On-line Digest May 2014

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Online Digest

Issue 8 May  2014

What’s Hot and What’s Not: the Australian Options online digest

The  May edition of the Australian Options Magazine will be  published in the second week of May  2014 with the theme of  Organising for Fairness and the Environment. Articles include Cam Walker on the grassroots success of Lock the Gate, Andrew Dittmer on union strategy, Valerie Cooms on Aboriginal disadvantage, John Buchnan on fairness in employment and Jim Stanford with a primer on debts and deficit. All are illustrated with Simon Kneebone's cartoons. 

Two important books about the economy and economics are reviewed. One is  Ross Garnaut's "Dog Days" and the other is a collection of essays that reflect on Frank Stilwell's contribution to political economy. Michael Browne compares  two recent productions of the opera Rigoletto and praises the version that is set in the court of Silvio Berlusconi.

A still public (we hope) Australia Post will deliver the magazine to paid-up subscribers who will also be able to access a full copy on-line.

Whither Labor?

There have been two 'big' pronouncements recently about the future of the Labor Party. One was by the National Leader Bill Shorten. As part of his speech 'Towards a modern Labor Party', he said,

 For Labor to build a modern, outward-looking, confident and democratic Australia, we have to be a modern, outward-looking, confident and democratic party. This process began with the election of the party leader last year. It was a big step.

It’s now time for the next big step. Today I announce the start of a major campaign to rebuild the Australian Labor Party and renew our sense of purpose. A campaign driven by my mandate as the first member-elected Leader of the Labor Party. A campaign to create a Labor party that’s stronger because we have more members and those members have more of a say. A campaign to create a big party, a nation-embracing party, a party that represents and reflects the Australian people. A membership-based party.

While there's not much in the speech about a political vision, he does make the strong point that  If you don’t engage in politics, you end up being governed by vested interests – by powerful, privileged voices.

David Lockwood in New Matilda provided a reasoned alternative to demands to break the link between unions and the ALP. He writes

I would argue that, to resist this process, the link should remain. Indeed, in the interests of the party, the unions and the labour movement should be both strengthened and democratised. All unions should be encouraged to affiliate to the Labor party – and Labor party members in unions should be in the forefront of a campaign for this.

Union delegates to ALP conferences should be elected by ordinary union members, not appointed by national secretaries. Furthermore, the selection of parliamentary candidates should be in the hands of rank-and-file members of the party and the affiliated unions – not in the hands of union bureaucrats, or "factional" warlords (who mostly lead personality cliques rather than political factions) or the general public, as Shorten's proposals seem to promote.

Under this arrangement unions, as organisations, would have a strong place in the party with both party members and union members voting for officers and candidates.

Whither Labour?

Paul Howes was the second big pronouncer. He announced his resignation as National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union in late March. He is  looking for opportunities outside the movement. A 'profile' in the Australian Financial Review coincided with his announcement.

According to the profile, Howes vision for the labour movement is to 'embrace capitalism'; similarly, he says that unions 'need to embrace free markets'.

Geoff Dow responds in this article for Australian Options. Geoff begins saying

If Paul Howes wants to ‘embrace capitalism’, as he puts it, why doesn’t he consult the theory of social democracy – for accounts of what can be accomplished by politics and policy within the constraints of a market capitalist economy? Or why doesn’t he bother to learn the fundamental precepts of keynesian economic theory and policy – for a commensurate account of the routine failings of capitalist market economies, and what policy responses are or are not appropriate? For that matter does he even know what contemporary conservatism and contemporary marxism have to say about the benefits and costs of normal economic trends. Actual scholarship on these matters has hardly been inactive in recent decades; and its results do not confirm the recycled liberalism featuring in Howes’s refound ‘realism’.   Read more

Core Labor Values?

 Peter Ormonde recently posted a short list of core values for 'modern labor'. They are pertinent and succinct

  •  Democracy and participation ... not just internal but throughout society... increased powers and resources for local government, much less for States.
  •  Human rights - for the vulnerable, for the individual. A commitment to using our resources internationally to ensure this in the region via aid.
  •  Overriding concern for the poor and disadvantaged ... a commitment to providing equality of opportunity for all in education, health, the law.
  • Commitment to environmental stewardship and restoration. ... renewables, reducing all forms of pollution including CO2, protection of water and soils and landscapes.
  • A commitment to a mixed economy in which markets are constrained by social objectives, where the government creates and stimulates new investment in more sustainable industry and innovation, tight management of resource exports and of course a tax on resource extraction. Commitment to reducing fossil fuel use and dependency.
  •  A commitment to building a truly representative organisation that is roughly - 50% women or better, 30% ethnically non-Anglo or better, 50% under 30 or better ...

