Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are lining up an ever-growing list of possible cuts for the May budget. Hockey says that “Every Australian is going to be asked to contribute to the Budget repair”—but the budget cuts are not aimed at the rich.
Hockey has signaled plans to increase the pension age to 70, and reduce future increases. This heartless move will force older workers to keep going until they drop, with five years of added stress and strain at the end of their working lives.
Cuts to healthcare and Medicare Locals are on the table. The plan for a $6 fee for Medicare GP visits is set to go ahead, according to The Australian. The NDIS is likely to be delayed. Aboriginal housing is in the firing line.
Fairfax papers reported on plans for an “efficiency dividend” (read “cut”) at the ABC. Senator Ian MacDonald described ABC funding as “bloated”.
An increase in university HECS fees is also possible, after the government’s review of the sector recommended hitting students was the best way to cover government cuts. It also recommended government funding be made available to private colleges, opening the prospect of teaching-only universities. The Group of Eight elite universities are pushing for the return of full up-front fees for domestic students in marketable courses like law, economics and commerce.
In the public sector the job cuts are already rolling through, with another 100 sackings in Customs and 300 at the CSIRO announced in April.
At the same time that Hockey looks to cut welfare, Abbott has outrageously signed off to spend $24 billion on 58 new Joint Strike Fighters.
The government is scare-mongering about spiralling budget costs for pensions, healthcare and the NDIS.
But total government income and spending in Australia is amongst the lowest of any of the OECD developed nations. Last year total government income from taxes and other sources was 33 per cent of GDP compared to 40.3 per cent in the UK and the OECD average of 37 per cent. Taking Australia’s tax income to the OECD average would raise over $15 billion extra a year. The answer is obvious—we need to tax the rich to fund services.
Hockey claims we are facing a debt crisis. He says the deficit will balloon out of control without tough action. That’s a lie. Australian government debt remains among the lowest in the developed world. The IMF report that Joe Hockey has been selectively quoting makes clear that Australia’s debt is among the lowest in advanced nations. By 2018 debt levels are projected to be around 20 per cent of GDP, compared to 80 per cent in the US, UK and France.
The Liberals are pushing cuts onto workers and welfare beneficiaries, but handing millions to mining bosses and big carbon polluters by axing the mining and carbon taxes. And the $2.5 billion diesel rebate for the mining industry won’t be touched either.
While the Liberals demand austerity, they don’t practise what they preach. NSW Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after he forgot about a $3000 bottle of Grange sent to him by the same boss of Australian Water Holdings who was siphoning money to the NSW Liberal Party. Tony Abbott’s Assistant Treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, is also under a cloud of suspicion after claiming that although he was the chair of Australian Water Holdings, he did not know that it was donating money to the Liberal Party, despite being NSW treasurer of the party at the time. Funny what a $200,000 salary can do to your memory.
Even before it reveals its horror budget, the Abbott government’s popularity has vanished. It continues to trail in the polls, and the Coalition suffered a combined 7 per cent swing against it in the WA Senate election.
The feeling against Abbott was obvious on the March in March protests. Thousands attended Palm Sunday refugee rallies in April; the largest demonstrations for refugee rights since the Howard years.
But the mood to fight Abbott is being squandered by Labor and by the union leaders.
Instead of opposing cuts outright, Labor has demanded that the Liberals cut their maternity leave scheme instead. Bill Shorten even backed the $12 billion being wasted on the new fighter jets.
Shorten proposes to rebuild the Labor Party by making it easier to join! If Shorten really wanted to rebuild the party, he could start by fighting Abbott.
He wants to distance the Labor Party even further from the trade unions. But union action will be crucial to beat Abbott. The Your Rights at Work campaign, organised by the union movement, brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets to defeat Howard. That is the kind of movement that is needed again.
Sydney, Perth and Adelaide will hold a March in May the weekend after the budget comes down. These rallies will be the first chance to come onto the streets against the Liberals’ cuts. We need to use them to push for union-backed demonstrations that have the kind of power that can hit the bosses where it hurts and stop Abbott in his tracks.