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Friday, May 20, 2016

Refuting Rita Panahi on Melbourne's Homeless ; Opposing Small Government; Rejecting the Character Assassination of Duncan Storrar

above:  An Iranian refugee, Herald-Sun columnist Rita Panahi has little tolerance for Conservative Islam when it comes to the role of women ; But since being a Labor Party activist in the 1990s Panahi has now 'swung Right' , and seems to have little patience for the liberal rights of Melbourne's Homeless.
What Follows are a number of Letters – written by Tristan Ewins to the ‘Herald-Sun’ and ‘The Age’ around May 2016 ; This time the topic matter includes ‘The Cost of Small Government’, ‘the Character Assassination of Duncan Storrar’, and ‘attacks on the liberal rights of the Homeless made in the Herald-Sun by columnist, Rita Panahi’….  At the time of my posting these none of these letters had been published.   Sometimes I succeed, though, so I am trying to persevere. :-)

The following was a response to Herald-Sun columnist, Rita Panahi – who attacks some of Melbourne’s homeless for daring to make a political protest against their plight
Rita Panahi and Intolerance for the Homeless: What of liberal rights?
Rita Panahi’s attack on the Homeless (HS 18/5) is distressing.  She argues that the protest in the City Square has become “political” because protestors are standing in solidarity with others for a more permanent solution to homelessness rather than just accepting the short-term solutions offered to them personally.  Here, Panahi’s comparison with the “Occupy” movement also displays an intolerance for political activism and protest.  Too often amongst more-conservative commentators there is an almost-systemic promotion of intolerance with regard rights of protest and civil disobedience underscoring our liberal society. Panahi admits that amongst these people there are “physical and mental health issues”, but she does not consider in depth the nature of those afflictions, and how they affect peoples’ capacity to provide for themselves long-term.. Also there is the question of housing affordability, including rental-affordability for those in poverty– the consequence of the housing bubble.  Panahi observes the social programs offered by the Salvation Army, inferring the solution is for individuals to give generously to charity. But while charities do valuable work, nonetheless homelessness and other social problems require resources that only government can bring to the table. It is entirely legitimate to demonstrate in favour of that kind of solution.

The following two letters cover very similar terrain to each other.  Their non-publication (so-far) is suggestive that the Herald-Sun may not accommodate debate on the issue of ‘small government’ – as if ‘both sides’ should take it  as a ‘given’.  The comparison with the Nordics illustrates just HOW small ‘small government’ is in this country ; and the social and economic consequences…. The example of Nordic Health Care versus US Health Care speaks volumes: Hence I tried twice to get that information published in the Herald-Sun…  'The Age' had published that information in a different context earlier in 2016.
The cost of ‘Small Government’: Letter One’

Malcolm Turnbull warns Australians to watch out for “Labor’s big spend”. Yet tax, in Australia is approximately  25% of GDP compared with approximately 50 per cent in the Nordic countries.  The Nordics understand that you must INVEST resources to reap the rewards.  Neglect of services and infrastructure saves money short term – but harm the economy long term. Transport and communications infrastructure add to productivity, and there is the prospect of new industries arising from Labor’s world-class National Broadband Network. ‘Human Capital’ means more high-wage, high-skill jobs – but requires an investment in Education. An interventionist Industry Policy can get unemployment sustainably down well below 5% boosting tax revenue and growth - but also requires resources. -(The Swedes demonstrated a sustainable rate of unemployment around as low as 2% was possible for several decades during the 20th Century)  Social consumption (via tax) can also provide better value and free-up wealth for private consumption elsewhere.  Nordic universal health care costs around 9% of their GDP, whereas the US system of (mainly-private) health insurance costs 18% of their GDP for only 40% coverage.  (from ‘Governomics’ by Lyons and McAuley) Finally we are a society, not merely an economy ‘in abstract’.  Health, Education, Aged Care, ABC and SBS, Roads, Rail, NBN – are ‘social goods’ which improve our security and quality of life.  These things are worth investing in if they make us happier and healthier.   If anything Labor’s policies are exceedingly-modest ; but still far-preferable to Conservative austerity.

