March in August reveals need for clearer focus in movement to beat Tony Abbott

September 5, 2014
March Australia in Perth. Photo: Zeb Parkes

Forty thousand people marched against the federal government and its budget in over 30 locations on the weekend of August 30-31. This was smaller than the three similar mobilisations in March, May and July, but shows there is still a strong community sentiment against the budget.

All campaigns have ups and downs — no grassroots movement ever grows continually upwards. The smaller numbers reflect the fact that the initial raw anger against the budget has passed. To maintain a campaign in this context, people need to have confidence that their efforts can bear fruit.

From this standpoint, the failure of key trade unions to mount a serious challenge to the most anti-working class budget in decades is criminal. The lacklustre parliamentary performance by the ALP, and unfortunately the Greens, is also telling. Their actions have an impact on people's preparedness to continue to rally.

While ALP-aligned trade union leaders might think they are “clever” to “keep their powder dry” until the final year of the Tony Abbott government, this risks serious demoralisation if Abbott gets most of his budget implemented. In such a situation, Abbott's poor standing in the polls could easily be reversed if he is able to present himself as a “tough” leader and if the ALP refuses to present a progressive alternative.

Some people may think that Abbott will suffer a serious political defeat if the Senate continues to block a range of important budget measures. This might be true, but it is a big “if”.

The Palmer United Party has made an impact by opposing Abbott and as a party that is prepared to defend the interests of ordinary people.

However, Palmer’s actions in delaying the removal of the mining tax — supposedly to defend some of the spending measures associated with it — are instructive. He won some popularity by appearing to stand up against Abbott, but gave Abbott the substance of what he wanted in the end. It is reasonable to think this pattern will be repeated in relation to other measures as well.

Abbott's budget was always an “ambit claim” on behalf of big corporate interests and he cannot expect to get every detail implemented. However, if our only line of defence is the parliamentary opposition of the ALP and Palmer, it would be a foolish to think that Abbott will be stopped in his tracks.

The Greens have also failed to do all they could to defeat the budget. Most importantly, they voted for the appropriation bills (also known as supply bills), which contained the budget cuts to the ABC, cuts to the CSIRO, cuts to legal aid services, changes to indexing of pensions, funding for Abbott's road infrastructure plan, and more.

If the Greens had voted against these things — daring Labor to follow suit — and actively called for mobilisations in support of that position, the anti-budget movement would be stronger today.

Notwithstanding all this, there are things the March Australia movement could do to make the movement stronger. The most important change would be to open the doors to activists who want be involved.

In most capital cities, March Australia organising groups are closed to all but a select few. If the movement is to have any future, opening up the committees — and democratising the national decision making process — is essential.

Future rallies need a clear political focus that goes beyond simply opposing Abbott.

Underpinning the success of future campaigns that can defeat the government’s agenda requires a stronger political alternative to the major parties. Such an alternative would need to be left wing, democratically organised, active at a grassroots level (not just in parliament) and strong enough to make an impact.

[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convener of the Socialist Alliance and is active in March Australia – Perth.]

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