Interview: Under Fire
Politics: And the Winners Are ...
Economics: The Common Wealth
History: Walking for Justice
International: Deja Vu
Legal: The Rights Stuff
Review: That Cinderella Fella
Poetry: Is Howard Kidding?
The Locker Room
Age of Consent
Make Ads Not Law
Nice One, Workers!
Dog Eat Dog
The Common Wealth
The NSW government talks of sustainability and Sydney. Its vehicle for this approach could well be the Metropolitan Strategy, but this does not happen unless real resources and a whole of government approach is absorbed at each level.
The contrast between the approach of the Swedish government and its actually implementation of sustainable housing and resources use was very marked at a seminar earlier this hosted by the Swedish Council. The NSW minister, Di Beamer spoke of a plan for 30 years hence. The Swedish representatives spoke of green (ie grass) roofs, biomass, no garbage trucks, water filtration and reuse in tarmac car parks actually happening now. To get such an approach from the NSW or any other Australian government seems beyond belief.
As Clive Hamilton noted at the launch of a book in January this year, all the emphasis has been on an individual approach, not a collective responsibility. Australian governments have become specialists at avoiding the blame by transferring responsibilities to consultants and individuals, sot that they do have to actually have any policies themselves. The Howard government has somehow avoided blame for incompetence, corruption, and abuse of human rights, and for the decline of workplace rights, and it has done this because the message has constantly been its you and another with the same levels of knowledge and skills, so if you miss out its your own fault.
Perhaps is because we are painted as consumers and customers in everything we do, so when an employee you are depicted as a consumer of your employers resources, and thus they are entitled to use you as they please.
Superannuation is another example of the individualisation of everything. Individual accounts earning you wealth at the end, rather than a collective pension scheme geared to the good of society. The funds need to invest to make money, not to make a decent society. The two are seen to be mutually exclusive. No matter that investment of monies in transport, services, health, community facilities, education, alternative technologies would make our society more equal and sustainable.
Clive Hamilton makes the key point:
"The ethical conversation is also changed: instead of understanding the structural factors that are the cause of and solution to the problem, it becomes a question of personal morality in which each of us is assigned a place on a moral scale, with green purity at one end and environmental irresponsibility at the other."
Structural change is what is needed. As oil prices rise (albeit they are still lower here than in many places) now is a great time to be thinking about structural factors. Why do rising petrol prices have such a dramatic effect on the individual? Because our lifestyles are structured around the car, because of cities and towns are designed around the ease of car trips, even as they trips get longer as we move further and the roads get clogged. The price of the new roads we build goes up, and the cost of building them is thrown directly on the users, with the road building now a "legitimate" source of profit for companies and individual shareholders, rather than a public utility the cost of which is borne by several generations of citizens. The profit is provided by several generations instead. Until they have extracted all they can and then the costs are kindly returned to the citizen.
The need is to restructure around convenience of public transport use, community facilities, quality employment in the regions, training in skills, investment in sustainable technologies and infrastructures that would mean less importance for oil, coal, gas and other non-renewable energies and resources. The ability and potential of alternatives is known, the will to implement is not known.
In the UK, as reported in Red Pepper, micropower is a realistic alternative right now to nuclear and conventional power stations. But UK people will have to implement such policies themselves. Melanie Jarman reported that:
"Micropower is by no means new. It includes devices such as solar panels and small wind turbines that have been promoted for years now as alternative sources of energy, alongside more recent domestic innovations such as heat pumps that extract energy from the ground to run central heating, and combined heat and power (CHP) systems that convert heat given off by a gas boiler into electricity. What is new, however, is the potential for micropower to move out of the alternative scene and be taken up on a wider, societal level, thus making a noticeable impact on energy policy.
Alan Whitehead MP, sponsor of a Private Members Bill on microgeneration put before the UK Parliament in June, says:
"We know that it will cost at least £10 billion just to replace nuclear power stations going out of commission over the next 15 years, that the money will need to be on the table for 10 years before any electricity is produced, and that most of it will have to come from the public purse. So a good question to ask is: what other power generation can be purchased for this sum, and how quickly would it work? The answer, a comprehensive microgeneration programme, is both quick to produce power and safe to install.'"
A commitment to alternative technologies and infrastructure implies a commitment to industries. Industry policy as a way forward. For all the faults of the Hawke era, industry policy and intervention was the least. Its major problem was a failure of commitment over a longer term. A high road to sustainability through industry development based on education, skills and innovation is needed.
How to make such approaches a political issue is the big question. People are not excited about superannuation and the often put about point that its socialism by stealth is a nonsense. The funds must operate as the financial markets dictate, and so superannuation members obviously expect high rates of return. To overcome this it needs to be a large political issue, a challenge to capital itself. As Doug Henwood says
"More direct interventions are required - active public industrial policy and greater worker control at the firm level - if ordinary people are to get excited."
The problem of individualism rears its head, and allows the government to make such ludicrous claims that they need a future fund because of the retirement boom in 2020 because its all sold at an individual level. The lovely Adam Smith notion of the invisible hand is supposed to work to ensure society benefits from individual actions. However, as Henwood again points, out, following the astute observations of Keynes
"Individuals may be able to set aside money for the future, but not a society as a whole; a society as a whole guarantees its future only by real physical and social investments."
