Archive for December, 2010

December 2, 2010

All I want for Xmas is…


It’s that time of the year again. It’s the festival of festivals to boost the profits of giant retail stores. The “Spirit of Christmas” demands to be fed with your uber-maxed credit card. “Hark the herald: Buy, buy buy!”

There’s a new desperation to the seasonal message this year. The shoppers are not splurging like they should.

A recent Westpac survey found that consumers would spend 34% less in 2010 than in 2009.

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman explained: “This year has been tough for retailers with consumers still suffering from a post-GFC hangover and being very careful about opening their purses and spending on particular items especially clothing, footwear and bigger ticket household items.”

But the retailer companies have a plan to fix this. According to ARA, “retailers are moving away from the traditional strategy of holding post-Christmas sales, with almost 63% of retailers saying they will hold pre-Christmas sales this year, offering discounts of to 30% on top of other promotions such as product giveaways and two-for-one deals.”

Oh cool! We can rush into a shopping centre now and get lots of stuff that no one really needs. And hey, we can put it all on the card further lifting Australian total credit card debt beyond $50 billion.

Outstanding credit card loans have grown 16% in the past three years to $47.6 billion. $35.1 billion of this debt is accumulating interest and the banks are raising credit card interest rates, even though the average standard credit card interest rate is 19.6%.

In June this year, the Melbourne Institute reported that credit card had overtook home mortgages as the biggest part of household debt.

But debt makes the world go round right? It seems to have kept CEO pay rocketting on despite the GFC. So why should ordinary folk worry? According to Annette Sampson in the November 27 Sydney Morning Herald: “After falling during the GFC, household debt has kicked back up again in Australia, to about 160% of disposable incomes, which is higher than US levels of about 120%”.

Don’t anyone mention “Ireland”…

If I’ve got you mad about Xmas shopping. Here is a way out: Give your friends and family something that’s useful and helps us build an alternative to this capitalist shop-till-you-drop madness. Give them a subscription to Green Left Weekly!

Building the subscription base is the best way to make sure that Green Left Weekly keeps going. Readers of the column know how hard it is to keep a project like this afloat. Each week I have reported on the struggle to reach our $300,000 annual fighting fund target. As of the end of November we’ve raised $205,114. We received $11,347 in the last week. Thank you! Now we are into the final stretch.

It won’t be easy but every new subscriber is a regular reader who may end up contributing in more ways than one to the Green Left project. The loyalty of our subscribers is a wondersful thing we’d be in deep trouble without you. If you can help us grow our subscriber base you’ll be making a great contribution.

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December 2, 2010

NSW: Not for sale!

Socialist Alliance placard.

The Socialist Alliance will be campaigning in the upcoming NSW elections around the slogan: “NSW: Not for sale! Community need not corporate greed”. It sums up the about turn in priorities that is needed in the interest of environmental sustainability and social justice.

The ALP is going to get trashed in these elections. The Victorian election result confirms that. The Keneally government is much more on the nose that the Brumby government was in Victoria.

Keneally and her predecessors have taken the ALP government to record lows in the opinion polls and the reason for this is their criminal embrace of the corporate profits-first agenda.

In the interest of boosting corporate profits they’ve gone on a mad privatisation spree, with the electricity industry currently on the auctioneers block. They have run down the public transport system and wasted billions of dollars in various disastrous Public-Private Partnerships mostly on building a string of private tollways.

It is bad enough running down the rail system, delaying much needed heavy rail extensions and light rail developments, and pouring money into the pollution-creating and still gridlocked road system, but they did it in the most wasteful way possible.

An independent study commissioned by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils found that if these tollroads and tunnels had been built by the government, it would have assets worth $12.8 billion on its books and it would be at least $4.6 billion better off.

The Keneally government is prepared to blow a further $1-2 billion to subsidise the wholesale price of electricity from dirty coal powered stations to guarantee the future profits of the electricity privatisers.

Over the last 15 years, NSW’s publicly owned electricity industry generated $15 billion in dividends for the NSW government, income which will turned over to private corporate profit. According to Professor Bob Walker of Sydney University, any price the NSW government may get for its electricity privatisation was likely to be ”dwarfed by the potential value to taxpayers from retaining these assets.”

