Budget measures finished, but Liberals still want cuts

Tony Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne suffered another humiliation when their university deregulation plans were defeated in the Senate for a second time in March. Abbott’s budget agenda is now in tatters. The government has declared that its Medicare GP co-payment was “dead, buried and cremated”. The Coalition has been forced to drop its two most high profile budget attacks—for now.

But the government is in disarray. Abbott and Hockey have backflipped—going from demanding savage cuts to saying the budget is manageable. The backflip has dismayed senior public servants and big business.

And Abbott remains deeply unpopular. He seems incapable of taking his foot out of his mouth. Opinion polls show that the Liberals would lose any federal election, and Liberal MPs are still plotting to remove him.

After Abbott’s absurd comment that living in a remote Aboriginal community was a “lifestyle choice”, even Liberal-supporting conservative Aboriginal leaders like Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson rounded on him. This came after a self-destructive rampage against the Human Rights Commission’s Gillian Triggs over children in detention.

Abbott’s comments about an Aboriginal “lifestyle choice” came as open support of a vicious new wave of Aboriginal dispossession, with WA Premier Colin Barnett deciding to close down remote communities after Commonwealth funding cuts last year (see page 10).

The Liberals’ push for cuts and their obsession with the budget deficit are not going away. Treasurer Joe Hockey was keen to use the Intergenerational Report to press the case for spending cuts. Yet Abbott knows he can’t get away with further savage cuts, so he’s now telling us this year’s budget will be “dull and routine”.

But some of the cuts the Liberals did push through are starting to bite. Abbott’s cuts to remote Aboriginal communities may force them to shut down. The $600 million budget cuts to Aboriginal services is now forcing legal services, family support programs, youth and other vital services to close their doors. Hundreds of Aboriginal workers are being forced onto the dole.

Education Minister Pyne was willing to threaten 1700 research jobs by saying he would cut research funding unless the Senate supported university fee deregulation.

He backed down but has still only promised to maintain the funding for one more year. And Pyne says he is will bring back fee deregulation legislation after the budget.

Abbott is desperate to find scapegoats and distractions to try and save his own skin. He is hyping up the terrorism scare, becoming even more vicious in his racist allegations that the Muslim community are somehow responsible for terrorism (see page 13). He has also suggested refugees pose a terror threat, linking his “stop the boats” agenda to national security, although no terrorism suspect ever arrived by boat. The rallies for refugees on Palm Sunday and in April in Sydney can help combat this scaremongering.

Stronger fightback

The defeat of Abbott’s big ticket budget “reforms” is only a result of enormous public opposition. The protests against Abbott’s budget have indicated the extent of the opposition and put pressure on the Senate.

But the fightback needs to intensify. The March Australia rallies tapped the mood of anger against Abbott, drawing large crowds through social media. If the unions had backed them and waged a serious fight the Liberals could be dead and buried by now.

The ACTU’s national day of action on 4 March showed the possibility of a more serious fightback. Even without a call for a national strike, 20,000 unionists joined the largest protest in Melbourne. In NSW, a number of unions, including construction and the nursing unions did take strike action, and were by far the largest contingents on the protests. If the rest of the union movement had followed suit we could have seen protests on a scale that would really shake the Liberals.

Tragically, union leaders remain focused on an electoral campaign against the Liberals in marginal seats in 18 months’ time. This simply means putting our faith in Labor to deliver something different—and they are constantly disappointing. It does nothing to build workers’ confidence about their capacity to fight the Liberals or strengthen our ability to organise.

The next major focus for action against the Liberals will be the budget in May. Abbott may have shelved his initial plans to attack Medicare and universities, but it’s clear they are coming back for more. Thousands have rallied to stop the closure of Aboriginal communities. Thousands will March in March in Sydney.

Every union member needs to push for union action before the budget, demanding not just the end of the Liberals attacks but raising the need to tax the rich to fund services. This is the kind of action that can win real change.

Abbott may be on the ropes, but we need more strikes, protests and grassroots resistance to fight the Liberals’ agenda and finish him off.


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  1. Nobody likes the term “budget cuts” because we all know that implies some form of injustice, a loss, to someone and/or some group in society; however closing down 150 aboriginal communities and ceasing services is more than just a budget cut, especially when the Prime Minister links the economic strain to Indigenous ‘lifestyle’ choices (Griffiths, 2015; Farr, 2015). Mr Abbott makes a good point, we can’t expect too much from the state if we choose a particular lifestyle (Dodson, 2015). However I would argue that perhaps this comment is more suited to a discussion about different circumstances. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Abbott if my chosen lifestyle was to live the organic lifestyle yet expected the state to give me money to pay for organic products because they a significantly more expensive than your average supermarket product. I would certainly be expecting too much from the state. Having children is a lifestyle choice yet tax payers’ money is still going into others procreating (Griffith, 2015). Living on land that has been occupied for thousands of years is not a lifestyle choice. That is life.
    The closing down of communities and ceasing of services is a large and complex issue because it is borders on notions of racism, injustice and economic necessities depending on the lens one is viewing the issue through.

