Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: April, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 April 2019

Morrison’s election Fair Go mantra really benefits the few, not the many

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s endlessly repeated election campaign mantra of “A fair go for those who have a go” is not only becoming mind numbingly boring it is also a quite deliberate attempt to mislead voters into believing his government will implement policies to significantly improve the lot of the ordinary people, the ‘many’, when in fact what he really means is that his policies will enrich the privileged ‘few’.

So let’s examine Mr Morrison’s game so as to make clear how his word play works and what it really means.

The first point to make is that as a sound bite repeated ad infinitum is meant to be taken at face value. Anyone who is prepared to do a bit of work will get a fair go and therefore advance their financial standing. As Dr Goebbels, the Nazis’ Minister for Propaganda taught us, a lie repeated often enough will be believed, and Mr Morrison has clearly learnt that lesson.

Mr Morrison’s ‘Fair Go’ mantra was first articulated during his opening press conference of the 2019 election. He was asked by a journalist how he intended to counter Labor’s campaign messaging about the importance of fairness.

His answer was “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go, and what that means is part of the promise that we all keep as Australians is that we make a contribution and don’t seek to take one. And that involves an obligation on all of us to be able to bring what we have to the table.

“Under my government, under our government, under a Liberal Nationals government, we will always be backing those Australians who are looking to make a contribution, not take one and, together, that’s how we make our country stronger” he concluded.

My initial response on first hearing was that the PM was, among other things, revisiting former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s condemnation of the ‘leaners’ who weren’t ‘learners’, and took rather than gave to the well-being of the country.

My suspicion was confirmed when Katherine Murphy pointed out in the Guardian Australia that “The prime minister of Australia believes the fair go is conditional”. The fair go applies if you have a go and if you don’t seek to “take” a contribution. It doesn’t automatically apply to everyone equally.

While Morrison’s construction is designed to prompt a nod of belief from the listener, to confirm a resting pre-disposition in the community about conniving welfare cheats and dole bludgers, and encourage ‘strivers’ to feel good about themselves and vaguely resentful about the circumstances of others. If we unpack it, it’s actually a contradiction of what makes our society work.

Many of us “take” contributions frequently through public education and universal health care and family payments and childcare assistance. We do that because it is our Australian way. And throughout our lifetimes we have ‘given’, that is, paid for what we have taken, through taxation. What Mr Morrison deliberately ignores is that there may be some points in everyone’s life when they can’t be earning and so can’t be tax payers. It’s a fundamental construct of modern democratic societies with any semblance of social justice.

And of course many can’t get even a semblance of a fair go if they come from a dysfunctional family blighted by violence and poverty, have a crippling disability, are trying to live on Newstart, or have suffered from a poor education, just to name a few disincentives.

Now the really important point is that these are priorities Australia has set for itself in the way we conceive government, and what it does. Making a contribution without taking one is not what happens in reality. Not in this and many other countries.

Australians work if we can, pay taxes if we are fortune enough to be employed and use a range of government services throughout our lives. If we fall on hard times we look to government to support us. Those are the realities of a long-established social contract, and for many Australians these expectations are not conditional, but instead are the very basis of how societies should work for everyone, the many, not the few.

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My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 April 2019

Morrison government mates profit from government advertising

Pope’s cartoon in last Wednesday’s Daily Advertiser mentioned three actions of the Morrison government in response to a fictitious rental house bond clean up: political appointments, approval of the Adani cola mine’s groundwater plans, and government ads. All of course references to the forthcoming federal election and clear evidence that Mr Morrison was delaying calling the election so he could milk every available opportunity to advantage his government, as the rushed appointment of no fewer than 49 Morrison’s Mates to various government bodies and the last minute Adani approval  demonstrate.

So even though the election has now been called I was stimulated to investigate further, especially the barrage of advertising in the preceding week or so that has been telling us of massive government expenditure on infrastructure, health and education and so forth.

Most people would, with good reason, wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, we know the election has to be held in May, so why does it matter if it’s called two weeks ago or last week?  There’s one very important reason – until the election is called the government can use taxpayer money to fund advertisements and commercials, which of course is very convenient for a government seeking re-election.

Political chicanery that’s par for the course most readers would probably think, and though that is regrettable it is true. Labor has after all done it in the past.

