should they win government in September.
“Is that something the economy needs right now?” she asked, doing such a great job of really putting her interviewee under pressure.
“Well, no, it's not,” replied the patient and always helpful Chaney. "But it's another example of what I was talking about.”
And just as helpfully he added that “we need rationalisation of the red tape that faces companies trying to do business in Australia. And also reforms in other areas I think like workplace relations.”
Oh, they dare not whisper its name, but give ‘em time, and they’ll have a re-christening of WorkChoices!
To achieve these items on the ruling class agenda Chaney proposed a more powerful and more “independent” version of the Productivity Commission. The quotation marks are warranted because such institutions may be independent of the government of the day, but they are never independent of the ruling ideology in which is distilled the core values and outlook of the ruling class.
And as for the people, they can just be pushed aside, said Chaney, but much more nicely and reasonably. In fact, he prefaced that little piece of fascism by citing the example of one of neoliberalism’s most eloquent advocates, the ALP’s Paul Keating:
“In the early '90s the treasurer, then Paul Keating, gave the Reserve Bank independence over the setting of interest rates. One of the most sensitive political variables that you could imagine. He did it, I believe, because he realised that's what the economy needed.”
A quick digression. Although they speak English, capitalists often try to neutralise the language, or maybe it’s neuter the language, by disguising the class content of meanings. An acceptable interpretation of the word “economy” here would be “the financial elite and the giant mainly multinational corporations”. Re-read that last sentence in the previous paragraph and it will be clear why Keating is a poster boy for bankers and financiers. But we have rudely interrupted Mr Chaney….
“It needed to be free of political considerations and one of the problems we have today, I think, is that every decision that's made seems to be coloured by how will this look politically, how will it affect voters and so on. We need some sensible, long range planning, of people who don't have those sort of interests at heart and who have the national interest at heart.”
Ah yes, Hitler’s and Mussolini’s concept of the “national interest” pursued without reference to “voters” and their “sorts of interests”.
I took a bit longer to get up off the floor at this point and missed some minor pleasantries between host and guest about market solutions to climate change, and the possibilities of floating liquefied natural gas technology, but at least I was in time to hear Alberici courageously broaching the issue of Section 457 visas.
After all, the Federal Court this month had heard allegations that foreign workers were paid less than $3 an hour to work on oil rigs operated by Woodside Petroleum off Western Australia.
As a nice person myself, I have to acknowledge that someone as busy running the country as Michael Chaney cannot be expected to have known about the wages and working conditions of every 457 visa worker employed on a Woodside oil rig, but he surely cannot be unaware that one of his own companies is embroiled in the scandalous rorting of this scheme.
Did Alberici go him at this point? Even Leigh Sales might have by now affected a quizzical stare and made some pointed comment. But not Alberici. She was too busy trying to compete in the charm stakes. And Chaney? For disingenuity he has no peer.
“I haven't had personal involvement in this but anyone I've talked to who's utilised the 457 program has been really enthusiastic about it in terms of filling skills gaps.”
I had taken to bracing myself against another fall, so I only gasped a few times as he continued:
“…I've seen the comment that rorts have resulted in a reduction of wages in the IT industry. … how could you pay anyone less who's working alongside someone else, what would that do to the culture of the company? So I can't really understand that point. But, you know, the Minister says there are rorts and if there are rorts they should be fixed up. People should be prosecuted if they're rorting and we should continue with what is a terrific program.”
Hey Mr Charm, your company is facing the Federal Court, and you don’t know about it???
After another denial of knowledge about 457 visa rorts, and a pleasant sideswipe at Minister Brendan O’Connor (“if there are some rorts they should be taken care of. You know, I'm not sure what motivates people in politics, I've given up long ago trying to second guess that. But I'm sure the Minister's genuine in his concerns about some rorts but I suspect they're not material”), it was time for host and guest to blow each other kisses (figuratively speaking) and say goodbye.Which is what we will do one day to the ruling class, but without the kisses.