In broad daylight

[Green Left Weekly, #483, March 6, 2002]

Although I am a committed socialist, I must admit there are times when sheer visceral hatred just wells up inside and I just wish one could press a button and the whole grubby, greedy, thieving, lying, vile, shameless lot of them would vanish into some black pit forever and the rest of us could just get on with our lives.

I experienced such a moment recently when I caught the first few minutes of the ABC TV evening news. The two lead items were the premium hikes for private health funds and the Victorian Labor government's announcement that it was going to give the operators of the privatised city transport system $105 million in order to avoid the whole network coming to a complete halt.

Twice in one day! In broad daylight! Have they no shame? Do they think we are totally stupid? Do they think people will put up with this sort of highway robbery forever, without protest?

Almost two years ago, John Howard blackmailed and frightened millions of Australians into taking out private health cover. He guaranteed the private fund operators an estimated $2 billion of public money — every year! Supposedly this was to save the overloaded public system.

Now the health funds tell us that this very influx of people means that they have to raise their fees!

Blind Freddy can see that scrapping the private funds and building a first-class, adequately funded, universal, free, state-owned healthcare system is the only rational way to go.

This society is certainly rich enough to be able to do just this. But in our blessed "free market" system, all human needs have first to be forced through the gate of naked corporate greed before anything can be done about them.

From the point of view of society, there is no rational reason for the existence of private health funds. They exist solely to enrich their owners and directors.

The state government handout to the private transport operators is equally disgusting. First, Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett sold off Melbourne's bus, rail and tram system. But the private operators can't make a profit or a sufficient profit and there is the danger that they might just stop running the system.

Faced with the truly appalling prospect that it might be left with a public transport system to run, Steve Bracks' Labor government decided to give the operators a further big chunk of public largesse.

One of the stated reasons for the profit problems of the private operators is large-scale fare evasion. Trams now carry stickers stating that "Fare evasion is stealing". What rubbish! A more truthful sign might say that fare evasion threatens the five-star lifestyle of the bludgers who now control our transport system.

When I see these stickers I feel happy that so many people don't seem to be very concerned about the profits of Swanston Trams.

An acquaintance of mine told me recently that his partner was on a tram one evening around 9pm and she started to buy a ticket at the vending machine when a passenger admonished her. "Why are you doing that?" he said. What exemplary civic consciousness! Bravo fare evaders!

Why should passengers give these corporate gangsters anything they don't have to? With the complicity of Coalition and Labor state governments, they have stolen our transport system. And they want us to feel it's our duty to keep paying these crooks?!

Re-nationalise the transport system! Take it back from the profit-gouging corporate sharks! Bring back conductors; staff all the train stations; clean out the overpaid corporate managers; upgrade the system and run it as a public service; and reduce the fares. Then the travelling public will be happy to pay.

What a charade it all is! Transport Minister Peter Batchelor (of Nunawading by-election fame) stands before the cameras and gravely explains why the government really had no choice — that is, if it didn't pay the ransom the government might be faced with running the system itself. And, as we all know, this is absolutely dreadful and cannot be contemplated under any circumstances. Certainly not!

John Brumby, the state treasurer, once hailed as Victoria's answer to Tony Blair, gets up in parliament and accuses the former Kennett government of bungling the privatisation of the transport system. Pretty strong stuff! Kennett gave away our transport system but he didn't do it right!

And then Ewin Hannan, political editor of the Age — that mouthpiece of corporate Melbourne which likes to posture as a "liberal" newspaper — says his bit in a front-page column. The transport system was a "debacle" which had to be "dealt with" and the government had done what it had to.

Those who remember the day before yesterday may recall that on the eve of the elections which inflicted Kennett on Victoria, the oh-so liberal Age ran a vile series of articles by Tony Parkinson (now the paper's foreign editor) doing a job on the tramway workers to set the scene for Kennett.

If there is a "debacle", the Age helped create it. It supported privatisation — that is, stealing from the public — and now it supports further looting of the public treasury to keep the corporate profit hogs happy. However, everything is in order on their side of the class divide; we would expect nothing else.

Seeing what capitalism and its political flunkeys (both Labor and Liberal) are doing to our society is heart-rending — let alone contemplating what capitalism is doing to the entire world. These days it just never stops.

But, unfortunately, there is no magic button we can press to make it all go away. If it makes you angry, good — so it should! But focus your rage — get active, join the socialist movement! If enough of us get together and get properly organised, we can build a different sort of world — one in which people's needs are the measure of everything.

"Profit" will become an archaic concept relegated to the history books. Students will ask their teachers: "Was the greed of the rich really the operating principle of a whole society? How incredible! What madness! What a relief those days are gone for good!"