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Facing barbarism

Facing barbarism – David Faber

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Amidst the tumult of the 19th century, a wise man predicted that humanity would in due course have its fate in its own hands – when we had our backs to the wall. Our free will would face the choice between social democracy and barbarism, between establishing a democratic community of producers or socioeconomic and ecological collapse. Having to choose, we would have to choose wisely. Otherwise our history will end in the common ruin of the contending classes. In these latter days of history as we have known it, when both inequality and inefficiency are overshadowed only by the looming challenge of climate change, it has become impossible to address one without addressing the other.

On August 20 2019, a senior exponent of BHP, Andrew MacKenzie, conceded on ABC business television that the ecological challenge we face calls for the biggest social mobilization since World War II. Of course, he sees a role for the options of coal and nuclear power in a transition to a sustainable energy economy, although he at least admits that such an interested position is moot and controversial.

But the point he conceded remains vital: we need a Green New Deal going to the heart of what democracy will mean in the immediate future, a basic rewriting of the social contract between government and the governed, with guarantees of both genuine full employment and real climate action together with a Just Energy Transition.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spear headed the concept of a Green New Deal within the United States. In that country, reference to the role played by the public sector under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in helping to alleviate the misery of the Great Depression has never been altogether forgotten. The concept cannot, of course, be imported into this country without careful translation in national terms. It needs to be made Australian.

What we need is not just a GND, but a Green New Deal for Australia which speaks to the Australian people, made to measure for the needs of our econ- omy and environment. The imminent January 2020 University of Adelaide Sustainable Prosperity Conference will foster much pertinent thinking and may even have coined the phrase we need, one the people can recognize and understand.

Language concerns apart, the GND concept is already beginning to strike root here. Concept development work has begun around the country. Time and labour will be necessary to bring it to fruition, scientifically and politically. Discussion documents must be circulated and negotiated. Between the bare concept and the economic costing for economic planning for a well-regulated market economy with an adequate role for the public sector, there is much to be done.

Open minds and dialogue will be necessary as well as resolute application of key principles. There must be a just energy transition to reliance on renewable power generation, one in which the costs are fairly spread across society, and they’re likely to be less than the costs entailed in using fossil fuels. The working class must be reassured as of right that there will exist a proper supply of well-paying jobs, delivered by an Australian Job Guarantee. Labour rights to organize and collectively bargain and strike, undermined since 1975 in this country, must be restored and embodied within the Constitution.

Environmental remediation must be prioritized to arrest the ravages of climate change that are already upon us.

Roosevelt’s New Deal always had a green tinge to it. Among the first of the programmes rolled out was forestry work for the unemployed in upgrading national parks infrastructure. The GND must be green to the core and have the courage to sweep away the received shibboleths of austerity economics which have served the country and indeed the entire world so ill these last generations.

Provision must be made for skilled as well as `unskilled’ labour. To give an example, the Lomax brothers were employed by the Library of Congress during the New Deal to record the blues, unearthing talent like Huddy Leadbetter in a Southern prison. An Australian GND could employ citizen scientists across our landscape and humanists in our communities to ident- ify our history and problems we need to address socioeconomically.

Genuine Full Employment is feasible without inflation because after generations of running down the country there is so much that now needs to be done. Our unemployed workforce represents idle reserves of capacity and productivity, an opportunity as well as a problem.

Historian Stuart Macintyre has identified postwar reconstruction 1945-9 as the nation’s most enterprising era. Existing anti-public sector dogma and prejudice were cast aside. And the foundations of new industries were laid down. A brand new day of health care was mooted. Of course, reactionary forces mobilized to counter this clarion call. Closed minds will doubtless mobilize again. But we have nothing to fear but fear itself. And as a Nobel Prize winning poet said decades ago, `let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late’.

Dr David Faber is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Flinders University of SA, and is an ERA member.

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