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Issue #1534      8 February 2012


Clash of visions

Two leaders, two speeches, described by the Australian newspaper as “clash of the visions”. Labor PM Julia Gillard was addressing the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce on February 1. Opposition Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s audience the day before was the National Press Club. Anyone listening to their long-winded, highly repetitive speeches could be forgiven for thinking they were written by the same spin-doctor. There was little difference in the language and the main thrust of each vision was more of the same neo-liberal, pro-business “free market” policies.

Gillard used the word “strong” or “strength” 36 times – strong economy, strong fundamentals, strong nation, strong dollar, strong future, strong fiscal framework,… Abbott used “strong” or “stronger” 29 times – strong economy, strong surplus, strong borders, stronger society, stronger community, ... . Gillard referred to “new economy” or “new Australian economy” 18 times. Everything is going to be “better” in Abbott’s speech – a word repeated 16 times.

Gillard’s speech, “Building a New Australian Economy Together” was a sales pitch for her government and the Australian economy, as much directed to the Australian electorate as to her business audience. It portrayed Australia as a highly prosperous global “safe haven” for investors midst European sovereign debt, recession and failed economies. Australia, she said, is a “pillar of strength in the world” and that her government will deliver a budget surplus in 2012-13.

There will be “powerful, economy-wide transformations, perhaps best thought of as ‘growing pains’.” But the future is bright, bringing “a new economy which is prosperous and fair, creative and skilled; where mining and manufacturing flourish and services grow; where the government manages the economy for working people, for the future.” This will be achieved, according to Gillard by providing investors with a “strong and disciplined fiscal framework” (meaning budget cuts and surplus), a high tech framework (including the national broadband network), a highly skilled workforce and “co-operation between government and industry” and more corporate welfare.

Abbott’s speech, “My Plan for a Stronger Economy and a Stronger Australia”, was yet another election campaign speech. a cleaner environment, for stronger borders and for future infrastructure.” An Abbott government would abolish Labor’s carbon and mining taxes; slash government programs including to health and education; sack 12,000 public servants; slash corporate taxes; reduce the size of government. Classic neo-liberal, pro-business policies.

At the same time as planning to abolish union negotiated collective agreements, Abbott dishonestly claimed that the Coalition “supports a high wage economy”. Abbott makes references to social issues, the environment and Indigenous Australians, while covering up the true intent of the Coalition.

He also picks up much of the Labor Party’s language: “I know how important giving everyone a ‘fair go’ is to Australians. That’s why we need to ‘have a go’ to build a stronger economy.” His “aspirations” for the extension of dental services under Medicare from those with chronic conditions to all Australians outdo Labor, which is trying to abolish the existing program.

Gillard’s promise “to manage the economy in the interests of working people” is a cheap appeal to Labor’s lost and disillusioned working class “heartland”. Notwithstanding the important differences between Labor and the Coalition on collective bargaining, both major parties are strong adherents to neo-liberalism, which serves the interests of the private sector, in particular the transnational corporations. Private profits are put before the needs and interests of working people, small business and family farmers. The economic interests of the capitalist class and working class are diametrically opposed. It is nonsense to suggest that you can govern for both classes.

The interests of the working people can only be served by a government of a new type that puts working people’s interests before private profits. That means a government that is prepared to reregulate and plan the economy, build the public sector and protect trade union rights and workers’ interests.

The real clash of visions is seen between workers and employers in trade union struggles for higher wages, safe working conditions and the protection of jobs. It is seen in the struggle against the big polluters to halt climate change; in the battle between mining corporations and Indigenous Australians for land rights; in the actions of the Occupy Movement against the ills of capitalism; in the global campaign for a better world and in the struggles for peace, democracy and socialism.

Next article – Bringing war to our doorstep

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