Turnbull: Just a different shovel

Issue 
The March in March rally in Perth last year. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

On the day Tony Abbott was rolled, one of my family members, who lives in Malcolm Turnbull's electorate of Wentworth, posted a one line warning on Facebook: "Beware the silver fox." Well, it proved true remarkably quickly.

A concerted attack on Medicare is in full swing and it has one clear objective: dismantling public health care and replacing it with a US-style privatised system that costs more, delivers inferior outcomes and leaves the poorest to die.

This is to be supplemented by reduced income support payments, removing assistance to newly-arrived migrants who have a family member who is already an Australian resident or citizen. The government is also pushing ahead with cuts to organisations that assist the homeless. Under the Turnbull version of the paid parental leave scheme, low-income workers will be as much as $10,000 worse off.

Any hope that Turnbull might take a kinder view of asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution by knocking some of the rough edges off the rotten racist regime of offshore mandatory detention has already faded.

He has kept Peter Dutton as immigration minister. Dutton is a sociopath who jokes about island nations being wiped off the map, lied about denying a termination to an asylum seeker who was allegedly raped while being held prisoner on Manus and thinks female journalists who do their job are witches.

In Western Australia, many of us hoped that Turnbull's sophisticated inner-city public transport-catching image, or at the very least Treasurer Scott Morrison's claim that Australia has a "spending problem", might see the government withdraw funding for the hated Perth Freight Link freeway project. But instead, he put more money on the table for the wretched thing.

The whole premise of the federal government's "spending problem" rhetoric — and the regular drum beat about the supposed need to increase the GST — was exposed as a fraud by the revelation in December that almost 600 of Australia's largest companies paid absolutely no tax in the 2013–14 financial year. Hundreds more paid less than 5%. If they all paid the full rate the federal budget would reap an extra $8.4 billion per year.

It is not as if these companies haven't already been feather-bedded. Over the past three decades Labor and Liberal governments have lowered company tax from 48% to 30%.

The Liberals and their accomplices in the corporate media have tried to distract people from the great corporate tax rort with the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission. As ACTU secretary Dave Oliver observed, it was "all tip and no iceberg".

Want a real scandal? Seafarers occupying the MV Portland were forced off their vessel in the dead of night on January 13 by security guards so that Alcoa can run a ship along the Australian coast paying foreign workers a fraction of Australian wages. This means there are parts of Australia's domestic transport industry where Australian labour law has been stripped away.

The federal government granted the company a "temporary licence" to allow this rort, yet there has been barely a squeak from the corporate press. They are too busy paving the way for Turnbull's assault on penalty rates.

None of this sorry tale should surprise us. Abbott and former-Treasurer Joe Hockey weren't replaced because they wanted to attack our workplace rights, smash Medicare or increase the GST. They had to go because they had proved unable to do all these things. Abbott's stubborn idiocy, Hockey chomping on cigars when he should have been spinning "this hurts me as much as it hurts you" bullshit and Abbott's mind-numbing inability to adapt to contemporary social values made them a liability for the big end of town.

The bump in the polls delivered to the Liberals courtesy of the Turnbull effect has prompted despair by some on social media. "How can people be so naive and stupid?" they ask.

Maybe it's not naivety, but low expectations and no sense that things could be different. That's the whole point of bi-partisan “democracy”.

The best way to change things in Canberra is by winning the battle in the parliament of the streets. The opportunities will come thick and fast, you can count on that.

[Sam Wainwright is co-convenor of Socialist Alliance in WA, a councillor at the City of Fremantle and disability support worker.]

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