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Friday lay day – federal government has demonstrated its incapacity to lead

Its the Friday lay day blog – where I roam free. This week we have had three damning reports released which provide more than enough evidence that the federal government of Australia is way out of its league as visionary leaders of the nation. On three major fronts they have demonstrated their incapacity to lead the nation: the labour market (yesterday, the unemployment rate rose to its highest value in 14 years and is biased upwards; indigenous affairs – the release of the – Closing the Gap 2015, and the release by the Australian Human Rights Commission report – The Forgotten Children – on children in our immigration prisons (so-called detention). Unfortunately, the national election is still 18 or so months away, although the Opposition Labor Party is going to need that time to abandon its own neo-liberal ways. These three reports this week indict them as much as the conservative government in power!

The Closing the Gap report documents the massive failure of government to reach its targets with respect to improving the fortunes of our indigenous population.

This failure is being compounded by significant funding cuts that the federal government has made in the policy area as part of its austerity drive.

Our indigenous population is among the most disadvantaged people in the world none excepted. There needs to be major job creation programs funded to provide some sort of hope for the population which endures chronic unemployment, substance abuse, mental health issues and high rates of incarceration.

Providing hope through income earning chances is the best step that can be taken. The government decided to cut the job creation funding.

The 324-page AHRC Report – The Forgotten Children – investigated “the detention of children under Labor and Coalition governments since 1992” who belonged to families seeking refugee protection.

Australia has a policy of detaining all families who seek refugee status via boat arrivals and they are locked up on Indian or Pacific Ocean islands in terrible conditions.

There is well-documented cases of brutality by the warders of these prisons and one refugee seeker was murdered on Manus Island recently under the watch of the Australian government.

The Report found that:

… detention had caused significant mental and physical illness to children and was in breach on Australia’s international obligations. It called for the release into the community of more than 300 children in detention on the mainland and on Nauru

There are some harrowing details in the Report.

One 17 year child in the prison camps said “My hope finished now. I don’t have any hope. I feel I will die in detention”.

There were a number of shocking drawings by the children published by the – AHRC. There are more – HERE.

Here are three samples:




Please let us have no comments that they had a choice. These are pre-school, pre-teen, pre-adult children who our government locks up as criminals for extended periods (average for all detainees is 413 days). Many of the children acquire mental health disorders as a result of the incarceration.

Both sides of politics are indicted in this massive human rights abuse. At present, our politicians are busy lecturing the Indonesian government which is planning in the near future to murder two Australian men involved in drug smuggling.

But these smug politicians (even though I agree with them calling on the Indonesians to stop the executions) should read the AHRC Report and immediately change our policy towards locking innocent people up for extended periods – a practice which amounts to torture.

The AHRC interviewed 1129 children. Most of the children were from Iran, Sri Lanka (Tamils) or were stateless. The vast majority were parented by those who had left their countries because of danger/terrorism or persecution by the government.

We claim the moral high ground as defenders of freedom by joining the axis of evil that invaded Afghanistan, for example, but then lock up those who flee the war and terror.

By September 2014, “the average length of detention for children and adults was one year two months”.

The AHRC Report found that 30 per cent of the children were “always sad/crying”, 25 per cent were “always worried” and 12 per cent did not eat properly and experienced weight loss.

It concluded that:

The mental health screening of children in detention shows alarming results both in the rates of mental disorder in these children and in the severity of their symptoms …

Results from these assessments show that 34 percent of children had mental health disorders that would be comparable in seriousness to children referred to hospital-based child mental health out-patient services for psychiatric treatment … Less than two percent of children in the Australian population have mental health disorders at this level.

The Report found that:

… there were numerous assaults and self-harm incidents in detention centres in Australia where children are held … They include … 233 assaults involving children … 33 incidents of reported sexual assault (the majority involving children); and … 183 incidents of voluntary starvation/hunger strikes (with a further 27 involving children).

Rates of self-harm are considered “very high”.

The children detained on Nauru are:

… suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress …

Many of the children have physical illnesses or diseases as a result of the incarceration – skin and respiratory infections.

The Commonwealth of Australia is found to have breached its duty of care for these children.

The AHRC Report called for a Royal Commission into the policy conducted by our Government.

I could continue but the message is clear and shocking. Australia has lost any semblance of the nation I was born in some time ago. It used to pride itself on being ‘fair’ and ‘equitable’ and ‘welcoming’ (indigenous people aside who have always been treated poorly).

It is now a cruel, vindictive, sanctimonious nation with little to redeem itself. The neo-liberal individualism has distorted our national morality and created a monster of a place.

Yes, it is easy to live here if you are educated with income. Beautiful beaches, climate and very high material standards of living.