Yep, no more white blokes in suits running the show. That's actually the hard one. And probably the pre-requisite.

Russell Morris, Sharkmouth,

Fanfare 085, 2012, $24.95

Review by Jack Humphrys

The 65 year old Morris’s music career started with the group, Somebody’s Image, who had a hit in 1967 with a cover of the late Joe South’s great song, Hush.

However, it was the classic and unusual, The Real Thing, that brought Morris to prominence in 1969 as the quintessential Aussie pop star. Hit songs, some written by Morris, followed - Girl That I Love, Rachel, Mr America and Wings of an Eagle. So did the search for overseas success, in the UK and US during the late ‘seventies, with the usual struggles and let downs. Since returning to Australia, for the last thirty years, Morris has been making a living in various musical groups travelling the continent and contributing to the odd film score.

Sharkmouth comes out of left field, with Morris showing a real penchant for writing about and singing the blues rather than the pop style. Inspired by the stories of his grandmother, who lived to 93, and by his working class Richmond (Melbourne) background, these songs “attempt to capture some of the characters, events and moods–from 1919 to the 40’s with the exception of Mr Eternity - 50-60s”.

Morris sings about the Wall St collapse that began the Great Depression (The Big House), the 1927 war on the Victorian Docks (Bout to Break), and being on the road in the 1930s(Walking My Blues). Songs about the sleazy side of life include The Drifter, Squizzy and a song set in Sydney called The Bridge. Other songs are about the famous race horse, Phar Lap, and the boxer, Les Darcy.

Musicians of the calibre of Renee Geyer, Chris Wilson, Diesel, Troy Casser-Daley and James Black provide fine support on this project.

Without any commercial airplay, this album has achieved sales of 80,000- a big result in the small Australian music scene.

Russell Morris’s “second album of historically inspired blues-roots songs”, Van Diemen’s Land (Fanfare) was released in mid April.

 Thomas Piketty's capital and inequality

Thomas Piketty's book "Capital in the 21st Century" is a 696-page tome, translated from French, about the return of inequality in the twenty-first century. The Guardian Australia has published an informative panel discussion with Julie Novak, Matt Cowgill and John Quiggin.

Branko Milanovic, at the World Bank, has written some of the best recent work on inequality. He ends a review that provides a very accessible summary, saying

Thomas Piketty has provided a new and extraordinarily rich framework allowing us to think about the recent increase in inequality not as an isolated phenomenon and to forever discuss the merits or demerits of high-skill biased technological progress vs. trade openness, but to see the rising inequality as part of a changing nature of modern capitalism. I would conclude, as I began, with a personal observation. When reading Piketty’s book, it is indeed hard to go back to thinking about anything else: one gets totally absorbed in it. This is perhaps the best compliment that the author of an almost thousand-page long economics book can ever expect to get. Don’t take this book on vacation: it will spoil it. Read it a home.

James Galbraith in a review in Dissent is more critical - he praises Piketty's empirical work but proposes more radical solutions.

If the heart of the problem is a rate of return on private assets that is too high, the better solution is to lower that rate of return. How? Raise minimum wages! That lowers the return on capital that relies on low-wage labor. Support unions! Tax corporate profits and personal capital gains, including dividends! Lower the interest rate actually required of businesses! Do this by creating new public and cooperative lenders to replace today’s zombie mega-banks. And if one is concerned about the monopoly rights granted by law and trade agreements to Big Pharma, Big Media, lawyers, doctors, and so forth, there is always the possibility (as Dean Baker reminds us) of introducing more competition.

Ice Cream, the Reef and the Queensland Government

Queensland environment minister Andrew Powell has called for a consumer boycott of Unilever company Ben and Jerry's because the company has supported the WWF 'save the reef' campaign.

The effect is that 79% of voters in a poll on Brisbane Times say they are now more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products.

Ben & Jerry's say they believe that dredging and dumping in world heritage waters surrounding the marine park area will be detrimental to the reef ecology. 'It threatens the health of one of Australia's most iconic treasures.'

As one observer said, what would the Mininster do if it was XXXX that announced support for 'save the reef'.

First trip to the sea - Green Turtle hatchling (Chelonia mydas); March 2014. (photo C.Milliken)

Turtle egg shells after hatching (photo T.Gill)

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