The demise of manufacturing in this country has captured the news headlines for weeks now.
It is about jobs, about sentimentality toward companies that have long been part of Australian life, and about the future of Australian productivity.
Caterpillar, SPC Ardmona, Electrolux, the car manufacturers: each have seen the withdrawal or denial of subsidies that has gone directly to job losses.
The Abbott government has supposedly declared an end to corporate welfare, consistent with a neoliberal, even Darwinian, outlook that companies and individuals must solely bear responsibility for their decisions, circumstances and activities.
But is this really true? Has such welfare ended? We have been told that the taxpayer cannot afford these subsidies to companies that are not profitable, in some cases suggesting that they should change their industrial relations agreements to turn around such profitability.
But as the headlines become captivated by these stories that understandably look at the tangible threat to real jobs, with narratives about communities and individuals who can be interviewed, we are not getting to the cruel irony at the heart of their suffering.
The government is involved in gargantuan subsidies to the mining and pastoral sectors and these subsidies are about to get a whole lot bigger.
These are subsidies that are getting no scrutiny at all in these headlines.
The largest of these subsidies that has been operating since the Howard years – and continued during Labor’s two terms – is the fuel tax credit scheme to the mining industry. In 2011, for example, the mining industry accounted for A$2 billion of the $5.2 billion total claimed from this scheme.
An analysis by Environment Victoria suggests that in 2012-16, the claims will average approximately $2.3 billion per year. In short, the mining industry receives and takes advantage of a huge discount on its fuel use which has encouraged it to become a highly intensive liquid fuel user.
Ever wondered why mining companies consider ‘fly-in-fly-out’ labour sourcing such an affordable option? Taxpayers are paying for this practice and big mining is happy to take the money. Mining is a carbon-intensive industry in the production process, even where it is not drilling or digging up fossil fuels – in which case its footprint is pretty much peaked to the max.
So, why does mining get such preferential treatment, hidden in plain sight, and left alone by the mainstream media?
One way to understand this is to explain the historical alliance that the major parties in Australia have had with the different business sectors. Here, it is worth focusing on mining, pastoral and manufacturing capital.
Very few analyses are conducted on this neglected minority in Australian political life – the capitalist class – but mining and pastoral capital have long been aligned more closely with the Liberal-National Party, and the Labor Party aligned with manufacturing capital. Political party donations from the mining sector for 2011-12 show that the LNP is a spectacular beneficiary. The ALP received only 3% of the donations handed out from mining companies during this time, with the Queensland LNP and the then-federal opposition Liberal and National parties receiving 97%.
However, it is not as easily divided as that. As manufacturing in Australia steadily declined from the 1990s onwards, Labor began to support mining capital by default to pick up the shortfalls in productivity.
But the Labor power base is with the manufacturing sector where Australian unions have their most influence, and where ‘looking after workers’ conforms to a more traditional industrial relations framework, based on workforces that aren’t transient like jet-about miners are.
Where there is a clear line of division between the parties is that while Labor will always try and support manufacturing capital, the LNP has had an uneasy relationship with that sector and is more prepared to see a company fail unless it is based in a marginal seat (for example) or is related to basic infrastructure.
Then there is the behaviour of mining capital itself. As far back as 1967 when mining capital first became centrally represented by the formation of the Australian Mining Industry Council, the mining lobby has attacked industrial capital.
In those days, mining was led by Hugh Morgan and Ray Evans at Western Mining and Charles Copeman of Consolidated GoldFields.
The mining lobby is very powerful today. Treasury minutes reveal meetings have been held with the Association of Mining and Explorations Companies over the importance of retaining the fuel tax credit scheme.
It is a bit rich for the government to say it cannot afford $25 million for SPC Ardmona when it is committed to handing over $2.3 billion to mining companies that goes to their direct bottom line and the personal wealth of some of the richest people in Australia.
Corporate welfare indeed.
The Abbott government is no friend of manufacturing capital.
And in a political climate where a return to a ballot-toxic Workchoices path to controlling such capital and its unions is looking unlikely, it seems that Abbott has decided that it’s easier just to turn its back on the sector altogether.
The twist of the knife here is that having suffered the carpet of subsidy protection being pulled from underneath, these manufacturing workers – if they ever find another job – will be paying subsidies to the mining sector.
This is a sector that is also going to add to the potential suffering of future generations.
This story first appeared on The Conversation
Australian television premiere of ‘Death or Liberty’
An Empire’s rebels banished to the end of the earth: a documentary brings to life a forgotten history of convict rebels.
Getting to know…Elizabeth Burns Coleman
Communications and Media Studies lecturer Dr Elizabeth Burns Coleman is currently working on two inter-related … Continue reading Getting to know…Elizabeth Burns Coleman
Tay and Turner launch Television Histories in Asia
Monash University lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, Dr Jinna Tay, launched her co-edited book, Television Histories in Asia, at Monash’s Caulfield campus on September 17.
Getting to know … John Tebbutt
Dr John Tebbutt is passionate about teaching and researching, and been lecturing in Communications and Media Studies at Monash for the 18 months.
Virginia TV shootings: murder as a media event
The macabre live murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Virginia are a chilling watershed. Whatever the shooter’s motivations, the idea that journalists are targets for infamy seekers is now an idea in our culture.
Australian music exports under the microscope
Monash University’s Associate Professor Shane Homan will work with Professors Richard Vella and Stephen Chen at Newcastle University to examine the economic and cultural value of Australian music exports.
Bohemian Melbourne exhibition wins award
Bohemian Melbourne exhibition entrance. Photo: Patrick Rodriguez The Bohemian Melbourne exhibition, held during the 2014-2015 summer season … Continue reading Bohemian Melbourne exhibition wins award
Melbourne Dura’s tales of ‘intrigue and wonder’
Monash University senior lecturer Dr Tony Moore has contributed to the first issue of the Melbourne Dura, a unique print magazine that presents historical “Melbourne tales of intrigue and wonder”.
On Happiness and Aussie larrikins
An essay on Australian comedic subversion by Monash academic Dr Tony Moore is one of … Continue reading On Happiness and Aussie larrikins
Dani wins Herb Thomas Memorial Trust award
Dani Rothwell has won the Herb Thomas Memorial Trust award as the most outstanding journalism … Continue reading Dani wins Herb Thomas Memorial Trust award
Reading group: Aesthetics, Media & Cultural studies
School of Media, Film and Journalism academics Elizabeth Coleman, Justin O’Connor, and Paul Atkinson have … Continue reading Reading group: Aesthetics, Media & Cultural studies
Bohemian Melbourne celebrates city’s history with film festival and lecture series
This summer, the State Library Victoria has showcased Melbourne’s vibrant bohemian history with an exhibition … Continue reading Bohemian Melbourne celebrates city’s history with film festival and lecture series