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A Covid welfare state or corporate vultures feeding?

Written by: Louisa L. on 9 September 2021


During the 2020 bushfires, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian won kudos when she unfailingly gave precedence to frontline experts in daily media conferences. Meanwhile the prime minister sunned in Hawaii, and her Nationals’ Deputy Barilaro attacked her from his London holiday. 

In last year’s initial Covid outbreak, she bowed to increasingly organised action from health and education workers, and closed schools despite public pressure from the PM.

Earlier, in 2019, she stood relatively firmly on women’s rights to safe abortion, despite an onslaught from the opportunist cabal within Coalition ranks drawing new groups into far-right action. This time Barnaby Joyce and company attacked her while she was overseas on a work trip and unable to organise effectively. 

All the while, Ms Berejiklian remained a model state capitalist manager, keeping corporations and their economy afloat with multibillion dollar construction projects for public schools, hospitals and transport. 

Not that they had enough nurses or teachers to fill the hospitals and schools. Early this year, there were regular short walkouts by state school teachers over staff shortages. Public hospitals, facing increasing staff shortages, were stripped of nurses to staff vaccine clinics, while Ramsey Health raked in billions from governments for accepting public patients.  

Meanwhile the Federal Government tore desperately needed funding and threw it at private schools and hospitals. In lockstep, the NSW government enforced its miserable squeeze on public sector workers’ wages, which mandate huge fines – for merely threatening industrial action! 

Road profits everlasting 

Government-funded motorways pushed across the state, drastically cutting travel times, riding roughshod over residents’ protests. This allowed monopolising real estate chains to pave and plunder profits across the Sydney basin, the NSW coast and some regional towns. 

Motorways claimed the biggest slab of the NSW budget, but instead of lowering tolls so everyone could use them, in Labor electorates, roads which were once free are now outrageously tolled, $27.80 each way for trucks to Port Botany, Australia’s second busiest container port. It pushes huge volumes of trucks onto local roads.

In Coalition electorates trucks are fined for using local roads instead of motorways.

As mega-roads are finished, one off payments from slated privatisations will fill election war chests. More to the point, megaprofits will be guaranteed ad infinitum for beneficiaries like giant Transurban. 

Sharing the pain?

All this puts the NSW Coalition’s Covid response into sharper focus. Unlike experts at bushfire press conferences, government appointed Medical Officer Kerry Chant is relegated to second, third or even fourth place. She speaks after Gladys Berejiklian, the “Health” Minister Brad Hazzard, and the police chief.  Brad Hazzard (who stood with Berejiklian in the abortion struggle) has joined the faction undermining hard lockdown. 

The ongoing battle was reflected in closure announcements of some monopoly retail outlets one Friday being reversed by Sunday. The construction industry was open, then closed and now half open. But arts’ workers can’t come together at all to create, even outside. (At least some are doing so, brilliantly, online.)
Unlike the sighs of relief of initial lockdowns, most working from home say every minute is accounted for, as managers see all time as worktime. 

Despite some improvements, state school teachers are still embattled, using second rate online programs. Teachers are distressed as many students disengage. 

In contrast, pain is eased in elitist private schools by the streamlined rollout provided by full-time IT teams. Some schools, like Perth’s The Hale School that ‘educated’ Christian Porter and Ben Roberts-Smith, took well-publicised $7m JobKeeper handouts despite an $8m surplus.  

Word has leaked out, that we aren’t in this together, and Mr Morrison’s moved on to his next catchcry.

The learning-to-live-with-it polka

As Delta continued its gallop through Sydney, the Business Council of Australia spruiked ending lockdowns sooner rather than later. By September 1, it had lined up 79 supportive member CEOs including Qantas and Transurban for an open letter. 

The PM had long danced the “learning to live with it” polka. But sniffing the air, he sensed that salvaging his reputation – after failing miserably to provide vaccines – was a good idea. Fire up the electronic printing presses! Time to save the poor and suffering.

It was nothing to do with peoples’ suffering, which normally means capitalist administrators put in the boot. Think the half a million Centrelink penalties to First Peoples in the NT since 2015. The unemployed a still copping frequent penalties in locked down Sydney. Others find themselves with huge public housing debts.

Let’s ask, then, are the 2500 Qantas workers - sacked while the company is on target to receive a total $2bn bailout with more to come from state governments – receiving the PM’s largess? The Transport Workers Union and pesky journalists still ask why the government didn’t re-nationalise part of the company in return for the dough. Sixty two percent surveyed said they should have. 

Regional airport workers were excluded from a rescue package favouring Qantas. Rex, which keeps regional areas connected with cities and each other, lost out in the 2020 money shovelling too. 

Vultures circle above Sydney Airport

Unless they bring revolution, imperialist crises concentrate monopoly. Lenin and others made this clear in their works on imperialism.
Let’s stay with the airline industry.

Anti-corporate warrior Michael West targets Macquarie Bank “vultures” trying to buy back the now struggling Sydney Airport. 

Privatised and sold to Macquarie in 2002, Macquarie “structured the company to rip out billions in fees” ensuring it paid no tax and raked in more billions before it was forced to sell. West describes “Homeric profits” from the sale by this self-described “home of good borrowers”. 

Now they want in again, at a rock bottom price. 

“It wouldn’t happen in the corporate world”

Like many people, West harbours a dream that capitalism can be reformed. 

But Federal parliament’s democratic window dressing is in tatters. The despicable patriarchy of upper class alleged rapists and abusers, imposed even upon tough, talented, but overwhelmingly capitalist-serving female politicians, opens more eyes. 

“It wouldn’t happen in the corporate world” is a frequent refrain of Annabel Crabb’s ‘Ms Represented’.       

No. Corporations blow up priceless caves, poison the air and water of whole countries, profit from endless US wars where murder and rape are daily business. 

Corporations routinely use women to clean up in such “tricky” situations, as they are more trusted than men. Think another tough, talented woman, Business Council CEO Jennifer Westacott. Patriarchy is a class question. It arose with classes and it can only disappear when classes do. This was true when Karl Marx stated it in the 19th Century and it’s till true in the 21st. Even under socialism class struggle and women’s struggles for equality still continue because classes still exist. 

Welfare state reincarnated?

When governments belatedly reintroduced support for those whose incomes collapsed, some proclaimed this as the welfare state reincarnated. In some ways that’s true. The alternative was outraged action compelled by hunger and insecurity previously unknown to tens of millions of Australians. It would have utterly submerged the so-called Freedom march that diverted attention from real causes and solutions, as well as threatening people’s health.  

Governments are simply handing out money. They aren’t rebuilding a welfare system. The poor have systematically and systemically been denied decent health care beyond emergency wards. The public psychiatric hospital system that provided long term residential rehabilitation has been dismantled. Jails have picked up that “responsibility”, and now Covid is spreading in western Sydney’s Parklea Prison. Public housing is in crisis. Public transport has been privatised and services stripped. 

For those who disappear through these cracks, there’s little to cushion the fall. 

People are learning desperate lessons on a wide scale. They need to see a way forward. We have to organise!


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