Okay, so posting this copied text below is against the rules, so if the author, Michael Pascoe, or the publisher, represented my beloved Crickey.com.au complain, I’ll pull it down immediately. But, it’s so damn good, so adroit, that I feel I can’t quote one sentence without quoting it all.
My commentary, before the Crikey’s editorial, is that Pascoe has nailed the core problem with Australia’s current state of democracy. Forget the important issue of Federalism, the voting system we have and anything else you can think of, and (in my not-so-humble opinion) go straight to the fact that Howard and co have systematically muzzled civil society in Australia over the past 11 years.
You can start with the fact that no non-profit can achieve that status without complying to the outrageous requirement to not use their funds to support or voice political positions. Pardon me, but what the heck are most of our non-profits for but to campaign for change while doing their best to fill the gaps our current system can’t provide for. And these cracks are full of flesh-and-blood people mind you!
But back to the main rant….
…Any organisation or institution that is qualified (read credible in the public discourses) has seen their independence erased – any political opinion can draw drastic funding cuts if it tickles the sitting Minister’s fancy the wrong way. Ever known politicians, particularly government ministers, to be a touchy bunch? This is the real pointy end of neoliberalism for modern societies. The temporary recessions, starvations etc notwithstanding, if political processes for resolving these kinds of horrendous, and dare I say some insidious crises, isn’t viable, then the real risk is beyond suffering, loss of life: we end up with no functioning society at all. (Now I’m aware there’s so many points in that to refine, so please excuse my red wine polemic and indulge in the thrust of the argument, however you need to reformulate it. If not, please feel free to comment or google away;)
So, is there a sign of hope? Well despite what my undergraduate under-educated tirades against the system were filled with (ahhh, Don Quijote de la Mancha, my hero;) the biggest beacon of light I see is actually corporate Australia. The market is a wonderful thing in certain ways. Follow this logic. A public wants something. A company needs to meet a want to make sales and be viable (let alone profit, another topic altogether). The public want something different to what’s being offered. What’s being offered is in part shaped by what’s allowed. What’s allowed is Government’s territory. So to deliver some change, business (aside from those on corporate welfare) have suddenly become the players with more room to move than any other organisation in society, the only one’s left able to make big strategic plays to get things to change. They do it all the time. PR and issues management, if not handled the way Telstra is working with Connan at the moment, can be amazingly powerful tools.
The conclusion? Despite the fact that market ($) democracy is fundamentally flawed, it is still powerful. Every person’s voice to business, from within and without, to champion change by government is the only really powerful option left to our society.
Take for example Global Warming and how community has led business to (start) changing and business has finally nudged government into recognition of the issue. Now, global warming may just be a confusion of human arrogance, but the resulting actions (when we actually get around to mitigation and sustainable practices) will be well worth it in their own right (another detailed argument goes begging, sorry;).
So, in conclusion – Democracy is dead, long live Democracy: If people drive markets, and markets drive business, and business drives government, it may be convoluted, but it’s a viable hope that we can actually change the current state of the system.
Ahh, I’m an idealist, and a red wine punch drunk one at that!
Here’s Pascoe’s Crickey.com.au piece – far shorter and to the point than mine:
13. Fiscal humbuggery and other cunning plansMichael Pascoe writes:
“One of the more spectacular bits of fiscal humbuggery we have ever seen in this country” is Laura Tingle’s AFR description of the Howard/Costello money jar approach to having a large surplus and eating it too.
In the same tabloid, former NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris bells the most cunning part of the plan:
The government can safely promise to establish numerous money jars for popular causes and dedicate their future income because ministers know they can cut the normal budgetary allocations to the same causes if circumstances warrant it.
Those in the university sector who rapturously welcomed the higher education fund must have believed its income would always be additional to normal budgetary allocations. But ministers made no such promise.
But the man with the Magic Pudding surplus can pull more strategic political tricks than that out of his growing variety of “future funds”.
Firstly, it makes possible an election platform that promises many billions of dollars of necessary investment initiatives without incurring immediate Reserve Bank wrath.
Secondly, anyone remember what happens to NGOs that criticise the Federal Gvernment? Right. So hands up all the university vice-chancellors who’d happily see their institution’s name attached to criticism of government policy just when they’re begging for one of Costello’s research infrastructure grants. Ditto health professionals seeking a slice of the “Health and Medical Investment Fund”, ditto lobby groups and governments wanting some of the mooted “economic and social infrastructure” fund.
Thirdly, it’s a nice way of camouflaging the central problem in funding Australia’s inadequate education, health and infrastructure. As Macquarie Bank’s Rory Robertson has definitively explained, Canberra’s share of the national pudding is running at three-decade highs while what it passes on to the states is running at three-decade lows – GST pea-and-thimble tricks notwithstanding. That’s partly why Canberra has so much money and state services range from average to absolutely appalling.
Fourthly, the money jars mean the Magic Pudding spawns Magic Pork Barrels – a never-ending source of Commonwealth largesse to be trumpeted by smiling federal ministers being photographed with grateful recipients.
Fifthly, it’s one more step towards the One True Way for the Great Centraliser. The Coalition has been happy to use funding power to enforce its IR ideology on universities and state construction contracts, so one presumes the multiplying funds will be capable of achieving the same ends among those applying for grants.
And finally, it partially satisfies Costello’s stated initial reason for setting up the Future Fund, as reported in the up-coming Howard biography – it’s a way of keeping the hands of Kevin Rudd and John Howard off the money.
It could be worse, but it could also be better.