Frank Stilwell

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is a familiar theme on the political right. Drearily predictable calls are currently being made for the government to bring forward the proposed income tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, to raise more revenue from a higher rate for the regressive GST, and to initiate ‘industrial realtions reform’ (code for renewed assaults on organised labour rights).

What about countering these with some policies aiming to create a more equitable and sustainable economy and society? Could the current crisis actually be an opportunity for a progressive policy response? What about a Green New Deal?

This idea of a Green New Deal (GND) has been around for a long time. Historically, its origins are in the policies enacted by US President F D Roosevelt in the 1930s during the Great Depression. FDR’s policies created millions of jobs, some with significant environmental characteristics, such as planting millions of tres as wind-breaks in ‘dustbowl’ areas. Bernie Sanders pushed a modern equivalent, with a strong emphasis on climate change action, during his ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the Democratic Party’s candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election.

Now, with unemployment soaring here in Australia and no effective climate change policy in sight, a Green New Deal has evident local relevence as a means of tackling both jobs and the environment.

It is the stimulatory, job-creating aspects of a GND that are its greatest potential appeal to the labour movement, of course, and to all who are worried about the consequences of prolonged economic stagnation, growing unemployment and welfare state cutbacks.

But a GND cannot be just a crisis-driven re-embrace of Keynesian stimulus policies. The jobs growth must come through restructuring the economy on a more ecologically sustainable basis.

Indeed, there is plenty of current potential for that – in energy production, transport policies, waste-management, water infrastructure, agriculture, building design and retrofitting, urban planning, and much else besides. A GND must include detailed plans for creation of green jobs across the full array of industries and workers’ skills. This requires a comprehensive policy for industry and trade.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shown that heavy economic reliance on international trade, based on purely ‘comparative advantage’ principles, makes national economies more vulnerable to crises transmitted from elsewhere. Emphasising, wherever possible,