After Julia Gillard’s announcement of a September 14 election date, the spectre of an Abbott government now looms large. Millions are fearful about what a Coalition government would mean.
Abbott has already promised to cut 12,000 public service jobs, turn back boats to Sri Lanka and reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) for refugees. Many are worried he wants to turn back the clock on climate change, gay rights and women’s rights.
Yet Abbott’s policies are far from popular. The experience of the Liberal state government’s slash-and-burn approach is one of the few things that might boost federal Labor’s chances. The Coalition is only in line to win the election because Labor has disappointed its supporters by delivering so little.
Gillard still hopes to attract workers with what she calls “Labor values”. Spending on a National Disability Insurance Scheme and her “school improvement” plan are the centrepiece of this.
But the government is so desperate to please business with its commitment to neo-liberal policies its promises are empty. Its schools plan includes attacks on teachers’ working conditions giving more power to principals and increasing the use of testing metrics like NAPLAN.
The government still talks of making cuts in the May budget to fund its promises.
Gillard’s announcement of legislation to provide flexible working arrangements for those returning from parental leave is symbolic of her failure to stand up to business. It will do nothing to force businesses to help these workers out—simply requiring them to “respond” to requests.
And the government is cutting single parents’ benefits by driving them onto the Newstart allowance. It is the latest example of Labor’s warped priorities and single parents are outraged.
Among the stories on a campaign page about how the cut will affect them, one single parent seethed, “I never thought to see the day when a Labor government would take the bread from the mouths of children. I have always supported the Labor party but this inhuman legislation has caused me to rescind my support.”
Another explained, “I am now in a worse position than I ever have experienced in my life… after my essential bills are paid (rent and car loan) I am left with $25 a week for food, utilities, fuel. Try staying afloat, happy and sane with that hanging over your head each day!!!”
One newspaper article claims that some single mothers are now being forced to consider prostitution to make ends meet.
So far Gillard has turned a deaf ear to the calls from welfare groups and even bosses to increase the dole by $50. Greens MP, Adam Bandt, didn’t even try to feed his dogs (or his fiancé) when he tried to live on the Newstart allowance for a week.
But the money to reverse the cuts is there. Last year BHP alone posted a profit of $14.8 billion—yet in six months, the mining tax has raised a pitiful $126 million.
The government should immediately take up The Greens’ demand to raise the tax another 10 per cent.
The space for The Greens to grow into a more serious left-wing challenge to Labor is also there. But too often their electoral orientation has pulled them into both courting conservative voters and talking up their “achievements” in parliament as part of the Labor minority government.
If the party gave its second preference to Labor, it would be a clear indication of its determination to keep Abbott out, and indicate its determination to win over disillusioned left Labor voters.
On February 11, thousands of workers rallied to defend Bob Carnegie. Bob supported the Abigroup workers in their victorious nine-week strike at the Brisbane Children’s Hospital, and now faces a possible jail sentence.
In the very first week of classes Sydney Uni will be shut down by a 24-hour strike against a vicious, cuts-obsessed management. Victorian teachers are on strike as we go to press. This is the way to stop cuts and defend jobs.
But the danger of racism gaining ground was graphically on display in Melbourne when unemployed workers blockaded a site to demand they be given jobs in place of four Filipino workers on 457 visas. These are the kinds of ugly attitudes that can take root during crisis when Labor fails (see p9).
Everybody who opposes the targeting of foreign workers needs to argue inside the unions for a focus on making the bosses pay. The refugee campaign will also be central to openly challenging the xenophobia of Labor and Liberal, as they compete over which party can be cruellest to refugees.
The horrifying threat of an Abbott government will tempt some into going quiet in the hope that this will help Labor. But that can only hold back the struggles that do have the potential to stop Labor’s slide to the right and to stop Abbott.
It will be inside the unions, the campaigns and the movements that the campaign for real change, and to stop Abbott, will be won or lost.