Ep 11: In which I have an in-depth chat about the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the CovidSafe tracing App, the economic bailout and more, with human/digital-rights lawyer Lizzie O’Shea and journalist Ben Eltham
This is the podcast companion to our latest Honest Government Ad - The Machine. If you haven't seen the video, you can watch it here.
This episode is also available in video form on our Youtube channel, you can watch it here.
You can follow Lizzie O'Shay on twitter here: @Lizzie_OShea
You can follow Ben Eltham on twitter here: @BenEltham
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0:00 - Welcome to the Juice Media Podcast
0:10 - HGA - The Machine
1:24 - Introducing our guests
3:37 - The Australian Response
6:16 - The COVID Safe App
13:15 - App Skepticism
16:40 - App as Security Theatre
19:41 - The Stimulus
23:50 - Groups excluded from the stimulus
29:00 - Modern Monetary Theory
35:51 - Class and COVID
38:14 - More Curves to Flatten?
39:37 - Wrap-up Headlines
40:06 - Digital Rights
43:10 - Relaxing Restrictions
44:29 - Austerity Redux
47:37 - Outro
Hey everyone Giordano here from the Juice Media. Welcome back to the Juice Media podcast, a companion to the honest government ad series. This is episode eleven, which is a companion to our latest Honest Government Ad - The Machine.
Hello I'm from the government with an update on the pandemic. As you know in order to flatten the curve we've had to turn off the machine. The machine has not been turned off for a long, long time. Nobody even remembers who turned it on. So please bear with us as we consult the manual after prising it from the shitted pants of capitalism and figure out what to do next.
As you can see we're branching out from the shit fuckery of the Australian Government in order to have a look at what other governments are getting up to around the world. This is the beauty of the new Honest Government Ad format that we've been playing with which you may have noticed if you've seen our last two videos have been hosted by your local government franchise, which allows us to switch with ease from one shit government to the other. Whether it be big players like the government of China or Brazil, the UK, Poland, Belarus and even failed states which I think you'll agree is a great way of dealing with issues that transcends national boundaries like the climate emergency and of course the corona virus pandemic. To talk with me about the big picture and the parallels between these two overlapping crises I'm going to be joined in part two of this podcast by a truly awesome international guest. I'm gonna leave you hanging. It's gonna be a surprise but you'll find out soon in part 2 of this podcast. But in this episode Part 1 I want to go back to our roots because I don't want the Australian Government to feel neglected and we haven't spoken about them in our last two honest government ads, which is why I've decided to dedicate this episode to discussing two critical issues that are unfolding here at home, but which are equally relevant for people around the world. The covid safe tracing app and the economic stimulus package. And I'm honored to introduce to you as my guests today, two of my favourite commentators in the Auspol scene who are experts on these matters.
Lizzie O'Shea, writer broadcaster and human rights lawyer founder and the current chair of Digital Rights Watch, which advocates for human rights online. Her first book Future Histories just came out last year in the UK, US and Australia. Check it out. And my second guest Ben Eltham, journalist author and researcher who has covered Australian politics and society for the past decade as national affairs correspondent for New Matilda. Ben is also the federal politics commentator for three Triple R and a lecturer in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University. Just one note before we kick off this podcast is recorded under quarantine and lock down due to the pandemic. So we've all had to make do with the equipment that's available to us so please excuse the crappy audio and video if the pixels bother you. Please remember that the main value of this podcast is in the content rather than the visuals.
If you're looking for great visuals and crap content we've got Sky News for that, and now it's my pleasure to welcome onto the Juice Media Podcast Lizzie O'Shea and Ben Eltham.
Welcome both. Ben Eltham and Lizzie O'Shea to the Juice Media Podcast, it's really awesome to have you both here. It's also the first time we're trialling this out with video so let's see how it goes. I've brought you on because you're, you're both experts and I really love your takes, respect the topics that I'm going to ask you about. But before we get into that you know the video that we made was very global, with an international focus. We kind of let Australia a little bit off the hook, saying you know they weren't the worst this time. How do you feel, overall you know, in the global context, compared to you know, we've seen how it can go horribly wrong. What is your feeling about how the Australian government handled this pandemic crisis or is handling it .
