Editorial: Strike a blow at Turnbull—and send Labor a message

Malcolm Turnbull has passed a new milestone—trailing for 20 Newspolls in a row. He is fast closing on Tony Abbott’s 30 in a row that was the justification for Turnbull toppling Abbott.

Turnbull has been all but invisible in the equal marriage debate, declaring there are, “a lot of other much more important issues for me to focus on”.

Instead opponents of equal marriage within government ranks have been dominating the airwaves, exposing the Liberals for the collection of bigots that they are.

Government MPs have been busy making fools of themselves, not least over the NRL’s decision to have US rapper Macklemore perform his track “Same Love” at the grand final. Abbott called for the song to be banned, making his claimed crusade to defend “freedom of speech” look a little shallow.

Peter Dutton said the NRL should “stand up to some of this political correctness”, and launched the bizarre suggestion that someone should play an anti-equal marriage song after Macklemore’s performance.

Turnbull has effectively struck a deal with the right of his party. Allowing them to run a rotten, homophobic campaign against equal marriage is the price for allowing a vote in parliament, which will almost certainly see equal marriage come into law.

This means Turnbull can avoid an election campaign where Labor runs on a promise to introduce equal marriage.

Turnbull’s hypocrisy is on clear display. The man who once declared, “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”, has now embraced the climate deniers’ war on renewable energy.

He threatened gas companies with government intervention, to force them to release gas into the shortfall in the domestic market. But the big problem in the power industry is not gas. It is replacing the aging, polluting coal power stations. The need to build renewable energy with battery storage is obvious.

The government has been weighing up the plan for a clean energy target proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. Yet Abbott has already pledged to cross the floor to stop, “any significant increase in the amount of renewables in our system”, and says he would take up to six other backbenchers with him.

Turnbull is stuck. He can either try to strike a deal with Labor and lose his political attack over energy, or capitulate again to the hard right in his party.

That is, assuming he can still hold onto government at all. The loss of just one lower house MP through the dual citizenship debacle would see Turnbull lose his majority.

Labor talks left

Bill Shorten made a good point in blaming the “ruthless pursuit of profits” following privatisation for price rises and the chaos over energy. But Labor is not promising to reverse privatisation, or use government investment to build the renewable energy system we need.

Labor has made a turn to the left, promising to tackle inequality and increase taxes on the wealthy. But it is more concerned with show than substance.

Labor refuses to break from its bipartisan support for detention on Manus and Nauru and turning back refugee boats.

The ACTU is demanding a future Labor government “change the rules” on workplace laws, suggesting the removal of bosses’ ability to “terminate” enterprise agreements as well as allowing pattern or industry-wide bargaining.

But instead of putting real pressure on Labor, the ACTU is dithering over what rule changes will be acceptable to Labor.

This risks repeating the mistakes of the Your Rights at Work campaign in 2007. That campaign helped get the Liberals out of office, but let Labor introduce WorkChoices Lite, which maintained the ban on the right to strike and the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission.

While ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said in March that unfair laws need to be broken, those words have not been turned into action. The ACTU now says it is, “building a movement to change the rules”. But its campaign to “change the rules” is focused on getting Labor elected.

The Turnbull government is divided and weak. A determined industrial campaign could strike a real blow against Turnbull and the bosses. Such a campaign could also make it clear to Labor that the union movement will not settle for another version of WorkChoices Lite.

The Unions NSW combined unions’ rally on 16 November, which was being called to “Stop Turnbull’s War on Workers”, is now being branded under the banner of “Change the Rules.” Every unionist in NSW needs to mobilise to make this a success.

But the movement that can win real change will need defiant industrial action. We are not going to accept changing one set of bad rules for another. To defeat Turnbull and the bosses, bad rules and bad laws will have to be broken.

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