Attempting to reform labour and product markets in the middle of a depression [or a pandemic] is akin to repairing the roof when it’s on fire. Mark Blyth
This is what Australia’s richest person is advocating. What’s more Gina Rinehart is recycling a discredited neo-classical economic model that has ill-served the world. It has offered no credible solution to the two greatest problems besetting the globe today: Covid-19 and the looming climate crisis. It is interesting that this book of prominent antipodean neo-liberal thinkers is coming out whilst the country is the middle of a Delta outbreak that has shut down two of Australia’s most populous states. Many libertarian neo-liberals are opposed to any government intervention and want the economy to open regardless of the human cost. They are appalled that the government of the day be they be federal, state, Labor or Liberal are not heeding their ‘sage’ advice. Governments are intervening in the economy in a way not seen since the 1970s and deficits are on the increase. They are worried this trend will continue and nix the country’s forty-year reluctant embrace of neo-liberalism, a system that has benefited them enormously. It is in this context that Gina’s intervention needs to be seen.
What is Gina whinging about? Well, the conservative party in power – the Liberal National Party (LNP) coalition down under, with impeccable Thatcherite credentials, have pump primed the economy so that many people locked down during the pandemic could pay their bills, feed themselves and their families, pay their rent and mortgages and keep safe. Many were and are just keeping their heads above water. Others, like refugees, foreign students and those in casual and precarious jobs such as delivery services, are barely staying afloat. This largesse was taken away, reluctantly reintroduced in a piecemeal and parsimonious way during the current outbreak of the Delta strain and will soon be taken away once again. In tandem with this, the States, in order to curb the outbreak, have introduced a series of lockdowns to reduce the number of people catching the virus and dying. It has reduced the mortality rate and the numbers that catch this deadly virus. This has created a ballooning deficit, together with the Government decisively intervening in the economy, which it has not done for decades. It is working, if saving lives and livelihoods are key indicators. This is what Gina, and her allies are rallying against.
In the less developed regions of the world where a government’s presence is almost non-existent, apart from the fatalities of the Pandemic, the situation of the poor is fraught. COVID– 19 has pushed a further 200 million people into extreme poverty. 11 people are dying of hunger and malnutrition every minute, outpacing the deaths caused by the Pandemic, which is around a staggeringly unacceptable 4.3 million. Meanwhile the richest on the planet like Gina are increasing their wealth.
The figures speak for themselves. In a country of 24 million people, we have currently around 1,256 dead of Covid. In Florida, where the population is a shade under 22 million and where the state is run by an ardent opponent of state intervention and actively hostile to vaccines, the death rate is unacceptably high, 54,000 and rising. Currently the death rate in the richest country on the planet by GDP (not income distribution) is 693,000 out of a population of 333 million.
This is around thirteen times the population of Australia. The difference in the figures is staggering. If we aggregate the Australian population, we would have had 13,000 deaths to 693,000. Why the stark difference? The difference being that in Australia the government intervened, in Florida, the state government did almost nothing and let the Pandemic run amok. Even conservative governments like Britain realise that to avert a looming climate catastrophe the role of government is crucial.
Australia has its fissures of race, income equality and climate catastrophes like the United States. The key difference here is that the state governments intervened decisively with the broad support of the populace. We also have a functioning national health service. In America, the Pandemic ripped through states run by anti-intervention governments, with the poorest bearing the brunt. Their underfunded, under-staffed public health service could not cope.
The implications of Gina’s thesis is clear: ideology and self-interest always oppose the state intervening, even to mitigate a national disaster. The reality is that state intervention works and the intervention of the New Zealand’s government attests to this.
This anti-evidential mantra hides a larger and uglier reality. Deregulation and the Pandemic have served billionaires very well. The world’s billionaires have seen their total wealth increase by $5.5 trillion dollars since the beginning of the pandemic. It has seen the emergence of an additional 325 billionaires. Gina increased her wealth by $2.2 billion to $31 billion. Jeff Bezos used $5.5 billion of his wealth to float in space with his pals in a rocket shaped like a giant lingam. If that money was spent on vaccines, it is estimated that it could have secured vaccines for two billion people in low-income countries. This is vital, as 90 per cent of the vaccines have gone to first world countries. In low-income countries only 1.3 per cent of the population have been vaccinated. Apart from the clear-cut moral issue, there is a pragmatic consideration. For if we are not all vaccinated, none of us are ultimately safe.
