Tony Abbott has been trying to avoid the media in his first month as Prime Minister. But more and more of the Coalition’s real agenda is emerging.
The unfolding MPs’ expenses scandal reveals Abbott’s government to be a born-to-rule elite who think they’re entitled to cream off tens of thousands of dollars from the public purse.
Abbott, who conspired to have former parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper charged over his expenses, has spent thousands more taxpayer dollars himself on attending weddings—including Slipper’s!—and cycling competitions. The arrogance of Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro is sickening. They claimed a combined $12,000 to swan around at an overseas wedding alongside billionaire Gina Rinehart, and even had the gall to claim it as some kind of fact-finding tour.
These are the same people who moved to scrap wage rises for some of the lowest paid workers in the country, in aged care and child care, as one of their first acts in government (see p28).
Unsurprisingly, refugees have also been amongst the first to feel the impact of Abbott’s election victory. The Coalition are packing as many asylum seekers onto Nauru and Manus Island as possible.
As predicted, Morrison has sunk to gutter racism, introducing his policy to notify police when asylum seekers move into the community and accusing asylum seekers of crime—never mind that it’s his own colleagues who should be charged for rorting taxpayers.
However cruel the government’s measures, though, Abbott’s decision to make “stopping the boats” the test of his government is already giving them a headache. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s first move, to shut down information about asylum boat arrivals, backfired badly, angering the media and raising suspicions about the government’s policies.
Abbott has also moved against even small measures to fight climate change. Both the Climate Commission and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation have been axed, making clear the government’s contempt for the environment.
More nasties are in the works. With the ACT set to pass same-sex marriage laws, the Coalition has declared its intent to override them, with either a parliamentary vote or a High Court challenge.
Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews plans to expand income management to punish more of the poorest and disadvantaged welfare recipients by imposing humiliating restrictions on how they can spend their money.
And Education Minister Chris Pyne has let slip government plans for a ban on student amenities fees and a cap on university places. While Tony Abbott moved swiftly to hose down the outcry, he refused to rule out the changes, saying they “were not a priority”, at least not “at this time”.
Abbott already planned to cut at least 12,000 public service jobs. More sackings and cuts to government spending are likely as the economy deteriorates. Unemployment, at 5.8 per cent, is the highest it’s been since the 2008 economic crisis, and is expected to keep rising. The number of underemployed is up to 7.8 per cent.
As the economy slows, the bosses are increasing the pressure on Abbott to attack penalty rates.
No fight from Labor
But one thing is clear from the Labor leadership contest: neither Albanese nor Shorten is prepared to really challenge Abbott’s plans. Both candidates continue to defend the policy record of one of the most right-wing Labor governments ever.
After July next year, Abbott and the right-wing independents will essentially control the Senate too.
The fight against Abbott will have to be built outside parliament. With the government putting its anti-refugee policies at the centre of its agenda, the campaign to expose the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru is a crucial part of challenging Abbott.
In the run-up to the election, thousands hit the streets to support refugees. That support will need to be mobilised again to take the fight to the government.
An industrial campaign can halt Abbott’s move to re-introduce the ABCC construction industry police.
The result of the industrial campaign at Sydney Uni shows how unions can prepare for Abbott’s offensive. Seven days of strike action boosted membership and won measures to reverse casualisation, with the union now in a stronger position to resist any future job cuts or government attacks.
Bus workers in Darwin have also held two 24-hour strikes in recent weeks to reject a pay cut from the Country Liberal government.
Abbott’s can be a one-term government, but only if we fan every spark of resistance and the campaigns against him are pushed from below.