I think Australia is probably characterised best, commonly to kind of describe a national character by which it talks about it being a lucky country which is that we don't realise our own luck. In essence we're blessed with a second-rate political class who aren't very good at what they do. But we've also been blessed with a beautiful place to live and the wonderful natural resources at our disposal and a nice community and a sense of camaraderie and that's sort of what I feel has happened. We've got second rate political leadership, but we also have shown solidarity and care for each other which has allowed us to get through this crisis. We also happen to be an island nation. Insulates us perhaps from some of the logistical difficulties of managing the spread of a virus like this. Classically Australia we managed to have come through this without too much devastation. It might still be more to come but not really, I think, because of the genius of political leadership and much more to the fortunes of our particular position.
Yeah I'd probably agree with with Lizzie on that one.
You know I think Australia's muddled through here relatively well and we have been quite lucky. Ironically I think one of the little pieces of luck that we've had was to do with the devastating bushfires over the summer which meant that a lot of people weren't travelling to Australia around about December and January internationally.
And I think that made a big difference in terms of the number of people coming to Australia who might have been carrying coronavirus at the time and then something quite unusual happened which was that the government decided to listen to the advice of experts which has been something that the Liberal National Party has struggled to do for many years now. But in this particular case I think because of the gravity of the situation and perhaps because it was a health issue and not a politicised issue like climate change they were to listen to the advice of the public health experts and that meant that we actually put in place some pretty good policies early on unusually for the Morrison government so that they had a pretty good early response but I think we're also now starting to see that kind of that desire to listen to the experts start to erode and we're starting to see a more overtly political response to the pandemic as the months continue .
Probably the two key - There's a lot of stuff to talk about. Huge huge topic and that was actually one of the challenges in writing this last honest government ad, is like shit - Where do you even start. But here in the Australian context two of the key issues are - One the economic stimulus package the bailout and the policies that that are that that accompanying that and all that and the covid safe app which is the tracing app that's been rolled out to huge, huge controversy. So I wanted to zoom in and focus on these two particular issues and I'd like to start with you Lizzie - if you could explain a little bit the story of what's behind the app Have you installed the app first of all. A nd then why have you taken that decision could you give us a little bit of a you know a bit of a rundown also for people who might not be in Australia not know the details of it.
Sure. so I'm the chair of a digital rights organization called Digital Rights Watch and it came as no surprise to me that one of the policies that was going to be pursued by the Australian Government that they flagged reasonably early on was a technical - technological solution to the spread of coronavirus and trying to manage it. I think many people who work in space are not surprised to see governments take advantage of the opportunity presented by this process to perhaps experiment with forms of technology that also double up as forms of surveillance. And I think that's not a conspiracy theory idea. I think it's actually just using past conduct as a guide to future conduct. I think there's many valid reasons why lots of people in the digital rights space are quite concerned about proposals to deal with these crises from a technological perspective - so the government has put forward the app which is designed to assist with contact tracing it uses bluetooth technology to collect beacons that a phone might collect when you carry it around. To give an idea he may have been in close proximity to - the design of it itself is still unclear because the source code hasn't been released but it's modelled on the Singapore version of this app which there was open source available for people to scrutinise. So that's really what we understand it to be - a handshake essentially between two phones using Bluetooth technology and in many ways it could have been a lot worse it could have been an attempt to use locational information that might be present in a phone. They might have gone around individual user requirements and gone straight to companies to do that without any transparency - so theres choices that they could have made that could have been worse. But there is a lot of things to be pretty concerned about. The governing legislation that deals with this app has not been passed so it's only just been tabled recently - the bill. So there's an issue where the cart comes before the horse where they launch an app without releasing the source code without releasing any of the law that will govern it and then expect people to download it and then deal with the laws later on and that is indicative of the kind of approach to these projects which is they push the technology first as a solution to the problem and they deal with the privacy, rights issues later. And the crisis is used as an opportunity to push this kind of technology onto us. So the footing or the framework that. Again this process has not been great. I think there are things that we can see that are better than they could be. But I think many people are concerned for very valid reasons.
I mean there's - there's a historical context here because the government has introduced this is a familiar story for those of us - people sort of following the government's tradition of introducing legislation requiring it to do with this particular couple with the last few Liberal governments has a long tradition backed by Labor government. Let's not just you know let's not just that it's not just a liberal party thing but we've had you know the various other policies or legislation that have been rammed through without sort of much regard for experts and a lot of trust has been squandered. So how does this - how does this app fit into that historic context of mistrust. I mean do people trust this government.
