We have everything we need in the way of resources, technology, and skills to build a society where no-one is forced to subsist in poverty. Where a secure, well-paid job is available to all who want one. Where all our energy comes from clean, affordable sources like the sun and wind. A society in which everyone has a place to call home, and the skills to build the life they want to lead.
This is an unapologetically bold vision, but it is built on the hope of past generations who were equally bold.
Australians were among the first to secure the eight-hour working day and guarantee workers both a living and a life. Previous generations stood up to demand free education, and won. And as a nation, we built a world-class healthcare system where a doctor will see you regardless of your bank balance.
What holds us back today is not scarcity, but the stranglehold of powerful corporations who for too long have taken far more than their fair share. Corporations who have exploited a corrupt political finance system to seize control of our politics, and shout down the voices and needs of everyday people. Corporations who promised us that deregulation, privatisation, and balanced budgets were a prescription for prosperity — that putting our faith in an unregulated market would bring stable jobs, falling prices, and more wealth for us all to share.
After 30 long years of corporate control, we can judge the results for ourselves:
- The top 1% now control as much wealth as the bottom 70%1 of Australians combined — income inequality is worse now than at any time in the past 67 years.2
- Company profits are up 32% in the last two years3, yet real wages rising 0.03% in the same period.4
- Over 1.8 million Australians are willing and able to work but don’t have a job or don’t have enough hours at their job.5
- 25.3% of the Australian workforce are trapped in casual jobs – a whole generation has never known the right to take a paid sick day.6
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, continue to suffer the consequences of genocide and dispossession: over-represented in our hospitals and prisons because of failed government policy and racist policing.
But we don’t need statistics to know that our economy is rigged against us. We see it every single day.
It’s the car window repaired with duct tape, or the overcrowded bus that gets us to work late. It’s the forgone family holiday, and the postponed trip to the dentist. It’s the oppressive feeling that there is never enough – enough work, enough money, enough time with those we love. This isn’t normal. And it isn’t something we just have to accept
We need a new vision for our society – a charter of economic rights that replaces the narrow interests of corporations and wealthy elites with our collective interest as citizens. We need to recognise the simple truth that we don’t exist to serve the economy, the economy exists to serve us.
Rethinking what’s possible
Up until the age of 18, everyone is guaranteed a seat at a school desk at a government-funded school. It’s a powerful idea that deeply resonates with our deeply held belief in a fair go. No matter who you are or where you come from, we’re all entitled to a decent education that will help us reach our potential and play a fulfilling role in society.
It wouldn’t be acceptable for the government to run out of the money required to provide enough seats for every child. Nor would it be acceptable for the government to cut funding to students, because they didn’t meet a particular academic standard, or had differing needs. Because we’ve collectively decided that a education is a right, our government guarantees it – no matter what.
Before the turn of the 20th century, Australia was able to make basic education universally available to all, despite the challenges of funding, staffing, and administering such a large and complex program. Now, at the start of the 21st century, we must radically expand our social guarantee to meet the challenges of the modern world
We can guarantee people a decent job, a decent income, and give them lifelong access to education, training, and childcare. We can ensure everyone has access to safe and secure housing, basic utilities powered by clean energy, and banks that don’t exploit us.
We have to step beyond the narrow vision of what we’re told is “politically possible” and fight for the future we want. We need a new charter of economic rights for a new age. It’s time to be bold again.
The failed neoliberal experiment
Over the past decades, our collective wellbeing has been increasingly entrusted to the whims of corporations and the market. Decades into the privatisation experiment, the results are in: study after study has found little to no evidence of increased efficiency in markets subjected to privatisation.7
A recent study showed that across 34 OECD countries, the average price for energy charged by private companies is 23.1% higher than that charged by public utility firms.8 Over the last few decades, Australian people lost control over some of our most vital public infrastructure – and saw their essential services deteriorate.
Allowing corporations to control essential services will always fail because corporations are motivated by profit, rather than people. They serve their investors, at the expense of everything, and everyone else – driving wages lower, corporate taxes lower, environmental safeguards lower – in order to enrich a growing billionaire class.
We can see this everywhere.
Woolworths and Coles have engaged in unrealistic price wars over essential goods like milk, while neglecting the impact of low prices on struggling farmers
Qantas call themselves the spirit of Australia, but they haven’t paid a cent in corporate tax for close to a decade - shirking their responsibility for our schools, our roads and our hospitals.
Uber and Amazon provide insecure contractor work, while moving to automate the jobs they create altogether. Their success is built upon the exploitative conditions of the gig economy.
To build an economy that puts people first, we need to reduce the power of corporations, and empower government to build an economy that ensures every single person is able to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.
We need to make the case for government, because government is best placed to do the greatest good, for the greatest number - and it’s accountable to all of us. An active, empowered and truly democratic government can and should mobilise our nation’s resources for the common good. It serves the interest of all of us, rather than a small number of wealthy corporate investors.
1Oxfam, Growing Gulf Between Work and Wealth: Australian Fact Sheet (2018)
2Andrew Leigh, Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Income Inequality in Australia (2013)
3Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Business Indicators, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 5676.0
4Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Wage Price Index, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 6345.0; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Consumer Price Index, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 6401.0
5Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, Labour Force, Australia, Time Series Spreadsheet, cat. no. 6202.0
6Greg Jericho, “We should be concerned about the casualisation of full-time work”, The Guardian, Australia, 16 January 2018
7Christopher Stone, False economies: unpacking public service efficiency, Centre for Policy Development, 2014
8Transnational Institute, “The winners and losers in EU’s great privatisation fire sale”, 2016