The wave of action demanding the government let the 267 asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island stay has put Turnbull on the back foot. We need to keep him there. The growing concern about the 267 has run straight into the government’s determination to send them back to the appalling conditions on Nauru and Manus Island.
The wave of action to let them stay is still continuing, with a vigil and daily protests outside the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane and group photos at workplaces across the country.
Opinion polling by Essential Media has shown public opinion on whether babies should be sent back to Nauru and Manus is 40 per cent for keeping them in Australia and 39 per cent for sending them back. But over 20 per cent are undecided.
Now is the time to push even harder. A win against Turnbull over refugees would strike a blow against the years of official racism and xenophobia. It would be a blow against Turnbull—full stop.
By sinking deeper roots, an even stronger movement can emerge to end offshore processing and the government’s shameful mandatory detention and deterrence policies.
For years the refugee movement has persisted against successive governments—with meetings, factsheets, rallies, demonstrations at detention centres. That campaign laid the basis for the upsurge of support to “Let Them Stay” we are seeing at the moment.
The inspiring support from unions and workplaces—a full page ACTU ad; national and state secretaries pledging support for baby Asha—has been the result of painstaking efforts to connect the issue of refugees and racism to issues workers face more directly.
Even the stand by the Labor premiers against Turnbull can’t be understood except for the efforts of the refugee movement to make refugees an issue inside the Labor Party.
The support for refugees is clearly deepening across society, and opinion is shifting in the movement’s favour. But there is still a long way to go.
The 20 March Palm Sunday rallies will be the next major mobilisation for the refugee rights movement. Everyone can do something to build the rallies—in your local area, university campus, workplace or union. A strong showing will help turn the “let them stay” actions into a larger ongoing refugee rights movement.
Every workplace that has held a “let them stay” photo action should send a contingent to the rally. Large contingents of workers who have direct dealings with the refugee detention system, like doctors, nurses and teachers, as well as from the wider union movement, can give more workers confidence to directly get in the way of plans to send refugees back to Manus Island and Nauru.
This would deal a blow to the government’s efforts to scapegoat refugees and divert attention from the real threat: their cuts and efforts to rule for the rich. And it would weaken a powerful ideological weapon that the Liberals have used again and again to divide us against each other.
To do this most effectively, we need more socialists. The refugee movement is an example of where more socialists has meant a stronger movement. Solidarity has been at the centre of the fight for refugee rights. Now is the time to join us.
Keep Turnbull’s hands off Medicare
Malcolm Turnbull is not as secure as he looks. His decision to junk plans to increase the GST is clearly driven by fears of an electoral backlash. The threat of the GST saw the opinion polls plunge four points to give the Coalition a lead of 52-48 two party-preferred.
But the government is still committed to helping the big end of town. Treasurer Scott Morrison says it is still aiming to get spending down, meaning cuts to services.
The government has already announced that the final two years of Gonski schools spending will be cut which amounts to $30 billion in lost funding over a decade.
Unemployment has just risen to 6 per cent. Now, climate change programs at the CSIRO are being gutted, with 100 jobs cut from the Oceans and Atmosphere department. These are among 350 job cuts in total, as a result of budget funding cuts still rolling through.
Cuts to Medicare pathology services are still on the table. And plans to privatise the Medicare claims system could cost thousands more public service jobs.
Privatisation results in worse quality services, threatening patients’ refunds for medical bills and discouraging access to healthcare.
But even as Turnbull cuts services he is still determined to hand money to the rich through tax cuts. And he wants to cut corporate tax for his business friends. Morrison says his tax cuts will be “growth friendly…earner friendly…profit friendly”. But in 2013-14, more than 600 of 1539 of Australia’s largest corporate entities did not pay any tax at all.
Turnbull and Morrison want to impose austerity measures just like Abbott and Hockey. Between now and the May budget in May, we need more rallies and union action to tell Turnbull—hands off Medicare; make the rich pay.
Photo: David Haines