I don't I mean I haven't downloaded the app so that gives you a sign of what I think - I mean I also understand its a personal choice so what you do individually doesn't necessarily dictate how you can respond to the questions from a policy and structural perspective. You're right to point out this context. So Australia is part of the five eyes which is essentially the Anglophone countries or intelligence sharing arrangement Canada United States, New Zealand, and the UK. And for a long time these countries have pursued a policy of mass surveillance. We've had 20 years of incursions onto rights and increased powers for intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the expense I think of our digital security and of course our privacy, in the full complexity of term - in Australia in particular over 80 pieces of legislation that are designed to deal with the threat of terrorism that have been extremely invasive of people's rights.
So that's the context in which this comes. I think there is. Limits to what they've been able to introduce to this particular project but certainly the case in my opinion that we are getting to the point where politicians now take these concerns more seriously than they might have in times past. So we've had the passage of encryption breaking legislation of metadata retention regime in Australia.
That passed with some controversy. But it's certainly been a marathon not a sprint towards the defense of digital rights and towards a world in which politicians feel like they have to take these concerns seriously and that there might be electoral consequences and social movements may be in a position to challenge that power. And so in some ways I feel like even though we are still challenged if I think a serious challenge is that we we're a lot closer to a place where we'd like to be because we've done that work of building up people's understanding of what rights mean people understanding that technology questions aren't really just for geeks to consider that it's actually for all of us in civil society to think about and to be conscious and aware of and that's a good thing.
But it's still absolutely the case that there's an enormous deficit when it comes to public trust. That means we are never going to get near I don't think the take up rate necessary to make this app effective. And that's really I think the big question here. What is the role of an app like this especially in a context where we don't have the necessary take up rate which could make - the chief health officer talked about it being 40 percent I think it ought to be a lot higher realistically for it to be effective and maybe we have to think about non-technical solutions to these kinds of problems. How do we build up trust in health authorities to do contact tracing resource them appropriately to do that work so that instead of it becoming a technical solution to a very real world problem we're actually addressing the problem itself which is managing the spread of the virus not putting technology projects ahead of ahead of what they're designed to do.
there's a headline that you pointed out to me the headline is people who refuse to download the covid safe virus tracing app are the new ant-vaxxers - what the fuck . How do you respond to this. What is your take on that .
I mean it's really interesting watching the propaganda come out about this app like and not just from the usual suspects at Murdoch platforms but actually also within the state broadcaster the ABC has been pushing this line that it's really important it's your moral social duty to download this app and if you're not doing so you're putting the lives of frontline health workers at risk. And that kind of moral blackmail I think is effective and that's why they do it. And I'm really concerned that the government is kind of pushing this line with the media and the media isn't really stepping up to the task of asking the critical questions necessary to get this right. And there's notable exceptions to that of course but the majority the media likes to simplify these things. I mean it doesn't need to be said of course that downloading an app is not the same as getting a vaccine. The app is not going to stop the spread of the virus. There are other ways in which we need to to change our behaviour to stop the spread of the virus and to contain it and manage it. And my argument is the the more effective thing you can do is wash your hands and stay at home but also potentially keep a diary of people you come in close contact with.
And so I find often with these discussion there's this real sense of technological utopianism almost that we just got to get the technology right and we'll be able to solve social problems we'll be able to paper over these social differences because that's really what's going on.
And I think it's decades I think of socialization whereby surveillance is treated as the cure all to problems like terrorism or paedophilia or the kinds of criminal activity very social crimes that in a sense they've got a social context and they need to they're very serious they need to be dealt with. But assuming that law and technology together can fix them I think is a mistake but it's not a surprise to me that this is a philosophy that's being put forward because we've seen this for 20 years really since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States this has been the approach of the Surveillance State of the government - the political class. And it's overwhelmingly becoming a social phenomenon where that's what we assume is the answer, that the state is the provider of safety and they do this through legal means through technical means and our job to defer to them and to adopt the relevant technology in order to do so. And I think we need to start thinking about that afresh. I actually think what you referred to before the biggest way in which we've managed to stop the spread of the virus is people practicing the policies of care and solidarity looking after each other limiting their risk and making sure those at risk the right to limit their risk by looking after your neighbor by caring for elderly people that kind of thing.