But what got me thinking was a headline in Crikey, which read “In political advertising, the Liberals have always looked after their mates”. It provoked me to investigate further, and what I found was very disturbing, for indeed, the owners or major shareholders in our media outlets are indeed Liberal Party ‘mates’, and due to Mr Morrison’s delay in calling the election they pocketed millions by running government ads – and that’s taxpayer money, so we are all footing the bill out of our own pockets.

And the media really needs this money, for given that commercial advertising is currently in the doldrums it is struggling for every dollar of government advertising that it can get. By one estimate, a quarter of a billion dollars has been spent by the Commonwealth since January 2018, making the government a key source of revenue for our media barons. According to advertising tender documents, government spending this year is a phenomenal $136 million, or $1 million a day.

A week’s delay in calling the election is therefore a cool $7 million. Of course, the cash cow of taxpayers’ money would dry up instantly the election is formally called. And make no mistake Mr Morrison and his mates have been milking it.

Which lead me to think about who exactly would benefit, and the outcome was very disturbing, for the two big winners from Morrison’s dithering about the election were the Murdoch family media empire and Kerry Stokes. Both are very politically active Liberal Party supporters, and both also regularly provide platforms for right-wing extremists in their media outlets.

The other big winner was Nine, which also owns 50% of radio station 2GB in Sydney, well known as a Liberal Party propaganda outlet through the platform it gives to shock jocks such as Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

This realisation encouraged me to think beyond this election and look to see if Liberal/National coalition governments have made a habit of billing us, the taxpayers, for their political advertising, and indeed they have. The appalling “Unchain my heart” ads from the introduction of the GST two decades ago are an infamous example, but they aren’t necessarily the worst.

In the later Howard years campaigns such as WorkChoices saw tens of millions of dollars handed to Liberal Party mates at the request of an internal Liberal committee that had no authority to direct spending, even though the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) condemned the practices in a 2009 report. However, because the Howard government was ancient history by then, the media ignored what was clear evidence of, at the very least, outrageous misuse of advertising spending — and, quite possibly, blatant corruption.

All of which reminds me that when Mr Morrison became Prime Minister he said “Remember, my value is: we look after our mates”. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise he meant that quite so literally.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 9 April 2019

Our federal government blatantly buying votes

This week I had intended to devote my column to analysing last week’s federal budget, which was clearly a vote buying exercise that I hope didn’t fool too many people. There is a need to address a couple of contextual points will leave no space for Mr Frydenberg’s actual accounting trickery.

The first point involves the Prime Minister’s timing, and the second is commentary on what are known as pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners.

The timing is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate certain aspects of our electoral schedule to suit the Liberal/Nationals coalition government, given that the election needs to be held in May. As the budget is normally brought down in that month Messrs Morrison and Frydenberg simply brought the budget forward to April, and given that they have plenty of cash to splash around their timing allows them to channel it to where they hope it will win vulnerable seats they are in danger of losing.

In other words, it’s more of a campaign launch for the Liberal/Nationals coalition rather than an economic blueprint for the future.

Which brings me nicely to pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners, something at which Labor is as adept as the Coalition. Essentially, they are all the same thing, using government spending to buy votes in vulnerable areas where its majority is very small, though there are some differences between the three categories.

Pork-barreling is buying votes by targeting one specific electorate with promises of massive spending on infrastructure. We saw that happening in spades at last year’s Wagga by-election as the Liberal and Labor parties tried to outdo each other by promising us very expensive new infrastructure. A $10 million multi-story car park for Wagga Base Hospital was the attention-grabbing promise. However, and this is the problem with pork-barreling, spending that much money on public services such as health and education would almost certainly have been in the better long-term interests of Wagga residents – or of more deserving people somewhere else, for that matter.

For, of course, pork-barreling to buy votes in one electorate means other people miss out, and their needs might be much more important.

Cash splashes are similar, but usually aren’t focussed on a specific electorate but rather a particular demographic, usually one with a real or perceived complaint. The cash handouts by the coalition government to help pensioners and others pay their power bills is an example. They make good headlines but of course they are one-offs and don’t solve in any way at all the ongoing problem – a problem the government has created, though of course it will never admit that.

Sweeteners are very similar to cash splashes, though are usually broader in appeal and less about a particular demographic with a real grouch, and more about simply making the government look good, such as some extra money being spent on, for example, education or health. Such sweeteners always look good superficially but of course they don’t disguise the fact that they government created the problem in the first place through ongoing chronic underfunding, and they don’t do anything to solve the ongoing problem.

