Here is an interesting video clip from Essential Media, an Australian opinion research company with a track record of developing effective campaign communication. They followed up Wayne Swan’s recent speech to the National Press Club attacking vested interests in the mining industry, following on from an article he had written in the Monthly magazine headed “The 0.01 percent; the rising influence of vested interests in Australia.”
Swan came under heavy fire, described as an old-fashioned class warrior; so the EMC researchers asked whether people still thought that class still exists in Australia. While the accepted wisdom is that class is dead, the results were clear; 86% of Australians still think that class exists, only 8% say no. It’s not just defined by money; while no-one thinks they are upper class 34% define themselves as working class and 50% as middle class. Among Liberal voters, 30% say they are working class and 54% middle class; for Labor voters it is 41% working class and 46% middle class.
Participants were then asked to identify those who were respectively middle income, well off and wealthy as individuals and for households. The results were as follows: Middle incomes $66,000 for individuals and $94,000 for households; well off $69,000 individually and $111,000 for households; and the wealthy individuals $106,000 and households $159,000. Interesting.
In his Monthly article Wayne Swan quotes President Obama saying that rising income inequality is “the defining issue of our time.” As for the vested interests Swan had this to say :
But again, it’s that tiny 1%, or even 0.1%, who are trying to drown out the others, who are blind to the national interest, and who pour their considerable personal fortunes into advertising, armies of lobbyists, dodgy modelling and corporate and commercial manoeuvring designed to influence editorial decisions.
The latest example of this is the foray by Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, into Fairfax Media, reportedly in an attempt to wield greater influence on public opinion and further her commercial interests at a time when the overwhelming economic consensus is that it’s critical to use the economic weight of the resources boom to strengthen the entire economy. Without a blush, her friend and fellow media owner John Singleton let the cat out of the bag when he told the Sydney Morning Herald that he and Rinehart had been “able to overtly and covertly attack governments … because we have people employed by us like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones and Ray Hadley who agree with [our] thinking”.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Murdoch meltdown in Britain, or who has watched Fox News trying to pump life into the developing fiasco that is the Republican primary race. Closer to home, this attempt to influence was also obvious in the way Sky’s Agenda programme continually undermined Gillard, with help from senior editors from the Australian. Our media are tame by comparison, but there must be worries about the demise of TV7 and the deference the National government pays to the gradual takeover of our TV media by Sky.
As indicated above, after writing his article Swan was attacked by the conservative media in Australia and the mining magnates pictured – Palmer, Forrest and Rinehart. That didn’t faze him; he came back strongly with his speech to the National Press Club, in which he made four points – the importance of inequality, the role of the contemporary policy mix in advancing the fair go in Australia, the importance of developing productivity an competitiveness, and the risk posed by vested interests who’d rather see the benefits of the Asia century flow to a fortunate few in society. He thinks the Aussie “fair go” and its democracy is under threat from the vested interests. It’s a very good speech – worth watching all the way through, including the questions.
Swan says the global debate about rising inequality is genuinely relevant; while it is hotly contested around the world, the volume in Australia is a lot lower. That goes in spades for New Zealand. Swan certainly raised the volume across the Tasman.
The EMC researchers also asked what people thought about Swan’s speech – 58% agreed with him while 26% did not. The researcher’s conclusion was that opening up the debate in the context of the mining tax is a sure-fire winner for the Labor party.
Inequality in New Zealand has risen faster in New Zealand than in most OECD countries. In my opinion opening up the debate about inequality in New Zealand would be a sure-fire winner for the Labour Party here too, if it was also backed up by some decent research.