Scott Morrison is hoping budget spending will put his failure on sexism and the vaccine rollout behind him.
The budget was a transparent effort at fixing his political problems by pouring money into women’s health, childcare and aged care.
It also confirmed his addiction to fossil fuels, with up to $600 million to build a new gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri near Newcastle, and $300 million for other gas plants and projects.
Instead of supporting the transition to renewable energy, Morrison is funding fossil fuels and criticising the market for starting to move away from them.
The announcement came the same day as the International Energy Agency said an immediate end to new fossil fuel projects was necessary for the world to meet climate targets.
Energy experts have universally condemned the spending on the Kurri Kurri plant, saying there is already enough capacity to replace the Liddell coal power plant when it closes in 2023, and that it won’t reduce power prices.
Morrison’s support for gas is an effort to promote fossil fuels as delivering jobs, and present climate action as a threat to workers. Yet the Kurri Kurri plant will provide just ten ongoing full-time jobs after construction.
The Liberals want to head to an election while concern about the COVID pandemic still lingers, and before any decisions about budget cuts.
But their effort to capitalise on border politics and fear about the pandemic through a ban on flights from India backfired badly. The Indian-Australian community felt targeted, with similar action never taken during COVID surges in the US or Britain. Morrison’s border closure didn’t just strand Australian citizens but showed his lack of concern for the Indian population in the face of a COVID catastrophe.
The Coalition’s focus on getting back to budget surplus has simply been delayed, not abandoned.
While they have postponed a decision on NDIS “independent assessments”, they are already preparing for cuts by complaining about the system’s growing cost.
The budget cements declining wages into the future. As journalist Michael Pascoe notes, after tax is factored in, “the government aiming for three years of negative real wages”.
The Coalition is helping push down wages through cutting public sector wage increases instead of maintaining modest 2 per cent pay rises.
This means living standards for the vast majority are set to fall.
To add insult to injury, the Coalition is sticking with tax cuts delivering huge handouts to the rich beginning in three years’ time. They would see everyone earning from $45,000 to $200,000 paying the same rate of tax.
Meanwhile, the Tax Offset for everyone earning under $126,000 will be axed from next year.
No opposition from Labor
The budget leaves Labor with a problem. The Liberals’ embrace of higher spending leaves Labor with little to differentiate themselves.
Leader Anthony Albanese adopted a small target strategy following Labor’s loss at the last election. His budget reply speech was more of the same. The only major announcement was funding for 20,000 social housing properties—a start but nowhere near enough to reduce surging house prices.
Instead of serious investment in renewable energy all he could manage was the stunt of a startups scheme and some apprenticeships subsidies.
Pressure for action on climate change, sexism and workers’ rights is going to have to come from a fightback on the streets and in the workplaces, not from Labor.
Morrison shouldn’t have been given the chance to brush aside his failure on sexual assault.
High school students in Sydney took to the streets again in May to demand action. But the lack of any larger follow up demonstrations after the huge March 4 Justice protests has made it easier for Morrison to get away with it.
So it’s welcome that School Strike for Climate have called nationwide Climate Strike protests for 21 May. More demonstrations need to follow. Joe Biden’s talk of more ambitious action leaves Morrison exposed in the lead up to the major UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November.
The anger at Israel’s massacres in Gaza and repression against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and within its own borders can also target the Australian government’s complicity. The Liberals are pouring tens of billions into military spending that could go to aged care and higher JobSeeker payments, in order to lock in their support for US imperialism.
Every union campaign and strike for higher wages will help highlight the years of declining wage rises under the Liberals.
Resistance from below is the way to build an alternative to the Liberals’ agenda of warmongering, wage cuts, sexism and climate chaos—and a fight for a world run in the interests of people and planet not profits.