Turnbull is sinking further in the polls, with just 30 per cent of voters now satisfied with his performance. On top of this, Tony Abbott has stepped up his efforts to undermine Turnbull and destabilise the government.
Abbott even made a move to push Turnbull to make him Indigenous Affairs Minister.
The government is offering nothing but the same unpopular agenda it took to the election—cutting corporate tax rates while tightening welfare and forcing spending cuts through parliament. It hopes that its refugee-bashing will boost its standing in the polls, but that’s unlikely.
After gaining Labor’s support for an “omnibus” package of $6.3 billion in cuts, it has another package of $6 billion of welfare spending cuts it wants to push through.
Turnbull is also trying to cut paid parental leave by removing access to the government scheme for those who already have parental leave paid by their employer. Former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey labelled mothers accessing both schemes “double-dippers”. But up to 80,000 new mothers a year would see their parental leave reduced.
The government scheme, which grants 18 weeks leave on the minimum wage, is far from generous. It is the second worst scheme in the developed world. This is why, until now, women have been allowed to access employer funded leave as a top-up on what the government provides.
Nick Xenophon has backed away from supporting the changes “in the current form” but appears to still be willing to negotiate.
But Turnbull is having a considerably easier time getting his attacks through the Senate than anticipated, thanks largely to support from the One Nation Senators. Pauline Hanson and her bloc, along with Senators Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm, are supporting all the $6 billion in cuts to welfare. Meanwhile Turnbull still plans to hand back over $48 billion to big business as he cuts company tax from 30 to 25 per cent.
Stop the ABCC
In late October, Malcolm Turnbull re-introduced the anti-construction union ABCC legislation—the legislation that brought on the double dissolution federal election on 2 July.
It is likely that a Senate vote will be delayed because there is a constitutional question hanging over Bob Day’s Family First seat. But a successful vote has been made more likely by the majority of One Nation Senators indicating that they will vote for Turnbull’s legislation.
There was always a risk that a double dissolution election would make it easier for the Coalition to get the ABCC through the Senate—but The Greens voted with the Coalition over Senate voting reform which gave the green light to Turnbull over the ABCC. Nick Xenophon is now the major barrier between the Liberals and passing it into law. And again he has indicated he is willing to negotiate to support it.
The ABCC is an anti-union body with draconian powers to harass unions and workers in the construction industry. Yet in October, five construction workers were killed on the job. In the last year construction unions have been fined $1.7 million. Fines will triple if the ABCC legislation passes.
The Liberals’ real complaint is that the CFMEU is an effective union able to win pay rises and good conditions. Turnbull himself has admitted the goal of the ABCC is “reducing costs” to employers. He wants to boost the profits of the construction bosses at the expense of workers’ wages, safety and conditions.
So far the unions have relied on a campaign of behind the scenes lobbying of Pauline Hanson and the other crossbench Senators. This has gone nowhere.
Although one Senator may break ranks, the One Nation bloc is no friend of the unions or working class people in general. They have already shown that they are willing to slash welfare spending for the poorest in society and back Turnbull’s anti-union laws.
We need an industrial campaign against the ABCC to take the fight to Turnbull and the construction bosses to make the laws a dead letter.
Public servants and now CSIRO workers have voted down enterprise bargaining deals that would cut wages and conditions. The “No” votes can be turned into strike action.
Sydney College of Arts students have shown the kind of fighting spirit that is needed, holding two student strikes, and occupying their administration building for a record-breaking 65 days before they were thrown out by police in late October.
The campaign for refugee rights has also shown how it’s possible to fight government propaganda and shift public support. With polls showing a majority of people now think refugees on Manus and Nauru should be brought to Australia, there is the chance to beat back the government’s new law to stop them from ever coming here. Thousands will take to the streets on the two weekends at the end of October and start of November across the country. Turnbull is weaker than ever. He can be beaten.