But this sort of neo-liberal nonsense is not new from the likes of Gina. A large chunk of her wealth was inherited from her father, who in turn almost flew into a mountain of iron, which was the basis of his wealth. In late 2012, Gina said this in a video: ‘Africans want to work, and its workers were willing to work for less than $2 a day’. This illegitimacy in a first-world country is laughable; it would even be unacceptable to Sri Lankans. The situation is simple: while she was talking about African pay rates, she was earning $600 a second! This is obscene.
Gina’s ignorance of the economic history of Sri Lanka’s is breathtaking. Sri Lanka has the dubious honour of being one of the first countries to deregulate the economy, sell off government assets and public companies, and offer tax free havens to foreign businesses, amongst other controversial economic innovations. At the same time, it has consolidated power in the hands of the executive presidency at the expense of parliament, the judiciary and the provinces. The other major party has either amplified or followed these reforms, thereby weaking even further the rule of law, transparency and accountability.
During this era, Sri Lanka has had to endure a pogrom in 1983, the decimation of the independent Trade Union movement, the gradual dismantling of the country’s welfare provisions, a bloody insurgency in which tens of thousands of young people were made to disappear in the most unspeakable of circumstances and a long bloody civil war which took at least 100,000 lives. The country possesses a track record of lack of intervention to uplift the populace and heal the society as a whole. Intervention sadly has only taken place to enrich a certain section of the political and business elite and make them even less accountable for their actions.
Ceylon had one of the best social indices in Asia in terms of health, education, et al. It was only surpassed by Japan, is now sadly the envy of no one. The country’s pendulum moved from prosperity to poverty and peace to conflict, due to the raiding of the public purse to enrich a few at the expense of the many. The Island once the pearl of Asia is now a country that cannot grow enough food to feed its population and has to export many of the things we see as essential to our lives. The national debt is now epic. This is not because of the so called ‘nefarious’ effect of socialism and its alleged overbearing bureaucracy and rules. It was done under the ideological rubric of 40 years of neo-liberalism. A philosophy Gina espouses with passion.
In tandem with the neo-liberal policies and programmes, Sri Lanka’s political leadership has become increasingly authoritarian, sometimes verging on the arrogant. The country’s democracy is also becoming more militarised. How successful a regime is judged by the extent to which it can fragment society by demonising minorities and creating a fear psychosis within the majority. A truly unedifying state of affairs. Gina demands that governments should ‘stop making decisions influenced by the media of the moment and instead act to make the bold decisions our country needs’. Ironically this is what Sri Lanka’s leaders have been continuously doing. In doing so, they have destroyed the social cohesion and economic wellbeing of the Sri Lankan society.
It is beholden on me to point out, in addition, that Tony Abbot and Alan Jones are not centre right but hard right. The centre right had its representative in Malcolm Turnbull, a prime minister who was ousted as a result of his political timidity, an ejection assisted by a shrill cabal of Jones, Abbot and others of their persuasion. They are strong climate deniers and anti-lockdown, anti-refugee and anti-immigration crusaders. They are also firm believers in an Anglocentric Australia, buttressed by their myopic version of the Judeo-Christian ethical creed. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a right wing think tank have similar views, and though it does not publish a list of its donors, it is financed by the mineral lobby of which Gina is a prominent member.
Gina’s musings are self-serving, are devoid of real practical experience and deeply dangerous, if judged from the health of Australia’s democracy and economic wellbeing. Her example of Lanka is deeply offensive and shows ignorance of our country’s history. It is in this withering light her comments should be seen and treated with the disdain they truly deserve.
 Blyth M 2013, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Oxford University Press, P267
 Daily Mirror 2021, Australia’s richest woman warns Australia will end up impoverished like Sri Lanka. September 27, 2021. Retrieved: https://www.dailymirror.lk/top_story/Australias-richest-woman-warns-Australia-will-end-up-impoverished-like-Sri-Lanka/155-221232
 Boyle P 2021, More billionaires or human survival? Green Left Weekly, August 22, 2021. P3
 Sydney Morning Herald 2012, World’s media pan Rinehart’s ‘$2 a day African miner’ comments, September 5, 2012 – 10:42am. Retrieved: https://www.smh.com.au/business/worlds-media-pan-rineharts-2-a-day-african-miner-comments-20120906-25fpq.html
 Daily Mail 2021, Australia’s richest woman warns Australia will end up impoverished like Sri Lanka. September 27, 2021. Retrieved: https://www.dailymirror.lk/top_story/Australias-richest-woman-warns-Australia-will-end-up-impoverished-like-Sri-Lanka/155-221232