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Sunday, April 21, 2019

(Mostly Unpublished) Letters to the ‘Herald-Sun’ and ‘The Age’

The following is an array of letters I’ve written in 2019 to ‘The Herald-Sun’ and “The Age’ ; The vast majority were unpublished.   I will keep trying.

Dr Tristan Ewins ; 22/4/19

What’s at Stake in the Election

In the Herald-Sun (14/1/19) Prime Minister, Scott Morrison claims to stand for “A fair go for all Aussies”.  But how does it relate to Liberal policy in-practice? We should build a society where everyone has a roof over their head, access to transport, and a nutritious diet for themselves and their children.  Where no-one is excluded from the technology (especially social media) which is necessary today for job-seeking, but also social inclusion.  A regulated labour market must deliver wage justice to all workers, including in exploited feminised industries.  Cost-of-Living is crucial. No-one should be overwhelmed by the cost of insurance, or various unavoidable bills. Welfare needs to increase in real terms ; with greater incentives and assistance for the disabled to at least retain contact with the labour market where possible.  Education should be provided not only to assist in obtaining a career: but also for personal development and growth ; and the promotion of active and informed citizenship.  Reform of Aged Care is crucial for the dignity of older Australians – but that  requires extra billions annually rather than the ‘token gestures’ we usually receive. The Cost-of-Living Crisis has been exacerbated by ’user pays’ and the privatisation of ‘Natural Public Monopolies’ (eg: in energy, water, communications) which used to deliver superior cost structures both to private consumers and business.  But the Liberals have a record on obsessively pursuing ‘small government’; which means they can never deliver to the Australian people on these issues.  They will cut essential services (eg: Health) in order to hold ‘the size of government’ down ; to pay for unsustainable tax cuts for the well-off; and to suit their Ideology no matter what the real-world consequences.  They will attacks unions: and that could mean further downward pressure on wages and conditions for millions of workers.

Coalition deceitful when it comes to Labor and Taxes

The Herald-Sun (Rob Harris 24/1)  claims that Labor threatens Australians with ‘$200 billion in new taxes’. But this statement is highly misleading. To get in perspective we need to ask: “over how many years?”, and “what per cent of GDP?”  In fact Labor’s  overall tax increase amount to in the vicinity less than 1 per cent of GDP a year.  And those reforms are designed for progressivity – a fair go for those on low and middle incomes.  By comparison, lower and middle income families can expect better health care, better education resourcing for their kids , more affordable housing for young families.  There will also be tax cuts for lower and middle income earners.  Regulatory reform of Aged Care ( as implemented by the Federal Government) is welcome, but the associated problems (abuse or neglect of our loved ones) will not be solved without a very significant commitment of new resources. As with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) : into the billions.  We need a consensus in this country between the parties that the health, aged care and educational needs of Australians are non-negotiable – and will not be traded in return for achieving the Ideological goal of ‘smaller government no matter what’. Labor needs to ‘come to the party’ on Aged Care reform as well.

‘Collective Consumption’ Superior to ‘User Pays’

The Federal Government is pushing the line that ‘small government and lower taxes’ are preferable because it’s better for people to have personal control of their spending. But in fact lower taxes can leave voters much worse off. Where would we be without the tax-funded Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – which uses the purchasing power of government to provide cheaper medicines? Where would we be without Medicare? In America the cost of health care is roughly double of Australia ; though arguably we have better outcomes.  Despite a large element of ‘User Pays’, Aged Care is inadequate and cannot be ‘fixed’ without funding for infrastructure, and for the pay and training of Aged Care workers and nurses.  Also, arguably thanks to lower taxes and ‘small government’ governments no longer provide infrastructure such as roads ‘for free’.  The private sector borrows at an inferior rate, and the alternative of ‘toll roads’ can hit those on lower incomes and outer suburbs hardest.  Finally, most Australians would prefer to trust in the state education system ; but knowing the sector is under-resourced many go well beyond their means to provide private schooling for their kids.  It makes sense to ‘get the balance right’ on tax rather than ‘race to the bottom’.