But we have lost any credibility as a nation of nice people.

Predictably, the Government sat on the AHRC Report (which it received in November) until the last possible day under the legislation. As soon as they finally released it, our Prime Minister, demonstrating his impeccable leadership skills, attacked the Report in Parliamant claiming it was a:

… transparent stitch-up … I say to the Human Rights Commission if you are concerned about real human rights, real human decency, real compassion, real compassion for people, you should be writing congratulating letters to the former minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

The monster who was the former minister (so-called Sco-Mo, that is Scott Morrison, the self-promoted Christian) is now the Minister for Social Services and he is now going to inflict cruelty on that cohort.

Tony Abbott went on to say that:

There won’t be a Royal Commission into children in detention … This is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.

After the PM attacked the Report a swathe of sycophantic ministers (Brandis, Morrison, and Dutton) were wheeled out with similar effect.

A former conservative Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser was highly critical of the current Government’s response. He said:

The government’s response is a disgrace. It is based on a lie. They claim to have saved lives by stopping the boats and that the trauma inflicted on children by detaining them, is a small price to pay. They deliberately chose an inhumane way of stopping the boats.

This Fairfax report (February 13, 2015) – Revealed: Abbott government tried to remove Gillian Triggs as head of the Australian Human Rights Commission – reveals what a nasty lot the government leaders are.

It has now been confirmed that the:

Abbott government sought the resignation of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the commission over its report on children in immigration detention.

They even said “some other opportunity” would be available if she went quietly.

The President of the AHRC has a five-year tenure, which is protected against political interference for obvious reasons.

The incompetence of our political leadership in this nation has not gone unnoticed abroad.

Last week, the – Council for Foreign Relations – a so-called independent, nonpartisan body, predominantly based in New York and Washington, published a scathing assessment of our Prime Minister – Tony Abbott Has To Go.

The article suggested that Tony Abbott was:

… the most incompetent leader of any industrialized democracy? … in less than two years as prime minister, Abbott has proven shockingly incompetent, which is why other leaders within his ruling coalition, following a set of defeats in state elections, may now scheme to unseat him. They should: Abbott has proven so incapable of clear policy thinking, so unwilling to consult with even his own ministers and advisers, and so poor at communicating that he has to go.

The advice we were given by the article – “a country that for decades has punched above its weight on nearly every international issue surely can do much better for a prime minister than Tony Abbott”.

Well, in fact, Tony Abbott is a reflection of us. We (royal sense) made characters like Tony Abbott.

We have supported successive governments who lock children up on remote islands and torture them into mental illness.

We support governments who inflict cruelty on our unemployed and force them to live on income support that is well below the poverty line.

We support a lot of other shameful policies that violate freedoms, equity and undermine opportunity.

To get rid of the likes of Abbott we are going to have to undergo a major progressive reformation ourselves. The leadership for that sort of transformation is lacking.

So-called progressives

I have reported recently that I have had meetings with the Australian Progressive Party who were keen to embed some of the macroeconomic principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) into their policy narrative.

It was an exciting prospect. Well my enthusiasm was short-lived. The President and some other key players have now left or were forced out of the party by a group on the Executive who disavowed MMT. One document I read from the group that presumably is part of the putsch was pure neo-liberal economics and the author couldn’t even get that doctrinal mess right! So if you planning to hitch your dreams up to this group I would forget about it.

And this week, a group calling itself Independent Australia, who claim to be a news service promoting progressive journalism … democracy etc … and are “seeking out the truth and informing the public” requested rights to reprint one of my blogs.

I replied in the negative because I didn’t want to be associated with sites that carry advertising that I might not agree with – for example, questionable ageing remedies, subscription ancestor search sites, sites promoting ‘Warren Buffet’s Secrets’, software which claim to speed up your computer, sites pushing sharemarket advice subscription services, sites flogging hummer limos for parties etc.

I also pointed out that “this raises issues of association and revenue being earned from my work without reward to the author”. With that I politely declined the invitation.

I received a reply from the managing editor:

That’s fine with me Bill, I have a policy of not being involved with the pompous and insufferably sanctimonious.

Nice chap!

Since when has it been pompous and sanctimonious to want to protect one’s work and be paid for that work if others are planning to profit financially from it?

Is that what a progressive, truth seeking organisation thinks these days?

Our political leadership

Someone has been briefing our senior politicians that you should continually repeat that they love the country or are passionate about it. And so the weekly press briefings and interviews went.

By week’s end, after surviving a one-man contest 61 votes to 39, where the entire cabinet was required to vote among the 61 (meaning probably more than 50 per cent would have preferred the PM to quit), the Prime Minister then proceeded to demonstrate why he is unfit to lead the nation.