The focus is on technology and law enforcement
in the bigger picture in the bigger scheme of things how do you see this sort of setting. What kind of precedents do you feel that this sets and I might start with you Ben and then perhaps Lizzie you could give a final comment.
So I mean I see I see the covid safe app as what the security expert Bruce Schneier calls security theater. It's something that looks good to the general public. It gives the impression of security but it's not really making us safer. We saw in testimony to the Senate committee yesterday that the figure of 40 percent for the population for the takeup target that it was just a figure they made up. They just plucked it out of the air. And there was actually no there's actually no numerical basis to that figure whatsoever. And you know as Lizzie's pointed out there's a bunch of technical problems with the app as well. What would have been better I think would have been an approach that admitted that there's no technical fix to this issue that what we need is good old fashioned contact tracing and human response to what is ultimately a biological issue. And I think in some respects. Scott Morrison and the health authorities particularly in some of the states have been pretty honest with people about the biological nature of the pandemic. And I think to some degree the desire to rush into this kind of covid safe app solution is is I think motivated by desperation particularly from the Morrison government to try and relax the restrictions as quickly as possible and to get people back to work because they're utterly terrified of the scale of the recession the economic downturn that's now confronting Australia.
Sure if anyone's listening and tearing themselves apart about whether they should be installing the app to make Scott Morrison and Jesus happy or whoever and whatever guilt trip people are on because they feel have to do this or you know or they'd like no I'm not going to do this because you know don't tread on me kind of thing like is it what I'm hearing from you is that we can spare ourselves the angst of this security theater and actually practice the advice which experts from Norman Swan to physicians and epidemiologists have said that the way we deal with this is as you said through good old fashioned you know looking after each other - isolation - you know just taking basic precautions rather than trusting this half baked app which may or may not be good.
I think we're ready to have a discussion about it that is on honest terms is what I would say and to the extent that you are tearing your hair out a bit about this what I would suggest is that moments of crisis. And you know plenty of people have observed this are moments in which power does try to infringe right. And it can be a moment of opportunity for those in power to exploit. And we need to be on guard for that and asking these questions is not illegitimate.
In fact I think it's one of the most critical things we can do to make sure that the society we have at the end of this is the society that we want and hence that what we're seeing with the anti vax xer accusation its kind of it's still designed to shut down that debate and to stigmatize people who who are legitimately asking important questions. So thanks so much I know there's more to talk about on this. But I I really feel like that should really bring people up to date with where its at - I want to turn to Ben and ask you a little bit about the stimulus package. So the government in order to keep the machine sort of puttering along so that everything didn't collapse has introduced a massive economic stimulus the same as several other countries. Could you please explain to us what happened because it was a huge flurry of activity and in the middle of all that you know did everyone get bailed out were there some people who missed out - what's going on here. If you could give us and again just remember some people might be listening from abroad so maybe a little bit of background.
So what happened Giordano is that the Australian Government decided to spend an awful lot of money to try and keep the Australian economy from seizing up completely. Basically so the coronavirus economic downturn is in many ways more serious than probably any economic crisis we've faced since the Great Depression the 1930s because it's a crisis that affects some of the biggest parts of the economy as we know it. You know like what are the things that have had to shut down in the last few months if you think about it. These are huge sectors of our economy and some of the biggest employers of our economy so some of the sectors with the most number of workers have had to shut down and go home sectors like accommodation, hospitality, transport, culture and recreation.
These are some of the biggest employers in our society. So all of a sudden you've got millions of people have been thrown out of work and you've had demand in the domestic economy fall off a cliff. Well in fact demand across the entire world fell off a cliff. So it's an unprecedented economic crisis and in a situation like this there's only one thing that can really prop up the economy and that's a government which can spend money right. Where does the government get its money from. Well it can do a couple of things it can print money you can just create money out of thin air or it can borrow it on international money markets. It doesn't really matter how it gets its money though as long as it promises to spend it in the domestic economy. That's what can potentially prop up the economy at least in the short term and that's what the Morrison government and indeed many governments around the world have done. So they've announced a huge stimulus package we're up to that two hundred and fourteen billion dollars in the Australian economy. Most of that is composed of a package that they call job keeper the job keeper package is a stimulus to businesses actually to wage subsidy so it's money that goes to businesses to keep people employed. Now there's a whole bunch of things wrong with job keeper package and it's quite poorly designed in some respects and a whole bunch of people are missing out but there's no doubt that in the aggregate in the big picture it is helping the economy to some degree.
