Thursday, March 31, 2022

US plans to flood Pacific with finance capital through US-Aust Formal Economic Strategic Dialogue


Written by: (Contributed) on 1 April 2022

The announcement that the US will establish a strategic economic dialogue with Australia will facilitate a flood of finance capital into the Indo-Pacific region through Australian banking systems. 

The move has been linked to US-led defence and foreign affairs initiatives and follows the establishment of a similar pact between the US and Japan last month. Australia and Japan are the two main regional hubs for 'US interests'; the two pacts are aimed at challenging China's regional economic diplomacy and strengthening traditional US-led hegemonic positions through neo-colonial-type relations.
In late March and early April high-level diplomatic talks in Washington between the US and Australia will discuss, and more likely than not, ratify an economic agreement drawing the latter closer to the former's economic strategy of challenging China. While the US has, historically, challenged China on two fronts with defence and foreign affairs, they now want to 'draw the economic weight of the US directly into Australia's strategic sphere to counter China's economic presence'. (1) It was noted the dialogue would take place on an annual basis, complementing the Australia- US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).
It has followed US-led intelligence assessments that 'while the US has pivoted its military posture toward the Indo-Pacific over recent years there has been concern among Australian strategic planners that US economic power is also needed to swing the balance of strategic competition'. (2) The moves also follow two other important considerations:
the previous Trump presidential administration was largely responsible for withdrawing from previous diplomatic positions and concentrating upon a confused collection of policies under the banner of 'America First';
a US congressional committee in 2018 concluded 'the US was no longer the dominant power in the Pacific … and recommended … further relying on traditional allies, including Japan and Australia'. (3)
It has been generally acknowledged that the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) created 'an economic vacuum in the region that China could exploit'. (4)
The move by the Biden administration to establish dialogues with both Japan and Australia would, therefore, appear an attempt to reassert traditional hegemonic positions through the two regional hubs for 'US interests'.
Official media releases about the high-level Washington meeting revealed that the pact included provision whereby 'the US and Australia would work collectively with other countries to push back against China'. (5) It was also noted the dialogue would include agenda items: critical minerals and regional supply chains. (6) Another stated US-led agenda item is the establishment of an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) as a 'vehicle for the US to re-engage economically in the region'. (7)
Reference to the dialogue as 'an important new component of the Australia-US bilateral architecture … which … will serve as the main forum for deepening co-operation on strategic economic issues', would tend to indicate the US wants to use Australian banking systems to flood the region with its finance capital. (8) China has, however, gained considerable headway in recent years by using softer-style diplomacy with low interest rates, re-payable over many decades. The US, therefore, is likely to have great difficulty successfully challenging the already existing Chinese regional influences, resulting in greater competition and diplomatic hostilities, with the ever increasing threat of limited war.
It is, however, not difficult to establish the reasoning behind the recent US-led moves. Recent economic modelling, for example, has forecast;
                                           International GDP Growth Forecasts
                                                           2021          2024
     United States                                 5.7%          2.0%
     Australia                                        4.2%          2.5%
     Japan                                             1.7%          0.5%
     Euro-zone                                      5.3%         1.5%
     World                                             6.0%         3.5%
     East Asia                                        3.9%         4.0%  (9)          
It would not take more than a passing glance to establish where the so-called Formal Strategic Economic Dialogue in Washington will be focussing their main attention in talks and decision-making. The sweat shops of East Asia together with other areas of the Indo-Pacific, where levels of economic exploitation have pushed millions of workers into poverty and destitution, are now set to receive US-led economic investment programs designed specifically to enhance the dividends of shareholders. (10)
The fact the programs will be channelled through Japan's banking systems for northern parts of the region together with Australia's for the southern parts has revealed how the two regional hubs have been closer to US-led war-mongering and regional interference:
                                            We need an independent foreign policy!
1.     US pact to fight China sanctions, The Weekend Australian, 26-27 March 2022.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Study: US no longer dominant power in Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
4.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 26-27 March 2022.
5.     Ibid.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Ibid.
9.     See: Michael Pascoe: The budget's dirty little secrets, The New Daily, 31 March 2022.
10.   US strategic objectives in the South Pacific challenged by Sino-American competition,  Xian Hong Say, Future Directions International, October 2019; and, Australia's Pacific step-up must help counter poverty, Editorial,  Australian, 24 February 2020. Both include information about the problem of poverty in the South Pacific, caused by decades of neglect by Canberra to implement economically sustainable development programs for the benefit of the mass of the population.  


