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Facing barbarism

David Faber

Amidst the tumult of the 19th century, a wise man predicted that humanity would in due course have its fate in its own hands; when we had our backs to the wall. Our free will would face the choice between socialism and barbarism, between establishing a democratic community of producers or socioeconomic and ecological collapse.

In these latter days of history, when inequality and inefficiency are overshadowed only by the looming challenge of climate change, it has become impossible to address one without addressing the other. On August 20, 2019, a senior exponent of BHP, Andrew MacKenzie, conceded on the ABC that the ecological challenge we face calls for the biggest social mobilisation since World War II. Of course, he sees a role for coal and nuclear power in a transition to a sustainable energy economy, but the point remains: we need a Green New Deal going to the heart of what democracy means in the immediate future, a basic rewriting of the social contract between government and governed guaranteeing genuine full employment and real climate action with a Just Energy Transition.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has spearheaded the concept of a Green New Deal in the United States, where reference to the role played by the public sector under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in helping to alleviate the misery of the Great Depression has never been altogether forgotten. The concept cannot, of course, be imported into this country without careful translation in national terms. It needs to be made Australian. What we need is not just a GND, but a Green New Deal for Australia which speaks to the Australian people, made to measure for the needs of our economy and environment.

Already the GND concept is beginning to strike root here. Concept development work has begun around the country. Time and labour will be necessary to bring it to fruition, scientifically and politically. Discussion documents must be circulated and negotiated. Between the bare concept and economic costing for economic planning for a well-regulated market economy with an adequate role for the public sector, there is much to be done. Open minds and dialogue will be necessary as well as resolute application of key principles.

There must be a just energy transition to reliance on renewable power generation, one in which the costs are fairly spread across society. The working class must be reassured as of right that there will be a proper supply of well-paying union jobs, delivered by an Australian Job Guarantee. Labour rights to organise and collectively bargain and strike, undermined since 1975 in this country, must be restored and embodied in the Constitution. Environmental remediation must be prioritized to arrest the ravages of climate change already upon us.

Roosevelt's New Deal always had a green tinge to it. Among the first programmes rolled out was forestry work for the unemployed. The GND must be green to the core and have the courage to sweep away the received shibboleths of austerity economics which have served the country and indeed the world so ill these last generations.

Provision must be made for skilled as well as 'unskilled' labour. To give an example, the Lomax brothers were employed by the Library of Congress during the New Deal to record the blues, unearthing talent like Huddy Leadbetter in a Southern prison.

An Australian GND could employ citizen scientists across our landscape and humanists in our communities to identify our history and problems we need to address socioeconomically. Genuine full employment is feasible without inflation because after generations of running down the country there is so much that now needs to be done. Our unemployed workforce represents idle reserves of capacity and productivity, an opportunity as well as a problem.

Historian Stuart Macintyre has identified postwar reconstruction 1945-49 as the nation's most enterprising era. Anti-public sector dogma and prejudice were cast aside. The foundations of new industries were laid down. A brand new day of health care was mooted.

Of course, reactionary forces mobilised to counter this clarion call. Closed minds will doubtless mobilise again. But we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

David Faber is a member of Friends of the Earth Adelaide.


Published in Chain Reaction #137, December 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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