The Love my Country bit from the Prime Minister came after the spill vote. Then the Treasurer Hockey was interviewed that night on national current affairs. A few days later, the national unemployment rate was revealed to be 6.4 per cent (up from 6.1 per cent) and the highest in 14 years and all the Treasurer can say is that he is passionate about the nation and wants to hack public spending even more.

Then came the finale from the PM. Here is a sample of his performance yesterday (February 12, 2015) where he told the Australian Parliament, just a few weeks after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, that the previous government had created a “holocaust of jobs”.

The little poodle to the right of the PM (Pyne) was nodding happily because he wouldn’t know better but the Deputy PM to his left (Bishop) looked justifiably horrified.

This is our leader – that fact reflects on all of us!

This video replaces our music segment today.

As an aside, I did a radio interview for ABC Sydney 702 Morning show this morning. I answered two questions which were then going to be put to the Federal Treasurer who was being interviewed. The questions were: (a) Is a fiscal surplus necessary? (b) Is a fiscal deficit damaging for intergenerational well-being?

I didn’t hear the segment myself (I did a pre-record).

You can hear the segment – HERE – it is 23 minutes long and probably not worth listening to.

Saturday Quiz

The Saturday Quiz will be back again tomorrow. It will be of an appropriate order of difficulty (-:

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2015 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear about the Progressive party, Bill. I had a few hopes riding on them myself. Not to mention the horrifying response of IA to your perfectly reasonable response.

    I don’t know any other avenues to put your trust in for exposure. Quite a few (including a fellow professor of economics) have tried to get Senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens to see sense in MMT because he seems to be one who will put them on the map in years to come, but I have yet to see any proof that he is listening.

    Don’t lose hope, Bill, you have more readers and followers than you know, and many of us aren’t afraid to share your blogs with people who aren’t even slightly interested in macroeconomics!

  2. Sorry, Bill, your objection to IA adverts is not at all helpful.
    IA has done good work and the articles I read have no way been linked to advertising. It’s just nonsense to tie them together. Up to now IA has been free so your objection to a free ride is incorrect. I suggest you try again. You will get absolutely nowhere by trying to be perfect, because none of us are. Use any means fair or foul to get the message out!! You can be sure those trying to nobble it won’t be acting with any integrity! That’s a loser strategy for you. We can’t afford it. Those buggers in Canberra are ruining the country!

  3. Bill, I am disheartened to hear what happened to your attempt to influence policy in what is obviously a non-progressive “progressive” party. Try not to lose heart. Americans in similar positions as yours remind themselves, as they would, that a prophet/influential intellectual/x is not without honour save in his own country. First, they ignored you. Now, they try to dismiss you. As more people become interested in and influenced by MMT, it may come to pass that those who felt threatened by your views will pass them off as their own. We can only hope that this state of affairs emerges before these idiots destroy everything the rest of us hold dear. For me, it can’t come too soon. But I am not optimistic.

  4. This is mostly disillusioned and impatient youth talking here, but how the hell do we do more? How do we effect the fundamental change we need when we have Hostile elected officials on all sides, a hostile media, gutted trade unions and an unconcerned, woefully misinformed populace? 40 years into neoliberal policy dominance it’s looking pretty fucking bleak.

  5. More crying about criminal vagabonds and other assorted riffraff – again.

    For his leisure time Mr Mitchell needs to find a constructive activity outside his narrow world view.

  6. Dear Podargus (at 2015/02/14 at 5:20)

    For his leisure time Mr Mitchell needs to find a constructive activity outside his narrow world view.

    Thanks for the advice. Perhaps, given your obviously broad and deep perspective on life, you can offer me some hints.

    Off to count beans

  7. Dear John Doyle (at 2015/02/13 at 22:25)

    I wasn’t suggesting the ads and the content were linked. I was objecting to progressive sites gaining revenue from rather dubious (in my view) product promotions. Further, the free rider objection is not incorrect. Where does the advertisement cash go?

    Further, I guess you give (or gave) your labour away for free to others who are (were) making money off it and are (were) not registered charities.

    Finally, I find your idea that anything goes because the enemy is unprincipled and not acting with integrity to be astounding. That characterises the problem the left has had for years. The progressive future has to not only re-educate but it also has to re-define appropriate standards of behaviour and not accept the standards that typify the problem. It is not about perfection.

    best wishes

  8. Most political parties, both progressive and conservative, have come under the influence of neoliberal oriented economists – who characteristically represent the interests of very privileged sectors of society. This is associated with a fundamental misunderstanding of macroeconomic reality by the public and politicians alike, along with their uncritical acceptance of (gullibility towards) the outpourings of those whom they have been led to believe have expertise. There can be no doubt that if mainstream economists had thought and behaved differently, then the present mess that the world finds itself in would never have eventuated.