A canary sings with Probuild, CIMIC, Deloitte and Chevron


Above: "There is no money. Now seven months no salary," a former CIMIC worker tells Adele Ferguson (SMH)

Written by: Louisa L. on 1 April 2022

The day after the ABC reported a humanitarian crisis facing former employees and subcontractors of Australian-based construction company CIMIC in the Middle East, Spirit of Eureka commented, “Probuild collapses and now CIMIC is exposed for leaving hundreds of ex-workers unpaid in Dubai labour camps for a year. They can’t leave and can’t afford to eat. And CIMIC’s share price didn’t drop the day after journalist Adele Ferguson released the story.

“Meanwhile, a week back, for the first time the ABCC issued compulsory attendance notices to NSW workers for a strike they won in the courts during protected action. ARE THEY KIDDING?” 

The comment, now over a month old but still pertinent, introduced an article by a NSW construction worker, outlining two of the reasons for Probuild’s collapse – increasing monopoly and outsourcing of risk. 

He said, “Probuild went into administration mainly because developers had not paid them for work done. The company is owed hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The problem is the law allows the person taking the least risk but receiving the most profit – the developer – to dodge any responsibilities. 

“Covid lockdowns meant delays, but the developers basically said, ‘You have a contract and you haven’t met it. So what if you are nearly finished the buildings? We are not going to pay you.’ And it’s all legal.”

Specialist investor service, The Motley Fool said much the same about Probuild’s collapse, “Nicola Grayson, the CEO of the engineering industry lobby group, Consult Australia, says she fundamentally believes the system is broken. Cut-throat competition and poor risk distribution in the commercial building industry are making it increasingly difficult for construction companies to make money.” 

Hooking small fish for capitalism

Most construction workers are employed by subcontractors or labour hire companies. This pattern is repeated across numerous industries, most notably food delivery. 

Spirit of Eureka said subcontractors, many of them “Mum and Dad outfits”, carry the greatest risk in the building industry.

It also pointed out that the CFMEU, in NSW at least, used legal and illegal industrial action to protect most – but not all – entitlements of workers including those employed by subcontractors, because too many companies go broke leaving workers unpaid. This didn’t surface in capitalist media coverage. 

US company Motley Fool says, “Our purpose is to make the world smarter, happier, and richer.” 

It somewhat trivialised Adele Ferguson’s reporting, subtly questioning whether a “humanitarian crisis” existed after CIMIC’s departure from the Middle East.

The inverted commas in its headline inferred the crisis was not proven. It included CIMIC’s self-justifications.

The core business of the financial press is where to invest for profit.

Fool ended in bold with “Should you invest $1000 in CIMIC now?” No, but follow the link from the free article to Fool’s more profitable suggestions.

This bait ties small investors like workers and their allies to capitalism. 

Same top-down relationship

Numerous financial articles state Hochtief, CIMIC’s controlling shareholder, is making a hostile bid for outright ownership. German-based Hochtief is majority owned by Spanish corporation ACS. 

Like the mining industry, the big end of construction is overwhelmingly foreign controlled. But the stability of ownership is easily upset by the second-by-second ease with which massive amounts of capital can be shifted by big shareholders.

In Probuild’s case other companies will pick over the carcass, with the administrator the first to be paid. 

Deloitte, one of the Big Four foreign-owned accounting giants regularly targeted by investigative journalist Michael West, is Probuild’s administrator. West exposes the dirty role these corporations in designing tax avoidance and a raft of other ways to increase company profits.

Deloitte was also the auditor when CIMIC was in a losing billion-dollar battle with resource giant US Chevron over its construction of a jetty for the Gorgon gas project off WA’s Pilbara coast. 

CIMIC’s is the same top-down relationship faced by Probuild. 

And what of Deloitte? The 2020 headline of the Financial Review’s Jenny Wiggins was spot on when she called CIMIC’s accounts “unreliable”, including Deloitte’s audit report. She stated Deloitte ‘green-lighted’ CIMIC’s dodgy accounts in 2018. She also pointed to the $1.8 billion write-off in the Middle East. 

Human misery not their job

Wiggins didn’t mention the human misery CIMIC’s failure was causing. Sadly, that isn’t the primary job of financial newspapers. Fairfax reporter Adele Ferguson appears to have been tipped off by an unpaid Australian contractor.  

It took till December 2021 for the Financial Review to publish Adele Ferguson’s first investigation. 

CIMIC is now facing a lawsuit from investors, alleging it misled them about its liabilities.