What’s Happening in Venezuela

 (Responding on Venezuela in ‘Your Say’)  It is not ‘socialism’ which is destroying Venezuela. Causes of the crisis include external destabilisation and intervention, rampant corruption, hyper-inflation and plummeting oil prices. Although under Hugo Chavez (before Maduro) GDP per head sky-rocketed ; unemployment was slashed ; infant mortality was almost halved and general health also improved markedly. It begs the question what the government might have achieved without the corruption and destabilisation. ‘Socialism’ was not the problem.  And certainly “democratic socialist” governments as epitomised by the Nordic examples do not fit the mould presented by Rita Panahi. Nonetheless, some report repression as being on the rise in Venezuela ; and some people are talking up the prospects of US intervention and/or war.   Though Guaido seems to be free to mobilise and agitate without suppression from the Venezuelan Government. The history of US interventions in Central and South America speaks for itself: with hundreds of thousands killed in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and Nicaragua.  Venezuela is in ‘an alliance of convenience’ with countries including Iran and Russia: and that also makes it a target for intervention.  But ‘interests’ aside ; the West needs to support the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people. We need a process of power-sharing and compromise leading to a general election some time over the next couple of years.  We do not need war.

Yes, the Nordics were Socialist

Chris Collins (11/1) argues that the Nordic countries have never been “socialist” because  they have not conformed to the original Marxist definition of the centralisation of the means of production in state hands.  In reality, though, there were always a variety of definitions, and even Marxists themselves have revised their understandings.  Socialist aspirations include ending exploitation and the class system ; and reducing inequalities to a fair level. In Marx’s words, to advance the principle  “from each according to ability, to each according to need’.  That includes a strong welfare state and social wage ; involving not only natural public monopolies and strategic state ownership ; but also producers’ and consumers’ co-operatives, democratic funds, and a mix of competition, markets and planning. Socialism also means building an economy focused on ‘use values’. (not just maximising abstract exchange value ; eg: preserving the natural environment)  But we’re in a global economy: which means we have to live with the transnational corporations.  Arguably, we live in a ‘One Dimensional Society’ where substantially different social alternatives are excluded from discussion.  What’s needed is robust pluralism: where socialism is part of the debate ; and hence a genuine option in the broader context of democracy.

Fixing Aged Care is incompatible with Tax Cuts and ‘Small Government’

The Herald-Sun (13/2/19) outlines serious cases of neglect in nursing homes run by Bupa. But as recognised in the same article, there is a more general shortfall in the provision of services as well.  The Aged Care Crisis cannot be resolved without very significant new provision of resources.  ‘Giving with one hand only to take with the other’ is not good enough.  Only billions in new funding will provide for the needs of the Aged: including a sufficient improvement in ratios of nurses to residents, and of aged care workers to residents. Those workers (overwhelmingly women) also deserve improvements in pay in conditions given the demanding nature of their work.   And Home care packages need to be made available where-ever and when-ever the need arises.  These packages need to promote social engagement and combat loneliness as well as enabling aged Australians to remain in their homes. Finally, the quality of facilities needs to improve markedly. Residents need privacy ; but also more to do than being sat down in common rooms in front of television sets all day.  This is not compatible with agendas for 'smaller government'.

Shorten ‘Nudging in the Right Direction’

(Responding to the Herald-Sun Your Say)  Ron Hobba decries what he sees as Bill Shorten’s ‘divisive’ policies on social justice and redistribution.  On the other hand there is a glaring need for more investment in aged care, disability services, health, education, transport and communications infrastructure, and so on.  Pensioners are also struggling, and Newstart is so low as to actually inhibit any search for work.  Governments need to work out the fairest way of paying for services, infrastructure and social security.  Otherwise we will have user pays and privatisation which is more expensive for consumers in the end.  Especially those on low incomes, many of whom work just as hard as those on higher incomes. Also, some tax measures (eg: superannuation  tax concessions) subsidise the already-well-off to the tune of billions and billions.  In this context everyone needs to pay their fair share.  And it’s not fair to give tax generous breaks to the already-wealthy while other Australians’ wages stagnate. If anything, Shorten’s measures are way too modest: but they are ‘nudging in the right direction’.

