As opinion polls for Labor keep falling, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan are trying to recast the government as the friend of working people. But their timidity and mixed messages mean working class voters just aren’t buying it.
Labor has talked up its budget as one for “working families” while The Australian and Tony Abbott have chimed in, screaming that Labor’s budget has declared class war. But no-one is buying that either.
The budget targets cuts at single parents’ benefits and public sector jobs, and there is no serious spending on services (see here). University funding per student has also been cut. The Gonski review’s recommendation for an immediate $3.8 billion to boost government schools has been ignored.
Instead, the government is pushing the further marketisation of schools using yearly teacher performance assessments to dictate pay rises. The $1 billion being spent keeping troops in Afghanistan could have gone to public hospitals.
Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Penny Wong have repeated again and again that the government will cut more spending and axe more jobs if it’s necessary to maintain a budget surplus. Meanwhile Labor has already destroyed its credibility on living standards with prices rising even before the introduction of the carbon tax.
If Labor was seriously prepared to wage “class war” against the Liberals and big business, perhaps they could begin to turn things around.
Seventy one per cent of Australians think that business has too much power, and more than half think wealth should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is calling for a millionaires tax that would force those on more than $1 million a year to pay at least 30 per cent tax. At the moment they pay less income tax than the average family.
But there is no substance to Swan’s bluster against billionaires Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer.
Wayne Swan told the NSW Chamber of Commerce that, “We will keep working with the business community to deliver more relief…”
If Labor had taken up The Greens’ call to restore the mining tax to its original level, jobs could have been saved and spending on services boosted. But the tax is now expected to raise only $3.5 billion in its second year, down from an original $9 billion. Andrew Forrest says Fortescue Metals will pay almost nothing in the tax’s first five years.
The threat of an Abbott Government is very real. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey made the Liberals’ intentions clear by calling for savage cuts to welfare, denouncing an “entitlement culture”. Abbott is promising to look at slashing $50 billion in public spending, abolish the mining tax and tell the Navy to turn refugee boats around.
There is little enthusiasm for Abbott. A Nielsen poll shows his personal approval rating at minus 17 per cent, while the Coalition’s primary vote rose to 47 per cent. But the budget has done nothing to boost Labor’s polling and it’s not just because most people feel they will be worse off.
The scandals surrounding Labor MP Craig Thomson and the Speaker Peter Slipper continue to seriously damage the government’s credibility. Craig Thomson should have been booted out of the party long ago, and Labor’s move to get Peter Slipper to defect to become Speaker was always crass opportunism.
Of course, the Liberals’ hands aren’t clean. When he was one of their own, the Liberals ignored the rumours about Slipper’s abuse of parliamentary privileges like CabCharge. But now that it suits them they are on a great moral crusade against corruption. There are indications the Liberals even encouraged former staffer Peter Ashby to accuse Slipper of sexual harassment.
But it is Labor’s willingness to put hanging onto office before principles that has created the mess they are in. They have protected a questionable union official and defended a dubious Speaker lured from the ranks of the Coalition.
Gillard could have seized Obama’s announcement of his support for same-sex marriage to finally overturn Howard’s same-sex marriage ban. But instead she has repeated the same nauseating arguments against equality.
The government has done nothing as 150 staff were sacked at First Fleet, and Qantas, Alcoa and ANZ prepare mass sackings.
Labor’s critical condition and the hideous spectre of Tony Abbott points to the urgency of building the movements and workplace struggles.
Students at Sydney University are showing how it’s done. Their Vice-Chancellor is on the back foot and they have already saved 54 academic jobs.
Labor is not about to wage a class war, we’ll have to do that ourselves.