The Canadian Plan That Could Help Australia Beat Neoliberalism

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With other western democracies starting the challenge the dominating and devastating ideology, it’s time for the same to happen in Australia. The good news? There’s already a road map, writes, Liam McLoughlin.

Neoliberalism has been named and shamed. A recent piece in the Guardian by George Monbiot, called Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems, has a lazy 207,809 shares to date. Given its failure to include a single cat video, the piece’s popularity must be down to its demolition of neoliberalism along with its closing truth:

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.

Thanks to an alliance of activists, artists, unions and NGOs in Canada, a coherent alternative has been proposed and it’s called the Leap Manifesto. It’s already having an explosive impact on Canadian politics and a similar model could do the same in Australia.

Australia’s Polluted Climate Politics

In 1989 Bob Hawke described a “growing consensus amongst scientists” about anthropogenic climate change. Concerned it would have “major ramifications for human survival”, Hawke pledged to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2005. State governments, the media and civil society were largely on board. Even conservative policy of the early 90s was a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2000 from 1990 levels.

In the 25 years since, a marauding neoliberal coalition of industry groups, the Liberal Party (the distinction now seems redundant), free market think tanks and the corporate media have fought back against the climate consensus with devastating success.

Mining and carbon taxes have been butchered, the renewable sector has been smashed and our flagship climate policy of direct action is, according to an op-ed by the current PM, “bullshit”.

Greg Hunt may have signed the Paris Agreement but so long as he approves coal mines of unprecedented scale, he may as well have signed the name “climate criminal” in tiny charcoal letters on his right testicle.

This is not just a problem of Liberal Party zealots, though that’s a terrible, terrible problem; both major parties have been ensnared by the fossil fuel industry. A recent piece by climate activist Bill McKibben in The Saturday Paper lays out the cosy relationship between big polluters and politicians.

Setting aside the coal train wreck that is the last two decades of Australia’s climate policy, the intimate ties are obvious in three main areas: governance, party donations, and subsidies.

Firstly, the line between government and industry is distressingly blurry. Former environment ambassador and chief negotiator on the Kyoto Protocol became head of the Australian Coal Association. The NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s chief regulator became the deputy director of the coal association. Former climate change minister Greg Combet is now an advisor to AGL and Santos. Former deputy PM John Andersen left parliament to join the board of Whitehaven Coal. Clive Palmer is an MP (!!!). Even Bill Shorten’s Chief of Staff, Cameron Milner, was an advisor on Australia’s largest proposed coal project, the Carmichael mine.

Parliament is riddled with MPs doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Climate campaign group 350.org released a list of the Dirty Dozen: the 12 MPs doing the most to block climate action. Unsurprisingly, nine were Liberals and the remaining three were Labor’s Gary Gray, David Leyonhjelm, and Barnaby Joyce. Reading like a who’s who of the Jurassic era, the list includes a bevy of lows for Australian politics.

Special mentions to Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, who said shutting down the coal industry would “send us back to the caves”, Liberal member Craig Kelly who fears for the refugees caused by wind turbines, and Eric Abetz, who dismissed climate concern as “Chicken-Little-type hysteria”. We should also note George Christensen for calling green activists “terrorists” and describing climate change as “good science fiction” as well as erotic fiction writer Dennis Jensen, who doubts the findings of the IPCC but is fairly certain Yasmin “has breasts as firm as they had been in her late teens”.

The record of the major parties on donations and subsidies is similarly creepy. Between 2012 and 2015 the Liberals accepted $2.4 million in fossil fuel donations, while Labor took $1.1 million and the Nationals received $220,000. In return for the $3.7 million donated over this period, the fossil fuel industry will receive $7.7 billion in subsidies in 2016-2017. This translates to a return on investment of $2,000 for every $1 given over the past three years.

The love affair between polluters and politicians has been exposed by a powerful campaign spearheaded by 350.org called Pollution Free Politics. At the heart of the campaign is the Pollution Free Politics Pledge which supports a ban on fossil fuel donations and subsidies.

The Greens have thrown their weight behind these calls, launching their own version of the campaign. Aside from all Greens MPs and two retiring Labor MPs who have signed the pledge, the silence from the rest of Parliament is damning.

The campaign will escalate in mid-May with a week of actions around the country. These actions will come off the back of a global wave of civil disobedience targeting the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects, including a courageous action in the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle.

Such actions show the climate movement has taken an essential confrontational turn, understanding the urgent need to, in Monbiot’s words, “oppose a broken system”. Yet the rest of Monbiot’s argument is worth repeating.

A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.

Coupling potent opposition to the system with a transformational vision is the twin-engine strategy which will rocket our societies beyond neoliberalism.

It‘s an ambitious project which Canadian activists have already begun.

Canada’s Economic Apollo Programme

In early 2015, 60 representatives from Canada’s Indigenous rights, environmental, social and food justice, labour and faith-based movements met to draft a progressive vision for Canada’s future. The idea came from a belief that “now is the moment for a transformative agenda to come from outside electoral politics, to build a wave of popular support that will put real pressure on the Federal Liberal government.”

The result is the Leap Manifesto.

