Lesson’s of the Lucky Country
‘In a hot summer’s night in December 1964 I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia. The opening sentence of this last chapter was: ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.’ – Donald Horne on ‘The Lucky Country’
On Saturday 16 November 2013 there was a G20 discussion forum held at Justice Place, Woolloongabba and organised under the banner of Friends of the Earth Brisbane. [This grouping later became brisCAN-G20 which replaced Anti-G20 Action Group (or ‘Anti-GAG‘) as a focus for the Left.] The forum was well organised and well attended but lasted for six hours. However raised important issues surrounding G20 leaders summit to be held in Brisbane in November 2014.
At the time I thought the most important issue raised on the day was the question of the Lucky Country which came out just before lunch during a Skype discussion with a person from Oxfam.
I was troubled by the assumption of the Lucky Country because it affects directly how we approached the coming G20 ‘leaders’ forum in Brisbane in 2014 (if at all).
There was an assumption at the meeting that the world consists of a group of rich nations and a large number of poor nations. A speaker from Oxfam said that Australia is a rich country and that India is a poor country. Yet the disparity between rich and poor within these countries is greater than the disparity in wealth between an average Australian family and and average Indian family. There is greater income inequality inside some of the richest countries than within poorer countries. For example America, land of the free, home of the middle class, is worse on this measure than Iran, Nigeria and Nicaragua.
A traveller recently returned from the USA had this to say:
“To my eyes the US appeared like a struggling and decaying third world living inside a first world country where a tiny fraction of the population is obscenely rich and in total control of the political process and economic life.
I saw private opulence for a few and struggle for the rest.
Most of the low paid jobs in the hospitality industry belong to Hispanics and blacks who get paid about $5 an hour. Calls for a living wage of $15 an hour are shouted down as being communistic. You don’t have to have slavery when you can buy labour at $5 an hour and throw it out into the street without an adequate safety net if it gets sick or old.”
Post apartheid South Africa has the second worse result on this index than all 136 countries measured.
A young lawyer working in Colombia earns less than a cleaner in Australia. A cleaner in Brazil requires a month to earn the same amount as a cleaner in Australia earns in a day. This is partly because unions have been more effective and stronger in Australia. Wages in parts of China have caught up with wages in the USA. However, in Australia, the minimum wage is all but abolished. Much of the work in Australia is unpaid. Volunteerism, unpaid domestic work (still performed mainly by women), traineeships, and outright exploitation abounds both here and abroad. Unionism, the right of workers to organise, has been tamed by anti-union legislation introduced by successive Australian governments. Strikes are restricted and secondary boycotts illegal under both Labor and Liberal governments
Who should be in G20?
The Australian government claims we should be in the G20. Yet, on our doorstep, we have the poorest country in the world, Timor Leste. Its impoverishment is due in part to the theft by Australia of East Timor’s rich gas and oils reserves.
Many parts of Australia (e.g. Palm Island, Cherbourg, Yuendumu, Doomadgee) live in abject poverty and amount to open air prisons not unlike Gaza in Palestine.
Logan City is not a first world city. Poverty is high and a way out for the young unlikely.
People living in suburbs of Brisbane e.g. in Acacia Ridge, Inala, Stafford, Ipswich go hungry at night. Aboriginal children are being stolen from their parents (& their culture) by Qld Department of Child Safety (DOCs) on the basis that there is insufficient food in the cupboards. Children are given to foster parents from a different culture. Are these the acts of a developed country?
Every year the Australian Prime Minister makes a ‘closing the gap’ speech.
In her February 2013 ‘closing the gap’ speech PM Julia Gillard made comments about ‘rivers of grog‘ going into remote communities. The prime minister’s speech was part of the annual cover-up of failure of the racist Northern Territory intervention.
- Closing the gap by Intervention
On 15 June 2007 after commissioning the Little Children are Sacred the Howard government claimed the Northern Territory intervention was necessary because there are paedophiles at large in the aboriginal community. Yet this military intervention scored only 2 convictions.
The ‘closing the gap’ speech ignores the real crime of poverty fostered on this our secret country. It ignores the reality of dispossession – lack of running water, education, prospect of a job, loss of culture.
Meanwhile Cuba rates higher than Australia on sustainability, healthcare, gender gap, literacy etc … yet Cuba is listed as a developing country and Australia is in the G20?