The Government's also done some things on the welfare net the safety net they've increased the amount of money that people can get who are on welfare benefits and that's been very helpful to people particularly who are on unemployment benefits and then also the Reserve Bank Australia's Central Bank has pumped tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars of cheap money into the economy in the form of loans and guarantees to banks. So it's been a two pronged or even a three pronged approach and it's one that's linked up with international central banks around the rich industrialised world all in an attempt to keep the economy from completely seizing up and from all economic activity basically stopping.
You've mentioned that some people have missed out. Is this just kind of like random woops we forgot about you or is there like a method to. Is there a pattern here in who's been missing out.
It's a little of column A and a little column B. So there's some degree to which the Government's stimulus package has been put together really quickly and you know on the fly and so some of the people missing out have just been omitted. I think they've just been neglected through you know bad design. But there's also been a fair bit of targeting of the stimulus to certain sectors of the economy and some people have definitely been excluded on purpose and probably the most important group in Australia are migrant workers. So these are people who are in Australia on visas who are not Australian citizens. And they've basically been excluded from nearly all forms of government support during the pandemic. And that's a very conscious deliberate decision by the Morrison government and one that I think is terrible because it really means that these people have very little safety net at all very little ability to access help from the government.
And of course a lot of them are out of work and they've got no means to support themselves now another group that's been left out is universities which basically they've been left to sort of deal with like half their revenue. I'm not sure I'm just throwing that number out but a lot of the money is from international students who just aren't able to come into the country and they've just been told to kind of deal with it. And another group is the arts entertainment performer's community. Our two actors Ellen and Zoe particularly Zoe who works a lot in in the film industry and all her colleagues and acquaintances have just been left out. You worked with the entertainment industry sorry you've covered a lot of the arts community.
So I'm not expressing this very well. You know what I'm saying it's fine . What's happening in that community - well a lot of pain is the short answer.
So apart from aviation the cultural industries have been the very worst affected industries. We think that unemployment has increased to something like 25 percent in those industries according to preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And if you think about all the things that have had to shut down because of the pandemic you know music venues any kind of festival any kind of cinema it's really a massive impact on those sectors and the government. Your right has basically hung them out to dry. There's been no bailout package for the arts and cultural sector at all. The government simply said that those industries can access the existing stimulus packages even when they're able to. But this again brings into light the problems with the design of those stimulus packages because it specifically excludes certain classes of workers. And one of the class of workers that it excludes are anyone who's a casual who's been working for their employer for less than 12 months now if you know anything about the arts and culture that's most of the workers because they're often working in an insecure or precarious kind of employment situation or they simply move from job to job. If you work on a festival might have work for four weeks eight weeks and then you move on to the next job. So there's a whole bunch of people who simply aren't able to access the government's stimulus policies and they've really been hung out to dry.
So there's a tremendous crisis in those industries and it's going to get worse not better. Well we saw it just this week. One of the major cultural institutions in Sydney go into receivership called Carriage Works. This is a large government funded arts organisation with a big studio and venue in the middle of Sydney that's gone under. Even with its government funding.
So we think this will just be the first of many of these cultural institutions that will go into administration in coming months and so a lot of really important you know sort of breeding grounds for a lot of the talent that we have in theatre and film in you know in Australia has been kneecapped in the process of this and it'll be really - yes it's going to leave a mark. It's not going to just go go back to normal.
Oh absolutely Giordano . It's absolutely going to leave a mark and it's not going to get better any time soon. I didn't get to mention the universities but just quickly the government has specifically excluded the universities from its job keeper package. So it's actually changed the rules three different times to make sure that universities can't access job keeper. So again that is a pretty specific set of actions from the government there to make sure universities don't get a bailout.
Yeah that's right. That's what you get for all that cultural Marxism. That's right yes. I so I wanna make sure I put that in inverted commas very quickly because people - like you - ever since we made the last video people have been going you've got to talk about modern monetary theory theory - MMT . What. Again I'm like What. You know I've read a little bit about it. Yeah it's it's it's massive but can you give us a little bit of I know you've got to know a little bit about it what's out there with us and should it be happening. Yeah yeah.
