Abbott’s terminal: resistance can kill off his agenda

The Liberals are tearing themselves to pieces after just 18 months in power. It is a joy to watch.

Tony Abbott has survived for now, but it’s hard to see him holding on much longer. Up to 66 per cent of the backbench Liberal MPs wanted to ditch Abbott, and the circus is far from over. Despite promising more “consultation” with the party, Abbott has now sacked Philip Ruddock as Whip, in an act of petty retribution.

Yet no matter where the turmoil leads—or who ends up as leader—the Coalition is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Abbott government’s support has evaporated in record time.

Campbell Newman’s shock defeat in Queensland demonstrates how deeply hated neo-liberal policies like privatisation and public sector cuts are. On key policies like the GP co-payment and university deregulation, the government faces intractable opposition.

Meanwhile, the ruling class wants more neo-liberal reform in universities and health, and more particularly they want to attack penalty rates and the minimum wage. The economy is worsening and budget revenue is taking a hit. Unemployment jumped to 6.4 per cent in January, the worst in 12 years. The Reserve Bank expects it to grow further. For them, the only conceivable solution is cuts and austerity.

Abbott declared his budget was “too bold and ambitious”, and is focusing his next budget on childcare spending. But he is refusing to drop his two most unpopular policies.

He is drawing up a third version of his GP co-payment. Education Minister Christopher Pyne still hopes to push university fee deregulation through the Parliament.

Deal the blow

Abbott is now desperately trying to boost his popularity using national security and another round of anti-Muslim bigotry. He directly linked border protection, Muslims and welfare in a statement that could have come straight from Pauline Hanson or Jacqui Lambie, “There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink.” There is renewed talk about pushing to ban Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Interestingly, Labor Party leader Bill Shorten has expressed “concerns” at the Abbott’s legislation to increase internet surveillance and capture metadata. But Shorten also stressed Labor’s bipartisan approach and that Labor was “willing to work constructively” with the government “in the best interests of our nation’s security”.

Abbott might be a dead man walking, but without a fight, the Coalition will keep ruling for the rich and will keep pushing cuts. Everyone who hates Abbott and the Liberals needs to get behind the ACTU day of action on Wednesday 4 March.

The rally can be a step towards the kind of union stopwork action that can fight for change by hitting the bosses’ profits. During the Rights at Work campaign against John Howard a series of weekday rallies tens of thousands strong galvanised union members into action against WorkChoices.

Every workplace, union branch and student group needs to discuss how to build for 4 March.

Last year the campaign against Abbott’s budget was wound down after just one union national day of action. In NSW, with the state election at the end of March, union officials are focused on door-knocking electorates and the Sydney rally has been called for lunchtime.

But it’s demonstrations and strikes that can kill off the Liberals’ whole agenda. We need to pressure the union leaders to call further action in the lead up to Abbott’s second budget in May. Big March in March rallies can help keep the pressure on.

While the union leaders are focused on getting Labor elected, the real fight is outside parliament. The next federal election is at least 18 months away, and Labor remains just as committed to running the system as the Liberals. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen is already talking down any expectations of a future Labor government. Sounding just like Hockey, Bowen says the era of “Santa Claus” politics is over and promised “tough [budget] decisions…which won’t be universally popular”—code for cuts.

The Human Rights Commission report on children in detention is a stark reminder that detention abuses have bipartisan support. In the aftermath of the Manus Island hunger strike, Labor’s Immigration Spokesperson, Richard Marles, declared it, “absolutely critical that offshore processing remains in place”.

We need to demand that funding to universities be fully restored, that Medicare is universal and fully funded, that the cuts to Aboriginal health are reversed, and that corporate taxes are increased to raise the money needed for hospitals, schools, and public transport.

We need to get rid of Abbott and the Liberals, sooner, rather than later. But we also need to get rid of the system whose only priority is profit.


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