Editorial: Equal marriage, inequality, racism—all out to turn up the pressure on Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull is lurching from one disaster to the next. Way behind in the polls, he is continually pandering to the right of his party, with his political authority fatally damaged.

The Liberals have descended into open warfare again over equal marriage. With their plan for a plebiscite blocked, the pressure to deal with the issue and deliver equal marriage has only grown.

Five Liberal backbenchers have forced the issue, demanding a parliamentary vote on equal marriage. Turnbull can’t delay the issue indefinitely. He now says he wants it dealt with by December.

Their new plan is a farcical proposal for a voluntary postal vote in September. The government hopes to survive a High Court challenge by having the Bureau of Statistics run the vote, not the Electoral Commission. This is a desperate attempt to give Turnbull a fig-leaf so the right-wing of the Liberals will allow a vote in parliament. But it’s likely some Coalition MPs will keep trying to delay no matter what happens with the postal vote.

There is no need for delay. Parliament could simply vote on the issue now.

Further protests can pressure MPs to cross the floor and side with Labor, Greens and independent MPs to bring on the vote.

In desperation, Turnbull is continuing to beat up fear about terrorism and national security. Peter Dutton’s promotion to head the new Home Affairs super-department was yet another stunt to fan racism against refugees, migrants and Muslims.

But it’s not winning them support. According to Fairfax media, young people in particular now agree that, “the threat of terrorism in Australia is seriously overblown and is being manipulated… as a source of distraction from other issues”, according to focus groups.

Labor turns left

Labor’s Bill Shorten has declared tackling inequality his “defining mission” and taken a lurch to the left. Low wages growth has seen workers’ pay go backwards. Add in the cost of housing, soaring power bills and cuts to penalty rates for 700,000 workers and it’s a toxic mix.

Treasurer Scott Morrison just tried to dismiss anger about inequality by saying, “it has actually got better”.

Shorten is now going after family trusts used by the wealthy to avoid tax, saying there should not be “another set of rules” for the rich. Tax academic Dale Boccabella has estimated family trusts see the rich avoid at least $2 billion annually in tax. Shorten’s plan will claw back around $1 billion a year.

Labor also says it will restore the tax on the top 2 per cent of income earners Turnbull scrapped, overturn the cuts to penalty rates, put $17 billion more into schools funding over a decade and modify negative gearing to deter property investors.

Shorten has also tried to highlight Turnbull’s failure by promising a referendum on a republic, four-year parliamentary terms and marriage equality within 100 days of coming to office.

Labor has sniffed the wind and is trying to tap into the thirst for change that fed Jeremy Corbyn’s surge in the British election. But Shorten is no Corbyn.

Labor remains in lock-step with the Liberals over refugee detention on Manus and Nauru, and has done nothing to stand up to their Islamophobia.

In announcing his crackdown on trusts, Shorten said it was part of delivering, “responsible budget savings”—not taxing the rich to fund housing, hospitals and universities. Shorten also stresses that addressing inequality will boost economic growth, sending a signal to the bosses that Labor has their interests in mind.

Changing the rules

Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson Brendan O’Connor has talked up the need to change workplace laws, saying that in increasing inequality, “the dwindling bargaining power of workers and their representatives has played a central role”.

This is music to the ACTU’s ears. But Labor is yet to make any commitments. Labor is not going to give us the right to strike or scrap the fines that penalise industrial action.

It was a Labor government, under Paul Keating, that introduced the current restrictions on the right to strike associated with enterprise bargaining. When ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said unions were right to break unfair laws Bill Shorten distanced himself, saying that changing the law should be left to a Labor government.

That’s why we need a serious union campaign to fight the penalty rate cuts, the Building Code and the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We can’t wait for the election—the cuts to pay and conditions are hitting now.

The decision by unions in NSW to call a stopwork rally on 18 October is an important step forward. We need a campaign of ongoing industrial action to fight Turnbull, and pressure Labor to deliver change.

We need to be prepared to fight Labor too if they don’t deliver on industrial relations and wages. But the ACTU is still sitting on its hands, preparing for a campaign to elect Labor when the next election comes.

Unions in NSW have shown the way forward. We need delegates meetings and stopwork rallies across the country to build a fightback.

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