Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1551      13 June 2012

Gillard in damage control

Prime Minister Gillard’s decision to back the importation of at least 1,700 foreign workers to extract iron ore from Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project looks like being the final nail in the federal government’s coffin. Latest polls show the ALP’s primary vote slipping to just 26 percent. Workers are horrified that a Labor government could allow such a “foot in the door” for an assault on local wages and conditions, particularly at a time of high unemployment in the slower lanes of the Australian economy.

The ALP has been working hard to limit the damage. The mining corporations have stood shoulder to shoulder with the government. Opponents of the decision are labelled as xenophobes; it is being said they won’t face up to the issue of labour shortages in the resource sector; Australians are too soft and won’t head West to follow the jobs, and so on. That’s the strident side of Labor’s defence – an attempt to browbeat workers for trying to defend their pay and conditions and the training of local workers for jobs on big mining and infrastructure projects.

Words lifted from the Gillard’s speech to the recent Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner are being spun into a tough-talking attempt to put mining magnates back in their place.

“And here’s the rub. You don’t own the minerals. I don’t own the minerals. Governments only sell you the right to mine the resource. A resource we hold in trust for a sovereign people. They own it and they deserve their share. I think we’ve been crystal clear since the Budget. We want growth and then we want the benefits of growth to spread to all,” the PM said in a widely reproduced excerpt.

Gillard noted that some industry heavyweights in the room that night may not like the “spreading the benefits of the boom” language used to sell last month’s federal budget. That could be interpreted as saying the federal government is introducing the Mining Resource Rent Tax – the much-diluted “super profits” tax – and that the mining corporations should suck it up. That’s unless you heard or read the rest of the speech.

The PM took the opportunity offered during Minerals Week to assure the mining industry that it is “our economy’s strong right arm”, that the Australians holidaying overseas should thank the resource sector for the high exchange rate of the Australian dollar that allows for the privilege. She likes the directness of the representatives of the industry. “Straight talking is the Australian way,” she said.

Gillard even drew a comparison between the diggers at the Eureka Stockade and the industry reps sitting down to their parliamentary dinner. “The first ‘diggers’ were miners – it was miners who raised the first truly Australian flag and who beneath it swore to stand by each other and their rights,” she said. The irony is that most of the diners are implacable enemies of the workers who proudly carry the flag first flown at Ballarat and stand by one another in the true spirit of Eureka.

The rest of the speech was given over to presenting the government’s neo-liberal credentials – a budget surplus no matter what, support for austerity at international forums, commitment to private ownership and massive financial rewards for the already wealthy. “Australians don’t begrudge hard work and we admire your success,” she said.

“But I think we also both know that there there’s a whole productivity agenda that we do share and where we can make a huge difference: in skills, innovation, infrastructure, business regulation, trade,” the PM continued.

“And you know that when industry and government work together on the world stage we get results together too.”

Music to the transnationals’ ears! The productivity agenda is capitalist speed-up, reduced wages and conditions, fewer outlays for training, health and safety, lower corporate taxes (despite the “super profits” rhetoric), privatisation and the neutering or destruction of unions. The vision presented at the Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner wasn’t one of wealth held in common and developed for the people of Australia; it was a far more traditional one of smoothly running state monopoly capitalism or even a corporate state.

The awareness that the federal government is beholden to the big mining transnationals is hurting Labor. So is the fact that the country’s non-renewable resources are being ripped out of the ground in a reckless manner and obscene private fortunes are being made.

It’s not that the Opposition would do anything to turn that situation around – quite the opposite! But in Australia, in the absence of a united, substantial left alternative, voters will probably choose to punish the ALP with a vote for another force supporting big capital – the Liberal/National coalition. The screaming urgency is to build the left and progressive alternative to the big parties of capital.  

Next article – Asia-Pacific: Pumping up the next military conflict

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