With the government's control of both houses of parliament now confirmed, the Coalition is triumphantly promoting its plans for far-reaching "reform". The attacks are likely to come thick and fast over the next 12 months and we need to be ready to respond.
On October 23, attorney-general Philip Ruddock announced plans to fast-track three security bills, delayed in the last parliament, that give increased surveillance powers to federal police and ASIO and create new secrecy provisions for terrorist-related court hearings. Ruddock also wants to reintroduce powers — previously blocked by the Senate — to detain and strip-search children as young as 12.
According to Ruddock, these attacks on civil liberties will ensure that terror prosecutions can proceed through the courts without endangering classified information or revealing how investigators gathered evidence. The bills will give federal police and ASIO increased powers to use listening devices and intercepts for phone text messaging, emails and computer hacking, often without requiring warrants.
The Coalition also aims to further marginalise unions, and further undermine workers' wages and conditions. Despite the Senate rejecting the legislation 41 times, the government wants to push through plans to make it easy for small businesses to sack workers.
Preparation by Qantas management to use Patrick Stevedores-style strike-breaking techniques to defeat possible industrial action by flight attendants over Christmas is quickly shaping up as the first test case for a new round of attacks on unions. Qantas workers need our support.
The full sale of Telstra and the further deregulation of media ownership are also on the Coalition's list. However, despite winning a fourth term with an increased vote, opinion polls conducted by Newspoll over the past 10 months indicate that many of the projects on Howard's drawing board don't have broad public support.
Asked in December 2003 what they would prefer a large budget surplus to be spent on, 72% said it should be spent on health and education, and only 9% said it should be spent on tax cuts. Fifty-five per cent wanted a total ban on genetically modified food and 55% supported a reduction in government subsidies to private schools. While 69% opposed the full privatisation of Telstra, only 9% supported it.
On its treatment of refugees, popular opinion has swung away from the government. The December poll showed that 61% thought some or all boats coming to Australia should be able to land, up from 47% three years earlier. Only 35% still supported the government's response to the Tampa, down from 68%. Fifty-four per cent said they support children and mothers being released from immigration detention.
In May, 50% agreed it was not worth going to war on Iraq, while 40% thought it was. Seventy-four per cent were in favour of the UN taking control of "maintaining peace in Iraq" and
62% believed that the government had misled the population about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Twenty-six per cent believed that they were knowingly misled.
If we lived in a real democracy, our troops would be withdrawn from Iraq, public health and education would be well funded and asylum seekers would be released from detention and welcomed into society. But that's not how our society works.
Over the past 25 years there have been eight federal elections and four prime ministers — two Labor and two Liberal. Yet, through all of these changes, the rich have grown richer and the poor poorer; spending on health, education and welfare has been slashed; Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank have been sold off; asylum seekers have been demonised and punished; and troops have been sent to an illegal war.
More often than not, it's been through large-scale popular struggles, rather than through voting at election time, that the people have forced the implementation of progressive reforms, from women's right to vote to the eight-hour working day.
We now have no choice but to fight back. We already have public opinion on our side — now it needs to be converted into action.
From Green Left Weekly, November 3, 2004.
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