Frank Stilwell, Phil Toner and recently Hugh Stretton have written on this approach. As Frank Stilwell notes that to present policy ideas like those needed in the hope of an ALP government implementing them is worse than wishful thinking. More people need to be involved and ideas not presented as a fully worked "program" that simply needs implementing. Dispute, debate, discussion are the means of moving forward to progress, not growth. The need for connections between individuals, groups (unions, business think tanks, environmentalists, social welfare activists, local government)
Phil Toner has made the point of the importance of industry policy at a national level to the development of skills, employment in manufacturing and all other industries, decent wages and a high road to economic success and sustainability. Catalyst Forum, a UK think tank, has, in its latest Talking Point, highlighted the same issues as Toner on manufacturing and industry policy
Stilwell, Boris Frankel and others have written well of the need for national infrastructure funds to fund the investments needed. The future fund undermines this, even as superannuation funds trade in shares to ensure payouts continue to flow. Investing in shares is not investing in the social and physical capital needed so is not aimed at guaranteeing the future. The decent future we all desire is guaranteed not by current players on the stock exchange but by social commitment to a decent society for all. Equity stems from invest now, as Keynes would say, "in the long run we are all dead". Trusting to investment advisors for the security of your money in 20 or 30 years time, as we are daily urged to do, is a bridge to far. Is that why we tend to shy away from the complications of superannuation, because we know its all fanciful anyway?
We have seen recently reports of how urban consolidation and apartment living, designed supposed to save space and resources, actually consume more resources. Hugh Stretton has long written of Ideas for Australian Cities, celebrating the backyard as a centre of human creativity and enjoyment. He also saw it as a viable way of life. The number crunchers are just waking up to his 1974 Boyer lectures. The way of life of the backyard is a sustainable one. The footprint of the individual on the earth is now seen to be smaller with a backyard than without. To make the footprint even smaller we need a broad approach to the sustainable city that plans for industry, plans for transport and plans for community. "Leave the homes where they are" Stretton said in 1974, "and develop work and recreations and good cities in reach of them". The decent home needs also to be connected to village life. Here we return to the metro strategy of the state government. Stretton wrote of the need for urban centres to be
"dense and intricate and villagey. They ought to have people living in them and close around them, instead of being cut off from their living areas by six-lane highways and all that moonscape. Motor traffic and parking need attention, but they can be reduced and managed without anything like the overriding and devastating priority they get in most new urban developments".
All attempts to deregulate, or rather alter regulation so that business has a freer reign have lead us to expensive motorways, traffic congestion, a lack of child care, aged and community services generally, inadequate education and training systems and a hollowed out manufacturing sector. These are connected, and the deterioration of the social fabric with private affluence and public squalor has never been more apparent than now. The poor abandoned in New Orleans, the riots in Macquarie Fields are the abandonment of pubic responsibility for a good society, and the way individuals, when they feel the pressures of the world, close out that world and build their walls to protect their own, because, as Margaret Thatcher said, there is no such thing as society." She created the lack of society and now we feel the effects.
So often we can see the problems but are accused of moaning with no alternative approach. Generally the real issue is that the alternatives are ignored by the TINA crowd. Stilwell has long argued in various books of how we can use or reframe existing institutional structures to a better, equitable, more democratic approach. Hugh Stretton continues his lifelong advocacy of practical alternatives in his Australia Fair. Drawing on the history of progressive public policy, environmental alternatives and real people in the real world, as opposed to economists who look at those people like so many widgets he outlines a strategy. Six fundamentals underlie his approach:
After addressing the failures of leadership, the past and present of policies that affect all these areas Stretton outlines the questions and possible answers to these. We may not agree with his answers but his generous approach to these issues and his passionate interest in the so-called ordinary as against the myths of the economists make this book an important part of the way to reshape Australia fairly.
Trade unions are crucial to this fairness, although Stretton doesn't allocate much though to their role. Rod Cameron, former ALP pollster has recently also written us off as having missed the boat. However, as Mark Hearn and Russell Lansbury put it, in an important contribution to a conference earlier this year:
Unions have "sought not only to address grievances but to facilitate worker participation as citizens, enjoying both political and industrial rights. Unions offered workers a chance to directly participate in democratic institutions, as rank and file members, delegates and as full-time officials."
This remains a crucial role and one in which the current campaign linking working rights to a decent society overall is squarely a part of. We are not seeking to get the crumbs from the pyramid of global capitalism, because that system is consuming us all in a relentless spiral of greed, violence and destruction. An equitable society means ecological sustainability and social justice.
Robin Blackburn (2004) Banking On Death: Or Investing in Life: The History and Future of Pensions. (London: Verso)
Robin Blackburn (2004) Plugging the gap. How employers can help to fill the pensions deficit. A Catalyst Working Paper http://www.catalystforum.org.uk/pubs/paper31.html
Catalyst Forum (2005) Talking Points. Manufacturing and industrial policy; updated September 2005.
Boris Frankel (2001). Boris Frankel, When the Boat comes in: Transforming Australia in the age of globalisation. (Annandale, Pluto Press)
Clive Hamilton (2005) Speech at the launch of In search of sustainability edited by Jenny Goldie, Bob Douglas and Bryan Furnass NSW Parliament House, Sydney 18 January 2005 http://www.tai.org.au/Publications_Files/Papers&Sub_Files/Launch%20of%20ISOS%20book.pdf
Doug Henwood (2004). Pension fund socialism: the illusion that just won't die
comments on Robin Blackburn's Banking on Death
Mark Hearn and Russell Lansbury (2005) Reworking Citizenship: Renewing Workplace Rights and Social Citizenship in Australia at WORKSITE (paper prepared for the AIRAANZ conference, Sydney February 2005)
Melanie Jarman (2005) (Micro)power for the People. Red Pepper, September.
Frank Stilwell (2000) Changing Track: a new political economic direction for Australia. (Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press)
Hugh Stretton (1974) Housing and Government: 1974 Boyer Lectures (Sydney: ABC)
Hugh Stretton (2005) Australia Fair (Sydney: UNSW Press)
Phil Toner (2000) Manufacturing Industry in the Australian Economy: its role and significance. Journal of Australian Political Economy; no. 45, June
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