Another round of infighting has broken out inside the parliamentary Labor Party as the reality of defeat this September finally sinks in.
Factional hack Laurie Ferguson—who holds his seat by a margin of 6.8 per cent—went public over Labor refugee policy. This was not to urge Julia Gillard to abandon the long-failed attempt to out-do Abbott on this issue, but to shift even further to the right over refugees. As if that would save him, or Labor.
Instead of implementing policies that would be popular with Labor voters, Labor MPs are fighting like cats while following the same sorry rightward trajectory that has given Abbott the initiative in the first place. Discussion has again emerged about replacing Gillard with Kevin Rudd in a last ditch attempt to win back votes.
Like the proverbial rat abandoning a sinking ship, Laurie’s brother, Martin, infamous for his adoration of nuclear power, announced his retirement in early June. But it was Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, who could barely hold back tears as he declared Ferguson “Labor Party royalty”. Some right-wing commentators have tried to claim there is a gulf between Ferguson and Gillard and Swan, but Ferguson is modern Labor to the core.
He was a senior minister from 2007 until he stood down following Rudd’s aborted leadership challenge in March. Announcing his resignation, he lauded “working with business” as opposed to “pointless class rhetoric”. He praised the Accord of the 1980s and the “tough decisions” to trash jobs and wages it involved and declared, “I am proud that I have stayed true to… market principles”. Like so much of Labor’s leadership, Ferguson would have been at home in the Liberals.
It’s all-but-forgotten that Labor rode to power on the back of hopes for an end to Howard’s right-wing agenda. These hopes have been systematically squandered. Six years of Labor in government has left almost all of Howard’s laws on the books. There is still a ban on same-sex marriage and most of WorkChoices remains in place. Gillard has done Abbott’s work for him by pushing single mothers onto NewStart and cutting $2.3 billion from higher education.
Even Labor’s recent attempts to pose as reformers have been half-baked. The Fairfax press claims schools will only get a $393 million increase in the next year from the Gonski school funding, and will actually lose money in the two following years compared to previous arrangements. This is because existing schools funding programs are being cut to find the money for Gonski funding.
Now, the ripples from the global economic crisis are hitting the mining boom and investment is drying up. Without mining, the economy grew by just 0.9 per cent in the year to March.
This is producing widespread job cuts. Twelve hundred jobs will go as Ford closes. Another 2500 jobs in the car parts industry are also threatened. Ford has received $1.1 billion in government subsidies since 2000 to keep its plants open but this didn’t stop them throwing workers on the scrap heap.
Target has cut 260 jobs from its Geelong headquarters. GlaxoSmithKline has sacked 120 workers and hundreds of jobs are expected to go at Telstra. Swan Cleaning has collapsed leaving 2500 people without jobs or entitlements (see p10).
Abbott has already promised to axe 12,000 public service jobs. Meanwhile he is ramping up anti-refugee rhetoric, declaring he will “stop the boats” in his first term.
Everything we do now to prepare for the fight against Abbott matters. Resistance to Abbott won’t come from the Labor Party or parliament. Building a fight for jobs and against the Labor government’s cutbacks and racism now will strengthen the activist networks we will need to fight Abbott.
Workers at Sydney Uni have set the example. Management is using the federal budget cuts as an excuse to refuse staff a decent pay rise. But five strike days this semester have left management rattled. Over 380 new members have joined the union since the start of the year, strengthening its capacity to fight.
Fighting the racism and attacks on refugees will also be important to take the fight to Gillard and Abbott. Labor has implemented policies that are unsustainable. Thousands of asylum seekers have been left in limbo and without work rights in the community. Hundreds more are detained indefinitely on Manus Island and Nauru. This will lead to more and more desperation and chaos.
As tensions rise again, there will be opportunities to step up the refugee campaign and turn opinion back in favour of asylum seekers.
Building these struggles now can be the start of turning around politics in Australia, and fighting from below, for real change.
Women left behind by Gillard
Gillard has revived the issue of Abbott’s misogyny again, launching “Women for Gillard” and declaring that under an Abbott government abortion will become “the political plaything of men.”
But her passion for abortion rights is a recent discovery. When a woman in Queensland was charged for having a medical abortion in 2008, Gillard did nothing as she was dragged through the courts. Abortion is still in the criminal code in Queensland and some other states. It is almost always performed in private clinics. Gillard has not used her position to improve this situation.
The gender pay gay has actually continued to widen under Labor, from 14.9 per cent in 2004 to 17.6 per cent in 2012, according to the Gender Equality Agency. Gillard’s attack on single mothers has been, in the words of academic Sarah Charlesworth, “a black stain on the government.”
There is no doubt of the sexism and misogyny of the right-wing shock jocks and their friends in the Coalition. Abbott’s right-wing view of the world will have to be resisted. But working class women, Aboriginal women and single parents have all been left behind by Gillard’s government.