ADELAIDE - The situation with respect to Australia’s seasonal workers, deplorable as it is, simply reflects the truth about the so-called ‘gig economy’ that has now been created here and elsewhere in the world.
It is a form of economy that would be immediately recognisable to, say, Charles Dickens or Karl Marx, because its essential characteristics are not dissimilar to those of many workers in the mid-19th century.
This is no accident but the result of a series of policy decisions taken by successive Australian governments to preference insecure, episodic and generally low paid jobs to what had been a pattern of long term, relatively secure employment with one employer.
In the name of ‘flexibility’ we have created an employment system that results in chronic and persistent uncertainty for employees, with little likelihood of career advancement.
Of course, not everyone is caught up in this system.
It is very prevalent in the service sectors of the economy like tourism, hospitality, transport, agriculture, aged care, disability and even health.
It is less prevalent in areas like finance, information technology and the various public service entities.
The neo-liberal philosophy is based upon a whole set of assumptions, foremost of which is the Chicago school of economics ideas popularised by Milton Friedman that boil down to unfettered capitalism being allowed to do pretty much what it wants being an inherently good idea.
Government’s role is to either actively create the conditions needed for business to thrive or otherwise get out of the road. This is what the notion of deregulation, or cutting red tape, really means.
The current Australian government is a propagator of this ideology, quite explicitly taking measures intended to allow business to do what it wants even in the face of evidence that can and does lead to perverse outcomes.
Thus it can decide that it will be a good thing to relieve the banks of any obligation to inquire into a prospective borrower’s ability to repay a loan even though the recent Banking Royal Commission has forcefully pointed out the very adverse consequences this leads to for many people.
Consequences not in people’s best interests.
Many Australians seem unable or unwilling to understand just how pernicious and destructive the neo-liberal philosophy is to their best interests.
Very belatedly, more than a few people have woken up to the problems attached to this particular model of capitalism but the political and business power elites remain firmly within its grip.
The almost revolutionary fervour now evident in the USA amongst the losers in this system is evidence that change is inevitable. The only question is when and how.
History shows that the grip of the elites can be loosened in one of only two ways: either they realise the need for changing towards a fairer and more equitable system or, alternatively, they have to be forced to change.
It is not socialism let alone communism that is needed, simply reform of the obviously unfair and inequitable ‘rules of the game’ within the current capitalist model.
Unless and until this is done, then the problems identified by Bernard Corden ('Australia is exploiting its seasonal workers') will remain and will, very probably, get worse.
Sadly, I see no indication that, on the conservative side of politics at least, there is any recognition of the need for change.
Indeed, the neoliberal perpetrators appear to be doubling down on their quest to preference the rich and powerful against the vast majority of the people.
So, if history is any guide, we will continue our march towards what promises to be a politically disruptive and even violent future when the majority, tired of being exploited, decide to take things into their own hands.