Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget has produced widespread outrage and anger right across the community. It is the most savage attack on welfare and workers since former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard’s “horror budget” in 1996.
Tens of thousands hit the streets the week it was released, with 10,000 joining Sydney’s March in May and up to 15,000 at four days’ notice in Melbourne at a rally to “bust the budget”.
Hockey was heckled and laughed at while appearing in front of a live audience from Western Sydney on Q&A to defend the budget.
The Abbott government was already hugely unpopular, having plunged in the polls since it was elected only six months ago. Now they’ve plunged even further.
Their savage cuts to state spending on schools and hospitals have even caused splits with the Liberal-run state governments. Queensland Liberal Premier Campbell Newman even urged the public to phone federal MPs in protest. It is clear that Abbott wants to use these cuts as an excuse to push up the GST.
More than ever, there is a real chance to make the Abbott government a one-term wonder. What happens next will be vital.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has pledged to oppose the most vicious budget measures including the $7 GP fee, cuts to pensions, cuts to welfare for those under 30 and the petrol tax hike.
The budget outrage has given Labor a new lease on life. But Labor’s opposition to the budget is still hedged with concerns to be seen as economically respectable by business. The Opposition Treasurer, Chris Bowen, is cagey about what Labor will actually do if in power, saying only that Labor would scrap the Medicare co-payment and trade-off the paid parental leave scheme to fund pensions.
Nonetheless, the Abbott government faces a period of political instability and potential impasse in parliament.
As long as Labor and The Greens vote together, Abbott can’t get legislation through the Senate. The Greens have called on Labor to block supply and force another election. But Labor is too committed to parliamentary respectability. However some measures like the Medicare co-payment will require separate legislation.
Tragically, The Greens have already agreed to pass Abbott’s legislation to increase petrol excise. We should push The Greens to oppose Joe Hockey’s entire budget.
Abbott says he can wait until the new Senate starts in July and the Palmer United Party Senators take their seats to get his budget through, but he can’t even rely on the Palmer Party Senators to back every aspect of the budget.
Don’t rely on parliament
However, the fight can’t be left to party-political jockeying or lobbying the Senate. Nor can we rely on electing Labor in 2016, who attacked higher education and welfare when they were in power.
Abbott’s difficulties in the Senate help show that he can be beaten and can give confidence to ordinary people to push from below. That’s what can really challenge Abbott. The anti-Abbott anger needs to be turned into action.
We have already seen huge crowds at March in May and the student National Day of Action. In Sydney and Melbourne “Save Medicare” rallies are planned for the end of May. There will be pro-refugee rallies across Australia in June. It’s a good start.
The fight to topple Abbott, however, needs to grow deeper roots. Linking up the issues and uniting the fight will be important. Union action will be decisive. The assault on Medicare, the pension, the young unemployed, the pension age, the petrol tax, the cuts to schools and hospitals—these all attack workers’ living standards and are all union business.
So far the peak national union body, the ACTU, has limited itself to producing TV ads. But we need to begin a fighting campaign and build an industrial fight.
The decision by Victorian Trades Hall to call a week-day “bust the budget” rally on 12 June is an important step. Unionists in Melbourne need to do all they can to make sure it is a success. Every capital city and regional Labour Council should follow their lead. We need mass delegates and activists’ meetings to launch the fight against Abbott’s brutal cuts.
When the Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser tried to attack Medicare in 1976, it was a national general strike that forced him to back down.
The unions’ Your Rights at Work campaign that was central to defeating the Howard Liberal government didn’t just run ads. It had workplace and local campaign groups, held stalls, pickets and, most importantly of all, mass strikes and demonstrations.
Dumping Abbott, his cuts, his anti-union Royal Commission, his knighthoods, his refugee bashing and his racism is worth fighting for.
We need a call for a rank-and-file run Your Rights at Work campaign, and we need a union-backed national day of action as the first mobilisation to strike Abbott out.