    Essentially, the Government wants Aboriginal communities (who have never lived in the city or suburbs before) to move and immerse themselves into White Australian culture by relocating to towns and suburbs to reduce economic expenses. There’s a few problems with this.
    1. Would the government ask rural white farmers to move? Would they ask small (and large) mining communities to relocate? Do they not have cultures too (country culture, mining culture) and don’t they also need services? Services that cost money?
    2. The Aboriginal culture is an indigenous culture that has existed for generations, a culture that is so respectful and dependant of nature (Kidd, 2003), more than the majority of Western culture is (global warming anyone?). It is stripping someone of their cultural identity which only creates psychological effects to a person or community (Heine & Ruby, 2010). The theory of Cultural Psychology is a great example of how cultural traditions effect the human psyche and has been empirically based on indigenous cultures (Heine & Ruby, 2010). Furthermore, asking Aboriginal communities to move is asking them to assimilate into white, mainstream society. Dejavu? Has this not previously happened in Australian History?
    3. Aboriginal people have never been welcomed into white society because we are still heavily rooted in racism. Noel Pearson (Aboriginal spokesperson and activist) stated that “There was a time in our history when they kicked us out of town, and now they want to bring us back in — just by a flick of the policy switch.” I would argue that there has not been enough change in ideology within our society about Aboriginal people. Being taught historical facts in primary school is not going to challenge the misconceptions about Aboriginal people, especially after being bombarded with skewed views from the media. Hence there are still many who do not fully understand the history and impacts on communities and continue to act on prejudices and assumptions.
    4. The government has no plan. If they’re going to close the communities down then he needs a plan, a blueprint of how the government is going to support Aboriginal people into our already established societies. How will he creates jobs for them? After all, is that not the very definition of policy? To plan and provide? Abbott says it costs too much to send teachers and nurses to rural places; why not invest in better services and pay to send more staff out? Moreover, despite the expenses, bushfire prone communities are typically assured support even though it is always under threat, signifying that money is possibly disposable for use as bushfires are not a daily occurrence.

    To really discuss the complexities of this case as well as the various stakeholders’ views is beyond the scope of this comment. I do hope however, that the leaders of the country carefully consider the motives behind their decisions, that it does not align with opportunistic ideas (more land for mining) and that they develop policy to support such an action as moving rural communities to mainstream society.

    Reference List
    Dodson, P. (2015, March 13). Tony Abbott’s lifestyle comments highlight the lack of policy in Aboriginal affairs. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/comment/tony-abbotts-lifestyle-comments-highlight-the-lack-of-policy-in-aboriginal-affairs-20150312-141u4s.html

    Farr, M. (2015, March 11). Tony Abbott’s Aboriginal ‘lifestyle choice’ backlash overshadows valid question on remote communities. News. Retrieved from: http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/tony-abbotts-aboriginal-lifestyle-choice-backlash-overshadows-valid-question-on-remote-communities/story-fn84fgcm-1227258023139

    Gordon, M. (2015, March 14). Tony Abbott’s lifestyle choice remark leaves ‘everyone hurting inside’ in remote indigenous communities. The Sydney Morning Herald National. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/tony-abbotts-lifestyle-choice-remark-leaves-everyone-hurting-inside-in-remote-indigenous-communities-20150313-143lh7.html

    Griffiths, E. (2005, March 15). Indigenous advisers slam Tony Abbott’s ‘lifestyle choice’ comments as ‘hopless, disrespectful’. The ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-11/abbott-defends-indigenous-communities-lifestyle-choice/6300218
    Heine, S. J., & Ruby, M. B. (2010). Cultural psychology. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, , n/a. doi:10.1002/wcs.7

    Kidd, R., 1944. (2000). Black lives, government lies. Sydney: UNSW Press.

    Scarr, L. (2015 March, 11). Tony Abbott tells indigenous Australians taxpayers can’t fund their ‘lifestyle choices’. News. Retrieved from http://www.news.com.au/national/tony-abbott-tells-indigenous-australians-taxpayers-cant-fund-their-lifestyle-choices/story-fncynjr2-1227257840974


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