Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?

27 Responses to “Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney””

  1. 1 Arthur

    Excellent response!

    I just spent another day greatly enjoying discussions and arguing with people at Occupy Melbourne.

    Despite your excellent response I do agree that Australia just isn’t in the same sort of situation as the USA or Greece etc yet and this results in a much more “vague” sort of movement including lots of people who really don’t have clear ideas. I still find that refreshing compared with the sheer awfulness of the sort of “protests” that WERE dominated by the sort of “socialists” your opponent is referring to.
    BTW there is now a blog for the Occupy Melbourne Economic Discussion working group:


    Please read through the posts, especially:


    Despite the “om” prefix for “Occupy Melbourne” I think this should be used in common for a national discussion on economic policy arising out of the various “Occupy Australia” activities.

    If anyone has David McM’s phone number, please ask him to phone me as I lost it and he needs to know about that blog and about a meeting of that WG at 4.30pm TODAY (Wednesday) – as advertised at the blog.

  2. 2 youngmarxist

    Hi Arthur, thanks.

    Yep, there’s some VERY weird ideas going around the occupiers from what I can see (I’m at home helping to moderate the Brisbane Facebook page and Twitter discussion and working on the OB website). Lots of truther/antivax sort of attitudes, lots to be argued with.

    But yes, I feel far more heartened by these people than by the “ususal suspects” with the rallies-as-rituals.

    I think one of the things Australian occupations should be doing is to start articulating specific problems in Australia – creeping real wage cuts, long waits in hospitals etc – so we have an Australian context. I’ve seen a lot of the US occupiers are recent graduates who are crippled with student loan replayments – HECS is nowhere near as oppressive here, for example.

    I’ll post the link to the Melbourne working group on Brisbane’s page and start directing people there for discussion.

  3. 3 Steve Owens
  4. 4 Steve Owens

    Youngmarxist you seem surprised that you had to wait 4 hours when you attended an Emergency Department with a problem that you thought a GP could handle. I know that Emergency department staff sometimes treat people poorly who turn up to an Emergency Department with a non urgent problem. But apart from non urgent problematic people clogging the Emergency Departments these same departments prioritise patents with the most urgent seen first and the non urgent last. 4 hours wait for a non urgent problem in an Emergency department is not usually considered to be a long wait.
    There are plenty of problems in health service delivery but for every problem that I can identify I also know that there are teams of people trying to solve them.

  5. 5 youngmarxist

    Oh well, if you have four hours to kill every time you can’t afford to see a GP, that’s all well and good for you then.

  6. 6 jim sharp

    y.m. i feel steve was stating the bleeding obvious
    coz over the last few years i’ve been one of those
    life & death hospital emegency patients four times
    & always got prioritised thus i’m here to comfirm steve’s
    dialectical point & without splitting points
    if my memory is correct steve as said here before
    that he’s an health[nurse]worker & that being the case
    one shud listen to them that do the job!
    as we do with you as a call centre wage-slave

  7. 7 barry

    Do I laugh or cry? Steve Owens and Jim Sharp both justifying the status quo in an appallingly inadequate public hospital system whereby individuals who can’t afford to go to a GP when they need to, end up instead having to wait four hours in an Emergency department. Dropping the odd “dialectical” doesn’t make up for this overt reactionary conservatism.

  8. 8 steve owens

    Barry the public heath system provides the Australian public an excellent level of service. Yes as youngmarxist pointed out there are some short comings in the private ie GP small business model.
    I have worked in health for over thirty years. The services are never good enough and the workforces is always trying to pressure the government into making it better but just let me argue from a consumers perspective.
    My immediate family have on occation been admitted to intensive care x 2 times
    Burns Unit x1
    Emergency C section x 1
    On each occation I have walked away impressed and thankful for this high level of care that is provided to the end user free of charge.
    By all means go to Occupy whatever and argue that we need to defend and extend public health as we in the health care system have been doing for years.
    PS around the traps people always say that Queensland health lags behind the rest of Australia so Young Marxist might have a point but only because his health care system was in the hands of right wing reactionaries for so long.
    Barry YM wasn’t arguing that he couldn’t find a bulk billing GP but a GP at all. Yes the private part of the system shifting costs to the public sphere.

