At the end of an interview
on ABC’s RN Breakfast program during the week, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said she welcomed having a close working relationship with business during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I hate using the term but it is certainly a ‘Team Australia’ moment,” she said, echoing the prime minister’s revival of the slogan a couple of weeks earlier.
While McManus was self-consciously using the term to describe the common purpose of governments, business and the union movement in seeing Australia through this crisis, she’s wise to be wary of it.
Surely we’re not all that worm-brained that we can’t recall barely six years ago when that cynical phrase first emerged. A dog whistle to his racist far-right constituency and a circling of the wagons against criticism, Tony Abbott first unveiled “Team Australia” when announcing tough new security measures “widely perceived to target Muslims
“You don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team,” Abbott explained to Ray Hadley at the time.
This George W. Bush-style reduction of national identity to an us-and-them (remember Dubya’s
“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”) was used as a shield by Abbott and his government to protect them from criticism for encroaching on civil liberties. Because if you’re not on Team Australia, who’s team are you really on?
Morrison’s revival of this slogan serves a similar end: you’re either on his side – Australia’s side – or you’re not. In other words, now is not the time for scrutiny, critique or politics, and anyone who engages in such is unAustralian.
Don’t believe the hype
newspaper ate this up, of course. In the paper’s March 18 editorial
[$] it accused “some experts in public policy and medical affairs” with “relevance deprivation syndrome” as effectively showing off by offering public opinions on the government’s COVID-19 response.
columnist Troy Bramston scolded
Anthony Albanese for not being supportive enough of the government, saying voters would reward “bipartisanship, cooperation, unity”.
Across the country there have been calls for cooperation and consensus, while premiers, business leaders and union bosses have congratulated each other for working together.
At the same time, there is an emerging belief that the government’s responses to the pandemic are proof of some kind of tectonic realignment of Australian politics. That Morrison and his party have had a Damascene conversion, abandoning their decades-long project of privatisation, financialisation and immiseration.
There’s even been chatter
about the Coalition embracing socialism
which, while obviously ridiculous, is evidence of just how far to the right the Overton window has shifted that bog-standard social democratic programs like free daycare and a decent social safety net are viewed as the beginning of the revolution.
It’s lovely to think that from the ashes of this crisis a new anti-neoliberal political consensus just emerges by magic, but if you think that this bonhomie and back-slapping is evidence that capital is going to meekly roll over and let that happen you’ve got franking credits in your head.
Do you think the BCA is overjoyed that Centrelink payments have been increased because they care about our welfare? Do you think industry is delighted with the wage subsidy because they really love their employees and want to do right by them?
Of course not. The government’s response to this crisis has always
been about protecting businesses
, and ensuring that we can return to the status quo once the pandemic is under control. Capital understands this. It’s what states always do.
We’d be fools to believe that anything has fundamentally shifted; Morrison is already preparing us for the inevitable return to business-as-usual by referring to a “snap-back
” which would unwind all COVID-19 programs. If we really want this circuit-breaking moment to be the beginning of a transformational journey we will have to fight for it.
Ignore the Team Australia pablum; now is the time for more politics, not less.