Is it only Business who ‘create jobs’?

J.Muir (YS, March 28th) argues it is businesses, not governments who create jobs.  Strictly speaking this is not true.  Government can create jobs in Education, Health, support for Aged Care, public housing, security services, parks and gardens, and all kinds of infrastructure. (communications, transport etc) In the days of ‘the mixed economy’ government businesses actually enhanced competition while also delivering a public dividend.  Think the Commonwealth Bank, the GIO (Government Insurance Office) and so on. Before governments had been stripped of their assets via privatisations - all kinds of social goods and services used to be provided more efficiently as well. Government has a superior rate on its borrowings ; and did not need to pay for excessive CEO salaries, dividends to private shareholders, and so on.  This consensus on ‘the mixed economy’ prevailed even in Menzies’ time.  But today both Liberal and Labor ‘have form’ on privatisation. Though typically the Conservatives go much further. ( eg: privatising ‘poles and wires’ in NSW)  The problem with funding new infrastructure through privatisations is that sooner or later the assets run out.  And what can be done then except further User-Pays ; or more desirably – pay for it through progressive tax?  (as should have been done in the first place)

Bill’s Budget Reply

“Bill Shorten made a strong Budget Reply ; critiquing the largesse the Coalition is providing for high income Australians through tax cuts. And providing little for the working poor and the most vulnerable. Shorten promises a ‘living wage’ ; and perhaps most significantly to provide billions to assist Australians struggling with cancer: to get them the help they need without falling into poverty. On the other hand, Chris Bowen has promised taxes will not rise. Instead the focus is on closing loopholes and eliminating unfair rebates. But for several elections now neither side of politics has paid sufficient attention to Aged Care and Mental Health. While many seniors wait in the vicinity of a two years for ‘stay at home packages’, those in residential care face chronic neglect. There must be a registered nurse available at all times, and there’s a need for quotas when it comes to aged care staff. Even if Shorten raised progressive tax by one per cent of GDP ($17 billion) that would provide very substantial room to move. Tax pays for ‘collective consumption’ and ‘social insurance’ that’s in everyone’s interests. For instance, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Or (hypothetically) Medicare Dental. Nonetheless truly cracking down on corporate tax avoidance could reap billions too. Bill Shorten: please have the courage to harness the resources to ensure the most neglected are neglected no longer.”

What Cuts will Mean under another Liberal Government

John Rolfe (16/4/19) reports “a person making $99,000 this financial year could pay an extra $1440 in tax under Labor in 2022-23 when their earnings would be about $110,000.” (or more)  But the Median wage in Australia is just over $55,000/year.  The people the Liberals are depicting as ‘average workers’ are actually well above the median wage.  And the Liberals have ‘flattened’ the top tax rate: so those on lower incomes are paying the same top tax rate as those on the highest incomes. The Coalition argues Labor are raising taxes, whereas at this point they are just closing costly loopholes which benefit the wealthy.  While those on lower incomes may gain a tiny increase from tax cuts, they would more than pay for that with Health and Education Cuts.  A Liberal Government means extra levies for neglected state schools. Less infrastructure like roads, and more tolls and congestion. Botched NBN.  Botched or neglected NDIS and Aged Care. Higher university fees. ‘Out on your own’ if you need to be tested for cancer.  Massive Liberal tax cuts also mean it would be impossible to achieve the projected surplus without massive cuts to services and infrastructure.