  9. 9 steve owens

    Young Marxist if you dont have the money to attend a GP you still shouldnt be clogging up the EDs with work that is non emergency.
    Here’s a list of GPs that bulk bill in the Brisbane area

  10. 10 barry

    Youngmarxist, I agree that there’s a need to articulate specific problems. A movement that is internally democratic, with a culture of debate and decisions made by the majority, will be better placed to do that than one controlled from above. Those who try to shape it in their own image will be in for a surprise in the Internet age.

    I also very much liked your original post that started the thread. I think personal testimony takes courage but is part of empowerment. It is also hard for others to refute. The site “We are the 99%” reveals through individual testimonies how capitalism stultifies individuals and the class to which they belong.

    My impression is that the Occupy movement is an outlet for heaps of people who are generally alienated from the system and who want to express how they feel. I don’t quite understand why a group like Spiked on-line, which gets it right on some important issues, adopts a sneering and smug attitude to the Occupiers (while also making some valid criticisms). It’s early days yet, and at least the Occupiers are targetting the “one percent” rather than carbon dioxide.

    Steve makes a point about wages. The Australian Council of Social Services has some good information on this, and about how peole are suffering under capitalism. On wages, since 2000, ACOSS (link below) says the average adult male weekly earnings have increased by 61%. The Consumer Price Index has risen by 37% over that period, with increases in electricity rising by nearly 90%.

    At face value, this seems to suggest that the workers are ahead but, to a more critical mind, a question must be asked about the “average” weekly wage. The average takes the upper end and lower end into account. Those on the lower side are suffering – doing it hard – and they probably number around five to six million. Total workforce is approx eleven million (of whom about 7.5 million are full-time). (I am slightly below the average wage. I support a family of four. We get by because we don’t have a mortgage, but we don’t have much left over for good times. I more or less work a five day week in order that my family gets by – others who are worse off, on lower pay or burdened by a mortgage, merely work to survive. Those who are better off than I tend to have luxuries like extended annual holidays away but they are no less wage-slaves, dependent on their wages). I really doubt that the majority of us wage-slaves have kept up with the CPI. I know for sure that my dollar buys less than it used to when I do the weekly shopping, and the electricity bills are going through the roof. I reside in a part of Australia with extremes of climate: hot dry summers, long cold winters. Low income people, especially the elderly pensioners, are having to decide what comes first: food or heating/air-conditioning.

    According to ABS, about 630,000 Australians are unemployed. Youngmarxist is right to point out that underemployment is the issue not just unemployment. The underemployment rate is around 8%: that’s a lot of people who want or need to work more hours but cannot find them. Add them to the unemployment rate of around 5% and you have about 13% of the workforce in serious immediate trouble. Has capitalism ever created full employment, other than during times of war? I’m 60 and have never known it to be the case. The ruling class needs it reserve army of unemployed.

    A telling figure in the ACOSS report is the fact that over Christmas 2010-11, charities registered a 30% increase in requests for help.

    Okay, we’re not as bad as US, but do not underestimate how things are for everyday people, even if WA is experiencing a mining boom.

    Take poverty, for instance. ACOSS measures poverty. In 1994, 7.6% of Australians were in poverty. Today it is 11%. That’s 2.2 million people in a country richly endowed with natural resources and with a very small population. Why is it so?

    Then there’s the most basic requirement for human beings of shelter. Has capitalism ever satisfied this need for all? I think not. Workers build houses that they cannot afford to buy. Sure, 70% of Australians are said to own their own homes but this too isn’t quite what it seems. About 30% own their homes – ie, are mortgage free – while about 40% are working for the banks as well as for their 9-5 boss. And there’s 30% who do not even have the ‘privilege’ of a mortgage. What’s with that? Humans know how to build houses cheaply and efficiently. Why aren’t we building them for one another, for ourselves? What’s with a social system that finds it rational to demolish a luxury housing development at a time of growing homelessness (in the US). Why? Because it was the ‘cheaper’ option under the circumstances of over-production.

    Australia, according to ACOSS, has more than 105,000 homeless people. Those who rent have faced an increase in rents of more than 46% since 2000.

    And as for those with mortgages, about ten percent – more than a million families – suffer mortgage stress: that is, they spend more than 30% of their income on recurrent housing costs.