The most blatant sweetener in this budget is probably the tax cuts, conveniently brought forward from 2022. Even these are a smoke and mirror exercise as the lowest income earners will receive cents rather than tens or hundreds of dollars.

But all these arguments against pork-barreling, cash splashes and sweeteners are dwarfed by their broader ethical questions. As Peter Hartcher wrote recently in the Sydney Morning Herald, “The third-world backwardness of the politician’s pork-barrel is an abuse of public trust, a waste of money and a form of corruption”. It certainly is.

What we need instead is an independent agency that allocates money to major projects on a needs basis, not political favouritism and marginal seat manipulation. Perhaps Infrastructure Australia, now just an advisory body that is often ignored can be reconstituted as an independent agency that allocates funds on a genuine needs basis.

The level of spending, and where it is allocated, can’t be left to the government in power because, in their desperation to retain office, major party politicians simply can’t restrain their impulse to buy votes.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

Australian gun lobby’s massive political donations circumvent our gun laws

Last week two stories concerning political donations by the gun lobby deservedly made the headlines.

The first story to break, courtesy of Al Jazeera and the ABC, was that One Nation sought millions of dollars from the American National Rifle Association (NRA) to fund its election campaigns.

James Ashby, Pauline Hanson’s Chief of Staff, and Steve Dickson, One Nation’s Queensland leader and a Senate candidate for the forthcoming federal election seemingly deliberately journeyed to the US with the purpose of fundraising. They claim, alternatively, that they were plied with grog and calculatedly set up by Al Jazeera’s investigative journalists, which makes these One Nation operatives appear to be drunken, gullible fools. Either way, neither scenario shows One Nation in a good light.

Nor does Ms Hanson’s seeming claim on the same video that the Port Arthur massacre was a set up job to facilitate the passing of John Howard’s gun laws veers toward conspiracy theory. Ms Hanson has subsequently denied this claim.

Last week a second story broke, showing that the Australian gun lobby is as large and spends as much on political donations and campaigns, per capita, as America’s powerful NRA.

They key points were that pro-gun groups have donated $1.7 million to Australian political parties over the past eight years, and that Bob Katter’s Australian Party was the top recipient, netting more than $800,000

Australia’s pro-gun groups were also mimicking the NRA’s political strategies in a “concerted and secretive” effort to undermine Australia’s strict gun laws, according to Point Blank: The covert lobbying of Australia’s gun lobby report by the progressive think tank, The Australia Institute.

It also tells us that, like the NRA, the gun lobby spends even more on funding specific election campaigns.

The report, obtained exclusively by the ABC, calls for a ban on political donations from the gun lobby. So too did Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who promptly tweeted “We need to strengthen gun laws as a priority and ban all political donations from the gun industry”.

This set me wondering how, in a country proud of its gun laws, this could be possible?. The report’s author Bill Browne warned that our stance on gun control was being circumvented because the gun lobby was quietly undermining laws introduced since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

“Most Australians support stronger gun control,” the report, commissioned by Gun Control Australia and Get Up members, said.

“Despite this, no state or territory fully complies with the National Firearms Agreement and pressure remains for government to allow the import and sale of more powerful and rapid-firing guns.”

“The defiance of the popular will on gun control can be attributed in part to the deep pockets of Australia’s gun lobby, which has a much lower profile than the NRA — despite Australia’s gun lobby spending similar amounts on political campaigns.”

The report found that the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) had almost as many members, per capita, as the National Rifle Association (NRA), almost 200,000 in fact, which is approximately 0.8 per cent of the population.

The other big player in the Australian gun lobby is the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak body for the firearms industry.

The report showed how the gun lobby is able to circumvent our donations laws, which is that much of the gun lobby’s political spending is in the form of election campaigns that are not necessarily captured by disclosure laws. For example, though SIFA only donated $64,000 to political parties in the period 2011 – 2018, it spent $750,000 on two recent state election campaigns alone.

Like political advertising funded by the NRA in the US, the Queensland and Victorian ads did not specifically mention guns, instead covering other hot button issues.

The Australia Institute’s report also calls for a list of all members of a group known as the Parliamentary Friends of Shooters (PFS) to be made public. Only its chair, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, and its deputy chair, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, are listed.

However, listing the members of PFS would hardly scratch the surface. We need a full inquiry into how the gun lobby circumvents our political donations regulations if we are to prevent this pernicious activity.