Australia ranks 24 behind South Africa, Cuba, Burundi, the Philippines, Latvia and Lesotho on on ‘the gender gap’ – the relative inequality between women and men across four key areas of health, education, economy and politics.
I do not wish the general assumption that Australia is The Lucky Country to go unchallenged.
There are two countries here in Australia – one is rich and the other is poor. The rich country does not give a damn about the poor and ignores the reality of the other. There is a secret country here in Australia and that is a developing country because it lacks food, running water, education, access to an economic future and affordable housing. Jobs are unsafe in this secret country, there is no democracy – no democratic rights at work, no equality, no respect. In the 1970s capitalism had globalised our bosses’ jobs, now workers’ jobs have been globalised as well. It is little wonder that the suicide rate of young and poor is so high.
There is alienation in the rich country/poor country assumption because it means Australians can ignore what is going on under our noses to focus on problems far away – things that we do not understand because we are not ‘on the ground’. Who truly understands where China is headed when wages are growing in the cities but where poverty, misery and social upheaval abound? A command economy that closed half its industry during the GFC so that the 2008 Beijing Olympics could be held in clean air (sic). Joe Hockey (who’s he, you ask) said China will continue to grow at 7% or 8%
This alienation from what is happening a few suburbs away or even in your own workplace helps cultivate the myth of the Lucky Country.
The Tactical Struggle – from line to wheel
Not that long ago we were a small part of a global movement – an occupation of Post Office Square surrounded by banks and large companies. Workplaces to become restricted zones during G20. Our occupation was terminated and we never got into workplaces. After all, even if we could agree to occupy the workplaces surrounding us by consensus, would the workers in those offices welcome us? I think not. It takes years to organise such actions, and even well-resourced unions are prohibited.
Over 100,000 workers went to work during G20 leaders summit in Brisbane (except on the public holiday, Friday 14 November 2014) to what became ‘the restricted zone’ under new legislation passed by the Queensland parliament.
‘Didn’t ask for the anal probe’?
So after lunch at the G20 discussion forum we were organised into a continuum no doubt testing our commitment to mass or individual actions. It was called a Spectrum (speculum?) exercise where two extreme positions are given. Neither of them are “right” or “wrong”, both of them are problematic. We were told that’s the point.
It’s an exercise that is supposed to encourage people to listen to each others positions, and hear some different interpretations of the terms/ideas to their own.
It’s a whole body activity where, even if people don’t speak they still “demonstrate” their opinions (unlike other activities where the man with the loudest voice wins). Or so we were told.
We didn’t know it at the time for the line of the two extremes was called ‘being united is extremely important‘ to ‘being united is not important at all‘.
We clumped into grouplets.
Our ‘facilitator’ exhorted us to try to stand in a straight line. I prefer the term ‘teacher’ in this context.
Forty years of left-wing intellectual argument made standing in a line difficult.
How can we be reduced to a single line?
We aren’t just individuals, right?
At first we lacked sufficient collective imagination to realise that along that imaginary line lay years of affinity groups, pickets, occupations, guerrilla marches, strikes, street marches, rallies, convergence, moratoriums, divestments, secondary boycotts, sanctions, mass mobilisations.
The Spectrum could have been anything:
'Ideas are important' ___________ 'Organisation is important' 'Libertarian'____________________________________ 'Socialist' 'The word'_________________________________________ 'The act' 'Sectarian' _____________________________________ 'Community' 'Union official' ______________________________ 'Rank & File' The 'Leadership'______________________________ The 'Movement' 'Vanguard' _______________________________ 'Popular Struggle' 'Radical Chic'__________________________________ 'Trotskyite' 'Student Centrist' ____________________________ 'Workerist' The list is as long as your imagination
Our teacher was frustrated with us, the day had been hot and the preparation hard. Would we pass muster? Failure became clear when we started discussing ‘spokes-councils’ – a form of direct democracy as opposed to Marxist democratic centralism, we had gone back in time without language or analysis to make sense of it. We found ourselves in a debate somewhere between Proudhon and Marx, libertarianism versus socialism.
But when we were asked to explain the failure of the 80,000 in Brisbane to stop the war in Iraq in 2003 we were jolted back to present failure. We remembered those forgotten arguments and everyone tried to speak at once. We all have our own point of view, but do we want to work together? Isn’t that what it comes down to? What was once a network is now a wheel, a chairperson is called a facilitator, a rally is a convergence … there are so many words to tease out. Imperialism or globalisation? The old left, the new left? The vanguard, the mudguard (sic).
