Editorial: Abbott’s fate shows Turnbull can be beaten

The end of Tony Abbott is a victory for all those who have demonstrated and campaigned against his cuts, racism and homophobia. The scale of the protests and opposition to his first budget crippled his government.

New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants to re-start the “economic reform” that Abbott could not deliver. Turnbull is a multi-millionaire committed to delivering policies in the interests of big business.

He believes “sweet talk” can drive the budget cuts and attacks on workers and the poor that stalled under Abbott and Hockey.

Turnbull has dropped the plan for university fee deregulation—a significant win for students and staff, for now. But he made it clear that it is not off the table completely.

Turnbull and a succession of Ministers have already flagged attacking penalty rates. Minister Josh Frydenberg says, “This is an area we need to look at,” while Michaelia Cash repeats the bosses’ line that they “deter weekend work”.

New Treasurer Scott Morrison has declared that his priority is to “get spending under control”—read budget cuts. Morrison dismissed the idea increasing taxes could address the deficit, despite even establishment figures like former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry saying “a bit more than half” of the budget deterioration in the last ten years is explained by a lower tax take.

Morrison’s mantra on tax is that there must be change “that rewards people to work, save and invest”— he means the rich.

It looks more and more likely that Turnbull will take a proposal to increase to the GST to the next election as his preferred way of squeezing even more from workers.

The fact that the Business Council of Australia, representing the CEOs of the country’s largest companies, described early discussions with Turnbull as “outstanding” should set alarm bells ringing.

Pathetically the ACTU’s Dave Oliver tagged along at Turnbull’s national summit, tamely declaring, “We all have one thing in common and that is it is all about growth”.

Nor can we expect change from Turnbull on issues like refugees, same-sex marriage or climate change. He has made it clear he thinks Abbott’s policies are working, and sees no reason to change them.

Turnbull is captive to the extreme right-wing elements, the climate deniers and outright racists, in the Liberal Party parliamentary caucus. And this is not going to change, even after another election.

Comments from Turnbull that he had “concerns” about the situation for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have circulated widely. But on the same day, he clarified that, as far as he was concerned, “There will be no resettlement of the people on Manus and Nauru in Australia. They will never come to Australia”. The only solution to their plight, according to Malcolm was “to encourage them to return from whence they came”. In other words: go back where you came from.

This means forcing Syrian asylum seekers in detention back to Syria—at the same time as even the government acknowledges the scale of the humanitarian crisis there.

Protest works

But if there is one lesson from two years of Abbott, it is that struggle works. There were 30 straight polls against Abbott because of the protests and demonstrations.

Medicare rallies, Bust the Budget protests, student protests, refugee protests, rallies against climate change, and against the plans to close remote Aboriginal communities—this is what made Abbott unelectable.

The end of Abbott has given the Liberals a boost in the polls. But Turnbull can be beaten.

The 11 October mass refugee rallies are a good start. Union rallies in support of penalty rates can put Turnbull on the back foot. Rallies against Aboriginal community closures have been called for November. Turnbull’s foot-dragging over same-sex marriage can help expose his supposedly progressive credentials. There will be climate change rallies in November to coincide with the global Climate Change Summit in Paris—an ideal time to take on Turnbull over the Coalition’s pay-the-polluters Direct Action policy.

Public service strikes can be stepped up to break the Liberals’ wage-cut policy.

Tragically, Shorten’s rhetoric about the need to restore business “confidence” echoes the kind of pro-business language used by Turnbull.

Labor’s whole strategy rested on Shorten not being Tony Abbott. The ACTU electoral strategy of making Abbott “One Term Tony” has been left stranded.

It was protest and struggle that beat Abbott. The fight against Turnbull needs to start now.

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