Where is the opposition?

Opposition leader Bill Shorten.

The Labor opposition has voted for the $6.3 billion in public spending cuts over four years proposed by the Malcolm Turnbull government. The opposition agreed to support 20 of the 24 cuts originally proposed by the government in its "Omnibus Bill" and put forward more cuts of its own to prove how committed Labor is to “budget repair”.

But Labor’s spin merchants tried to paint this dirty deal as saving the unemployed on the miserly Newstart payments and pensioners from a threatened $4.40 a week cut. The previous Labor government's modest public dental health program and income support payments to people in psychiatric confinement were also spared.

The deal also reduced a proposed $1.3 billion funding cut to renewable energy research and development to $500 million, which the opposition claims as a win for “budget repair with fairness”.

Cassandra Goldie of the Australian Council for Social Services welcomed the small concessions, but warned that many low-income families would suffer under the deal between the Coalition and Labor.

Cuts to family payments will result in single parent families with two teenage children losing up to $60 a week, she warned. And the cuts to youth payments will result in an unemployed young person losing $47 a week and having to wait four weeks for payments.

Parents with children under one year will lose the $1000 “baby bonus” family tax benefit.

The small concessions agreed between the major parties followed concerted lobbying by welfare groups and the publication of a study by The Australia Institute (TAI) that showed the level of income support for the unemployed had fallen to 30% below the poverty line. Had the proposed cuts to Newstart gone through, this would have been pushed to 32% below the poverty line.

TAI also noted the “staggering inequality in Australia where the 10 richest Australian families have the same wealth as the poorest 3.9 million Australians combined”.

The real challenge posed by this study was to raise welfare payments to at least the poverty line and then to a level on which people can live with some dignity. But the Labor opposition refused to rise to that challenge.

The total irresponsibility of cutting funding for renewable energy research should be a no-brainer at this critical point in history where we are shooting past key tipping points in the global warming crisis.

Greens climate and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt said: “Labor’s deal to cut half a billion dollars from clean energy has exposed them as clean energy charlatans”.

Labor should have joined with the Greens in staring down the Turnbull government.

Labor has made much of the Coalition’s wafer-thin one seat majority in the House of Representatives. But all we have seen so far is Labor's grand stunt on the second day of sitting when it blocked an adjournment motion. That and lots of speechifying about how "ordinary Australians are feeling the pinch".

This $6.3 billion bipartisan omnibus of cuts makes it clear that we do not have a real opposition. No cuts to welfare or social spending would be needed if the rich and the tax-dodging multinationals were made to pay what they can well afford. But Turnbull's commitment is to his own class and so he followed the passing of these cuts with a backflip on his promise to reduce superannuation concessions to the rich.

It will take a struggle to bring together a real opposition that is prepared to fight for the people and the environment. Green Left Weekly is part of that struggle and we need your help to keep it going.

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