“My near universal experience of regularly travelling this great country of ours in the past decade has been that local communities want good services and good outcomes. They care little as to which level of government delivers them as long as they are delivered. That inherent pragmatism of the Australian people should be a clear signpost to all governments.”
Does this description of Australians equate to ‘aspirational nationalism’, or is it a description of a population which doesn’t give a fundamental and is quite happy to surrender constitutional safeguards against all-powerful centralism? Is John Howard’s description a valid one, or is it blatant arrogance in assumption of an ideology not shared by more than 40% of the population at best?
Make no mistake, dear reader, the statements of ‘aspirational nationalism’ espoused by John Howard in his weekly radio address and today’s address to the Menzies Research Center-sponsored Millennium Forum function are driven entirely by conservative ideology. Not by any dream to create a better, fairer, more egalitarian Australia, but one in which a class system is fostered, ensuring that workers remain workers at the behest of conservative bosses and those bosses are able to repeatedly provide business shareholder value at whatever cost it takes to do so.
Radical left-wing fear-mongering, you might ask? Well, you might say I’m frightened of what Australia might become if this man gets a fifth bite of the cherry. Examine the rhetoric, if you will.
“More people are in jobs than ever before. The number of Australians on welfare is down. Household wealth has more than doubled. Business investment is strong. Australia is working again – moving ahead after decades of falling behind.”
When there aren’t the skills available to meet demand for those skills, the positions for those skills aren’t likely to be created. Existing resources are simply pushed harder. Australia remains seriously under resourced in every trade and this government has done little or nothing to rectify the lack of skills available. Numbers on welfare are down, because this government has stripped away the ability for those most in need to benefit from welfare. Ask any mother with a child over eleven years of age who chooses to be an at-home Mum. Ask any former recipient of disability support why their pension has been cut or abolished, yet they remain either unable to work 15 hours a week because their disability hasn’t improved.
Household wealth might have increased, but on average, it’s impossible to prove that a doubling across the board has taken place. This assumption stems from a false dichotomy that increased property values translates directly to disposable cashflow. It doesn’t. Could this possibly be why so many working class families are said to be suffering ‘mortgage stress’? The answer can only be in the affirmative. What good is an asset increase if you can’t afford to use that increase to better your day-to-day existence?
Business investment is strong……that much appears valid, and why is it strong? Because of the gross inequities created by the government’s workchoices platform of industrial reforms. Strip away workers rights and introduce rigid agreements and a process by which those agreements can be carte blanche sanctioned by a government created body, and obviously business is going to surge ahead on the backs on near zero wage claims. Meanwhile, wages growth occurs only in the resources sector, a growth which is used in government publications to promote a regime of wages recession in non-resources sector industries.
There are two sides to these arguments, dear reader, but I’m unable to adequately promote the conservative, business-oriented side because I am, have always been and will always be, a worker. I have worked for minimum wages and currently am a sole provider for a family. My wife receives a meagre disability pension and will never return to the workforce, despite the fact that we’d both enjoy a return. We have a mortgage – not a huge one, but one which my income just barely pays. We drive a car, we pay bills. I can’t remember the last time I earned more than I do currently. Pay rise? What is that, exactly? I’m not alone, I fully realise that. there are hundreds of thousands of working Aussies just like me out in the real world. I don’t doubt for a minute that isolated aspects of conservative ideology work well for a certain, limited range of circumstances. As do socialist ideologies for likewise related circumstances. My grave fear is that a re-election of Howardian values and ideologies will cement in place so many conservative reforms that any future socialist government will simply be unable to unwind them sufficiently to return this country to a more balanced footing. Evidence the Whitlam years when E.G.Whitlam, faced with such a massive task of undoing the failures of 23 years of Menzies-inspired conservatism, tried to achieve too much, too soon and failed miserably.
My fears are well founded, especially after reading through this fourth tome of Howard’s ‘Australia Rising’ speeches. The ideological hatred of the right of workers to collective bargaining and support by workers unions. The talk of ‘safety nets’ when any rational individual knows that if any given economic or social structure were sound enough in the first instance, a safety net wouldn’t be required. The constant drive towards expeditionary military adventures at the behest of the United States of America. Increasing defence spending to support those adventures when those monies could be much better employed at home on health, education and transport infrastructure. Take note, dear reader, of Howard’s code for more industrial relations changes in this passage of his ‘aspiration culture’ document:
“Going the extra mile on economic reform today means maintaining strong budget surpluses, keeping downward pressure on interest rates, saving for the future, investing in the nation’s infrastructure, ensuring our workplaces are flexible and competitive, and keeping the tax burden as low as possible on Australian workers, savers and risk takers.”
Make no mistakes that ‘economic reform’ is code for industrial relations. Further shackles and penance for the workers of this country will surely follow any re-election of the Howardian ethos. This so-called ‘aspiration’ document is filled to the brim with ideological rhetoric and unspeak. It’s transparent. Blatantly so, yet to those who follow the ideals espoused, it undoubtedly sounds so very inviting. Essentially, it’s nothing but visions of flowers and blue skies. There’s very little of substance in the document, but a whole lot of encoded inferences and forewarnings of times to come which, I believe, bode ill for Australians like me.
I’m a democratic socialist because I believe in the provision by the state of the greatest good for the greatest number. Capitalism and it’s partner, conservatism, relies on the greatest number providing the greatest good but fails to encompass any belief in just who should benefit from that good. This is why I cannot accept for a millisecond that Howard is espousing anything other than conservative, capitalistic ideology in this document. He lives and breathes its ethos, yet fails to understand that Australia is for all Australians and benefits must be shared among all for them to be called ‘benefits’. This document preaches only to the faithful and contains no promise, but plenty of threat. If you’re of the opposite belief to me, yet you work for a salary like me, and you intend voting for Howard et al, then all I can say to you is congratulations. You’ll certainly get what you deserve.