Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1609      September 4, 2013

Life under an Abbott government

Coalition leader Tony Abbott has done his best to give his personal image a softer make-over and overcome his misogynist reputation. The anti-union, right-wing Christian fundamentalist claims to have reversed his opposition to multiculturalism, and suppressed his strident opposition to abortion and other women’s and gay and lesbian rights. The Coalition has steadfastly refused to release much detail of what it has in store for the Australian people, but it is still possible to put together a picture of life under an Abbott government. It is not a pretty one.

Workers face a torrid time. The Coalition’s aim is union-free workplaces, with internationally “competitive” wage rates (read rock bottom) and self-regulation by employers of health and safety and other conditions in the workplace. The minimum wage and youth rates would be slashed, penalty rates reduced or abolished. Wage rises would be disallowed if they were not funded by workers through such means as sacrificing conditions (paid breaks, paid overtime, sackings, casualisation, etc).

Right of entry for trade union officials and the already limited right to take “protected action” would be further restricted, unions bankrupted by stiff penalties and the already draconian powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission strengthened and extended to cover the Maritime Union of Australia.

The big sting in the tail is the reintroduction of individual contracts by another name. Workers would be “allowed” to “opt out” of enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) in the name of “flexibility agreements”. The content of EBAs would also be restricted to a narrower range of issues.

The Coalition has already indicated that it would delay the next two years’ increases in the compulsory contribution which is in the process of being increased from nine to twelve percent. It might even pull the plug on further increases.

The unemployed are prime targets. In the eyes of the Coalition they are to blame for a system (capitalist) which cannot provide them with work. It would take “a harder line” on recipients of the dole and other welfare payments – meaning make it more difficult to receive benefits and cut payments.

The Opposition are strongly opposed to a $50 per week increase to the single rate of Newstart. They don’t care one iota if it is impossible to live with on $37.50 a day.

The sick can expect longer waiting lists for hospitals and fewer bulk billing doctors. Funding for primary and preventative health care would be cut and public hospitals starved of funds. Bulk billing, if it is not abolished, is set to be means tested.

In relation to public hospitals, the Opposition would “devolve power to local communities” – meaning privatisation of the administration of hospitals, a process already under way. Privatised public hospitals would be run for profit, resulting in dangerous, even life-threatening, short cuts.

There are no plans for dental care to come under Medicare. Big Pharma looks set to take over the administration of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which would not only drive up prices for medicines but undermine the integrity of the process for adding products to it.

Students have little to look forward to. The Coalition plans to cut at least $2.3 billion from universities and student support and place greater reliance on corporate funding for research. Fees will rise.

At the school level, it says it would “devolve power to local communities”, spin for privatisation. Although it now claims to support Gonski reforms, public schools would continue to be under-funded. Teachers and the Australian Education Union are in for a rough time protecting education programs, class sizes and salaries and conditions.

Indigenous Australians are in for more of the same racist and criminal neglect. The aim is assimilation, not recognition. There are a few token programs, but not a word about lifting the Northern Territory Intervention, restoring rights to manage their own affairs, granting real land rights or protecting Indigenous communities from further assaults by mining corporations.

Women and their partners/fathers are to be rewarded with six months paid parental leave at their existing rate of pay up to a rate of $150,000 per annum. Some on lower incomes stand to get little more than half the payment as other parental payments are cut and the income taxed.

Abbott claims the high payments are vital to ensure “women of calibre” have families!

Big business is protesting loudly as Abbott has indicated the paid leave would be partially funded by a 1.5 percent levy on companies with an income of over $5 million.

There are now suggestions that it might be funded by a HECS style of income contingent loan. The payments would be in the form of a loan, and the recipient – in most cases the mother – which would be repaid after returning to the workforce and income reaching a certain threshold.

As for other women’s rights, Abbott’s vision is blinded by Papal edicts, which he seeks to impose on all women. As he once said, “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.” He still remains steadfastly opposed to a woman’s right to choose.

“Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations,” was another of his claims.

Asylum seekers are to be subjected to the same or similar inhumane treatment as being meted out by Labor. The Refugee Review Tribunal, a last chance to avoid returning people to danger and possible death, would be abolished.

Boats would be turned back risking lives, asylum seekers sent offshore for indefinite incarceration in the most appalling sub-human conditions, never to be welcomed to Australia’s shores – in contravention of Australia’s international obligations.

Abbott and Rudd continue their race to the bottom, attempting to play to racist elements in the community outdo each other in cruelty to refugees.

Gays and lesbians – Abbott is not even prepared to allow a conscience vote on marriage equality. Ending discrimination against gays and lesbians is a “fashion”, not a human right; presumably, it would go out of fashion in Abbott’s eyes after the elections. Abbott’s minders have done their best to keep his homophobic views out of sight.

Migrants are welcome as long as they don’t “try to change us” or wear burqas. Racism and xenophobia are being fostered to create divisions between communities and within the working class – a grim reminder of Howard’s “children overboard” election ploy.

Pensioners are seen as a burden on society, of little use in the profit-making process and eating a big hole in the budget. One approach being discussed behind closed doors is some form of mortgage on the family home to recover some of the pension payments after death.

Meanwhile the Coalition is considering reintroducing taxation on superannuation income of retirees. It also has plans to cut government contributions to super and tax concessions for low income earners and seniors still in the workforce.

Homeless numbers look set to rise as the Coalition has no policies to reduce poverty or provide public housing for the thousands of homeless including young people and families on waiting lists for housing.

At least ten percent of Australians – 850,000 households – are paying more than they can afford on either rent or a mortgage.

Public servants are in the firing line with between 12,000 and 20,000 positions to go in the first round of cuts. Services would be cut, outsourced and agencies and government businesses privatised. The cuts would be used to fund increased military spending and tax cuts for big business and the wealthy, and assistance to mining companies and the big polluters.

Single parents would not receive an extra cent. The January cuts to payments would remain in place. The Coalition takes a similar, punitive approach to single parents as Labor – based on backward thinking that their immoral behaviour led to their “situation”.

The environment is a fundamental question of survival, yet the Coalition is set on a path of destruction and degradation. It would fast-track huge coal mines and fracking, provide no funding for rail and light rail projects, put billions towards road projects, provide ongoing support for coal fired generation and gas, and continue with fossil fuel subsidy for mining companies.

In addition an Abbott government would put states in control of more environmental matters which would be disastrous. It would dismantle Australia’s network of marine parks, and abandon Tasmanian forests and the Great Barrier Reef. Abbott has no serious measures to address climate change, protect our river systems or save our farming communities from devastation by mining companies.

As the Greens point out, “What Tony Abbott’s big business buddies find ‘unworkable’ is anything that stands in the way of their own private profits and Tony Abbott wants to let them write their own rules.”

The elephant in the room is the GST which would remove all exemptions including health, education and fresh food and increase the rate to 15 percent or more. That would have a devastating impact on the living standards of families, especially people on low incomes and the subsequent decline in purchasing power would help drive the economy into recession.

If the Coalition gains control over both Houses of Parliament then it would not only ram through the policies that we know about but a great deal more. The only way to stop this happening is to ensure the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate.

The CPA recommends putting Coalition candidates last on their ballot papers along with other reactionary candidates including those from the Rise Up Australia Party, Family First, Katter’s Australian Party, Democratic Labor Party, One Nation, Christian Democrats, Palmer United Party and so on. We recommend a vote for Labor ahead of these reactionary groupings.

Next article – The history of America’s death squads

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