Tony Abbott’s G20 performance again showed how seriously politically inept his government really is. First, Abbott’s climate denialism suffered a serious blow when the US and China announced a plan to cut carbon emissions.
The agreement is not binding, of course, but against Abbott’s best efforts, climate change became a central feature of G20.
Abbott also managed to draw international attention to the most hated elements of his budget austerity measures, the GP co-payment and university fee deregulation. Insisting, on the one hand, they were the kinds of cuts that could boost economic growth, he then declared, “it is proving to be massively difficult to get this particular reform through the Parliament”. Brilliant!
In a further blow, the Liberals are on track to lose the Victorian election. Campbell Newman is also in trouble at the Queensland state election due in March.
Despite hysterical efforts to whip up fear, Abbott’s terror scare isn’t working. A Scanlon Foundation survey in October showed that while, disturbingly, a quarter of Australians admitted to negative feelings about Muslims, this was practically unchanged from before the latest terror raids.
People are cynical about both his motives and his fearmongering for good reason. Just one person was charged with terrorism offences after the dramatised raids in Sydney in October. Now his lawyer says the police are relying on a single phone call, mistranslated in a way that, “goes to the absolute crux of whether this man ever actually acquiesced in the carrying out of a terrorist act”.
Abbott seized on a shooting of a Shia man at a Sydney mosque in November to decry “an ISIL death cult influence”, only for the police to deny that there was any link to terrorism or Islamic State.
Labor’s lead over Abbott is back to 54-46 per cent. For the last year, Labor has been ahead of the Coalition. There is a real possibility of making Abbott a “One Term Tony”! But there is no cause for complacency.
Bill Shorten may now be questioning whether the new terror laws will affect journalists, but to their shame, Labor has otherwise given its complete backing for the government on ASIO powers, terror laws and the bombing of Iraq. This only helps legitimise Abbott’s scare campaign and increases the danger that Islamophobia will grow.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan has openly stated that there will be more terror raids on the scale of the Sydney operation. US President Barack Obama has doubled US troop numbers in Iraq and requested a further 200 troops from Australia.
On the domestic front, cuts to the ABC of $254 million over five years have been announced, on top of $43.5 million announced in May. SBS will be cut by $25.2 million.
Lessons of 2014
In 2014 we have seen the immense potential for fighting Abbott’s agenda. But too often the opportunities have been squandered. With practically no institutional support the March in March protests drew over 100,000 to the streets across the country. Similar numbers came out again in May when Abbott unleashed his budget.
But the union leaders were slow to act, and when they did it was half-hearted. In June, Melbourne’s union stopwork “Bust the Budget” rally brought 20,000 workers to the streets. But they then stepped back, settling for weekend demonstrations in July that drew smaller numbers.
Neither the unions, nor Labor, nor The Greens believed much could be done beyond lobbying the Senate and waiting until the next election, although to their credit the more left-wing NSW Greens did call on the Senate to block the budget completely. They did not see how the fight outside parliament, mass demonstrations and strikes, could have mobilised the outrage to create a political crisis for the government. There was a real opportunity, not just to block the worst parts of the budget, but to throw the whole thing out.
Still, the government’s problems keep mounting. The substantial fall in iron ore prices is now hitting tax revenues. Macroeconomics estimates this year’s deficit has grown by $5 billion, and by $52 billion over four years.
While Joe Hockey says that December’s economic update won’t see a major budget overhaul, it is clear that further cuts will come.
Hockey told the Financial Review that despite the Senate blocking university fee deregulation there would be cuts anyway, declaring, “We’ll find any way we can to take the money out of the universities.”
The campaign against Abbott’s cuts will need to be revived in the run-up to next year’s May budget. We need Bust the Budget rallies and union backing for any March Australia demonstrations.
Commonwealth public sector workers have voted overwhelmingly for an industrial campaign to fight Abbott’s demand for cuts to pay and conditions. We need to make 2015 a new year of anti-Abbott struggle.