    Enough experience has accumulated here, and elsewhere, to know that social democratic solutions are as hopeless as those of free marketeers; that there’s something in the system itself, the way the one-percent own and control production and capital and use it for profit above all else, that is the problem. It’s not about greed, but about the way a structured social system operates. Labor and Liberal parties can at best tinker while the Greens, wrongly classified as left-wing by the Right, can really only gesture and go on with their ultra-conservative notion of ‘Sustainability’.

    Youngmarxist, I reckon it’s difficult to know where to begin with picking issues. Perhaps housing is worthy of focus.

    Here’s the link to the fact sheet from the 2011 ACOSS Report: http://media.apnonline.com.au/img/media/pdf/ACOSS_Indicators_of_inequality_-_Media_Factsheet_28_March_2011.pdf

  11. 11 youngmarxist

    1) Real wages:

    The CPI is not by any means a measure of the actual cost of living. By “real wages” I mean “what my wages actually buy”.

    2) Bulk-billing doctors:

    What should someone do who:

    a) has no transport other than public transport

    b) has a local bulk-billing doctor who is closed?

    when an urgent but non-emergency problem occurs?

    The teams of people working to solve problems will only be able to do little bits and pieces around the edges because there is not enough funding.

    To give an example of how people far more desperate than I have been are getting short-changed, read this letter that was in the Courier-Mail. It’s a leaked draft from the head of Emergency at a big Brisbane hospital saying service cuts would probably kill patients.

  12. 12 youngmarxist

    Barry one quick response before I read more carefully – “wages” also excludes people on benefits – so if we talk about real income instead of real wages it gets worse.

  13. 13 steve owens

    YM I agree with the doctor and his letter that says service cuts will cost lives. The health system is always a battle field between health providers and budget cutters. Some times its not clear as to who is who. There have been of instances that I thought were just budget cuts but turned out to be better ways of allocating services.
    I have spent the last 2 years in community mental health and sometimes get my arse kicked by ED nurses for trying to access ED by bypassing their protocals for managing demand. This is my first real taste of community mental health work and my impression is that the system is excellent. Theres bench marking that patients get a follow up service within 7 days of discharge ( thats if they are not in the hospital at home project that follows people up daily), everyone gets an alocated key worker plus a psychiatrist. Theres a free gym programme, a mental health community centre with peer work support, a housing program thanks Rudd, memorandums of understanding with police, public housing and ambulance service, mental health court diversion program and if you ask any worker in the system they want more spent and better outcomes. They have just opened up an intermediate care centre which looks like a motel (a really good one) for people stepping down from a hospital admission or admitted there to prevent a hospital admission ie crisis intervention.
    I should also mention the 3 rehabilitation centres that have been opened which the government plans to privatise.
    OK you are too poor to go to a GP and too poor to get the bus to a bulk billing GP. They will still treat you at ED for free but you will have to wait until they are ready.
    Just go to Occupy Wall Street with the demand that our totally free health service may experience some delays and see what they say.

  14. 14 steve owens

    Young Marxist the argument is about much more than funding. If increased funding was the answer the USA would be showing us the way.
    The USA spends more money per head on health care than any other nation.
    The USA spends more money on health care as a percentage of total national income than any UN member other than East Timor.
    The USA has the 3rd highest public health care bill in the world.
    In the USA medical debt contributes to 46.2% of bankruptcies.
    Have you seen Sicko by Michael Moore. If even half of what he says is true then everyone in America should join Occupy Wall Street because they are being seriously ripped off. Ill be glad to see you at any next boring old ritualistic rally to defend public services god knows Ive been to enough.

  15. 15 barry

    YM, yes, ‘wages’ excludes people on benefits, which does make the picture worse.

    You say the CPI doesn’t measure actuasl cost of living. I don’t know much about this but wonder what is the better measure for cost of living in general, not just for an individual.

    I need to clarify some clumsy writing on my part. I said: “Australia, according to ACOSS, has more than 105,000 homeless people. Those who rent have faced an increase in rents of more than 46% since 2000”.

    The above might seem like I think homeless people are renting. I realize that renters do not count as homeless and should have used a separate paragraph. High and increasing rents screw people from the get-go, mostly young people, and I suspect that many involved in the Occupy rallies are young renters.

