Tony Abbott’s woes mount as public deserts him

Issue 
The PM's prevarication on marriage equality and the scandal over entitlements are fuelling dissent.

New polls show that had an election been held in mid-August, Tony Abbott's federal Coalition would have suffered a 7.5% swing against it. The Prime Minister’s prevarication on marriage equality and the scandal over entitlements are fueling the dissent.

The IPSOS-Fairfax and Essential Research polls revealed that the Coalition would have lost between 36 and 44 seats — with Labor and the Greens being the main beneficiaries.

The IPSOS-Fairfax poll had Labor on 56% of the two-party preferred vote, ahead of the Coalition on 44%.

The Essential poll had Labor at 52% and the Coalition at 48%. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, there have been 167 national polls in which the government has trailed Labor.

Coalition MPs, incensed with Abbott’s “captain’s call” to delay a decision on marriage equality until after the next election, are determined to replace Abbott as leader.

The result of the federal by-election in the WA seat of Canning on September 19 will likely determine when they make their move.

Given that 70% of Australians support marriage equality, they hope a new leader who supports this reform will help them win back support. But marriage equality is not the only major concern.

Disgust deepens

Driving the widespread disgust is MPs’ born-to-rule attitude and sense of entitlement.

Bronwyn Bishop’s “choppergate” scandal was infuriating and insulting, not just because the Coalition denied there even was a problem but because Treasurer Joe Hockey’s refrain about the “age of entitlement” being over clearly did not apply to those closest to him — his colleagues.

While there are many triggers for people’s rising anger at the Abbott government’s conservative, neoliberal policies, Essential Research found the two major issues were climate change and the prospect of the reintroduction of Work Choices.

About 53% of voters think the government is not doing enough on climate change, compared to 24% who think it is. Those most likely to think it is not doing enough were between 18 and 34 years old (63%) and university educated (62%).

About 40% said they are concerned the Coalition might reintroduce Work Choices or similar laws, compared to 37% who said they would not be reintroduced.

Closing ranks behind Justice John Dyson Heydon, the partisan commissioner in charge of the royal commission witch hunt into unions, is now adding fuel to the fire.

Job insecurity

The federal government’s silence about the outrageous sackings two weeks ago — by text and email — of 97 workers at Hutchison Ports is revealing. There is little doubt it wants the Hutchinson Ports bosses to prevail in its dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia over the sacking of permanent staff.

The sackings were so patently unfair that the dispute sparked a wave of solidarity across unions and the community, which is still continuing.

Most people are aware of the increasing precariousness of work — finding permanent work is harder and job insecurity is becoming the new norm. This is having a profound impact on at least two generations of workers or potential workers.

The ACTU estimates that 40% of Australians work in insecure jobs.

Associate professor Lucas Walsh, from Monash University in Melbourne, pointed out in 2014 that the rates of casualisation across the Australian workforce rose from 18.9% in 1988 to around 25% in 2012.

He noted that an independent study of insecure work found that casual work is concentrated among young people — one-fifth of all casual workers are aged between 15 and 19 — and that it rose significantly following the global economic crisis and has not abated since. He also found that the number of full-time jobs for teenagers has been declining since the 1980s and there has been a rise in the take-up of casual and part-time work by young people in general.

Attack on penalty rates

Despite this, the ruling class is determined that the Abbott government move to slash penalty rates.
If the Productivity Commission’s report is accepted and penalty rates for weekend work are slashed, young people and particularly students — who work on weekends in retail, fast food outlets and hotels — will be hardest hit.

The Australian Council of Social Services and Mission Australia pointed out in their submission to the 2012 Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work that banks do not normally offer mortgages to workplace casuals or subcontractors.

The two organisations also pointed out that casuals can be legally dismissed without compensation and, as casuals cannot afford to take a day off, they are forced to decide whether to forfeit a job to look after sick children or go to work to put food on the table and leave the child unattended at home.

Abbott is attacking the generation who are the biggest supporters of marriage equality, rights on the job and real action on climate change.

It is no wonder that the Greens are polling 16% and Labor’s electoral fortunes are looking up. Labor leader Bill Shorten is on 39% approval, four percentage points above Abbott.

As some liberal commentators start cranking up support for Shorten, it should not be forgotten that Labor is the “Alternative Liberal Party” for the ruling elite. It is the party the ruling class supports when the other capitalist party fails to get reactionary bills into law.

At Labor’s national conference, just weeks ago, delegates decided to not bind its MPs on marriage equality, to abandon support for asylum seekers at sea, to hedge its bets on metadata legislation and, while acknowledging climate change is the “big” issue, only support an “aspirational” 50% renewable energy target and 50% cut in carbon emissions by 2030.

Shorten’s Labor may look like a better alternative, but that is only in comparison to the Coalition. Progressive people should not settle for that.

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