Socialist Alliance is discussing a proposal, inspired by excellent work done by the Beyond Zero Emissions project, for a full-scaled, pilot solar-thermal power plant to be built in NSW near a major regional city such as Broken Hill, Moree or Dubbo, as a first investment in a fully renewable energy future. BZE calculates that a power station that could supply all the electricity needs of such a city could be built for less than $1 billion and it could become part of a future national network of solar-thermal that could in future help take Australia to using 100% renewable energy.

The technology, expertise and resources are available and a project like this can focus society on the urgent collective investment we need to make in a renewable energy future.

The privatisation madness needs to be stopped and indeed reversed! The billions of dollars wasted squandered on privatisation and PPPs could be invested in better hospitals, schools, public transport, public housing and a serious transition to renewable energy. Hospital waiting lists could be slashed, nurse-to-patient ratios could be lifted to a mandated minimum of 1:4.

Socialist Alliance has a placard that says: “Privatisation is theft – No means no”. It sums up the truth about the privatisation drive and the overwhelming public opposition to the various NSW privatisations registered in numerous polls.

Privatisation is but one aspect of a system that is totally corrupted by the profits-first agenda. Coal mine owning billionaires, developer billionaires and the like have literally bought the NSW state government and the traditional parties of government, the ALP and the Liberal-National Party Coalition.

In turn, these politicians have help carry out a massive transfer of income share from the majority of people who are wage earners to corporate profits, which are monopolised by a tiny minority. We have calculated, using Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, that $2.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) has been shifted from wages to profits across Australia since 1974-75! Profit share of total income in Australia has increased from 16.9% to 27.7% while wage share has decreased from 62.7% to 54%.

To get away with such a systematic transfer of wealth to the richest, our politicians have used age-old techniques of divide and rule. In articular, they are using racism, blaming and demonising refugees for our economic woes and growing insecurity. In expensive and socially destructive “law and order” campaigns – a staple of Labor and Coalition state election campaigns minority communities like Aborigines and Lebanese are targeted. Meanwhile the jail population keeps growing, with no positive impact on crime, and deaths in custody (particularly of Indigenous Australian) continue.

Politicians are systematically bought with corporate donations which they then used to carry out lying, negative TV election advertising. Politicians and the fat cats heading government departments demand that they can like the grossly overpaid corporate CEOs while values such as public service, accountability and political independence are destroyed.

Peter Boyle. Photo by Robert Alcock.

It is no wonder that a major issue in this elections, is how to end this rot. The Greens have combined with the Keneally government to place limited restrictions on corporate and union donations to political parties. But these corrupt parties still be able to collect millions of dollars from these donations plus from the election funding system – which grossly favours the big parties — to will spend on manipulative election advertising.

We suggest a different approach. Let’s kill off this multi-million dollar deception industry that comes with every election and get the state electoral commission to distribute the policies of all parties and candidates contesting the election.

Let’s put a limit on politicians incomes and the incomes of the top bureaucrats. These should be limited to the wage of a skilled worker and they should not be allowed any pay increases unless they are matched with similar increase for ordinary workers, pensioners and the unemployed.

In the new year, the Socialist Alliance will release its election platform and a couple of specific proposals that will focus an alternative way forward for NSW. We have announced four Legislative Assembly candidates and part of the full-ticket of 21 which we plan to run for the Legislative Council.

The candidates that the Socialist Alliance is fielding in the coming NSW election are just a small selection of the committed socialist activists urgently needed to build a new social movement for real change. There are many more such people out there – people who are already helping transform the unjust and unsustainable society we now are forced to live in – and only some of them are in the Socialist Alliance. We are working to unite all the social activists who are critical to mobilising the people’s power that is required to wrest society away from the corporate rich. This is why we are approaching activists who are not members of the Socialist Alliance but who share our values to be part of our upper house ticket.

The Socialist Alliance will be directing its first preferences to the Greens as a general rule and, though we don’t think that the Labor party is much better, we will preference Labor ahead of the Liberal-National Coalition and other right-wing parties.

(Peter Boyle is National Convener of the Socialist Alliance and will head its Legislative Council ticket in the March 2011 NSW election.)