The $45 million the Australia government is wasting hosting a G20 meeting in Brisbane 15-16 November is disgraceful. It is a shameful waste of money for an exercise in flatulent fatuity; a meeting that will once again produce a communique that no-one can understand and which no member has to abide by. Take this most recent example produced in Paris after an all-night meeting:
“Today we agreed on a work program aimed at strengthening the functioning of the IMS, including through coherent approaches and measures to deal with potentially destabilizing capital flows, among which macro-prudential measures, mindful of possible drawbacks; and management of global liquidity to strengthen our capacity to prevent and deal with shocks, including issues such as Financial Safety Nets and the role of the SDR.”
Clearly the G20 is not a meeting that one attends to achieve anything. G20 began in 1999 to achieve co-operation in world financial system but quickly became a meeting about meeting. For a moment in 2008 when even its members recognised that a world financial crisis was upon them and that it posed some immediate threat to capitalism, it proposed a complete reform of the international monetary system but then, characteristically and reprehensibly did nothing.
G20 is that type of meeting. It is a meeting that one attends to be seen attending. It is an extravagant indulgence in showmanship, compulsive attention-seeing and mutual self-congratulation by a self-appointed club serving the interests of a powerful but threatened elite, an elite with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and a complete incapacity to agree on any single significant policy. Or even make sense to each other, let alone the rest of us. The meeting of G20 finance ministers in February has thus, accordingly cleverly set an agenda of achieving 2% growth for November’s meeting. No concrete plan, however, other than the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting action plan, which aims to prevent multinational corporations from taking advantage of low taxing countries. Yep. We all know how well that’s tracking.
Expect a lot of waffle about growth. Like motherhood, it is good for you but the photo opportunities are less pleasing. Expect gratuitous expressions of ersatz solidarity over the three days which will last as long as it takes for members to get home and perhaps annex another country or impose another tariff as Russia has done in the past.
Why bother? Another expensive self-deluding side show is not what any of us need. It comprises neither real nor effective symbolic leadership. Above all it sets a poor example at a time when the world needs leaders prepared to marshal every possible resource to ensure our continued survival. In an era of peak oil, rapid climate change, species extinction, water scarcity, widespread political conflict, and looming economic crises, not to mention an Ebola epidemic, what the world needs is real leadership. It deserves no less. Expect instead photographs of Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott making expansive hand gestures and generally hamming for the camera. Look at moi! Look at moi! ‘Two per cent growth agreed’ the picture may well be captioned by the spin doctors of whom there will be a record number attending the Brisbane spin-fest.
Humanity needs leadership by example, leadership that does not vaunt itself, indulge itself or flatter itself on its fame or friendship with famous names. It demands leaders who will think and act; not fritter away their energies in mutual back-slapping and schmoozing amidst the ritual exchange of vacuous slogans that characterise the typical G20 junket.
Above all the world needs leaders who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and quietly get on with the job of dealing with the many challenges confronting all of us; the many challenges to our continuing existence. There is no time to waste on bread and circuses. G20 leaders should wake up to the fact that they have more pressing priorities; more urgent tasks to attend to than shaking hands and listening politely once again while an antipodean treasurer stumbles to extol the virtues of venture capital, free markets and small government. G20 leaders should stay at home. Save the air fares. Save the planet. Get on with the job. Get on with the real business of governing. Scrap all future meetings. Use existing UN organisations before they atrophy from disuse.
Expect a lot of jargon about cost benefit analyses. But don’t expect anyone present to take it seriously or this to apply to the meeting itself. The cost even to host the circus vastly exceeds its usefulness. And its symbolic significance. The world would be a better place if G20 delegates had a change of heart, met by video-conference and saved conferences costs for something that makes a difference. Imagine if just $40 million were to be diverted into fighting Ebola in West Africa, donated to refugee organisations, or invested in education and health for the poor. What a difference that could make.
Instead, the G20 juggernaut trundles out of control through another shameless orgy of self-promotion and photographs as the self-important posture in the midst of widespread suffering and serious instability.
It promises to be a big show. There will be a lot of new faces in town: up to 4,000 delegates are expected to attend with around 2,500 media representatives. Expect a lavish do. Australia has spent up large as Bob Ellis observes:
Abbott was revealed to have spent 254,000 on a table and some chairs and their transport to the APEC summit, money that might have gone to our soldiers, or our dead soldiers’ children, plus 150,000 on some computer tablets, 120,000 on ‘advice’ on ‘leasing armoured vehicles’, 34 million for security guards and 10 million for hotels. The 44 million 524 thousand thus spent would have kept ten small theatre companies going for a thousand years on the interest alone. But it was ‘well worth the expense,’ Abbott said, ‘to keep the mass murderer Putin comfortable for three days, and well fed on Queensland rump steak, and anxious to buy more of it, which he has unaccountably, lately, refused to.’
It would be nice if the G20 leaders stayed at home without telling Putin. One of the major drawbacks of meetings about meetings such as G20 is that they are opportunities for the unprincipled to exploit to help manufacture acceptance and legitimacy. Leaders such as Putin can use the facts that they were invited and that they attended to continue to pretend to be real leaders, with something to contribute, instead of crazed psychopaths who murder their opponents at home while invading neighbouring countries, shoot down passenger aircraft, support the Syrian genocide and generally follow a policy of brutal, ruthless expediency and single-minded, blind self-interest.
So far, the G20 has failed to muster the resolve to disinvite the Russian leader. Perhaps there is poetic justice in the end, however, in the forcible detention of such leaders in a venue which is likely to be stuffed full of false friends, false plans and filled with hot air. If he cannot be held to account, he will doubtless be made to suffer, if only briefly. Perhaps in the intolerable, longwinded longeurs of an address by chairman Joe Hockey or any other comfortably self-satisfied representative of the privileged and irresponsible, there will be just a touch of terror at the prospect of death by Powerpoint.
And beyond that excruciating horror, a nightmare vision may emerge unbidden. The many-headed monster of mutual self-destruction appears, made visible through the abdication of world leadership. Nurtured by unreason, wanton self-deception and vested self-interest, it threatens everyone’s future as it vitiates the spirit and usurps the practice of common humanity. Feasting greedily on the remains of international cooperation is the G20 beast slouching roughly towards Bethlehem.