Long ago, back in the distant Eighties, the wonderful, witty and luckily enduring cartoonist Mark Knight – yes, he of Serena Williams notoriety – drew a cartoon with some (from memory) South African leader approaching Bob Hawke and saying, ‘I was wanting to know how to destroy an economy and I was told to ask you’. It was 1984 (ironically) and Australia was experiencing the mildest of recessions early in the life of the Hawke government, a government that had recently set out to free up the then sclerotic, atrophied Aussie economy. A harsh judgement, given where we as a nation are now.
Those were the days. While not perfect, the Hawke government was one of our very best. The quality of the Cabinet was exemplary – think the pre-woke Keating, Peter Walsh, John Button, Bill Hayden, John Kerin, Michael Duffy, Kim Beazley – all heavy hitters and, above all, sane and motivated to pursue the public interest, and it was overseen by one of the very best leaders you could choose to manage a talented ministry. The economic reforms undertaken were measured, significant and much-needed. They were praised, indeed, by the then opposition, especially by John Howard. There were weak points, of course, and the government was union-obsessed and corporatist.
And, yes, the whole neo-liberal thrust of those times has been increasingly questioned by, not the left which is seemingly fine now with multinational capitalism, but rather by those of a more right-of-centre, Trumpian sensibility. People who question what has been gained by all the over-hyped globalism, the privatisation, the offshoring, the outsourcing, the plateaued productivity, the shutting down of domestic industry and the liberal (new) world order of supra-national bullies and Big Tech quasi-states. We can’t really blame Bob Hawke and his government for all this, though. De-politicising monetary policy, floating the dollar, creating an independent Reserve Bank, cutting prohibitively high tariffs and taking the first, tentative steps towards enterprise bargaining can hardly be described as ‘destroying an economy’. The subsequent, deleterious outcomes of a globalised economy were still, then, a long way off and could have been far better managed by subsequent governments.
These things are all relative. Back in the Eighties we had real federalism, you could cross state borders, we didn’t get involved in inane overseas wars in pursuit of neoconservative ideologies, we didn’t waste billions on useless submarines, we didn’t shut down whole industries because a weird Swedish teenager (whose second name is Tintin) told us to, in order to save the planet from a harmless trace gas and we didn’t need a bill of rights like we assuredly do now, because governments back then didn’t rip away your common law rights as a citizen. (Yes, I know, there are bad things about bills of rights, but Jo Punter currently has no protections against the state. None whatsoever). There was no national renewable energy target. We actually still valued and supported our core industries. Most of our land and strategic infrastructure was owned by Australians and not by Canadian superannuation companies and the Chinese Communist Party. You could survive as a family and buy a home on one income. We weren’t being run by overweening chief health officers.
The very worst thing that might have happened to us back then (1987) was something called the Australia Card. Given what the likes of Victor Dominello and all the other purveyors of the coming bio-digital, ‘papers please’ state are now inflicting upon us through creepy, all-seeing, pervasive technology, the Australia Card of the Eighties seems in retrospect to be very unthreatening. Rudimentary surveillance at worst. No panopticon. Not a mere step from a system of social credit.
I wonder what Mark Knight would think of his old cartoon today, observing, as we all are, the wanton destruction of our economy and civil society, led by our governments. Where the year 1984 has a very different meaning, with our rights crushed, an emergent police state firing rubber bullets at us and pepper spraying citizens in the streets, pregnant women arrested for advertising peaceful demonstrations, worshippers prevented from entering churches to pray because they refused to endure an experimental, ineffective, unnecessary, harmful drug, and police ‘assisting’ businesses across Australia to enforce vaccine mandates for people hoping to do some shopping at the local Big W. Those that have probably already been sacked illegally for the same ‘offence’. No, Mark Knight, bring back Bob Hawke and his innocent times and crimes.
This is how you destroy an economy. Lock everyone up for months on end – Victoria now has the world record for lockdowns, in a country with one of the lowest rates of Covid infection anywhere. Kill bricks and mortar retail off by stopping up to half (in regional locations especially) of your customers from shopping. Waste tens of billions of dollars on furlough schemes to buy the silence of the punters and which are only needed because of your own mindless policies. Turn Main Street into a ghost town. Turn regional Australia into a dead-man-walking, wasted economy. Trash whole sectors like tourism and higher education. Shut borders on a whim, over and over. Run up hundreds of billions of dollars in public debt. Implement a national decision-making process that elevates clueless state politicians to a position of dictatorial power. Selectively destroy small business while leaving corporates largely untouched, by turning the former – the few who are actually still open and not sitting out the apartheid period in either protest or disillusion – into vaccine enforcement police and a bureaucratic arm of the Covid state. Shut down every pathway for injured citizens to seek legal or parliamentary redress for the crushing blows you have inflicted on rights and freedoms.
Is that enough to start with? Oh, just to make sure we are completely bankrupted, you might then announce a brainless policy called net zero emissions that will finish off what is left by 2050 of an already crippled economy. Leftist newspapers who salivate over renewable energy call out the Prime Minister for ‘leading from the back’. This isn’t any kind of leadership, either from the front or the back. It is merely caving in to venal interest groups and assorted ideologues and undergraduates who, as said newspapers readily demonstrate, will never thank you for implementing their suicidal policies.
No, Bob Hawke can rest easy knowing that if someone wished systematically to destroy an economy, they wouldn’t be coming to him for advice. They would simply take their pick from the class of 2020 in this wide, brown and now impoverished land. The same class who, without demur, destroy life and hope, crush families and careers and children. With eerie silence all around, in dramatic contrast to the vibrant noise in 1987 of vehement opposition to that slimmest of threats, the Australia Card.
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