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The coronavirus shock doctrine

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From the editorIn this week's issue we explore the ways in which the government is using the COVID-19
 

SundayFocus

April 19 · Issue #39 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this week’s issue we explore the ways in which the government is using the COVID-19 pandemic to sneak through new laws and regulations that weaken worker protections and entrench ruling class power. We also look at the High Court’s ruling on the AFP’s raid on Annika Smethurst’s home and check in on Australia’s renewable energy boom.
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Enjoy the issue, and take care.
Guy Mosel, editor

The coronavirus shock doctrine
by Guy Mosel
Photo by Edwin Hooper | Unsplash
Photo by Edwin Hooper | Unsplash
“In times of crisis, seemingly impossible ideas suddenly become possible,” says Naomi Klein at the beginning of a video for The Intercept on coronavirus and capitalism.
Klein, author of 2007’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, is uniquely placed to comment on events unfolding around us in the COVID-19 world. In her book Klein describes a recurring pattern of behaviour from right-wing governments in the wake of shocking events to exploit public disorientation and force through radical free-market policies that consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a few.
You only have to look at what happened in the wake of the GFC to understand how masterfully capital is able to take advantage of chaos. The capitalist class has seen massive gains in wealth globally since 2008/09, while worker income and wealth has never really recovered.
Here in Australia in the time of coronavirus, there’s been support for the government’s response to the pandemic’s economic impacts, from political rivals and the media alike. Some have heralded this moment as a circuit-breaker that could lead to a new kind of compassionate and cooperative politics.
But, as we cautioned in issue 37, “We’d be fools to believe that anything has fundamentally shifted.” And wouldn’t you know it: we were right!
During the week, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter (more on him in “The Week in Review” below) announced that bosses would be able to force workers to vote on changes to enterprise agreements within 24 hours, down from one week. It’s a blatantly anti-worker decision that reduces workers’ ability to consult with their union and organise, and empowers businesses to reduce pay and conditions with little resistance. Which they will most certainly do.
But that’s not all that the government is trying to ram through while we’re arguing about overzealous policing and stupefying ourselves with Netflix.
The Business Council of Australia has used the pandemic to launch an attack on corporate transparency laws, urging Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to use new COVID-19 powers [$] to suspend class actions and protect companies and directors who fail to provide continuous disclosure.
As former Senator Nick Xenophon points out, the continuous disclosure regime minimises “the potential for insider trading and other forms of market abuses that may arise as a result of entities withholding or selectively disclosing materially price sensitive information.” In other words: suspend these laws – even temporarily – and watch the financial elites cash in.
Elsewhere, bosses are calling for a wages freeze because of course they are. Master Grocers Australia, which represents 4000 independent retailers, has called for a one-year wage freeze to be imposed on retail workers in a submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review.
Meanwhile, the JobKeeper rorts have already begun (some employers have been telling staff they are entitled to keep a share of the payments as "administration fees”!), while the government doles out no-strings money to tax-dodging airlines.
And all of this is happening while parliament is suspended, leaving the government subject to no oversight. As Labor senator Kim Carr writes, “We must all practise social distancing, but that should not become an excuse for the abrogation of democracy.”
Nevertheless, this crisis remains an opportunity for the left, just as much as the right, and we shouldn’t be disheartened by the cynical and predictable machinations of the Coalition.
“If there is one thing that history teaches us,” says Naomi Klein, “it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by the elites, and pay the price for decades, or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier.
"This is no time to lose our nerve.”
The week in review
👎🏽 Slap on the wrist for the AFP
The High Court ruled during the week that the warrant authorising the search of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s property “failed to meet the most basic legal requirements” because it inadequately identified the offence and misstated the offence being investigated. However, as Dr Binoy Kampmark from RMIT writes, the victory “barely ruffled the feathers” of the national security state. “Looming in the background of the decision lie the unchallenged powers of the Attorney General, Christian Porter, in prosecuting journalists,” Dr Kampmark says. “A direction under the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions Act issued in September 2019 makes the point that where the CDPP deems it in the public interest to prosecute a journalist, ‘the consent of the attorney-general will also be required as a separate and additional safeguard.’”
This is what democracy looks like?
👍🏽 COVID-19 curve flattens, but uncertainty remains
Australia’s distancing and testing regime appears to be paying off with infection rates falling and fatality rates among the lowest in the world. But don’t expect a return to normality any time soon. The PM says the lockdown could last for “at least six months and potentially beyond that”. Sorry Sam Newman, no golf for you yet!
Meanwhile, confusion reigns across the country about coronavirus fines with varying degrees of enforcement and penalties between states.
👎🏽 Towering failure
Remediation costs for Mascot Towers in Sydney are expected to exceed $50 million, with owners now being encouraged to sell their properties. The apartment complex was at the epicentre of last-year’s high-rise apartment crisis, which exposed the under-regulation and rampant profiteering of the construction industry (we wrote about this in issue two). Since then the NSW government has proposed new laws that would introduce a risk rating system for builders, certifiers and developers to “weed out” dodgy operators, but nothing’s happened since January.
👍🏽 Australia outpacing the world on renewables
New data from the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that Australia is deploying new renewable energy sources at 10 times the global per capita rate, and four times faster than in Europe, the US, China or Japan. Almost all new renewables in Australia are solar photovoltaics (e.g. solar panels) and wind, while globally solar PV and wind account for two-thirds of new generation capacity.
And at 11.20am on Easter Saturday, for only the second time ever, renewable energy’s contribution to the national grid cracked the 50 per cent barrier, accounting for 50.7 per cent of power supplied to NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
Longreads
Bernie: gone but not defeated
'The impossible has already happened': what coronavirus can teach us about hope
For your bookshelf
Party Animals: The Secret History of a Labor Fiasco, by Samantha Maiden
Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, by Helen Lewis
Shop
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