Budget, attacks on unions herald elections

Abbot's highly politicised "Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption" has recommended even more draconian res

The May 2015 budget was framed by the Abbott government with one issue in mind — winning the next federal election. Although there are some members of the Coalition keen on an early election, it seems unlikely to be called until sometime next year.

Community opposition has forced the Abbott government to ditch several of its punitive provisions proposed in last year’s budget. These include the $7 GP co-payment; changing the indexation rate for all pensioners; privatising the Royal Mint and applying the government bond rate to student loans. The proposal to make all those unemployed who are under 30 to wait six months for the Newstart Allowance has been altered so that they now have to wait for a “mere” four weeks in absolute penury.

But this still leaves us with Coalition promises to deregulate tertiary education in favour of an artificially created “market” that will further push the cost burden of studying onto students.

Other Coalition “promises” that are being pursued include an $80 billion reduction in funding for states in health and education; changes in family tax benefits; raising the pension age to 70 years; and raising Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme co-payments by introducing a $5 co-payment for each script and an 80 cents payment for concession-card holders.

As Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said: “In this budget the government has confirmed they’ve locked in some of the harshest, most unfair and deeply damaging cuts that have not been addressed since last year’s budget.”

And the one thing that neither the Coalition nor the ALP will do is rectify the structural imbalance in budget finances that has individuals’ income tax revenue at $194.3 billion —almost half of all revenue, and more than twice as large as the $71.2 billion paid in company and resource rent taxes.

The other issue that counts against an early federal election is the findings of the Royal Commission investigating union corruption and governance. These are not due until the end of this year and the Coalition is confident that they will provide it with the big headlines with which it can slander the union movement, and by association the ALP and its leader Bill Shorten.

A discussion paper released this week by counsel assisting the commission, Jeremy Stoljar SC, gives us an insight as to just what these commission recommendations will look like.

For construction workers on a picket line, Stoljar outlined a scenario that would see police officers read out a court order prohibiting a picket or other industrial action and then arrest those who do not disperse after a specified period such as 15 minutes. Any conviction that then resulted would become grounds for disqualifying those people as union officials.

Stoljar also outlined changes to the registered organisations’ legislation and, for the first time, drew Shorten directly into the commission’s net when he proposed that companies that give unions what are described as “corrupt payments” in return for industrial peace be fined up to $17 million.

The commission has heard that in the early 2000s Victorian company Chiquita Mushrooms paid the Australian Workers Union (AWU) $4000 a month for training that was never delivered. Stoljar said the evidence before the commission showed that existing laws were failing to prevent employers paying unions under the guise of payments for “sponsorship” or “training”, hence the need for fines of up to $17 million, which coincidentally match the present criminal penalty for bribes made with the intention of influencing a foreign official.

The deal with Chiquita was said to have been approved by then-AWU secretary Bill Shorten.

We can expect more of these “revelations” over the next six months. They will provide the dual purpose of distracting voters from the implementation of the Coalition’s divisive attack on the disadvantaged and setting the tone for the next federal election.

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