Editorial: Win over Nauru kids as Liberals implode—build the movement for change

The refugee movement is on the offensive and Scott Morrison is on the way out.

The Coalition has been forced to promise that all refugee children will be off Nauru by the end of the year.

This is an incredible victory. Morrison was the architect of the Abbott government’s Operation Sovereign Borders and has championed anti-refugee cruelty. Now the campaign has forced him into retreat.

This win came as a result of enormous pressure from a mass public campaign that saw demonstrations, hundreds of thousands sign petitions and countless celebrities from Jimmy Barnes to the Wiggles all declare their support.

The Liberals are now pathetically weak. A historic 18.9 per cent swing at the Wentworth by-election has delivered victory to independent Kerryn Phelps and pushed the Coalition into minority government. The Liberals had held Wentworth since the party’s inception in 1945.

Morrison can’t seem to put a foot right. Like Turnbull, he is committed to hard right policies that are deeply unpopular—over climate change, homophobic discrimination and his backing for the big end of town.

If there was ever a time for Shorten and Labor to go for the jugular it is now. After refusing to act for weeks, the Liberals finally capitulated over children on Nauru when it was clear they ran the risk of losing a vote on the issue in parliament. Shorten could still throw the Liberals into further disarray by supporting independent Andrew Wilkie’s Bill to bring all the kids from Nauru and separated families here immediately. But so far the ALP have been too hamstrung by their own commitment to refugee bashing to seize the opportunity.

This is all the more reason to continue the mobilisations to get kids off Nauru now, and everyone else off Nauru and Manus too. The fight to free the refugees must continue all the way up to the election (likely in May) and beyond.

In Victoria the Andrews government’s commanding 54-46 lead in the polls is another sign that the Liberals are on the nose. They are set for a bruising defeat at the Victorian election this month.

Now that a Labor election victory federally is almost a certainty too, there is a burning question about what they are going to deliver. The tens of thousands that came out for weekday union protests to Change the Rules on 23 October showed there is a real mood for changes to the rigged IR laws.

But at the largest rally in Melbourne, the message was almost entirely simply to vote Labor.

Labor’s changes

Labor is promising real changes, through reversing cuts to penalty rates, scrapping the ABCC, restricting the use of labour hire and removing bosses’ ability to terminate enterprise agreements.

But it has refused to accept union bargaining across an industry, as the ACTU advocates, rather than simply at a company level. In late October Labor’s workplace spokesperson Brendan O’Connor said Labor was only open to industry bargaining for low paid workers like cleaners and early childhood educators.

He also hosed down any idea of removing restrictions on strike action, saying, “we don’t want to have a system that just ensures industrial chaos.”

These limited changes aren’t enough. As we go to print, Boom crane workers in NSW have been on indefinite strike for four weeks as part of their enterprise bargaining. They haven’t had a proper pay rise in almost five years. Actions such as solidarity strikes on construction sites where Boom Cranes are run by scabs would still be illegal under the limited changes proposed by the ALP. Workers need the unrestricted right to strike.

As the Liberals continue to disintegrate, they will ramp up their racism and bigotry. Scott Morrison initially supported schools having the power to expel LGBTI students. But he was forced to backtrack within days. Now the momentum is growing to change federal laws to prevent religious schools expelling LGBTI teachers as well. Labor has said it supports these changes.

Rallies on the anniversary of the Yes vote for marriage equality on 15 November can help keep up the pressure.

We can’t sit back and wait for Labor; whether it’s around refugees, racism, workers’ rights or fighting homophobia. When Kevin Rudd came to power he initially dismantled offshore processing, but then shamefully revived it, creating the “PNG Solution” and the horror on Manus. The Your Rights at Work campaign is what threw out the Liberals in 2007, yet Rudd gave us WorkChoices lite and kept the ABCC in all but name.

Shorten’s back flip to support the pro-business TPP trade deal shows we can’t rely on him either. We need to drive out the Liberals by building movements that will also take the fight to the bosses and a Labor government to win real change.


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