In her speech to the National Press Club on July 15, Prime Minister Julia Gillard threw down the gauntlet to the labour movement. In a speech outlining the plans for a second-term Labor government, Gillard promised to run a regime of “reforms” that would entrench greater competition and privatisation.
There should remain little doubt about Gillard’s intentions. Her speech was aimed directly at the wallets of big business.
To them, Gillard promised “prosperity”, with lower taxes, restricted government spending and grinding neoliberal “microeconomic reform”. To workers and their unions, Gillard promised more of what she dished out as minister for education and employment.
Gillard made no bones about the fact that a second-term Labor government would serve in the interests of business.
She asked bosses to judge her on the gains she had achieved for them — “reforms” such as the harmonisation of occupational health and safety legislation, which reduced costs for bosses by making workers less safe at work.
Gillard trumpeted other reforms — the Fair Work regime — known as “Work Choices-lite” by many, for its preservation of many of the features of the despised Howard-government policy. She listed award stripping (“award simplification”), school league tables (the My School website), and performance-based pay for teachers and universities as her other achievements.
The PM promised reform in the areas “untouched” by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments of the 1980s and early ’90s. Health, education and other basic services are to face the Gillard knife in her second term. There would be “active reforms to improve Australia’s ability to compete”, Gillard promised.
The essence of Gillard’s “reforms” is privatisation — extending the domain of profit-making into the most basic of government services.
She said: “The challenge is not whether to combine public and private resources in these essential sectors, but how to do it.” She promised a focus on “quality and performance” in public institutions — words usually incompatible with fairness, care and compassion.
Just in case the bosses were wondering, Gillard also dutifully repeated the neoliberal slogan said before her by Kevin Rudd and John Howard. Growth in government spending would be capped at no more than 2% for the foreseeable future. Taxes would be kept to a lower portion of gross domestic product than when Labor came to office in 2007 and the budget would be returned to surplus in 2013.
Mining companies should not pay too much tax, and Australians would have to get used to a high-participation economy — code for working harder for longer.
There was one cloud on the horizon though, as Gillard acknowledged the instability of global markets. All the more reason to run to an election quickly, and cement an increasingly neoliberal and anti-worker government before a renewed crisis again sends workers’ living standards plummeting.
Gillard has acknowledged former Labor PM Bob Hawke as her personal inspiration.
The accuracy of this comment should not be understated. Hawke began the neoliberal attack on workers’ living standards in Australia; Gillard will continue the process.
Working people take note – and be ready for a fight.