    I was in Melbourne for a conference recently and walked around the CBD early in the morning. There are apartment blocks going up everywhere, as in other capital cities, but there are also many ‘for lease’ signs – while also thousands who are homeless. It seems to me that this issue of housing, which affects so many people and is linked so closely to the Australian expectation, is a very good one that draws out the contradictions in capitalism between concentrated ownership of means of production for profit on one hand and social needs on the other. “Housing for All” was one of the old CPA slogans that hooked me when I was young. (My parents and I spent our first two years in Australia from 1954-56 wandering the streets of Brunswick and Coburg in search of accommodation; we resided in seven different places, mostly boarding rooms, during that period).

  16. 16 Bill Kerr

    Police are currently attempting to eject Occupy Melbourne protesters from Melbourne City Square. The protesters are refusing to leave using non violent resistance methods. The police plan is to put up a fence for 48 hours to prevent reoccupation. The Lord Mayor “denied the Queen’s visit was a factor”

  17. 17 youngmarxist

    A tweet by a Green Left Weekly correspondent says construction workers have broken police lines at Occupy Melbourne http://twitter.com/#!/peter_b1953/status/127181964976463872

  18. 18 Bill Kerr

    Unionists and supportive citizens are reportedly breaking police lines to come in and join us in the city square #occupymelbourne #cfmeu

    Maritime Union of Australia members heading to square in solidarity. Square now completely surrounded by citizens. #occupymelbourne #99%


  19. 19 Bill Kerr

    Hands trembling. Incredible, unnecessary violence from police. #occupymelbourne


  20. 20 Bill Kerr

    Occupy Melbourne protesters to reconvene
    This is a reasonably accurate report of what happened yesterday and future plans.

  21. 21 steve owens

    Here are some excellent graphs showing why people should occupy wall street

  22. 22 Arthur

    Excellent graphs!

  23. 23 Bill Kerr

    The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, is either delusional or a bad liar.


    Furthermore, while driving back to Adelaide I heard on the radio the Assistant Police Commissioner being interviewed. When asked about police not wearing ID he said that police name badges were attached with velcro and some were pulled off in the scuffle. He further elaborated that some officers put on rain coats because of the rain and accidentally concealed their badges.

    What I witnessed was that none of the blue goons, the riot squad, the ones that actually had physical contact with demonstrators had any ID (I couldn’t see any) but the others with yellow tops all had name badges. Also none of the blue goons were wearing rain coats.

    Is this normal for authority figures when challenged or is Robert
    Doyle especially incompetent?

  24. 24 tomb

    an interesting article on the .01% unfortunately drifts into bank (financial services) bashing and sees them as the cause of the crisis, but the initial analysis is interesting


  25. 25 Bill Kerr

    This comment extract from Occupy LA indicates that the same tension observed at Occupy Melbourne b/w a well meaning amorphous blob on the on hand and a movement with focused demands on the other hand is also felt there:

    There is a reason things are peaceful. There is also a reason our movement is but a fraction of Wall Street’s occupational size at the same time in their development. That reason is that we are failing to challenge people, to identify an atagonist, and to actualize that opposition.

    Coziness is great. It has allowed us to assemble and get to know each other. But not having an opponent is decidedly not a movement for real economic and social justice. If anything, this movement should be aware that without MAJOR REFORMS, if not revolution, there is no salve possible within the current structure. Any suggestion otherwise might be the mere postulation of careerists who do not reflect the full body (as the GA does) of OccupyLA

  26. 26 steve owens

    Bill as to the Lord Mayor I think that Krugman puts that type of thinking in perspective

  27. 27 Arthur

    Thanks for the link tomb, I’ve included it at omeconomicdiscussion

    That blog hasn’t taken off yet, but potentially it could be a focus for national and perhaps international economic discussion among the Occupy Movement not just for Occupy Melbourne. Please promote links to it and join in actively.

    PS Bill. As well as the dark blues never having IDs some of the yellows also had them missing – only a few so consistent with accidental but also included some of the more pushy yellows.

    Re Doyle’s raving, surely you haven’t forgotton how Bolte, Bjelke-Petersen and company used to rave on about pack raving bikies etc etc.

  1. 1 The Libertarian: Angela Merkel and minimum wage legislation

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