Build the anti-budget anger against Abbott

Anger against the budget has just gone up a notch. Treasurer Joe Hockey’s offhand comment that the “poor don’t drive cars” has added to the public outrage and reveals the contempt that the government has for workers, pensioners and the unemployed.

In July the government announced plans to punish the unemployed by forcing them to apply for 40 jobs a month. This would be on top of work for the dole for anyone under 50. Even the Business Council thought this was a bit much.

Now, Hockey, frustrated that he is getting nowhere convincing the minor parties and independents to support the worst of the budget cuts, is threatening to by-pass the Senate and impose a Queensland-style draconian austerity mini-budget.

The need to ramp up action to “Bust the Budget” is urgent.

The government is offering small concessions in the hope that it can still negotiate its worst attacks through the Senate.

Health Minister Peter Dutton and Education Minister Chris Pyne are talking about modifying the $7 GP fee and university reforms respectively.

Dutton has been working with the doctor’s association the AMA on a modified co-payment model that could exempt pensioners and keep the Medicare rebate paid to doctors at the current level.

Clive Palmer is hedging his bets, saying, “We’d certainly have to look”.

These negotiations are dangerous. The Liberals’ GP fee does not collect that much money. But it is the thin edge of a very nasty wedge. Its main purpose is ideological; to entrench the idea that everyone must pay for GP visits, and is part of an agenda to destroy Medicare as a universal health system.

Over universities, Chris Pyne has hinted at dropping the increase to interest rates on HECS debts. But he remains committed to full fee deregulation, which threatens a massive hike in student fees.

His greatest allies are the Vice Chancellors of the elite universities. The ANU’s Ian Young told the National Press Club, “It would be a great tragedy… if our senators pass up this opportunity, and leave us with no reform”. Deregulation is the only way universities can be “brilliant”, he claimed. But that’s only because he dismisses the idea of a boost in government funding as impossible, and shares Pyne’s corporate agenda for tertiary education.

Hockey moaned that “everyone is against me”, while addressing a conference in Canberra. The government is desperately looking to divert attention away from the budget.

Security scares

Abbott finally recognised that no-one supported the Andrew Bolt “free speech” amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, and ditched them. But at the same time Abbott announced draconian new surveillance powers for ASIO to tap phone calls without warrants and to access everyone’s metadata because of a supposed home grown terrorist threat.

In a thinly-veiled anti-Muslim dog whistle, the government has also said that Australian citizens visiting certain declared areas in the Middle East would be subjected to greater scrutiny.

Disgracefully, Abbott has also tried to use the MH17 plane disaster in Ukraine to boost the government’s fortunes (see p9). He swung into action with daily press briefings, a military-led operation to recover the bodies and escalating rhetoric against Russia.

This dovetails with the continued efforts to scapegoat asylum seekers as some kind of threat. The refugee campaign remains crucial to countering this.

Abbott is hoping to exploit “national security” issues as a distraction from the budget. But so far it isn’t working. While tragic, the accidental shooting down of a plane in a war zone in Ukraine does not conjure up the same fears about terror attacks as the Bali bombing or 9/11.

Although Newspoll showed a small bounce for the government in mid-August, the more respected Morgan Poll had Labor’s lead, virtually unchanged, at 54-46.

The government’s budget targets almost everyone—including students, workers, the unemployed and pensioners. It’s also been revealed that real wages are falling behind inflation. A serious campaign from the unions of strikes and mass stopwork rallies could kill off the budget, completely.

The ACTU has plans for a weekday national day of action on Thursday 23 October. This needs to be built with serious stopwork action to ensure a mass turnout and shut down “business as usual”.

The student National Day of Action on 20 August and March Australia’s rally on 31 August will be important too, to mobilise the anti-budget anger and build the momentum for 23 October.

A united fightback can push Abbott out.

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