Tax Cuts WILL mean Austerity ; The Duplicitous nature of Scott Morrison’s arguments

(Late April 2019)   "With a dubious outlook on world growth how can Scott Morrison possibly claim hundreds of billions in tax cuts and a surplus at the same time – without accompanying cuts to health, education, aged care, infrastructure? (or to scrap the surplus) The Liberals claim ‘small government’ is the key to a strong economy ; however some of the strongest economies in Europe tend to suggest otherwise – with much stronger welfare states and social wages than we enjoy in Australia. Tax cuts mean money in the pocket – but mainly for the top end of town. The rest of us get the scraps ; with degraded infrastructure and services ; and probably attacks on our wages and conditions. A mere 1.5% (of GDP) increase in tax – aimed mainly at the top 10% - could free $25 billion a year in resources for National Aged Care Insurance, Medicare Dental, resources for mental health, state-financed infrastructure without the user pays, public communications, energy and transport infrastructure, and a fair social insurance and welfare system for all of us. The tax mix also needs to be restructured and indexed for fairness: so ‘bracket creep’ does not gradually ‘level’ the system – with the poor paying more."

Participatory Democracies are Strong Democracies

Recent commentaries in the Herald-Sun have dismissed the wave of ‘student strikes’ (eg:  for Climate Action) over the past few months.  Perhaps we should look at this from a different point of view.  A participatory democracy is a strong democracy.  And a strong democracy can – and indeed should – accommodate civil disobedience as an option for citizens to express their views and interests.  Andrew Bolt and others may oppose the cause.  But more generally, a participatory democracy is a healthy one.  I for one hope those involved remain active citizens into and through adult-hood.

Democracy depends on Civic Mobilisation

In response to John Pesutto. (‘The Age’, 14/4) What critics don’t seem to realise is that the strength of a democracy can hinge on the mobilisation and activity of its civil society. If we do not accept protest and civil disobedience we are weakening the fabric of our democracy.  Indeed, an active civil society is a safeguard for democracy's long-term preservation. Perhaps free speech should not be ‘absolute’, but every time we weaken its universality we set a precedent which ‘could come back to bite’ progressive forces later down the track.  Further, Left advocates usually do not have the same opportunity to express their views.  And by ‘Left’ I include left social democrats and democratic socialists.  And even the more radical have a right for their ideas to be tested.  When on the odd occasion a  left-wing commentator appears on the ABC there are calls of ‘bias’.  But Left views are almost absent in Newscorp newspapers ; and ‘The Age’ has moved to the relative Centre. What we need is a truly strong pluralism in our democracy.  A ‘battlefield of ideas’ where journalists do not try and manipulate ; but rather a genuine, inclusive and honest contest of analysis and values.


  1. Left-wing capitalism ensures that at least some of the collective product of labour is returned to the wage-labouring producers in the form of a social wage. Revenue for the social wage should be obtained by progressively taxing the ever accumulating wealth of the upper 10% and the companies they own. The social wage is government revenue used to provide free public education through uni, free public healthcare and an adequately funded age pension. The immense majority of citizens should become eligible to receive the age pension when they reach 55.

    In this day and age, we also need the State to enforce a drastic reduction in the production and sale of greenhouse gases. That means electing a government which will legislate to force those who own greenhouse gas emitting industries to stop, while at the same time, rewarding efforts to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere e.g. re-forestation and engaging in the production and sale of renewable energy.

    That should be the minimum program of left-wing capitalism. Left-wing capitalism is not the socialism Marx and Engels were writing about and barracking for. Socialism meant abolishing wage labour and instituting a new mode of producing and distributing wealth which wasn't embedded in the commodification and sale of the collective product of labour and natural resources. For them, socialism would imply a classless democracy where wealth was distributed on the basis of need.

  2. Tristan though I don't agree entirely with all your letters in every detail feel free to post links on my Facebook page that's my opposition to censorship of free politics.

    I'd like the Labor Party to support modest progressive taxes but not just on income but also on estates (death duties) and gifts (to catch estate duties avoidance) and land (a progressive land tax.)

    I think broad based tax schemes help to defeat avoidance measures, while a narrowly based income tax is easily avoided with creative accounting and trusts.