  9. The Australian Greens are not much under the influence of neoliberal oriented economists. I have perused the Greens online policy for Economics. There is only ONE statement that would strike an MMT proponent as incorrect. This one statement under the heading of “Principles” is dubious in part and incorrect in part.

    “9. While government finances must be sustainable over the long-term, it is appropriate to stimulate the economy during economic downturns and save during economic booms. Government financing should be responsibly managed so as to minimise intergenerational debt.”

    This is the only numbered point I can find that would strike an MMT proponent as having incorrect components. The statement “government finances must be sustainable over the long-term” is dubious and it could depend on exactly what is meant. However, it sounds suspiciously like standard neoliberal claptrap. The statements about saving (in the fiat currency) and about intergenerational debt are nonsense.

    I would suggest that Bill would be most comfortable, from the point of view of economic theory, with supporting the Australian Greens. But clearly point 9 needs work. Without considering it necessary to immediately and totally convert the Australian Greens to MMT, one could perhaps suggest more careful wording as an interim step.


    “9. Government finances must be responsibly managed over the full economic cycle. It can be appropriate to stimulate the economy during economic downturns and to run surpluses during economic booms. Government financing and spending should be responsibly managed so as to minimise intergenerational harm such as inflicting climate change or decaying infrastructure on future generations.”

    Note how I have neatly side-stepped the neoliberal myths without attempting a full, immediate and overt MMT conversion. MMT proponents agree that “government finances must be responsibly managed over the full economic cycle”. It’s just that the MMT perspective correctly is different. Responsible management of government finances means dealing with real problems like unutilised capacity and unemployment. My interim formulation is neutral enough to “not scare the horses”. Then I talk about intergenerational harm rather intergenerational debt and link such harm to real factors like climate change and infrastructure building and maintenance.

    I suggest Bill should work with and guide the Australian Greens and do so gently and quietly at first as outlined above. It is possible to remove or amend statements of outright neoliberal myth without adding overt MMT principles which at first “shock” sight might appear too radical to be countenanced.

    Note: I am not a member of the Australian Greens although I do vote for them these days.

  10. From the US: I thought you had the advantage of the parliamentary system down there in oz.
    You can’t throw the rascals out?
    In the US we have to wait 4 t 8 years for a new set of neo-liberal idiots.
    We had similar human rights criminals but we don’t keep people detained off shore but only in SO CAL,TEXAS AND ARIZONA. We just kick them over the border and detain them again tomorrow.
    Send your leaders to the World Court in the Hague.
    They can get in line right behind Bush,Cheny, Rumsfield, Obama et all.
    Where is the so called christian charity?

  11. Love your anti-spam method!

    Just wanted to clear something up with you about the Australian Progressives- we are oh-so-NOT anti-MMT! We’re still very keen to learn more. Perhaps not so wise to take the word of one ex-associate as gospel, nor to take one mischievously leaked comment as representative of the whole group’s stance, though I understand how you might have come to do so. Hope we can clear up this misunderstanding as we do know you have much to offer us. Cheers.

  12. Bill you missed the most heartbreaking image:

    Hockey’s response to Bill is illustrative. Inanimate property such as roads and hospitals and schools are long term investments with intergenerational benefits, whereas individual human lives, education, and jobs are not. In Hockey’s warped worldview, using government debt to build a school is worthy, but using government debt to train and pay a high quality teacher who will benefit hundreds of lives, is less so.

  13. David – Take your pick,you can’t go wrong.

    I would put Rabid Rabbott in the mad as a cut snake phylum.

  14. Dear Bill, Counting beans is not,repeat NOT, a constructive activity. Unless you want to end up like one Joseph Hokey.

    As usual,I will drip feed my advice having regard to the condition of the patient. Overdoses are counter productive.

  15. Hi Bill,

    Interesting to read your view of the Australian Progressives. Seems though some of the information you’ve received is inaccurate. MMT was never off the table. The demands put in place by the MMT messenger were odd, but nonetheless we didn’t hold the actions of one against MMT. In fact, it always has been on the table and should be if true evidence-based policy is to be explored.

    Also the President has not stepped down. A new president was elected back in 2014 (Vinay Orekondy) and he is most certainly still with us. Tim Jones who had the initial role of ceremonial President while we were registering with the AEC stepped down from his executive role after a month after the election but remains a member of the party.

    One other person was suspended from the party.

    Hope this clears up any concerns.

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