Both Australia and New Zealand escaped lightly from the 2008 global financial crisis and recession. Australia avoided a recession from 2008 onwards, on the one hand due to the minerals and aggregates boom (exported mainly to China) and on the other hand as a consequence of Keynesian policies pursued both in Australia and China. Additionally, due to Australian financial laws the domestic banks were not overly exposed as overseas bank (especially European and North American banks) were.
To date Australia has had a historic 26 years without a recession albeit with weaker growth after 2008 and even weaker growth after minerals boom turned to bust in the past few years. This economic growth has been maintained at the expense of the working class. In this period Australian workers have experienced stagnant wage growth, under-employment and attacks to the social wage from both Labor and Liberal coalition federal governments e.g. real term cuts to Medicare and scandously the Rudd Labor government increasing the state pension retirement age from 65 to 67. Added to this is the constant attacks to undermine union rights, and enterprise agreements leading to a growth in insecure work. Insecure working is spreading throughout Australia and effects youth in particular.
The ACTU “Change the rules” campaign highlights the growing inequalities and taps into a mood of discontentment in the masses. This campaign also reveals the weakness of the reformist leadership that explain what is wrong but offer no solutions except going back to an (un)golden age of class collaboration policies of Labor in the late 1980s onwards under Hawke and Keating. The basic ACTU argument is for reforming and regulating capitalism to give Aussie workers a fair go. This highlights the bankruptcy of reformism as they fail to acknowledge the real issue the crisis of capitalism in its senile decay and the need for genuine socialism.
The discontent in the masses is being expressed politically with the rise of populist parties such as One Nation, and also the Greens. This polarisation has been confirmed by an Australian Electoral Study survey that bemoans the fact that over the last 30 years the middle ground in politics is evaporating at each federal election as voters move to the Left of Labor and the right of the Liberals.
In New Zealand, the election of a right-wing Labour led government was a political earthquake. Jacinda Ardern with her Corbynesque campaign of hope turned around a certain defeat 8 weeks out from polling day to a victory. At the start of the (2017) year Labour was polling 24% but with the change Labour received 37% at the General Election. Labour is in coalition with a right wing populist party (New Zealand First) and the Greens.
The major difference with the Corbyn campaign was that it lacked any serious attempt at a (limited) socialist manifesto /policies. However, what Ardern did was tap into a mood of discontentment in the masses who have had nine years of austerity under the National Party, despite a growing economy. In effect the growth in the economy was due to squeezing as much surplus value out of the working class as possible whilst carrying out cuts to public services in real terms. Added to this were further attacks on unions and stagnating wages all made possible by the weak and ineffectual union leaders.
The Labour led government is going through a honeymoon period. The masses are expecting a lot from the government. Minor reforms have been granted such as increased welfare payments, one year’s free university fees, maintaining the pension age at 65 (the Marxists played an important role in stopping the leadership from increasing it to 67). The Labour led government is already running into the limits of the capitalist system. The right-wing Labour leaders are considering private / public partnerships to deliver infrastructure. It will fail to deliver the house building programme in their manifesto. As far as workers are concerned the announcement of 4,000 affordable homes at $600,000 (£316,000; US$440,000) each on Unitec land in Auckland is a joke as the market is seen by the Labour leaders as the only way to deliver housing. The results of such a policy are workers continuing to pay high rents to private landlords with no rent controls or secured tenancies or ever being able to own their own home.
The signing of the TPPA (without the USA) is also another indication of what is to come as Ardern argued that the cosmetic changes to the trade deal made it acceptable to New Zealand Inc (ie ruling class) to sign. Nothing fundamentally has changed with the deal and permits overseas big business to openly interfere in the domestic affairs of New Zealand.
Already we are seeing the signs of workers taking to the industrial front with the teachers, nurses threatening to strike to secure a decent pay-rise after nine years of National. Added to this is strikes on the railways in Auckland and Wellington, as well as the wharfies at Lyttleton port.
Both Australia and New Zealand are catching up with the rest of world. Both countries fates are tied to China, as China is their major export market. (Australia 30%; New Zealand 25%). The slowing of the Chinese economy, as the more far sighted capitalists in both countries worried as they fully understand the consequences of a future Chinese economic recession to their economies. With growing protectionism, another global recession with have a profound negative effect on the economic fortunes of both countries. Such a recession in both countries, linked to the masses going through the school of reformism, will upset the social and political equilibrium of the post-war period and open up very favourable fertile ground for the ideas of Marxism.
The recent indefinite general strike in French Polynesia is the opening overture of the upswing in the class struggle in Oceania. The unions in French Polynesia called an indefinite general strike in early March 2018 to stop the Territorial Authority from raising the pension age from 60 to 62 . On day three of the strike a mass rally of 10,000 was organised in Papeete and strikers forced their way into the Territorial Assembly which was poised, that day, to adopt the raise in pension age. In the end President Fritch was forced to withdraw the legislation. Prior to this President Fritch suggested that government ministers would be offered the same terms on pensions as a compromise to the unions. Naturally the unions said “non” and demanded that President Fritch withdraw the legislation or else the unions would bring down French Polynesia's economy. This was a very persuasive argument by the unions to end the capitalist economy in the French colony that won the day and showed that militancy pays and is the music of the future.
Added to this is the French government agreeing to an independence referendum in New Caledonia which shows the fault lines in the class struggle opening up in Oceania.