NUMBER 2 AUTUMN / WINTER 2000

Dissent - Issue 2D!SSENT reviews the performance of the banks and finds that bank privatisation has enabled the big four to evolve into a cooperative oligopoly. This situation has been exploited by the banks to increase bank fees and reduce service so that their profits per household have risen from $244 per household in 93 to $865 in 99. D!SSENTargues that society confers huge benefits on the banks. A bank licence allows the banks to create the money which they lend, and the lender of last resort facility provided by the Reserve Bank (taxpayer) provides a safety net for banks which is not available to any other form of business activity. In return for these privileges, D!SSENTbelieves the banks should be required to subscribe to a social charter which sets service standards - including the provision of free transaction accounts to poor customers. Capital adequacy rules should be refined to discourage margin lending against the value of financial and property assets for the purpose of stock market speculation. Margin lending by the banks is a major factor in all speculative booms. There is evidence that the banks have already forgotten the lesson of the 80s when imprudent lending to paper entrepreneurs like Alan Bond and Christopher Skase led to the creation of $28 billion “non-performing” loans which were eventually paid for by the community rather than bank shareholders.

Doug Cocks, a human ecologist with CSIRO, and author of Future Makers, Future Takers - which looks at three possible scenarios for life in Australia in the year 2050 - assesses the importance of history to useful future gazing.

Charles Livingstone examines the growing dependence of state governments on revenue from gaming. He argues that the states will only be weaned off this highly regressive and pernicious form of taxing if the revenue lost from reducing poker machine numbers is made up by federal funding.

John Legge reviews Hugh Stretton’s Economics - A New Introduction for first year economics students and finds it provides a readable, scholarly, and comprehensive rebuttal of neo-liberal economics. Legge comments ‘future historians will ponder over the capture of the commanding heights of the world economy by religious maniacs masquerading as scientists in the 1980s and 1990s'.

James Jupp remembers the original Australian Dissent - which he co-founded in 1961 - and its role in helping to push reform of the ALP's administration and policy platform in the 1960s, which in turn led to the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972.

Ian McAuley says that the dumbing down of the Canberra bureaucracy endangers good government. The reforms are not about efficiency or reducing society’s overheads - all that is happening is that public sector bureaucracies are being replaced by even larger and more costly private sector bureaucracies.

Paul Mees argues that the experience of small European cities such as Zurich shows that - with central planning to coordinate modes, routes, and frequencies - it is possible for Australian cities to develop public transport systems which are both acceptable to commuters and affordable for taxpayers.

Colin Richardson explains how developers can be made to contribute to the protection and maintenance of heritage buildings - by imposing a fine equal to the destruction of heritage values which may occur as a result of a redevelopment project.

Peter Cullen examines the adverse consequences for Australian science and innovation following the decision to cut Commonwealth-funded postgraduate places from 25,000 to 21,500. This cut was announced in David Kemp’s white paper on research in higher education at the same time as business expenditure on R&D has collapsed due to the reduction of the 150 per cent R&D allowance to 125 per cent.

Hugh McBride discusses the need to empower employees in internationally competitive firms in order to provide timely feedback to management, and the role of trade unions in this process. McBride argues that the master/servant relationship favoured by the Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, grows out of the neo-classical economic theory of the firm which has no empirical basis.