Turnbull flounders—but Labor won’t fight his cuts

The good news is Malcolm Turnbull is floundering. Divisions within the Coalition, his own diminished authority and an unpopular political agenda have seen his standing in the polls drop further.

Newspoll in late September had him trailing Labor 48 to 52, down further from his embarrassing election performance. The Liberals’ primary vote was actually lower than its level when Tony Abbott was dumped as leader last year.

Increasingly Turnbull is reduced to being a mouthpiece for the right-wing of the Liberal Party. Only days before Turnbull slashed the backpacker tax, Queensland MP and Pauline Hanson sympathiser, George Christensen, threatened to quit the Liberal party unless the backpacker tax was dumped.

The supposed advocate of climate action then sang from the climate deniers’ songsheet following the blackout in South Australia, condemning Labor state premiers for supporting renewable energy. Never mind that even the Energy Market Operator said the use of renewables had nothing to do with the power failure.

Turnbull’s hypocrisy is now even more exposed as he opposes an open parliamentary vote and has become a full-on advocate for the plebiscite on equal marriage.

The $175 million plebiscite was only ever an attempt to appease the Coalition’s right-wing and postpone equal marriage rights for as long as possible. With Labor about to vote against holding the plebiscite, an increased protest campaign can keep the heat on Turnbull and push for the direct vote demanded by the LGBTI community.

Agenda for cuts

Turnbull’s agenda to target welfare and schools to balance the budget is also adding to his unpopularity.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter tried to pretend his “new approach” was all about helping people avoid a life on welfare. But it turned out it was just another round of “mutual obligation” that will further punish the poor by cutting them off benefits. The government has even raised the prospect of penalising parents whose children miss school, or those who spend welfare money on alcohol or drugs.

The head of ACOSS, Cassandra Goldie, rejected the government’s push, saying that when it comes to people on welfare, “What you need is more support.”

Porter’s talk of new “investment” in helping young carers, young parents and students with a “Try, Test and Learn Fund” was just a publicity stunt. The government says it wants to break “welfare dependency”, but its main aim is simply to cut spending by pushing people off welfare.

One recent report showed that it takes an average of five years after finishing study to get a full-time job.

Meanwhile the CEOs of Australia’s four major banks appeared in front of the Senate’s economic committee. The boss of the Commonwealth Bank, Ian Narev, warned it would be dangerous to regulate the banks’ profitability. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? The Commonwealth Bank recorded a profit of $9.45 billion in the last financial year. Narev himself took home $12.3 million.

But Turnbull’s plan is to attack the poor while he boosts business profits by cutting corporate tax rates from 30 to 25 per cent.

Labor’s response

The bad news is that while the Liberal government is vulnerable, Labor has failed to take the fight to Turnbull’s economic agenda because it too accepts that cuts are necessary to balance the budget.

To its shame, Labor backed Turnbull’s $6.3 billion omnibus package of cuts. Labor agreed to a $460 million cut to the renewable energy agency. While Labor opposed cutting unemployed benefits, it was quite willing to cut even more money from Family Tax payments.

The unions should be going on the front foot against Turnbull, calling protests against the Liberals’ cuts and their anti-union agenda. But after a promising start since the election of escalating industrial action for their pay campaign, public service union officials seem set to accept arbitration after the government got Fair Work orders against its strike action at airports.

There is yet to be an industrial campaign against the ABCC, with the unions focused on lobbying Senators like Pauline Hanson behind closed doors.

Cosying up to Pauline Hanson is a disastrous strategy that can only give One Nation more legitimacy. The shocking poll showing 49 per cent support for banning Muslim immigration shows the urgency of standing up to the anti-Muslim racism from Turnbull and Hanson.

The growing opposition to refugee detention on Manus Island and Nauru can help to do this. There will be further rallies around the country on 30 October and 5 November, with doctors set to lead a march to close the camps in Sydney.

Turnbull’s government is weak and divided—it’s time to build the fightback.

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