Meanwhile Chevron’s website still brags to investors and potential investors about Gorgon’s 700 Australian contractors as if this was good for them and Australia. “Everything about Gorgon is massive,” it says. 

Michael West states, “One of the world’s premier tax cheats, Chevron pays zero tax but still managed to siphon off a cool $920 million “return of capital” to its US parent – according to last year’s financial statements – besides ripping out $3 billion in finance charges to its associates offshore.” 

ExxonMobil and Shell are Chevron’s major partners in Gorgon.

According to by Financial Times’ journalists Jamie Smyth and David Sheppard in July 2021, Japanese companies are among the top ten shareholders in Gorgon. Though their holdings are very small, they help ensure the cheap gas heads their way, while Australian prices go through the roof.

Follow the money 

The London-based Financial Times is owned by a Japanese holding company, Nikkei. It also calculates the Nikkei 225 for the Tokyo Stock Exchange. (Wikipedia)

Most readers would know The Financial Review is now owned by Channel 9. By far the most profitable section of the former Fairfax stable is the Domain real estate sector. Honest reporting on construction as a whole becomes more and more difficult given this. 

On March 30, Sydney Morning Herald article about a huge development, the “beating heart” of Sydney’s Central Station, read like a developer’s press release. It didn’t mention the 40 storey towers which will dwarf what it twice calls an “unloved” heritage precinct. Heritage is this writer’s word. It doesn’t appear in the article.  

Sydney’s former Herald architecture reporter was Elizabeth Farrelly. The title of her 2021 book ‘Killing Sydney’ says it all.

While most journalists aim to tell what they think is the truth, capitalist ideology stops them doing more than tinkering around its worst edges. Some spend their days in breakfast television infotainment. Others sell their souls to defend even the worst corporations. Most others are tightly constrained. Even an Adele

Ferguson would find herself out the door if she called capitalism out for what it is. 

There is a big gap between what the media tells the general public and the reporting of specialist financial services and newspapers, which aim to keep the capitalist juggernaut smashing toward profit.  

When the canary sings

As Lenin pointed out a century ago, crisis increases monopolisation. Giant corporations swallow even huge ones. Look to Probuild and CIMIC.

Right now, there are mind-boggling amounts of capital needing destinations where the highest possible profit can be made. Within seconds, even enormous corporations that fail in this fundamental capitalist compulsion can be shaken and even collapse as vast quantities of capital are removed. 

This will have big impacts in a construction industry which has traditionally been the canary in the mine for capitalist busts. If that industry falls, others follow. It employs one in five Australian workers. While this writer has been astounded at the capacity of the construction boom to continue despite her predictions of its bust, things are shifting.

Few people have the money to buy homes or even find places to rent. Purchasing power of wages has plummeted, interest rates will rise along with prices. Investors aren’t filling the gap.

The CBDs of the two major cities and their satellites like Sydney’s Parramatta are awash with empty office space, with more in the pipeline.

When the canary sings and booms bust, brutal attacks on workers’ collective power are on the cards. 

They must be educated for the bigger struggle to overcome capitalism, organised and mobilised for more than elections or bigger crumbs from the capitalist table. Make struggle a training ground. 

For communists, it’s time to be active. It’s time to be bold. 


Changes to foreign ownership of Australian agriculture

 Written by: Duncan B. on 30 March 2022

The foreign ownership of Australian farmland is a constantly changing situation.

Recently US private equity firm Proterra Investment Partners listed for sale property aggregations totalling over 42,000 hectares of land in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland. This is part of the company’s 10-year exit plan from Australian farm assets. It will be interesting to see whether these properties go to other foreign buyers or whether Australian buyers get a chance to buy them.

The massive Cubbie Station in Queensland produces ten percent of Australia’s cotton output. Until recently it was 51% owned by Macquarie Asset Management and 49% owned by a Chinese company Shandong Ruyi. Macquarie Asset Management announced recently that it has acquired 100% ownership of Cubbie Station, bringing it back into Australian hands. 

On the down side, Canadian PSP Investment group paid over $60 million for an 11,260 hectare cropping property at Morundah in NSW. They now own cropping operations totalling over 75,000 hectares in four states.

Australia’s dairy processing industry has high level of foreign ownership. Two of our biggest dairy processors are the New Zealand-owned Fonterra and the Canadian-owned Saputo (Warrnambool Cheese and Butter and Murray Goulburn). Other foreign-owned companies involved include the French-owned Lactalis (Paul’s milk and Oak flavoured milk) and the Swiss-owned Nestles.