The cost of ‘Small Government’: Letter Two’

The Herald-Sun (21/5/16) observes that “record high” taxation will soon be necessary without big spending cuts.  But Australian taxes are already extremely low (24.2% of GDP) compared with Denmark and Sweden. (at around 50%)  We would need to raise tax by approximately $400 billion to match!  Also, the economies of European and Nordic countries don’t seem at all worse off – despite Conservative warnings only ‘small government’ delivers prosperity. Higher taxes can mean better industry policies and better education opportunities – with the growth and prosperity which follows. Without so-called ‘bigger government’ we have regressive charges for higher education, the neglect of state schooling, and the destruction of public health (Medicare). Also, private consumption can offer bad value for money compared with ‘collective consumption’ via tax. The Nordics spend around 9% of their GDP on universal public health care, compared with the US whose private system soaks up 18% of their GDP for only 40% coverage.   So low-taxes are a ‘false economy’ leaving  Australians worse-off. And Labor’s proposed reforms (eg: $7 billion saved from Negative Gearing and Capital Gains Tax) are very modest when put in the global context.  (editor pls note: The stats on health care come from “Governomics” by Lyons and McAuley)

The following was in response to attempts to demonise Duncan Storrar in the Murdoch Press:  A low income worker with a family – Storrar pointed out on QandA how Scott Morrison’s election Budget provided very little for those on low incomes: 

Character Assassination to Stigmatise the Working Poor

Much of the mass media sees fit to dig up the past of Duncan Storrar apparently with the aim of discrediting arguments that have arisen around him about distributive justice in this country. But Duncan’s history in no way detracts from the needs of his family, or the needs of others on low incomes.  That includes millions of working people: in aged care, child care, hospitality, cleaning, retail, cab driving and more.  Some on around $40,000/year ; some on much less.  These are the people who suffer most from the GST – which is a flat (regressive) tax on consumption. They are the people who have suffered most from the user pays which followed privatizations.  They are the people who would suffer most from cuts in penalty rates. Indeed: in some ways the exploitation of the working poor props up the material living standards of others: and that is not fair.  Fairness demands a restructuring of the tax mix.. It requires a stronger welfare state,  social wage, and stronger labour market regulation.  The average wage in Australia is around $60,000/year: and even that is distorted by the weight of those on very high incomes.  Why is it that calls for fairness for workers and pensioners are branded ‘class warfare’ but measures which hurt the poor and vulnerable do not attract the same label?

The following was written in response to an ideological attack on the Left  published in the Letters section of the Herald-Sun around April-May

Response on ‘The Left’ re: Herald Sun

Anthony Gilchrist attacks ‘The Left’ on a number of fronts, and in a way which warrants a response.  Firstly, it is true that there is a double standard from many when it comes to the treatment of Christianity and Islam. As a Left-Wing Christian this disturbs me greatly. On the other hand our accepting and pluralistic culture has if anything provided a shield against Terrorism - ameliorating the alienation that can lead to Terrorist acts. Meanwhile with regard Indigenous Australia, closing the gap on Education and Life Expectancy remain legitimate objectives ; and a Treaty might provide the kind of reconciliation that enables us to ‘move forward together’ as a nation.  Gilchrist condemns multiculturalism ; but while there are crime problems in some migrant communities is it the ‘Christian’ thing to do to turn refugees away?  (Many of whom are Christians themselves, fleeing war and persecution)  Meanwhile, of course we should never forget or disrespect the sacrifice of the ANZACs.  But neither should we be uncritical with regard this nation’s participation in wars.  60,000 Australians died in World War One – many others horribly maimed and mentally scarred.  Only resistance from within the labour movement prevented the death of many thousands more.  That war was an Imperialist bloodbath more so than ‘a fight for freedom and democracy’.  Some people on the Left have drifted away from engagement, preferring to silence their ideological enemies. But calling the Left ‘un-Australian’ is just a way in itself of silencing critical opinions.



  1. Concerning Duncan Storrar, it's a good letter.

    You write, "These are the people who suffer most from the GST – which is a flat (regressive) tax on consumption. They are the people who have suffered most from the user pays which followed privatizations. They are the people who would suffer most from cuts in penalty rates."