I do know a little bit about MMT. Look I encourage you to get somebody like Stephanie Kelton on your show someone who's a real expert and I've heard that maybe five times already. Yes that's right. She's the Guru - ok .
Look MMT is really a type of fiscal policy really it's a talk of policy that the government any government that controls its own currency can adopt and it basically means for the government to print money in order to spend in the domestic budget. So instead of borrowing money or getting money from taxes MMT says that the government can actually go to the central bank and ask the central bank to just deposit a bunch of money into the government's account with no recourse to the international money markets or to taxation. Now that's an unconventional type of fiscal policy but it doesn't mean that it can't work. It's just really going to be constrained by other economic factors in you know that that face the government and the most important one will be inflation. So most economists would agree that if you print money eventually if you print enough money that will lower the value of that currency when it comes to purchasing goods and services. And so the threat that most conventional economists would say is posed by MMT is that it's a cause of inflation. Now we live in a very low inflation world and in fact many people are very worried about deflation and not just low inflation but inflation going negative is what deflation is. So I would argue that there's probably scope to investigate things like MMT in the current environment. Not only would it give federal governments central governments more fiscal firepower more money to be able to throw at unemployment benefits at stimulating the economy and investing in things we need like a Green New Deal but it might also actually generate some much needed rise in prices which would actually be good for the economy in other respects as well. So I'm not saying - I'm not against MMT at all I think it's something that we should investigate.
I would add if I could as well that I think there's a huge amount of misery obviously that Ben's been talking about that there is a real opportunity I think at this particular moment to think about what we wish to take into the next stage of society or you know to use the metaphor that you used Giordano if we're gonna turn the machine on again do we want to do that or what we want to change about how it works and there is a huge amount of accepted wisdom in modern economics particularly around government spending that appears to now be quite displaced and worthy of critique and having a discussion about you know the government has made childcare free for example it raised payments for unemployed people by a considerable amount which it refused to do before now and it does suggest that it's possible that these things are possible that we can allocate resources in different ways and that there is a different way of doing things that doesn't just rely on scrimping and saving from people who need it most and so rather than welfare being something that's about discipline or punishing poor people you know try and discipline them into participating in the economy through working and penalizing them if they don't that in fact we could have a form of welfare that was about elevating people's standard of living respecting their rights and treat them with dignity of trying to make sure that we focus production on what's needed for the purposes of greening the economy rather than just what the market incentivizes. And I think that's really the moment that we've got to take advantage of - we - what we need to start talking about what kinds of things we want to take into the next stage of our society and what kinds of things in the machine we don't think are any longer acceptable and ought to be forgotten.
That's great. This kind of reminds me you know I really want to put this to you both because you've taken us into that territory Lizzie of the like you know the bigger picture this is a historic moment that we're travelling through. When do we have that discussion because you've just said you we've got to decide what we take through it and if it feels like those decisions are being made. Have they already been made. How long does this period last. Cause you know what do you feel like we should really be thinking about in this historic moment is this something that you've been reflecting on that's really been sitting with you like powerfully like Is this something you've realised during this time.
Well I suppose I would say from that so when we're talking about the app before it comes to mind right the app will be disabled the data will be deleted it according to the government when this crisis is over. But of course they define when that is. And you can see a situation where that crisis might be extend for a lot longer than everybody thinks instinctively at this point. And yet I have this feeling that in respect of things like increased payments for unemployed people or free childcare for example the crisis might end a lot quicker. So the government can stop having to pay for those things. And so in some respects I think it's about thinking about what I talked about before the politics of solidarity and care of understanding that ordinary people working together and collaborating and showing responsibility towards each other is what we'll get through this crisis and then finding ways to identify the policies that we want to keep it allow that to happen and really that's my view about organizing because the opportunity politically is there. So it depends how we plan to respond to it. And I do think this crisis presents a bit of a challenge for people who have traditionally organized in person or around particular organizations and spaces to be able to do it in a digital setting especially in situations where parliaments might not even be sitting. So policymakers aren't even making policy decisions. So it's really up to us to kind of come up with innovative new ways of doing this making use of institutions that exist and putting pressure on them to take account for the decisions that have been made now and dispense with the ones that are not designed to protect rights and hold on to those that are about human dignity and flourishing and having that be the primary the primary framework around which we discuss this crisis rather than just accepting the talking points and those in power I really like this British political scientist code William Davies - Will Davies and he's written a number of really good books over the last few years.