Chinese interest are also involved in the Australian dairy industry. Shanghai Ground Foods owns WA-based Brownes Dairy. Mengniu and China Modern Dairy (Burra Foods Vic) are also active, as is Japanese company Itochu which has a 21% share in Burra Foods.

Victoria’s Forestry industry also has a high level of foreign ownership. OneFortyOne Plantations has the largest share of plantation area (95,000 hectares of forest), in the Green Triangle region which straddles the Vic-SA border in Victoria’s south-west. This company is 64% owned by Australian superannuation and sovereign wealth companies, and 36% owned by US pension and other off-shore funds.

Hancock Victorian Plantation Holdings manages 165,000 hectares of pine and eucalypt plantations out of a total of over 240,000 hectares of land in various areas of Victoria. The company is managed by US-based Hancock Timber Resource Group and is owned by a combination of Australian, US and Canadian superannuation and investment funds.

Australian Bluegum Plantations operates 85,000 hectares of plantations spread between Victoria, SA and WA. This company is owned by US-based Global Forestry Partners LP which manages about A$3 billion worth of forestry assets world-wide.

French investment company AXA Investment Managers has 24,000 hectares of pine plantations in the Green Triangle. They also manage about 60,000 hectares of plantations in France, Ireland and Finland.

Australia’s vital production of food and essential necessities such as timber will only be controlled by Australians in an independent Australia.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Shame of Financial Hardship

 Written by: James S. on 29 March 2022

I used to work as a consultant for one of Australia’s largest Industry Superannuation Funds. Before this I had no prior experience in the financial sector, every day had been a new challenge, there was a lot to learn with regards to the rules and legislation of super and it’s probably in most people’s best interest to know at least some very basic things about how it works, especially when it comes to accessing it. 

As part of my job as a consultant for a superfund I’d heard a lot of heartbreaking stories from those in severe financial hardship. A lot of people feel that they need to tell a consultant why they’ve called and preface their questions that they don’t want to dip into their retirement savings but have no other choices. Illness, injury, disability, surgery, mortgage payments, rent, bills, needing legal aid, food. Just some of the many reasons that people seek assistance from their superfund. Centrelink payments alone can be so infrequent and minute and the service provided so shackled by purposeful underfunding and legislation that people need to seek out their superfund’s phone number and call for help. People felt that they need to apologise, that they were sorry for wasting my time with their situation and that they shouldn’t be doing this. Shame fuels a desire to justify their reason for calling and it really shouldn’t. It was my job to help, it was also my job to make sure we did this correctly, together.

As you can imagine, withdrawing super before retirement is not a simple task and will take time, something people in financial hardship tend to have very little of. As a consultant I needed to make sure that those wanting to withdraw met the legal eligibility criteria and completely understood the implications on accessing super for financial hardship. Each step of this process puts more mental load on the person calling about their situation, it’s not an easy task and maybe not the right decision for some. 

To access super for financial hardship the criteria is the following. First you need to be on Centrelink payments for 26 continuous weeks. Miss a single payment or get a part time job for a couple of weeks and that resets the clock. Not all payments from Centrelink are eligible either, which only adds to the confusion when different payment types have similar sounding names. Anyone currently in receipt of Centrelink payments has a Centrelink Reference Number or CRN. This is what is used by superfunds to determine that someone requesting access is on the right payments for the right amount of time. Superfund members will send in their CRN along with all their personal details, bank account details and certified ID to us for processing.

With your application you can request up to $10,000 for financial hardship from your super. That’s up to $10,000 no longer being invested for you and could have been years of progress made by previous work now suddenly undone. People need to go through all these steps, provide as much information as clearly as possible, hope they’ve met the correct criteria and then they can be approved for the release of their requested funds. An inelegant process that to the individual appears to be as difficult as possible for those who need the most help. The frustrations of this process don’t end here as well.

If you’re under 60 that’s going to be taxed at the withdrawal of around 20% plus the Medicare levy so if you request $10,000, that amount is not going to hit your bank account. A caveat that catches people off guard quite a bit, a real kick while you’re down moment for the desperate. Super belongs to you for your retirement, so it feels like you’re being punished for accessing it when you need it before retirement and when you need it the most. This only feeds people’s shame about this process. So, with tax being withheld on the withdrawal the other major condition of this release is that you can also only request a payment for financial hardship once a year. Not a calendar or financial year, as in you need to wait 365 days from your last withdrawal if you need to do it again. So do you request the full $10,000 to last you as long as possible or go for a lower amount? Another question, another burden. 