The manifesto, described as “a call for a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another”, makes 15 demands. It starts with respect for “the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land” and full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It urges the shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050, and commits to no new long-term fossil fuel extraction projects.

Other demands include community control of clean energy systems, investment in public infrastructure, high speed rail and affordable public transport, resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, and a localised ecological agriculture system.

It also advocates an end to damaging free trade deals, welcoming refugees and migrants, expanding low-carbon professions like caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public interest media, a universal basic income and removing corporate money from political campaigns.

These proposals would be fully funded by an end to fossil fuel subsidies, financial transaction taxes, increased resource royalties, increased corporate and high income taxes, a progressive carbon tax and cuts to military spending.

To me, and I believe to most Australians, this sounds like a common sense list of good public policy. It would rein in the cowboy extractivism of fossil fuel companies, end the toxic relationship between polluters and politicians, offer masses of good clean energy jobs, deliver justice to the most vulnerable parts of our population and secure a sustainable future for human beings on a liveable planet.

To the establishment complex of banks, government, industry, think tanks and the corporate media, a common sense plan to avoid climate catastrophe is actually an INSANE RADICAL MARXIST AGENDA TO RUIN THE ECONOMY.

The Leap Manifesto has made quite a splash since its release during the Canadian federal election campaign in September 2015, pretty much dividing opinion along these lines.

Thus far 200 organisations, 40,000 Canadians and numerous celebrities (celebrities!!!) have backed the manifesto while the media has hysterically dismissed the document as “economic madness”, a “prescription for economic ruin” and my personal favourite, “another step towards re-enacting the Bolshevik revolution”.

The great strength of the manifesto is its grassroots origins and political independence.

As a “People’s Platform”, it’s not limited by the constant compromises of electoral politics but can still make waves in Parliament. The Green Party of Canada have highlighted similarities between their own platform and the Leap Manifesto. The National Democratic Party (NDP), who were the favourites for the 2015 election until they were outflanked by Justin Trudeau’s disgusting handsomeness, passed a resolution at their convention earlier this month to support the Leap Manifesto and debate its principles at the grassroots level over the next two years. They lost their leader, Tom Mulcair, partly due to his unconvincing and shifting positions on key aspects of the manifesto.

A majority of voters from the Greens, NDP and governing Liberal Party support the Leap.

The Leap movement is building pressure on Trudeau over his support for new oil pipelines and failure to consult Indigenous groups, demanding more than just very sexy climate rhetoric.

What’s happening in Canada is a classic case of shifting the Overton Window to the left.

The Overton Window refers to the range of politically acceptable policy options. It shifts right with pressure from think tanks, industry lobbyists and corporate media while social movements, progressive politicians and independent media drag it to the left.

obertonNeoliberals have dragged the public policy window to the right over the last three decades with their free market dogma. The left is currently fighting back. We’ve seen it with Syriza, Podemos and Jeremy Corbyn, and we’ve seen it in the way the Bernie Sanders phenomenon has pulled Hillary Clinton to the left. Now the Leap Manifesto is dragging Canada’s politicians away from disastrous social and environmental policy.

Australia, you’re up.

Our Turn To Leap

Canadian climate activist Naomi Klein, one of the driving forces behind the Leap Manifesto, hoped the idea would spread beyond Canada’s borders. This is happening according to her recent piece in the Guardian, with Leap inspired platforms launched in the European Union and manifestos in the works in England, the US and Australia. The Australian Leap Coalition has been formed and a drafting retreat took place on “International Leap Day”, February 29.

This is a thrilling moment for Australian climate politics. On the one hand we have a confrontational climate movement taking on the fossil fuel industry at sites of extraction and export as well as in Parliament. On the other we are in the early stages of developing our very own economic Apollo programme, setting out a transformative vision for Australia’s future which could unite the left.

Organisers behind the Canadian Leap Manifesto recommend a “huge diversity of groups involved from the start, ranging from grassroots migrant-rights activists to high-level labour leaders”. This diversity would ensure grassroots ownership over the plan, tailoring it to Australia’s needs regarding Indigenous and refugee rights, and a clean energy economy.

Such a diverse “People’s Platform” in Australia could gain extraordinary momentum. This kind of document would most likely be embraced by The Greens but would retain all the advantages of political independence. Much like in the US and Canada, immense pressure would build on our major party politicians and pull them to the left.

Imagine a broad-based Australian alliance of Indigenous, refugee, environment, labour and faith groups putting their weight behind a just and sustainable vision of Australia’s future.

Imagine that vision is promoted by scores of Australian artists and public figures on a daily basis and supported with hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Imagine that vision is articulated by progressive media and animated by thousands of creative actions around the country.

Imagine.

George Monbiot rightly calls for an economic Apollo programme to propel us towards a sustainable future. Canadian activists have answered that call.

In landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for humankind.

For the sake of the dying Reef, the burning forests, the melting arctic, the threatened species and our future generations, it’s time for humanity to take another leap.

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Liam McLoughlin

Liam McLoughlin is a Sydney-based freelance writer keen on activism, satire and the arts. He blogs at Situation Theatre and tweets from @situtheatre. He majored in Psychology and wrote his Honours Thesis on Climate Justice.

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