The people vs. Team Abbott

Saturday, August 23, 2014
For the fifth time since their election in September last year, thousands of Australians will take to the streets in protest against the Abbott government.

For the fifth time since their election in September last year, thousands of Australians will take to the streets in protest against Tony Abbott Coalition's government.

These mobilisations have been critical to keep the pressure on the Labor Party, Greens and independents to stand firm in opposing the government's budget, which will bring austerity, cuts and privatisation.

As a result of this opposition, Treasurer “Smokin' Joe” Hockey's budget has stalled.

The Senate resumes this month, and Hockey, Abbott, finance minister Mathias Cormann and foreign minister Julie Bishop are revealing the desperation of a government in crisis -- searching for compromise one day, making threats of emergency budget measures the next.

Hockey's feeble attempt to claim that wealthy households will be hit hardest by the imposition of the fuel excise, and then his disingenuous apology for saying so, illustrates the arrogant, self-serving class interest of this government.

Cormann's speech to the Sydney Institute on August 19 said that Australia needs a budget "reality check", that criticism of the budget as unfair was "nonsense" and that history would judge the government favourably.

Cormann's message was that to avoid "higher taxes or deeper cuts" in the future, the government would push ahead with its budget. Cormann said the repeal of the Mining Tax is a "work in progress" and because the cuts to higher education were not due to come into effect until 2016, "there is time to work through any issues”.

Meanwhile, Muslim communities have been told they have to be on "Team Australia" and support the government's proposed anti-terror laws.

The "Team Australia" rhetoric was repeated by Cormann in an interview with 2UE's Stuart Bocking on August 20. Speaking about migrants he said: "If you do become part of Team Australia, if you put your shoulder to the wheel and do the best you can to help make our great country an even better country, there is no limit to what you can achieve."

Abbott's “you're-either-with-us-or-with-the-terrorists” ultimatum is the government's latest attempt to exploit human tragedy and sow division among ordinary Australians. By doing this, the government hopes to shift the focus off the budget.

About 1.73 million Australian households now have less wealth than the 10 wealthiest families in Australia. At the top of that list is Gina Rinehart, who is estimated to have a personal wealth of $22 billion.

Wealth inequality in Australia has risen steadily and the rich have been getting richer at the expense of the majority. In the past 50 years the share of national income going to the owners of capital — most of whom are among the highest income earners — has increased from less than 24% of GDP to 37%.

It looks more like there is Abbott's Team Rich Australia and then there's the rest of us.

Jenna Price reported in the Canberra Times on August 18 that the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling budget analysis showed that 1.25 million low and middle-income families with children will be $3000 a year worse off.

Treasury figures say the budget will cost an average of $842 a year in disposable income for lower income families, compared with just $71 for an average high income family. Even after tax and government payments are taken into account, an average low-income family loses $844 a year in disposable income due to the budget. For a high income family it is $517.

A study conducted by the Australian National University in partnership with the Social Research Centre in June this year found record high levels of national pessimism about the future, Just 30% of Australians believe their lives will improve in the next five years. Most believe their children's lives will be worse than their own.

Continuing the struggle against Abbott and Hockey's budget and building a movement of truly mass proportions against this government is the best cure for this pessimism.

Since November last year, hundreds of thousands of Australians have mobilised in a range of protests around climate change, the budget, for refugees, against fracking and against the threats to Medicare, pensions and funding to higher education.

Unions have mobilised in some cities, but it will take pressure from the ranks to push for the kind of mobilisations that built the Your Rights At Work campaign which defeated the John Howard government.

Rumours are circulating that the ACTU is backing away from their planned national day of action in October. Rank and file union members and militant leaderships must do all they can not to let this happen.

Abbott's anti-union Royal Commission has put a lot of unions on the defensive, and some have opted to make themselves small targets as a result. Others have chosen to put their efforts into re-election campaigns for the ALP at state and federal levels. But with the government in budget crisis management, unions have to get back on the front foot.

The threat of a return to the Australian Building and Construction Commission -- one of Abbott's key election promises -- and an attack on penalty rates and the minimum wage looming means unions need to prepare their members for the struggles ahead. They must build alliances with the social movements and communities also fighting against the government's agenda.

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From GLW issue 1022