He's got a blog post up on one of his websites at the moment called the holiday of exchange value. He talks about how Covid 19 has really changed the way in which we perceive the economy right. All of a sudden a whole bunch of people are stuck at home. They don't have much to spend their money on and they're actually forced because of the pandemic to spend time with their loved ones and to maybe rediscover some of their crafts or some of the pastimes that they loved. At the same time you've got a whole class of people who are deemed essential workers people who have to still collect your garbage work in your hospitals care for the sick care for the elderly that they don't have that luxury of staying at home.
So so the pandemic is at the one on the one hand it's revealed a whole class structure of our society that many of us have preferred not to examine too closely. But on the other hand it's also given us a little bit of a glimpse of a different way of thinking about the world a different sense of what the economy is for. It's not just that our economy is for working so we can afford enough to buy the things that we need to live or to keep shelter over our heads. We can also see that in a serious enough crisis crisis in a grave crisis the government will step in and it will act as the purchaser of last resort that will actually give money to ordinary people in a stimulus package in what could almost be a sort of forerunner of universal basic income. And that it will also protect a certain type of people because we need those people to work in our economy to keep us alive. So I think the pandemic has given us a whole really interesting set of new ways of thinking about our society and our economy and it shows us that the sort of 40 year neo liberal orthodoxy that we've had particularly in English speaking societies now for four decades isn't necessarily the way that we need to construct our society and our economy. We can actually think of a different way of doing things. And that's really interesting.
It it is really interesting. I mean for a lot of people it's like this is what they've been saying all along. So I guess you know what you're saying is now we we can actually see it rather than it being like a theoretical concept that people have been saying hey we could do things differently now we've been forced to do things differently. And it's like hey this is what we were talking about. I think that the flattening of the curve is a really interesting concept which you know people - the environmentalists have been talking about. For decades and it's basically the prime motivating incentive to take action on climate change now rather than later. Because if we flatten the curve on carbon emissions the damage will be manageable. So now it's not a theoretical concept anymore like we actually seeing the concept of flattening the curve. Hey this is this is what we've been talking about. Now everyone understands the concept of exponential growth and how you know it doesn't just happen slowly it can happen. It doubles and then it's like then basically there's - now it's too late. Basically at that point. So now it's like I know that's a very valuable thing to come out of this. And as you said you know also in terms of the economic issues of raising new start, childcare all of these sort of things we can see how they've been beneficial now. I want to wrap up because we're going to try and keep this under an hour. I just want to end off as I said at the start. You know I really love following you both. You've both got your finger on the pulse of the Auspol scene and I sort of you know instead of you know normal news shows have headlines at the start - I wanted to end off with that to kind of ask you both if you could close off just by letting us know what one or two questions that you feel we haven't covered here which people should really keep an eye on going forward over the next period.
Oh gosh. I mean there's lots of things.
I guess I put on my my kind of digital rights hat for a bit because I do think that so many digital rights issues are actually you know human rights issues generally they're not confined to technological concerns so more generally I think we should be worried about limiting the roll out of surveillance technologies and the experimentation that this moment provides for both companies and governments to do that. And so prior to this particular crisis unfolding we were working with others on a campaign to stop facial recognition technology being rolled out in lots of different community spaces but also a centralized hub in the Australian Government for example that they were planning for keeping facial recognition input and managing a database which essentially allow and facilitate faster facial recognition but real time surveillance and that's deeply alarming and I think we need to keep an eye on these technologies that may come about as well. I sort of expected that they might at least in relation to managing covid and particularly at this moment where the enormous temptation for governments to start experimenting with these using this justification. In the same way that they might have for example in relation to 9/11 that's a topic that I wouldn't want to ignore. The other one of course is this increasing relationship of intelligence sharing between the Five Eyes nations that I described performed. Certainly the United States is working with Australia to facilitate greater collaboration and information sharing across boundaries for law enforcement intelligence purposes and they'll eventually start cajoling technology companies to do the same. So people may recall - it feels like a century ago but the Attorney General in the United States was putting pressure on Facebook to not encrypt Facebook Messenger as standard because they wanted to access that information for their own purposes and be able to break you know breaking into Facebook systems to do that as needed. This is I think their long term agenda and they intend to do that with the variety of information sharing agreements. In this intelligence sharing alliance. I think we need to keep an eye on it because these people never sleep. it's their job to build up their capacities and powers and to continue finding ways to make the - what I think is the greatest inventions of humanity over the last 50 years is the Internet - network computing. And they want to turn it into a machine for them to use and prioritize their interests above people who use it.