When speaking with those wanting to go through this process, I tried to inform as much as possible, it was my job to be a messenger who relays a process that is embarrassing and tedious.

In television and internet commercials, super is sold to us as part of the dream of retirement, the proposal that while young you can invest in your future, scrimp and save away, have your money invested on your behalf in the market. If you work and sacrifice hard enough, you’ll get a big return and live out your golden years day-drinking and travelling. Super is a reflection of the decades of hard work you put yourself through and reward for participating in capitalism, selling your labour power and paying off your landlord’s mortgage. So, keeping on top of it is important because if you’re with a lower performing fund you’re going to have less to retire with.

Assistance should be there, implemented by the state, by and for the people because it’s for the best. Legislation around financial hardship should be for the benefit of uplifting those currently suffering. Superannuation is great if you benefit from capitalism and can make regular contributions to it, or if you sacrifice present wants and needs for a potentially more comfortable future for yourself. The capitalist and individualist society we are part of is the perfect kindling for the burning shame of people who can’t do this and feel they will never see the benefit of it. It’s easy to see how individualism can lead to selfishness when able to benefit from it but when you don’t that turns to shame instead. People are empowered to be selfish because they’re rewarded for it in neoliberalism. When that’s not rewarded, the empowerment of selfishness is replaced by shame and this was something that wasn’t apparent to me until I worked in super, now it seems obvious.

Individual blame on the individual for not being successful financially tends to be processed in two ways, shame and anger. Anger is another strong and justified emotion. Desperate people call their superfunds, wanting to know why the process is the way it is and I don’t have an answer for them that doesn’t come across as defending it or sounding especially cruel. I empathised and stayed on their side no matter any supposed justification, this fellow human being needs help to navigate a process designed to apply a band-aid to a bullet wound. How could I ever possibly defend legislation around this? 

It doesn’t have to be this way, this structure in our lives can be changed, moulded and controlled. Shame isn’t something you need to feel when you ask for help. Working in super and talking to people in need has galvanised me more in my political education than I could possibly have predicted. 

Hearing stories from people who are hurting who don’t deserve to be forgotten and discarded. Truly the only shame that should be around financial hardship should be on all those responsible for putting others through these hard times.


Friday, March 25, 2022

New South Korean President set to strengthen US presence on divided peninsula


Written by: (Contributed) on 25 March 2022

 The US has lost no time following the election of their preferred candidate in South Korea's recent presidential elections to begin to consolidate its traditional dominant position in the South.

Statements of political intention about preferred diplomatic positions have not been ambiguous, and leave little to the imagination. The Korean peninsula is now set to return to one of the Indo-Pacific's most troubled and problematic Cold War hotspots.

In early March the conservative People Power candidate Yoon Suk-yeol won the presidency by a narrow margin of 0.8 per cent over centre-left Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung in a bitterly contested election campaign. The ROK (South Korea) has become bitterly divided in recent years between those who seek to maintain the traditional status quo of pro-US political positions and those who recognise a changing balance of forces across the region; the two political parties have been noted as 'ideologically poles apart'. (1) The outgoing Moon Jae-in presidential administration, for example, had chosen to pursue a 'more accommodating attitude toward Beijing … and to ensure good relations with Pyongyang', in a largely pragmatic foreign policy toward its largest trading partner with the former, and defence and security considerations with the latter. (2)

China's diplomatic position toward the Moon Jae-in administration had a tendency to be straightforward; last year, for example, Beijing noted that 'given the Blue House's reluctance to be involved in anti-China campaigns … Seoul is sober-headed … and that … South Korea has refrained from following Washington's fanatical path'. (3) Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to the ROK presidency, likewise, emphasised that 'South Korea is an American ally, and we maintain a strategic co-operative partnership with China … we are structurally dependent on China'. (4)

Relations with the northern DPRK were a particularly popular part of Moon Jae-in's presidential policies; his high-level diplomatic visit to Pyongyang and elsewhere in the country were well received by his supporters. Moon Jae-in himself, is of DPRK ancestry. Many other families in the ROK have members in the DPRK and friendly relations between the two parts of the Korean peninsula is viewed in a personal manner, apart from usual political positions.