Of course the organisers wanted us to go through this – they knew the weakness of their own process, the weakness of following leaders. Why else would someone come up with Spectrum? But nobody expects the anal probe, right?
Our teacher called out someone from ‘Stop the War’ on his opinion that the Iraq war demos were successful. In her mind that opinion is/was ridiculous. But not on the basis of his opinion that unity is important, actually teacher appreciated that position more after hearing some of the ideas expressed in favour of the mobilisation of 80,000 people in Brisbane to stop the war.
But ‘teacher’ had gone too far, her co-‘facilitator’ stepped in, encouraging people to show respect and maintain a sense of community.
Why do we always have to descend into the tactical struggle?
Is it repression that forces us here? Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) has its weakness as does mass mobilisation, we should recognise that. This is doubly ironic because people advocating mass action haven’t organised a single mass mobilisation against the war in Syria since it became Armageddon for 4 million Syrians flocking to Europe and elsewhere.
I remember all the Palm Sunday, Anti-Uranium, Talisman Sabre Convergence, Queensland Uncut actions numbering no more than a few hundred since the Iraq war in 2003, yet advocates of autonomous actions have been part of mobilisations of thousands (the zombie marches, the anonymous march).
These, of course, lack political focus but then so did Occupy.
In the film ‘The Battle of Algiers’ the autonomous cell in the Casbah in the 1950s was found wanting by the French military, as were mass mobilisations against the Iraq war fifty years later in 2003. And it is not that far from Algiers to Iraq, from Libya to Syria, to where next will the bombers strike? I mean the ones in the air. But throw in the ones on the ground as well.
We should be careful what we wish for. We could end up like the protestors at the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005 hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the same one that a current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may denounce as a war criminal – we could be ‘kettled’ and stacked up in cages wearing plastic handcuffs.
In the end I went off to a strike, my old union was in the thick of it, and though it may seem old fashioned with all this talk of glamour through global resistance, I went to lend a hand.
No matter how creative the tactics employed at G20’s, what intellectual treatises are written on the global financial crisis, nothing is possible without the less glamorous but necessary organisational work and commitment in the workplace and on the streets.
So the anti-G20 demonstrations went ahead, there were few arrests; one of them, symbolic, when Ciaron O’Reilly said he would ‘shirt-front’ Obama over the latter’s commitment to ongoing war in Iraq.
We camped out in Musgrave Park, we marched with the first nations mob and saw their response in the full light of day and after a few minor arguments about funds we went on back to what we had always done.
We respond to each new level of repression and pain as it happens. Along came Libya, bombed into oblivion by NATO. Then the French went into Mali to steal their gold. And finally Syria. The Greek revolt did not last, austerity had taken its toll.
Predictably our teacher gave up on us, probably concluding brisCAN’T and moved on.
We heard little from Antayla … it was subsumed by carnage and climate changes in Paris. Do Turks think of themselves as living in the Lucky Country, maybe. Do the Chinese? The caravan of leaders move on.
So I return to my writing, not forgetting where I came from or in, not defeated either but simply deciding to go on ahead.
Sitting in the sun on Scorpius 1963 a very good year bad year Greek democracy died political assassination grew to national proportions with the victims the President and Lee Harvey Oswald on live tv in front of my eyes living in a house covered with snow and sunlight falling through the lace curtains in the tv room on Scorpius the play of weather on real-time screens batch processed through megabit disks to predict weather here and there in the Chile streets to the victor belongs the spoils in Greece the winter stadium become prison as bare months ago so too the stadium became the prison as the shudder of spring turned red with the blood of brothers ya estan matando a Chilenos and now they are killing Chileans in the Greek sports stadiums too they are showing how they define spoils justice live to fight fight to live - Daniel del Solar To the Victor belongs the Spoils
Lesson from Syriza in Greece – power does not lie in Parliament!
1 Dec 2015
If you wish to see objective evidence of the gender gap: Australia ranks 24 behind South Africa, Cuba, Burundi, the Philippines, Latvia and Lesotho – http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2013/#=
Country Comparison :: Distribution of family income – Gini index
Joshua Bloom & Waldo Martin, Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party UC Press, 2013
Guilt by Association LeftPress 1980
* ‘I didn’t ask for the anal probe‘ – comic line from the 1992 movie Passion Fish by John Sayles. A speculum is a metal instrument that is used to dilate an orifice or canal in the body to allow inspection.