Gillard caves in to big end of town

July 2, 2010

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is enjoying a honeymoon in the polls since taking Kevin Rudd’s place. A July 2 Reuters Trend poll confirmed a series of polls since Gillard became PM on June 24, giving Labor the lead over the right-wing Coalition.

The June 26 Sydney Morning Herald said a Herald/Nielson poll found Greens support since Gillard took over had fallen from 15% to 8%.

But another crucial poll indicated the true nature of Gillard’s rise to power. As soon as she was installed as prime minister, the share price of the large mining corporations rose.

The polls show many people are placing hopes in seeing a new face at the helm, and are pleased to see the nation has its first female PM.

Some progressives see hope in the fact that Gillard is from Labor’s left faction — despite the fact she was installed by the powerful right faction and Labor’s factions long ago lost any real political distinction.

But Gillard’s statements and actions since the lightning “coup” that removed Rudd reveal that the key difference is her move to placate powerful mining corporations.

There are many lessons from Rudd’s dramatic demise — going from enjoying record-level popular support to becoming the first Labor PM to be toppled before ending his first term.

Rudd came to be seen as just another cynical politician. His government largely continued former Coalition PM John Howard’s anti-worker policies and attacks on Indigenous people.

Labor’s appalling treatment of desperate refugees, combined with Howard-esque racist rhetoric, placed it in a lose-lose situation.

No matter how harsh on refugees Rudd Labor was, the Coalition was willing to go further to tap into strong racist sentiments within the Australian population. At the same time, its treatment of refugees unnerved the section of the population appalled by Howard’s inhumane policies.

But the issue of climate change was Rudd’s most damaging backflip. Rudd had described climate change as “the greatest moral challenge of our time”. But, in April, he dumped his government’s proposed emissions trading scheme when it no longer seemed politically convenient.

The plan was never capable of achieving serious action on climate change, but dumping what little he had proposed was seen as cynical.

Whatever people’s views on climate change and how to tackle it, the move stunk of political opportunism. It caused a serious slide in Rudd’s approval rating.

Rudd attempted to make up ground with the proposed Resources Super Profit Tax on mining corporations. The tax was far from radical and would have barely affected the big companies’ booming profits, and its revenue was to help fund a cut in the corporate tax rate overall from 30% to 28%.

But big business was upset at the example of a government campaigning on taxing corporations. The mining corporations threatened to hold the economy to ransom by withholding investment.

Backed by the corporate media, the mining companies’ well-funded scare campaign about potential job losses caused enough confusion and fear to further undermine Labor’s support. Rudd, whose credibility was already damaged, was unable to counter the offensive.

However, it is clear the key lesson Labor has drawn is that it should avoid upsetting powerful corporate interests and the corporate media.

The June 25 Sydney Morning Herald reported mining magnates Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest were claiming credit for Rudd’s downfall.

Gillard’s cave-in to corporate demands, significantly watering down the already-modest tax, is an indication of how much power the big end of town wields in Australia — and Labor’s commitment to its interests.

There are also fears the Gillard government will move even further to the right on the issue of asylum seekers in an attempt to appease racist sentiments being cynically whipped up by the Coalition.

Gillard has already engaged in “dog whistle” racism, highlighting the “fear” of migration significantly increasing Australia’s population. The population ministry, created under Rudd, has been renamed the “sustainable population ministry” in a cynical bid to give an appeal to racism a “green” camouflage.

Gillard has also pledged to continue Australia’s involvement in the bloody imperial adventure in Afghanistan — despite polls indicating a majority of Australians want the troops to leave.

Gillard has also stated her commitment to continuing the ban on same-sex marriage — again despite polls showing most people support it.

Gillard may be a self-declared athiest, unlike Rudd and Howard, but she is determined to continue to woo the Christian right by insisting marriage remains “between a man and a woman”.

And on the urgent need to tackle climate change, Gillard has merely expressed support for a price on carbon at some point in the future.

In its cave-in to powerful mining interests, the Labor Party has again revealed itself to be a cynical, unprincipled machine with no commitment to anything but power for its own sake.

The threat of an even more right-wing Coalition government headed by Tony Abbott is real. Gillard Labor is a lesser evil.

But people and the planet deserve better. We need better if we’re to survive the challenge climate change poses.

In the upcoming federal election, Green Left Weekly supports a vote for the Socialist Alliance in all the seats where it stands,m with preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor.

In the absence of Socialist Alliance candidates, we urge a vote for the most progressive candidate to send the strongest message of support for action on climate change, and end to racist policies and protection of workers’ rights.

The need for a left-wing alternative is as urgent as ever.

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