Pensioners under attack but not welfare for billionaires

Gina Rinehart signs the Roy Hill finance deal in Singapore this month.

Most people have heard of the rant by Australia's richest billionaire, Gina Rinehart, against welfare and the “entitlement mentality” of Australians — and her call for a strong political leader like Margaret Thatcher. But have you heard about the US$694 million ($740 million) soft loan from US taxpayers?

This was part of a US$7.2 billion loan for Rinehart's Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia's Pilbara region and it came from the US government's Ex-Im Bank, which extends “credit and country risks that the private sector is unable or unwilling to accept”. In other words it is an institution that uses public funds to make risky investments that have lucrative spin-offs for US businesses.

In return for this soft loan, Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting will buy US mining and rail equipment from Caterpillar, General Electric and Atlas Copco. You get the picture: scratch our corporate back and we'll scratch yours.

On top of that, the Roy Hill project will benefit from the estimated $4.5 billion a year in subsidies and concessions the mining companies routinely get from the Australian government.

But for all those subsidies, Rinehart is trying to get away with paying workers at Roy Hill as little as possible. A whistleblower's report said some of the 150-200 mainly Korean 457 visa workers on the site are working up to 84 hours a week and getting paid as little as $16 an hour.

Exploiting temporary visa workers is part of the billionaires' campaign to lower wages in Australia. After all, as Rinehart infamously said in 2012, Australian workers have to compete with African mine workers forced to survive on $2 a day.

As we hurtle toward the federal government's “End-Of-The-Age-Of-Entitlement” budget, we can be sure of some things: 1. Corporate welfare is not going to be cut — more likely it will be boosted. 2. The poorest and most vulnerable will be hit hardest. 3. Any institutions, especially militant trade unions, that might be able to put up a serious fight are going to be attacked.

The billionaire class and the governments that operate in their interests will do their worst. But we now know, after March in March, there is a broad community resistance to their attacks on our rights, our livelihoods and the environment.

If you want to enhance the fightback, you should help strengthen the institutions that will build the resistance. Green Left Weekly is one of these precious institutions.

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