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The dangerous myth of Team Australia

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From the editorIn this week's issue we look at Scott Morrison's resurrection of "Team Australia" and
 

SundayFocus

April 5 · Issue #37 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this week’s issue we look at Scott Morrison’s resurrection of “Team Australia” and warn that we can’t fall into the trap of thinking that scrutiny of the government during this crisis is against the national interest. We also find out how tenants are organising to protect their rights and ponder the future of local news with the collapse of 60 suburban titles.
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Stay safe.
Guy Mosel, editor

The dangerous myth of Team Australia
by Guy Mosel
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
The Australian 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.
Australian 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.
The week in review
👍🏽 Renters are revolting
COVID-19 continues to reshape the nation’s view of economic relationships with renters asserting more power over landlords, aided by the federal government calling on states to implement a six-month ban on evictions. Renters across the country are demanding landlords reduce rent or offer rent holidays to tenants whose incomes have been hit by the dramatic economic slowdown. Organisations like Brisbane Renters Alliance, which prior to the pandemic were calling for rent control and minimum property maintenance standards, are now insisting the government suspend all rent payments during the shutdown and that a vacancy tax be introduced for landlords intentionally leaving properties vacant.
Unions are also getting involved with UnionsACT demanding the ACT implement a complete ban on evictions, while the Victorian Trades Hall has called on the Minister for Consumer Affairs to protect residential renters. The ACTU, meanwhile, has criticised real estate agents for encouraging tenants to dip into their superannuation to pay their rent. ASIC has warned that real estate agents doing this could face five years jail.
👎🏽 Migrant workers exposed
Over a million temporary migrant workers, many without any way to get home, are facing poverty and homelessness having been excluded from the government’s coronavirus relief packages. Matt Kunkel from the Migrant Workers Centre said they’ve been hit with 2000 requests for help. “Ten per cent of the workforce are temporary migrant workers, we rely on them and we need to make sure we look after them in this pandemic,” he said. Australian Chamber of Commerce CEO James Pearson claims the government “had to draw a line somewhere”, perhaps forgetting that drawing a line in this instance means people might literally die. Keep up the good work, James!
👍🏽 COVID-19 response demands oversight
A number of distinguished judges have called for a bi-partisan parliamentary oversight committee to be established to scrutinise the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis while parliament is closed. Australia Institute director Ben Oquist said the multi-party committee would “help secure accountability and give the Australian public confidence in the decisions of the government in this time of crisis”. The New Zealand government recently established a similar committee which publicly broadcasts its hearings.
👎🏽 Local news collapses
News Corp’s decision to close 60 suburban titles is evidence of just how bad things are in Australian media. In The Conversation, academics Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller argue that local newspapers ought to be designated an essential service and afforded their own bailout. But former MEAA federal secretary Chris Warren contends [$] that local media is ill-served by remaining in the hands of corporations like News and Australian Community Media: “Large chains like News Corp have been gutting the ‘local’ out of local print media for a quarter of a century, cutting and consolidating their way to sustain profits as advertising has dwindled.” Warren argues that “strong, independent, local journalism that meets the needs of its communities” must emerge from the rubble of local papers.
Longreads
Inside the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine
The crisis in Wuhan ‘forced me to become political’
For your bookshelf
The Future of Us, by Liz Allen
Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, by Paul Mason
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