THE BELIEF that the Rudd government will bring change is still strong. But many people wish the government was moving more quickly to undo Howard’s legacy.
In reality, most of Rudd’s changes have so far been partial or cosmetic. This is nowhere more true than over industrial relations. Labor is phasing out AWAs and offering slight improvements over safety net conditions and unfair dismissal. But Howard’s anti-union laws are untouched. The sharpest example of this is the continuation of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
During the election campaign a number of unions registered their disappointment with Labor’s IR policies by giving support to Greens candidates. In the aftermath of Kevin Rudd’s victory there was talk from some senior union officials about the need to keep campaigning under Labor. Unions NSW secretary John Robertson acknowledged that Kevin Rudd was no friend of the unions, declaring “Rudd could barely bring himself to say the word union during the campaign”.
But until now the unions have not matched these words with any real action to scrap the rest of WorkChoices. The 2000-strong mass meeting and decision to call a mass rally against the ABCC in Melbourne is the first sign of a union push for the new government to act.
With the turmoil in the global economy deepening, a union fightback is going to be necessary to make sure working class people do not bear the brunt of economic crisis. Inflation reached 4.5 per over the year to June and the cost of living is on the increase.
Employers, including state Labor governments, have responded by trying to hold down wages growth below inflation and force us to accept wage cuts.
A determined union campaign to abolish all of WorkChoices would breathe confidence into demands for real change from Labor on every front—whether over pay, the NT intervention, climate change or the war. We need to build pressure on the union leaderships outside Victoria to act over the ABCC, as well as pressing for serious mobilisation against power privatisation in NSW.
Debating climate solutions
In announcing their version of an emissions trading scheme, the new Rudd government has tried to position itself as taking bold action on climate change.
By contrast Brendan Nelson and the Liberals have tried to latch onto any excuse for delaying action. Their official line has been that they agree with the government on the need for action, but think that there is not enough time to set up an emissions trading scheme properly by 2010. But beneath this many of them are still convinced climate change sceptics—particularly the hard right elements in the Liberal party, who Nelson relied on to get the leadership. Tony Abbott even argued on Lateline that “the science is evolving”—or in other words climate change might not be happening.
This has played right into Labor’s hands, allowing them to focus the debate on making the case that climate change is real. But the public is already well and truly convinced about this. According to Newspoll, 84 per cent of people believe climate change is already happening. Even large sections of big business now accept that there must be action on climate change. All the Liberals have done is help boost the government’s popularity by reminding people why they threw out Howard last November.
The real debate has moved on. The question now is what solutions to the problem are needed. Labor’s green paper and Ross Garnaut’s review propose an emissions trading scheme. Labor’s model in the green paper is so riddled with exemptions and handouts to big polluters—including coal-fired power stations—that it is hard to see where substantial emissions cuts will come from. The response of much of the left and the environment movement to this is to either defend Garnaut, or to argue for a “pure” emissions trading scheme without exemptions.
But this means lining up behind a totally ineffective method for reducing emissions. As we argue inside on page 11 the left should not let the terms of the debate about solutions revolve around emissions trading. We should be demanding a program to phase out emissions intensive production—starting with coal electricity generators—and government investment in renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. This would provide green jobs to ensure workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry do not lose out.
The demands of the Melbourne protest planned for September 21 are a good example. We need a mass campaign that unites radical activists with a wider cross section of society—especially trade unionists. And given scientific evidence that warming is happening faster than expected the need for this kind of action is urgent.