Right. So good to remember that although you might have been we might have all been sort of not going to work or not going to the shops. The Powers That Be have not been resting during this time and sort of pushing ahead with that with that agenda Ben what are some of the stories we should be keeping an eye on.
Yeah I think for me the two things that I'm really interested in at the moment are the debate around relaxation. So when should we relax off the social distancing regulations. When should we start to reopen sections of our economy and you starting to see some really pretty fierce debate going on particularly on the right side of politics the right wing where people really want to get the economy open right away. And when you start to see particularly right wing thinkers commentators say look maybe it's okay if we let a few people die because it's you know what the most important thing is we've got to get people back to work right. Yeah I can. And you know maybe it's ok if your grandma dies. And I think we're going to see a lot more of that.
It feels like they started saying that pretty much straight away. It's like OK lockdown. Okay cool. And then after two days it's like I think we should reopen the economy. It didn't really wait that long that it seemed pretty quick.
Yeah. Because coronavirus is a massive challenge to the neo liberal orthodoxy which says that money is the most important thing.
And if you start insisting on radical ideas like maybe human life is more important than the economy then who knows what people could start to think you know all sorts of radical ideas could start to make their way into the public sphere. So that's a really hot debate and I'm really interested in that one the second one I think is there's a sort of extension of that which is not going to play out for the next year or so but which could be really really important is what I'm seeing as the coming of the next wave of austerity. Now austerity is the idea that the government should cut spending in an economic downturn and it's a government policy that's proven to be economically wrong. Basically it's been disproven in terms of its effect on economic. On the economic growth of an economy. So if you cut government spending in a downturn it will make the downturn worse. But again we're likely to see more and more calls for the government to cut back on stimulus spending in months to come. Because once again spending money in a stimulus in a downturn it threatens the neo liberal orthodoxy which says that the most important thing is a balanced budget for the economy and which also says that it's not the role of the government to step in to fix up market values. The market is always right. So by definition the government cannot fix up the market because the market is perfect. And we'll see a lot of that I think in the months to come. This idea that we can't afford the stimulus that we can't afford to pay people on benefits that we're imposing a crippling debt burden on future generations. You know the same people who have no concerns at all about climate change seem to be extremely concerned about the debt facing their grandchildren. And I think that will be a fierce debate in particularly about 12 months time from now.
So why do you think that's in 12 months. Because you feel that's it's going to take a while. It might be sooner .
So at the moment everyone has agreed to somewhat of a truce on some of the old politics you know and some of the old kind of political and economic debates but as we move out of the immediate phase of the pandemic and where people are not dying in the streets and nursing homes and hospitals as we start to move into the recovery phase then a lot of the old political debates will reestablish themselves and particularly people on the right and particularly the commentators and the people who like to advocate on behalf of capital will start to move into the debate and they'll try to argue that we can't have all of this stimulus payments being given to ordinary people because of course that threatens the interests of capital. They would like to see that the government basically get out of doing stimulus as much as possible and get back to the business of reducing taxes and deregulating labor markets and freeing up the economy for big corporations.
Thanks so much. Thanks so much Lizzie. Lizzie O'Shea Ben Eltham thanks for joining us on the Juice Media Podcast. I hope we'll have you back again to talk about some of the issues that are unfolding in this historic time that we're going through. Thanks for breaking it down on the covid safe, on the economy and lots of shit fuckery in between. Thank you.
Thanks Lizzie. Thanks Giordano, Thanks Ben, Thanks Giordano.
Well that brings us to the end of Episode 11 of the Juice Media Podcast. As I mentioned at the start this is part one of the episode accompanying our honest government ad about the machine and in the next podcast I'll be joined for part two by a very special international guest to talk about the global picture and what this historic moment means for that other curve we need to flatten, the climate emergency . As always thank you to all our patrons who make it possible for us to produce this podcast if you'd like to support our work and our videos. You can do so at Patreon.com/thejuicemedia . This is Giordano and you've been listening to the Juice Media Podcast . Take care and wash your hands.