Within hours of the announcement of the election result Yoon Suk-yeol, nevertheless, issued what was noted as a 'bold foreign policy that would bring South Korea into closer alignment with the US and its partners in the region … . and … promised to take a tougher stance on North Korea'. (5) Lee Jae-myung, during his election campaign had, however, pursued a foreign policy position similar to Moon Jae-in where there was 'reluctance to join efforts to push back on pressure from Beijing … which had … created frustration in Washington, Tokyo and Canberra'. (6) Regional US-led defence and security provision, historically, since the earliest days of the previous Cold War, has rested upon triangular diplomatic links through the three capital cities. In recent years military ties between Japan and Australia have been systematically upgraded to the level of a 'quasi-alliance', in preparation for US-led regional hostilities. (7)

The ROK would now appear set to return to traditional US-led hegemonic positions, with all the problems, difficulties and risks with which that entails.

Successive presidential administrations in the Blue House in Seoul have traditionally hosted US military personnel in the ROK as part of rapid deployment forces for the defence of Japan, linked to other similar facilities based in Guam. The roots of US-led political and related influence lie deep inside the ROK system. The US, in recent years, has, nevertheless, watched with unease as the ROK has been drawn closer to China as its largest trading partner and close neighbour.

Pro-US forces around Yoon Suk-yeol have, therefore, focussed their Cold War political efforts upon China in an attempt to reassert traditional US positions of domination, with some success; a recent opinion poll established about 80 per cent of South Koreans now had a negative view of China, as opposed to 37 per cent a year ago. (8) The ROK remains, nevertheless, politically volatile: previous opinion polls, nearly two decades ago, for example, found about twenty per cent of the ROK sample said 'they would support North Korea if it came under attack by the US'. (9)

Matters, in recent years, can be noted as coming to a head with the controversy over the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) where the Moon Jae-in administration were reluctant to sign the agreement until placed under direct pressure from Washington by Defence Secretary Mark Esper 'to push forcefully for a GSOMIA extension' in 2019. (10) It was noted that 'the US key aim is to get South Korea to participate fully in its Indo-Pacific strategy, and it needs to keep GSOMIA in place'. (11) The Moon Jae-in position, to the contrary, was that 'South Korea needs to first demand a concrete list from the US in terms of how it is supposed to participate in the Indo-Pacific strategy, examining it closely and choosing only those areas that are acceptable'. (12)

Such political positions did not make the Moon Jae-in presidential administration popular with the Trump administration in the White House. Those associated with the present Biden administration have also been extremely quiet about the ROK; little has changed with US foreign policy and diplomatic positions toward the Korean peninsula in a very long time. Within hours of the presidential election results, for example, the US suddenly announced 'it was intensifying its intelligence, readiness and surveillance activities in the Indo-Pacific following the two tests', drawing reference to the northern DPRK testing two rockets on 26 February and 4 March. (13) Until the election results the US had not officially commented about the DPRK military program.

The Korean peninsula now looks set to return to a position of being a Cold War hotspot, with all the previous fears of volatility leading to 'real-war scenarios' being very real. Recent developments in the ROK have also shown how the US will respond to perceived threats to their regional influence from governments elsewhere which question tutelage from Washington and the Pentagon:

                                           We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     South Korea poll goes down to the wire, Australian, 10 March 2022.
2.     Editorial, China hardens its rhetoric over support for Taiwan, Australian, 14 March 2022.  
3.     Seoul's balancing act between Beijing and Washington set to remain,  Global Times (Beijing), 6 May 2021.
4.     Ibid.
5.     S Korea elects a China hawk, Australian, 11 March 2022; and, N Korea 'escalates' tests of new missiles, The Weekend Australian, 12-13 March 2022.
6.     Australian, ibid., 11 March 2022.
7.     Ties with Japan amount to quasi-alliance, says Tokyo, The Age (Melbourne), 27 October 2014.
8.     Australian, op.cit., 11 March 2022.

9.     Uneasy Korea braced for America's big squeeze, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 10-16 December 2004.
10.   The reason behind Washington's push for GSOMIA, Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
11.   Ibid.
12.   Ibid.
13.   N Korea 'escalates' tests of new missiles, The Weekend Australian, 12-13 March 2022.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Time’s up for climate vandals!

 Written by: Bill F. on 23 March 2022

This summer, the suffering and damage from extreme storms and floods in Queensland and NSW have brought home the critical effects of climate warming in Australia, and this will not be forgotten in an election year.

In February, a comprehensive report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the climate crisis is more acute than ever and that many governments are failing to reduce carbon emissions. With increasing heat and rising sea levels, Australia is particularly vulnerable, and has been labelled by UN Secretary General Guterres as a “holdout” for refusing to strengthen emission targets by 2030. 

