Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The dangerous charm of Michael Chaney

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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Put Clive on the Titanic and push him towards an iceberg...


Queensland mining billionaire Clive Palmer has announced plans to resurrect the United Australia Party (UAP).

This is quite consistent with his bizarre fascination with the building of a replica of the Titanic.

Both the Titanic and the UAP were disasters that promised much but eventually sank without a trace.

In the case of the original UAP, right-wing and pro-Empire social democrats joined forces in 1931 with conservatives who had fallen out with the Nationalist government and created a party whose slogan was “All for Australia and the Empire”.

The UAP won government in 1932 and attacked the working class during the 1930s Depression.  It pursued a pro-fascist appeasement policy, particularly under its new leader Robert Menzies.  He praised Hitler and bought into a huge fight with wharfies and other workers over the issue of exporting scrap (“pig”) iron to the Japanese militarists for their war of conquest in China.

The UAP became unpopular, especially after the outbreak of the Second World War, and only stayed in office after the 1940 election with the support of two independents.

Menzies (“Pig Iron” Bob) resigned as leader and was replaced by Fadden whose 1941 Budget was denied when the independents voted with Labor.

The Governor-General then asked Labor’s John Curtin to form a government.

Amazing, isn’t it, that a billionaire who fights against proposals for his industry to pay even the weakest of mining taxes, has the personal wealth to splash around with rebuilding the Titanic and financing his own political party.

But history is repeating itself here, both as a farce and a tragedy.

The original UAP was scorned as a corrupt party too closely tied to wealthy backers.

In his book, If Money Talks, What Does it Say?: Corruption and Business Financing of Political Parties,  Iain McMenamin  observes:  “The Liberal Party’s interwar predecessor, the United Australia Party, was very much dependent on ‘self-constituted committees of wealthy supporters’ (p. 84). 

The Wikipedia entry on the original UAP describes it as “compromised by their reliance on large donations from business and financial organisations”.

This latest display of “I’m-rich-enough-to-buy-all-of-you-and-bugger-paying-taxes” egoism is further proof that Australia’s working people need to stop carrying the rich, buy them all tickets on Clive’s rebuilt Titanic, and give it a huge push in the direction of the nearest ice-berg.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pyne uses Anzac Day to revive racist cultural war

Federal Opposition spokesman on education, Christopher Pyne, has stated that a future Liberal government would review elements of the new Australian Curriculum that presented a "black armband view" of Australia's history.

He said that the federal coalition wants to "restore the importance of the Anzac story in school history classes"

By attempting to score brownie points with racist and conservative Australians, Pyne has only revealed his own ignorance of history, including the Anzac tradition.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women, having been subjected to the violence and frontier warfare of colonisation, nevertheless served in the Australian armed forces in every conflict in which they have been involved.

Once these conflicts were over, these sae ATSI service people were thrown back into civilian life as second class citizens.
According to the website

They were not only denied the recognition afforded to non-indigenous soldiers but also the same rights their comrades in arms were granted. They did not receive a war pension, were not allowed to join RSL clubs and some men even came back to find their children had been taken from them.

The nephew of Australia's most famous Aboriginal soldier, Captain Reg Saunders MBE, said when his uncle came back from serving in Korea, "he couldn't even get a beer in a pub, let alone a pension, and he wasn't permitted to become a citizen until 1968".
Precisely because ATSI people and their supporters have brought the black history of this country out into the light of day - the so-called "black armband view" that Pyne decries – some justice is now being done to the service record of Indigenous Australians.

For example, in South Australia, the RSL, Reconciliation Australia and the Council of Elders of South Australia, with the support of the state government, have commissioned a sculpture of a black serviceman and a black servicewoman to be erected at Adelaide’s Torrens Parade Ground.

Among those involved in this project is Bill Hignett, a Vietnam veteran and union organiser, who is a member of Reconciliation SA.

Hignett, and others like him, give the lie to Pyne’s attempt to pit the spirit of Anzac Day against due recognition of past and present injustices to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A black service person with a chest full of medals is fully entitled to wear a black armband in memory of the victims of the colonial wars for the conquest of his or her traditional lands.