1 November 2020.

As this newsletter is published, voting in the US elections is under way, with commentators speculating from the polls that Biden will win. Given the unexpected outcome of 2016, they prefer, nonetheless, to call the result uncertain. Whatever the outcome of this election, these last Trump years have seen increased international tensions, and served to aggravate divisions within the US itself. The impact of the current pandemic has elevated uncertainty considerably as to how the international community will develop economically and socially in the coming years.

The rise of far right groups in Europe is of concern, arising substantially from deepening social and economic inequality emerging over decades. In our own area, climate change is threatening the homes and livelihoods of many Pacific Islanders. In the Pacific area, further uncertainty is fostered by the assertive aspirations of China as a world power.

Contributors to this newsletter address in varying ways this sense of uncertainty. As Bruce Duncan points out in his article Pope Francis’s rejection of neoliberal economics, Francis is concerned about rising tensions in the uncertain post-Covid world, and calls for a renewed ‘global juridical, political, and economic order’ capable of underpinning a new vision of humanity. “We can aspire to a world which provides land, housing, and work for all.” In this world, the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of wealth by a few.

One way in which this appropriation of wealth occurs is criticised by John Menadue in his article Lobbyland: The scourge of powerful special interest and lobbyists. Menadue asserts that a major reason for the loss of trust in governments and parliaments is the way special interests have come to dominate public debate and skew outcomes in their favour. He finds the problem widespread and growing in Australia, and calls for urgent reforms.

Hamish McDonald reflects on Sabres rattling in Beijing, and considers Australia’s position in the event that China should apply military measures to assert its claim over Taiwan. He considers the implications for the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific area and in particular for the ANZUS Treaty.

Several writers address perceived shortcomings in the recent budget focused on recovery in post-Covid Australia.

Hal Pawson observes that Covid spurred action on rough sleepers, but increased homelessness challenges lie ahead. He is concerned there will be an imminent surge in homelessness as government support payments are scaled back and the ban on evictions lifted. He argues for a comprehensive national housing strategy, involving wide-ranging reforms of taxes and regulations needed to rebalance Australia’s housing system and tackle homelessness at its source.

Clare Johnstone focuses on The pandemic and its impact on prisoners. She sees that, particularly during Covid-19, the decision must be the right one for imprisonment as the appropriate step for offenders. The dignity of each and every individual, especially our most marginalised, deserves, even demands, that they are seen through the lens of this critical health crisis. She concludes that, now more than ever, our prisons must be seen as a last resort.

Paul Wright, in his article The budget: record spending but very little for First Nations peoples, recalls that it was only a little over two months ago that the Prime Minister was trumpeting the signing of the new National Closing the Gap Agreement which committed Federal and State governments to a decades-long program of work to reduce the huge disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy, health outcomes, incarceration, education, and employment. She finds it difficult to understand how the Government can announce such a commitment, yet fail in the Budget to provide the means to enact it.

The critique of neoliberalism by Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti is reflected in articles by two other contributors.

Michael Keating poses the question Deregulation or improved regulation? He finds that the emphasis on small government and deregulation has not always been helpful, and that ‘it is not surprising that many people are suspicious of calls for regulatory reform implying increased deregulation. Too often, these calls for deregulation come from vested interests, and ignore the purpose of the regulation, and what is necessary to ensure this purpose can continue to be protected. Instead of removing the regulations, we need to review whether changes could be made to achieve the original purpose of the regulation effectively.’

 John Hawkins notes in his article that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long been a cheerleader for neoliberalism. Yet, in addressing what needs to be done in the face of climate change, the IMF is calling for market interventions: a new carbon tax, and government subsidies for certain industries. It should be noted that this call by the IMF contrasts starkly with the approach of the Coalition government.

Each of us will doubtless have talked with friends and colleagues about how the post-Covid ‘new normal’ might look for us. This newsletter cites both the aspirational …

  • Pope Francis’s call for new systems underpinning a new vision of humanity.
  • Futurists who believe that, with the right policy settings, most of the world could be using clean energy by 2030.

… and those concerned that the current systems are being undermined by the undue influence of vested interests, the under-funding of important social initiatives aimed to address inequality of First Nations people, the homeless, and the incarceration of the vulnerable.

Whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person, it is clear that post-Covid will require us to be informed and active if we are to influence the way things develop.

Photo David-Weksler. Unsplash.

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