Since the COP26, the Morrison government is more determined to prop up the fossil fuel industry
While the government pretends to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a transition to renewable sources, facts show the opposite

Research by the Australian Conservation Foundation, based on data from the Clean Energy Regulator, has revealed that many fossil fuel companies are exceeding their estimated emission levels several times over. The research particularly highlighted Chevron’s Gorgon offshore gas project in Western Australia. 

In February the Morrison government granted $19.4 million to Empire Energy for exploratory drilling in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory. By coincidence, Empire Energy boss Paul Espie is a Liberal Party donor. According to Environment Centre modelling, fracking in the Beetaloo Basin could increase Australia’s emissions by 13%. 

Opposition to Beetaloo was expressed in a statement released by the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, “The government is doing the wrong thing backing fracking on our country, it is poisoning our water, our animals and upsetting the song-lines that run across our land”. Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer also stated, “Ninety-nine point nine per cent of Territorians won’t benefit from this industry - instead we will suffer as fracking pollutes our rivers and groundwater, and drives dangerous climate change that is already leading to never before seen heat records in the Top End.”

The Morrison government persists in its “gas-led recovery” delusion
Supporting this delusion are the 600 kilometres of pipeline already in construction, with another 12,000 kilometres planned through the 2021 National Gas Plan. They would link the new gas basins in Beetaloo, Narrabri, and Scarborough in Western Australia, to export terminals in the North and West, as well as to the East Coast. But, as pointed out by Dan Gocher, director of climate and the environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, “Gas demand on the east coast is forecast to flatline or decline … It’s a massive stranded asset risk either for the taxpayers that build them or the companies that operate them.”

Coal shipments export carbon emissions
Thermal coal production for electricity generation in Australia is winding down as profits are squeezed by wind, solar and battery farms, and by shareholder activism embracing “green” energy. 

Australia’s largest coal-fired power station, Origin Energy’s Eraring in the NSW Hunter region, will close in 2025, to be replaced by a 700 megawatt battery plant. Other planned closures include AGL power stations Liddell, NSW (2023), Loy Yang A, Victoria (as early as 2033), Bayswater, NSW (as early as 2040), and Energy Australia’s Yallourn, Victoria (2028).

However, as thermal coal exports also taper off, LNG exports are booming, and coking coal or metallurgical coal will continue to be exported in large quantities for use in steel production overseas. China, which has a number of newer blast furnaces, is likely to want many years’ more use before switching away from coking coal to emission-free technology.

In the meantime, Australia continues to be the largest exporter of coking coal in the world. Consequently, in the months prior to COP26 the Morrison government approved a flurry of mine expansions, including Whitehaven’s Caval Ridge in Queensland and Simec’s Tahmor mine in NSW, plus granting $175 million to the expansion of Pembroke’s Olive Downs mine in Queensland which will clear more than 5000 hectares of koala and glider habitats. 

Capitalist solutions to climate warming – piecemeal at best!
The recent takeover bid for AGL’s Bayswater power station by Australian software capitalist Cannon-Brookes and Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management has not gone ahead. Cannon-Brookes wanted to shut down the power station and build a new battery storage facility to provide eight gigawatts of renewable energy. Together with closing the associated coal mines, this would eliminate a significant amount of carbon pollution.

While the proposal was condemned by Morrison, it clearly reveals the limitations of capitalism in solving the climate crisis. Just this single venture required massive investment by a local billionaire together with further foreign investment by a huge financial monopoly, but it still failed. In contrast to the individualism and anarchy of capitalist investments, socialism places key resources and industries under the democratic supervision of the working class to regulate production and distribution in a systematic way that benefits all the people rather than the favoured few.

Despite the best efforts of a few enterprising capitalists seeking “green” profits, the Morrison government has produced too much hot air and bad odours for capitalism to ever undo the damage. The latest “stink” is the government’s successful appeal to the High Court to overturn a Federal Court decision that required the Environment Minister to have a “duty of care” to Australian children. They only care about profits!   

Like Morrison and his gang of climate vandals, capitalism has run out of puff and should be consigned to history.


Colbeck's Curse: Continued neglect of Aged Care

 Written by: Paul K. on 23 March 2022

The Royal Commission's Report into Aged Care Quality and Safety was released over 11 months ago. Since then we have seen continuing neglect and deliberate avoidance of addressing key recommendations within the report that were aimed at improving the conditions of both the aged and their carers. This simply reconfirms the fundamental principles that condition a response to aged care within capitalism.