    Unfortunately these are also the people who will suffer the most if there's a recession, and if he end up with 10 to 15% unemployment, and if the budget is so badly in deficit when the recession comes, these are the people who'll suffer the most if the government of the day is unable to design a fiscal stimulus package because there's simply no money there.

    The Gillard government already massively increased the lowest tax bracket just 2 years ago as compensation for the carbon tax. Tony Abbott then, irresponsibly, left the compensation in place while axing the carbon tax. There is simply no money available to increase the lowest tax bracket again.

    It may be just political to increase the middle income tax bracket as Morrison has done. We could argue about whether or not that's a good decision, but it's not helpful to give the poorest people a false hope that we could increase the lowest tax bracket yet again when we clearly can't and we clearly won't, regardless of who wins the election. Shorten & Bowen won't do it either, and we all know that.

    I think Duncan Storrar has been manipulated by the producers of Q&A. If he's mentally ill, he should not have been put on national TV in the middle of an election campaign to score some political points for the Left if he's not well enough to deal with the media attention. It's quite appalling.

  2. Thanks Alex ; I think the point I try to make in the 'small government' letters is that tax should rise to pay for social programs. I agree we can't 'put everything on the credit card indefinitely'. But to match the Swedes we'd need to increase tax by about $400 billion! In my most optimistic moments I suggest increasing social expenditure by a $40 billion under a first-term Shorten Labor Government, and then maybe wind back superannuation concessions. Super Concessions will soon cost $50 billion/ year according to Richard Denniss. Also in my most optimistic moments I think of transitioning to a Nordic-style welfare state of 20 to 30 years. I'm also realistic enough to concede that optimism isn't so well-founded. But for once I would like to see SIGNIFICANT OVERALL PROGRESS from a Labor Government on the fronts of distributive justice, social wage, social insurance, social welfare and infrastructure. And maybe some honest discussion about a democratic mixed economy; how many of our privatisations were misconceived ; what kind of mixed economy is best, and in the interests of our constituents....

  3. Let's get to the letters where we disagree ...

    I am ambivalent about whether or not Australia needs state governments in addition to the federal government. But I think government needs right-sizing, if you have state governments to manage, say, basic education the governments should be organised rationally and the education should be entirely free until school leaving age. Lest giving with one hand and taking with the other.

    Right sizing means that schools would be adequately funded, not perpetually strapped for funds, able to offer equal opportunity to every student. A liberal education for all. Where a second language is taught to every student, in the name of not English monolingualism and not Eurocentrism, but in the name of a worldwide cosmopolitanism. Where the keys to knowledge and wisdom are handed to all. Whilst one might need special schools for the deaf blind, say, as many as possible should be given in the schools a good liberal education. That wouldn't come cheap. A small government couldn't afford it.

    Right sizing government doesn't mean wasteful use of funds either.

    Right sizing also requires one to recognise that revenue is not a dirty word. That just printing money leads to Weimar 1923 or Zimbabweean hyperinflation. If one's going to right size in Australia today that means a counter cyclical budgetry policy where the deficit rises when the economy is depressed but shrinks when things are well. That means an ongoing struggle against tax evasion and to protect the revenue. I support the remarks of the Premier of South Australia that some revenues have to be found to fund, say, basic education for all, even a GST of 15% or replacing most super with a universal aged pension or abolishing negative gearing for unincorporated taxpayers ... The revenue must be found!

  4. Lovely Rita Panahi is a real estate investor, no?

    I appreciate her rejection of right-wing theocracy (could left-wing theocracy exist?) in favour of bourgeois democracy. Of course, class interests have turned this former refugee into a rightist. I suspect there a many, who like her, fled the theocracies and incipient theocracies based on political Islam, who have now embraced LNP politics and comfortable places amongst the bourgeoisie.

    The bourgeois love deflecting, rejecting and suppressing political support for higher taxation of the wealth of the upper 10% and the companies they own to provide for public housing. The lovely Rita and her class much prefer the dead end of supporting charities.