Editorial: Liberal Minister resigns: one down—but they’ve all got to go

While the world prepares for the inauguration of Donald Trump, the good news in Australia is that one greedy, self-entitled Liberal former Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, has resigned.

The Liberals’ contempt for ordinary people is on full display, with the Centrelink debt recovery fiasco out of control while the list of Liberals rorting politicians’ allowances grows longer by the day.

The Liberals’ ongoing abuse of taxpayer funds on lavish meals and trips to New Year’s Eve parties and sporting events is truly jaw-dropping.

Health Minister Sussan Ley was forced to resign after claiming $3125 of taxpayer funding for her trip to the Gold Coast where she bought a $795,000 luxury apartment, supposedly an unplanned “impulse buy”.

It got worse and worse as she was exposed claiming money for 20 trips to the Gold Coast in the last three years, including one charter flight costing $12,000. They included trips to attend New Year’s Eve parties hosted by a rich Liberal Party donor in both 2013 and 2014.

Incredibly, Ley was unrepentant insisting she had “followed the rules” and done nothing wrong. But there’s a whole gaggle of Liberal MPs with their snouts in the trough.

Julie Bishop claimed $11,000 on trips for “ministerial business” when she attended the Melbourne Cup, Derby Day and the Portsea Polo. Minister Steve Ciobo spent $1000 on airfares to attend an AFL grand final saying it was “absolutely… work-related”, while Kevin Andrews ran up $2000 in flights to attend a prayer breakfast in the US. And Peter Dutton shelled out $4000 on a “working dinner” for ten people at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, while styles itself the city’s “most discerning hotel”. Now George (bookcase) Brandis is exposed for spending more than $12,000 on a visit to western Queensland with his son last September.

But while government MPs live the high life at taxpayer expense, the government is punishing thousands of welfare recipients who are struggling to get by.

Around 230,000 have received Centrelink letters demanding repayment of sometimes thousands of dollars. And many of the letters arrived just before Christmas. It started with students and the unemployed. The government now plans to target pensioners and the disabled.

The demand letters are being generated by a computer system that attempts to catch out people receiving Centrelink payments while they were working by “data matching” Centrelink payments with work income declared on tax returns. But since Centrelink payments are based on fortnightly, not annual income, the system can’t make proper matches.

The government admits that 20 per cent of the demand letters have been sent to people who do not have a debt. But it is likely almost all the letters are wrong. One Centrelink compliance officer told The Guardian that after reviewing hundreds of cases, only 20 had genuine debts. Yet the government has bluntly refused to suspend the process.

Ruling for the rich

Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, says the system is “working incredibly well”, because it was saving the government money. The stress and anxiety for people on desperately low incomes, some pushed to the brink of suicide, means nothing to the government.

The Centrelink debacle itself is the result of cutting $2 billion out of welfare spending and cutting the jobs of workers reviewing their computer system.

The Centrelink debacle exposes Turnbull’s agenda to rule for the rich.

More than a third of large companies paid no tax at all in 2014-15, according to Tax Office data. Others paid almost nothing, like Macquarie Bank which paid just 1.5 per cent tax on $8.1 billion in profits.

Yet Turnbull wants to rip money out of the pockets of the poorest people in the country, while he plans to cut corporate taxes and hand $48 billion back to the bosses.

But Sussan Ley is only one of the Liberal rorters. Turnbull has appointed Greg Hunt to be health Minister. Previously Hunt was environment minister, the apologist for the Coalition’s climate (in-)action plan. Despite his promise of “rock solid support for Medicare”, no doubt he will push the Coalition and private health insurance agenda for Medicare cuts.

While Centrelink beneficiaries are ruthlessly audited, the government pours billions of unauthorised dollars into offshore detention of refugees.

Turnbull may have got rid of one rorter, but the government is full of them. They should all be sacked. The government is down in the polls and politically is on the backfoot. We have to keep them there.

With a lead from union officials, the disgust with the Liberals could be turned into struggle. We are still waiting for demonstrations against the ABCC, Turnbull’s construction union police. Union-called mobilisations against the Centrelink debt repayment scheme could kill it off and link up with the CPSU workers’ fight for a wage rise.

The best antidote to Trump, Pauline Hanson and Turnbull is to build the fight against every cut; to fight racism and Islamophobia, and to fight for black and refugee rights.

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