Thursday, October 28, 2004

Backwards, Australia benighted

Anyone who doubts that Australia has a majority of fucking idiots will have three years to eat their words, now the Libs have the senate.

By a tremendous irony, the country people who voted in the coalition's 39th senator will be the first to lose out when Howard sells Telstra.

Telstra is mandated to provide a service to all Australians. But once it is in private hands, this will be watered down. A private owner will cry "government interference" and complain about the undue burden of having to provide lossmaking services in a competitive environment. The mandate will be loosened and the guys on remote stations, now so well served by Telstra, will have to buy satellite systems.

(The government will use the Telstra proceeds to cover the hole in its budget. It said it had been prudent with the economy and look, here's the surplus to prove it, but the surplus is not a sign of strength in the economy if it doesn't come hand in hand with increased productivity and a balanced current account -- the latter is something of a distant dream for the debt-fuelled Aussies. The pensions issue, though, is a structural problem, which must be fixed. You can't just sell off the family jewels and hope to postpone the problem for a few years.)

Why the people of Australia voted for these turds, I don't know. They are quite clear that one of the first pieces of legislation they will pass is aimed at making it easier to sack workers.

Hang on, you fucking idiots. That's you. Most of you aren't bosses! Did it never strike the people voting for the Libs that they are the very workers who will face losing their jobs? Because of Australia's isolation they simply do not understand what happens in economies where employee protection is removed. Your job security vanishes. You find yourself extremely expendable. It's good for business, the pros cry. It's good for everybody because the economy grows. But the economy does not. Productivity slips because demotivated workers, with no stake in the companies that employ them, simply don't bother putting in. Countries that have fucked over the workers, like the UK and recently Germany, have found that although unemployment does fall, employment becomes casualised. People don't save -- can't save -- and they turn to credit to ride out the bad times. Man, they already do that here in Australia, per capita one of the world's leading debtor populations.

This is a beautiful land, and it has many things to be proud of (a wonderful tradition of promoting science and innovation, a thriving local culture in many areas, albeit European, an educated population that knows how to read even if it doesn't bother, the Hills hoist, Kylie) and many not (the shocking repression of its indigenous population, epidemic racism, disastrous mishandling of the environment, Mel Gibson). It has always been a rather conservative place, with most of the population at odds with its more dynamic elements. That tends to make it a place of fascinating contrast, even if the conflict generally remains muted, under the surface.

But these are bad times for Australia, teetering on the brink of economic and political disaster. There was a time, a few years back, when it was inches from embracing its place as a leader in Asia, turning its back finally on a Europe that it has no part of, even if most of its population were once European, or have parents or grandparents who were, and entrenching its prosperity with a balanced economy able to withstand the shocks of a turbulent world.

Well, the Libs hollowed out that economy, held a sham referendum that retained Australia's ties to (the white) England and with talk of "pre-emptive strikes" against Asian nations and the vicious racism with which refugees have been treated, the days when it seemed Australia would become Asian are very distant indeed.

As is often the case, a possibility that shone was dirtied by small men who could not see that today's gains are nothing compared with a beautiful tomorrow.


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