07 May 2015

Abbott still dangerous every day he hangs on

The Liberal victory in the NSW election was a reprieve for Abbott after Liberal defeats in Victoria and Queensland. But it was hardly a ringing endorsement for him. His major contribution to the campaign was keeping his mouth shut for a few weeks.

Abbott knows that if his next budget in May does not revive his electoral fortunes, the knives will soon be out again. He is desperately searching for a populist hook to turn around the polls, talking of an “ice epidemic” and cracking down on welfare benefits for parents against vaccinations. None of it is working; a whopping 60 per cent of voters disapproved of Abbott as PM in an April poll.

Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have abandoned their chicken little rhetoric about a debt and deficits disaster, now saying that Australia’s budget position is already “a pretty good result”.

Abbott has used the creative accounting detailed in the Intergenerational Report to claim, “Labor’s debt and deficits have been halved already”. This is only true based on the inflated deficit the Liberals created by giving billions extra to the Reserve Bank before their first budget. Science guru Karl Kruszelnicki, hired to spruik the report, has now declared it “flawed” and says it has been “fiddled with” by the government.

Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are falling over themselves to reassure everyone that their May budget will be “fair”, now talking about a budget surplus “as soon as possible” rather than immediately.

They are promising extra money for a childcare package for families and a cut to tax for small business. But it’s no surprise no one believes in their change of heart—at the same time, they are blowing an extra $1 billion on two new military transport planes. Health minister Sussan Ley is reportedly planning an audit aimed at cutting subsidies for treatments under Medicare, which could see higher co-payments.

Labor has gone on the attack over corporate tax dodging, exposing the tax avoidance by companies including Apple, Google and BHP. The astounding profit figures of the big tax avoiders showcase how ruthless it is for the Liberals to go after pensioners, the unemployed, students and the sick.

All Labor can promise is a new tax that would raise just $500 million a year from corporate tax avoiders. Bill Shorten has walked away from any effort to reimpose a tax on mining super profits.

Liberals still want cuts

The Liberals have put their plans for cuts, attacks on penalty rates and workers’ rights on hold—for now. Abbott knows that he will not survive another budget backlash. They are biding their time and hoping their popularity improves, while keeping up a discussion about raising the GST and attacking penalty rates.

But big business wants the cuts and savagery now. In April nine of Australia’s largest business lobby groups issued an open letter declaring that, “successive governments have been spending beyond their means”. They pointed the finger at the Liberals, demanding further “economic reform” even if it is not “politically expedient”.

Abbott doesn’t seem able to put a foot right. The danger is, however, that the union campaign against Abbott’s cuts has been wound down just as it could be advancing. The strategy is to wait for the next election in a year and half’s time. But this could take the momentum out of the opposition and give the Coalition space to rebuild support.

University fee deregulation and the Medicare co-payment may be off the table, but there is no shortage of cuts to fight. The funding cuts to remote Aboriginal communities that will see community closures in WA have produced big rallies around the country. Abbott is attempting to cut wages and conditions in the federal public service by offering pay rises of between 0 and 1 per cent a year. Instead of small-scale industrial bans implemented by CPSU members the union could prepare for agency-wide strikes that would really rock the government.

Abbott is hoping that, along with a “fair” budget, he can use Islamophobia and attacks on refugees to consolidate his support.

Abbott said nothing to condemn the anti-Muslim “Reclaim Australia” rallies, and has allowed Liberal backbencher George Christensen to endorse it as expressing “legitimate concerns”, parroting their conspiracy theories about halal food. It’s no surprise that Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi is pressing for an inquiry into halal certification.

The government wants to use refugees and Muslims to distract from their budget attacks and boost their popularity. The fight against racism has to be linked to the fight against the cuts.

Labor, for their part, helped Abbott pass his metadata laws and refuse to stand up to him on “national security” issues and Islamophobia. After “Reclaim Australia”, it’s even more important to build a broad opposition to the racism and fear-mongering.

And we need to seize every chance to push union leaders for action against Abbott’s cuts and to fight for an alternative to the Liberals’ agenda.