The primary issue is that the aged are seen as non-productive and hence have very little relevance to the ongoing production of wealth and private wealth accumulation within capitalism. They are treated as a burden and this is reflected in the policies and lack of support for both the aged and their carers. Relevant points relating to developments since the Royal Commission report include:

1. The absence of focus and discussion on the aged.

2. The neglect of the aged and their carers during COVID – some of the worst examples of neglect in relation to quarantine and immunisation.

3. A complete failure to address the totally unacceptable remuneration for aged care workers. This failure includes the completely inadequate once-off "bonus" announced by Colbeck and Morrison on February 1 of an amount ranging from $300 (for persons working less than 15 hours per week in home care)(, up to $800 (for persons working more than 31 hours in residential care.)

4. The staggering contrast of the impact of COVID on the aged between government and private providers. This arises directly from a number of issues including: a focus on user pays, the emphasis on private enterprise and profit ahead of meaningful attention to better outcomes for the aged and their carers, the associated attempt to reduce costs through the lowering of standards and requirements in relation to aged care.

 Since the report was released, there has been a significant lack of effort to ensure the public are aware of developments in this area. There is the occasional article in the popular press that will highlight a specific failure on the part of the health care "system" but no clear focus on continuing to address the Commission's recommendations. When articles do appear, they reveal appalling neglect. The COVID pandemic is an example of this.

 In an article by Anne Connolly in the Age in early January titled "As Omicron moves in, Australia is facing a predictable tragedy in aged care", she points out that "just one third of elderly residents have received a COVID booster from the government" and "if the federal government had vaccinated them in April last year under its 'priority' listing as promised, every one of them would have been able to receive it by now".

Anne Connolly also points out that at the time of her writing the article, almost 1,000 aged care residents had died from COVID, and that there were more than 1,600 people in aged care infected with COVID, with 80 lives lost within the previous two months. With under-vaccination and rapid spread of the virus with the "opening up" of society, the situation is now much worse.

She states: The Aged Care Royal Commission set out comprehensive recommendations to avert such a disaster by increasing staff numbers and paying proper wages, ensuring up-to-date vaccinations and giving families regular access to their loved ones.

 This abysmal neglect also highlights the government's focus on private providers and an unwillingness to hold them to account. As the Minister for Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck admitted, "Some of the private contractors who received millions for administering the initial vaccinations and the boosters … may have taken time off over Christmas". This reliance on private providers and a failure to hold them to account is further highlighted by the fact that the above statistic on booster vaccinations may not be accurate as the government has not been collecting data.

The comparison between private providers and State run providers clearly demonstrates the failure of capitalism to address the needs of the more vulnerable in society. In an article in the Age on the 15th February titled "Why Victorian public aged care homes were spared the worst of coronavirus", Clay Lucas states "Coronavirus has ripped through private aged care in Australia over the past two years, but one form of aged care has been only lightly touched by the pandemic – publicly run homes in Victoria". He also points out that the 179 state-run homes in Victoria have more nursing staff, higher wages and are often located near other health facilities. The State-run providers have significantly lower rates of infection and deaths.

Some important comparative statistics provided by Clay Lucas include:

In 2020, three public sector residences contracted COVID with no deaths, while private and not-for-profit homes recorded 2000 infections and 655 deaths.

In 2021, three residents of Victoria's public aged care homes died. 

Up to mid-February this year (2022) with the rapid rise in infections, Omicron has killed an average of 17 aged care home residents each day, with just three people in total in Victoria’s state-run homes having died.

0.1 per cent of public facility residents have died since the pandemic started compared with approximately 2 per cent in private homes.

There are no ratios for nursing staff to residents, or minimum standards in private and not-for-profit aged care.

Public sector homes are generally attached to a larger health service of some form, and most are staffed almost entirely with qualified nurses. A typical private or not-for-profit aged care home is 70 to 80 per cent staffed with personal care assistants, who have far less health training than nurses. There are also grossly insufficient Personal Care workers.

This information in no way suggests that we can resolve the problems of Aged Care and Safety by moving towards public provision within capitalism. This will not happen in any substantial manner. The focus within capitalism is to safeguard the rich and their ability to continue to accumulate wealth. This is the essence of the capitalist system and is exemplified in the ongoing emphasis on user-pays in the provision of an increasing range of public services including the principle needs of health and education.

The neglect of aged care and aged care providers occurs while public money is readily spent on reinforcing the alliance of the wealthy with their peers. The recent decision to spend billions to purchase nuclear powered submarines is a glaring example of this.