Just when you think Julia Gillard could not get any worse, she gets worse. Labor is lurching from crisis to crisis as it tries to sell an unsaleable carbon tax and does everything it can to compete with Abbott on who can best stop the refugee boats.
Gillard has struggled to win support since she scrapped back into power last November. Newspoll reported in May that the PM’s dissatisfaction rating is at an all-time high of 55 per cent. Even after recent infighting Newspoll still gives the Coalition an election winning lead—52 per cent to Labor’s 48 per cent in two-party preferred terms. It is Labor’s craven politics that has given Abbott so much oxygen.
Acting on climate change should have been popular. The issue helped deliver Kevin Rudd victory in 2007 in the face of the Liberals’ climate denial. But Labor has failed to sell its carbon tax because people have real concerns about costs of living. Wages have risen 2.9 per cent on average in the last year—but costs went up 4.9 per cent.
With Labor having done so little about living standards, the electorate won’t trust its promises about the impact of a carbon tax on power bills. Everyone admits power costs will go up. Energy market regulators are threatening to double electricity bills over the next six years.
Labor is hoping that anger will subside when the tax is introduced and people see that the impact is less than Abbott claims. But perception is everything, and any future rise in the cost of living will be blamed on the carbon tax by the right-wing media.
The details will be released by early July. But useless carbon tax is inevitable (see back page). The failure of the tax will help Abbott—who will ask why people are being made to pay for something that will achieve nothing.
But the mainstream climate movement’s “Say YES to a price on pollution” campaign is designed simply to promote the idea of a carbon price, without putting any demands on the government for additional measures. The Greens have also pinned their political fortunes to the tax and will be left defending the indefensible. This just plays into Abbott’s hands.
The climate movement needs to be prepared to point out how little the tax will do to reduce emissions—Victoria has just approved a new coal power station. Pushing to ban new coal plants and demand direct government spending on renewable energy are need to give us a chance at stopping runaway climate change.
The failure to deliver is not restricted to climate change. Labor has had four years to deliver an alternative—but what has changed?
Refugee advocates say the Malaysian Solution is worse than Howard’s Pacific Solution (see page 7). Labor promised an “education revolution” but universities are still starved of funds (see opposite).
Despite all the talk of hospital reform and a federal takeover, waiting lists get longer. Recent figures show 9000 patients were sent home from NSW hospitals in 2010 without operations because there were no beds.
Gillard has even gone for teenage mothers, restructuring Centrelink benefits so they must attend compulsory interviews as soon as their baby is six months old (it was six years before this) to keep their payments of $625.90 a fortnight.
She says there is an “underachievement culture”—but what about the “underachievement culture” of the grossly overpaid CEOs and bankers? When in April The Greens proposed limiting executive pay to thirty times the average wage, Gillard said no—claiming that Labor had “struck the right balance” on executive pay! This is while they roll out a version of income management in poor suburbs like Sydney’s Bankstown (see page 9).
Instead of using the budget as an opportunity to ramp up public spending (see page 22), Labor, in Gillard’s words, wanted to “focus on reforms [to] keep the economy strong”, read reforms that benefit big business: “a budget surplus, a carbon tax, the mining profits tax and the national broadband network”. Gillard called for a “deep reform conversation [to] work through those things that are truly momentous, together”.
The Queensland Council of Social Services released a report in May that shows a third of Queenslanders are living in poverty, or dangerously close to it. And all Labor can talk about is getting the budget back to surplus.
Labor’s failures could well deliver us an Abbott government—and the hung parliament means this is only one seat away. But the only way to prepare for this is to build pressure for an alternative politics now.
Building the World Refugee Day rallies can be the start of posing an alternative to the refugee-bashing. We can take heart, too, from the MUA’s strike action against Patrick demanding an 18 per cent pay rise, along with the determination of Qantas pilots to win job security (see page 12). These struggles are the key to shifting politics to the left.