A neoliberal apologist’s view of climate change

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David McKnight and the need for sacrifice

Ed Lewis

In different ways, Jeff Sparrow at Crikey and David McKnight in the Sydney Morning Herald make a similar point about the 2020 summit: whatever happened to the Labor Party as a source of ideas for a Labor government?

Sparrow says:

In fact, while we’re poking around inside the ALP’s crusty old rulebook, we might note that the constitution actually mandates an infinitely more inclusive procedure for generating new ideas than the 2020 forum. In theory, anyone who thinks they’ve got something to contribute can join the Labor Party, even without being Cate Blanchett or Hugh Jackman. As a member, they can attend branch meetings; they can elect delegates; they can go to the national conference.

McKnight says:

There was a time when a Labor government’s ideas and policies would come from the party. Based on its local branches and membership, it would hold conferences and convene policy committees. Left and right would fight to ensure their preferred policy was adopted. No more. Today the ideas and policies come from think tanks, universities, business, non-government organisations or religious bodies.

Kevin Rudd made it clear even before he was elected that he wouldn’t be bound by Labor policy, theatrically demanding the right to individually choose the ministry, bypassing the traditional caucus election of the ministry. Of course, this was pure theatre, as Rudd has made no difference to the fact that the ministry is selected by the faction leaders.

The 2020 summit was another piece of Rudd theatre as part of his attempt to distance himself from the Labor Party, and McKnight heartily applauds.

It’s worth noting here that McKnight’s opinion of the Labor Party differs from that of Mark Aarons, who identifies the influence of trade union secretaries as the root of all evil. Aarons, a former parliamentary staff secretary, reflects more directly the opinions of some rightward-moving Labor MPs, McKnight is a former leftist who now confines himself to mild criticisms of some of the excesses of born-again laissez faire capiltalism from a soft right perspective.

Nevertheless, both see the future of the Labor Party further to the right. Aarons favours a “centre-left” location, and McKnight says it should be a “new reforming centre”, “beyond right and left”. Beyond Right and Left, by the way, was the title of McKnight’s book of advice to the Greens, written from his position in the Labor Party. That book, apart from an article and some comments in Green Magazine, seems to have sunk like a stone in the Greens and everywhere else.

Some Labor politicians have long tried to free themselves from the Labor Party. They’re happy enough to use the hard work of the Labor ranks, and material support from trade unions to get themselves elected, but once in office many quickly fall prey to lobbyists from the big end of town telling them what they consider practical and possible. For some this quickly advice quickly becomes all that’s possible, and even inevitable. The latest example of this is electricity privatisation in NSW.

The only problem with that is the public of NSW, which overwhelmingly opposes privatisation, and the reflection of that opinion in the Labor Party. The government’s privatisation push will certainly be defeated at the NSW Labor conference in early May.

McKnight says the Iemma-Costa government will make good on its threats to defy the conference and go ahead with privatisation in any case, but it’s well established that any Labor member who votes against Labor policy in the parliament automatically places themselves outside the party. Only one Labor premier of NSW has ever done this: William Holman on the question of conscription in World War I.

Of course, Costa will press on with his privatisation crusade. Little else can be expected from an individual who, as Imre Saluzsinsky has pointed out in a profile in the Weekend Australian, adorns his office with pictures of the neoliberal demi-god Friedrich Hayek and takes 14 types of medication to control his bipolar condition.

Whether Iemma will want to accompany his erratic treasurer to the end of the road is less certain, pre-conference tough talk notwithstanding. Whatever happens, it is certain that the Iemma-Costa odd couple would lead Labor to disaster at the next elections, and because of that it’s unlikely that either will be in their present positions by that time.

McKnight, from his neoliberal possiblist perspective, thinks the struggle against privatisation is over because he can no longer conceive of anyone but the big end of town having any influence on politics.

McKnight goes on to say the big issue is climate change, and that we’re all going to have to make sacrifices in the struggle against it. He invokes the need for the sort of effort needed in a “national wartime emergency”.

He says this at a time when Canberra is crammed with business lobbyists on exactly this question, working frantically to make sure someone else pays, not them. Coal industry lobbyists, for example, are working night and day to extract concessions that will cut the heart out of the carbon trading scheme that will be the Rudd government’s first, largely symbolic rather than practical, response to climate change.

It’s a bit of a mystery how McKnight thinks he can write credibly about the need for sacrifice in the fight against climate change without mentioning this fact, or the fact that privatisation of the NSW electricity industry will almost certainly include concessions to the private buyers that will undercut any national carbon trading system.

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One Response to “A neoliberal apologist’s view of climate change”

  1. Brolga Says:

    Party political answers to the ‘burning questions of our time’ I think are long past as a monopoly, if they ever existed. Perhaps Jeff and David, as relatively privileged white males whose world view was formed, respectively, by the Trotskyist and Stalinist left of past decades, reflexively negate or marginalise everything that develops outside political parties, as so much does. As Doris Lessing said life and truth are more complex than politics. I don’t think it is crucial to the future of Australia that the ALP as a political party has gutted internal democracy and abolished or emasculated representative formal structures and forums.

    The answers aren’t going to come from the meagre political organisations that currently exist, which incidentally is why there has been such left ambivalence about last week’s summit: an orchestrated, manipulated event that made at least a pretense of democratic involvement. Many important proposals were made but were ditched in the final report. But, nevertheless, the proposals were made, heard and reported. This is progress. Sadly.

    Good to see the Alexandria branch of NSW ALP had the guts and political nous to raise the question of loyalty and membership in response to Iemma and Costa’s stance on a blatantly anti-social democratic policy such as private ownership of essential services, such as electricity provision. This was even reported in the SMH and the Australian, as well as more widely.

    See how far fashioning a li’l political spine can take you?

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