Editorial: Unpopularity contest as Labor embraces Abbott’s policies

The Morgan Poll in early July, taken during ALP leader Bill Shorten’s appearance at the Royal Commission into Trade Unions, showed the lowest two-party preferred rating for Labor in a year—51 to 49. Still ahead of the Liberals, but only just.

Even more telling perhaps is the Ipsos poll which shows over half of voters disapprove of both Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten, 59 and 55 per cent, respectively.

The Morgan Poll also shows that almost half the population (45.5 per cent) believes that Australia is “heading in the wrong direction”.

Abbott is on the nose. His ban on Q&A, part of his culture wars against the ABC, and his deeply conservative opposition to same-sex marriage have aggravated even his own side of politics.

Amazingly, in the wake of Abbott’s direction to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to avoid wind and small-scale solar investments, the Australian Solar Council, the peak body of the solar industry, has declared it will campaign against Abbott. The Council’s boss, John Grimes, told Guardian Australia, “If the Abbott government is returned and has control of the Senate, our industry is finished.”

Shorten has clearly been damaged by revelations emerging from the union Royal Commission. It was designed as a $60 million political attack on the unions and the Labor Party, and Shorten is a particular target given his history as leader of the AWU.

But there are no excuses for Shorten running a union that was more interested in sweetheart deals with the bosses than with fighting for workers’ conditions.

Shorten looks likely to ride out the fallout. But the evidence at the Royal Commission was a reminder of how much the Labor leadership is committed to running the system and how much it is part of the political elite.

Labor should be far ahead in the polls. But as much as Abbott is hated, there is no enthusiasm for a Labor leadership that is unwilling to stand up to him.

Now NSW Premier Luke Foley is proposing to use the national conference in July to ditch Labor’s so-called “socialist objective”. In practice any commitment Labor had “socialist objectives” were given up long ago. But Foley wants the party to surrender any remaining commitment to redistribute the wealth of society. He wants the party to openly embrace competitive markets as “the best way to deliver economic growth”. He must have forgotten the Global Financial Crisis and what open markets are doing to Greece.

The result is that Labor looks more and more like the Liberals. After furiously opposing increases to the petrol tax a year ago, last month Labor agreed to pass them. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen sounded like Joe Hockey as he explained that, “difficult decisions are necessary” in order to make, “a contribution to the long-term health of the budget”.

With one eye on returning to government, Labor showed its willingness to make its own cuts to maintain a budget surplus.

Labor has gone along with Abbott over national security and his terrorism scaremongering, as with his laws targeting Muslims over citizenship. Twice in the last month, Labor has backed anti-refugee legislation introduced by the Liberals (see p6).

The push by Welcome to Australia director Brad Chilcott and climate campaigner Clive Hamilton to accept offshore processing, or what Hamilton calls Labor’s “ruthless treatment of asylum seekers”, as the necessary price of getting Labor elected is a disaster (see p7) .

In early July hundreds of doctors and medical workers organised protests against Abbott’s Border Force Act. That is the kind of defiance we need to push back against Abbott.

Union demonstrations could put a halt to Abbott’s attack on union rights and penalty rates.

The only way to ensure we get rid of Abbott is to step up the fight from below—by building the campaigns and protests against his Islamophobia, racism against refugees and his union bashing.

Class struggle the key in Greek crisis

The EVENTS in Greece are of major significance. The country has suffered mass unemployment and recession for five years, made drastically worse by EU-imposed austerity measures.

The level of workers’ struggle against austerity has been the highest in Europe, with 32 general strikes since the crisis began.

Some said the election of Syriza, a radical left party, was a model of how the left could break through. Syriza’s election represented Greek workers’ hope that a radical government could solve the crisis. But under pressure from the EU, Syriza has capitulated and is implementing the same hated austerity measures as its predecessors.

Revolutionary socialists have always insisted that fundamental change cannot come through parliament and the existing structures of capitalism, such as the EU. The Greek experience has again revealed the limits of reformism.

The stakes have been raised. All the conditions exist for struggle, based on the workplaces and the streets to develop further. It is that class struggle that now holds the hope and potential to lead towards workers taking power into their own hands and challenging capitalism itself.


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