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Issue #1600      July 3, 2013

Two-party system in disarray

Last week’s spectacle in Canberra with the unseating of Prime Minister Gillard had all the makings of a Shakespearian play – secret plots, backstabbing, betrayal and drawn knives, climaxing in the fall of a “Caesar” or dethroning of a Queen. The Labor Party was facing almost certain wipe-out in both Houses of Parliament. Overnight, Rudd’s second coming saw a miraculous restoration of Labor’s electoral prospects to within striking distance of the Coalition.

The private opinion polls, to the extent that they can be trusted, had in the lead-up to Kevin Rudd’s challenge for the top job, forecast a massive majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate for the Coalition. Gillard’s popularity had sunk to new lows. The polls were saying it was Gillard who was the turn-off, not Labor.

For months the media had run with polls comparing Rudd and Gillard with constant speculation about a leadership challenge. The focus was on personalities and trivia – not policies. This is in part a reflection of the further disarray of the two-party system.

There is no doubt that policies have played a role – the shift to the right on issues such as privatisation, public sector cuts, job losses, asylum seekers, the Northern Territory Intervention, unemployment and single parent payments, jobs and climate change, have all contributed to Gillard/Labor’s loss of support.

Gillard’s crucifixion

Three years on from her anointment as PM, the Fairfax and other media were doing their best to undermine Gillard, focusing on personal slanging matches in Parliament and avoiding serious debate let alone reporting on policy alternatives.

The Age editorial took its dirty, anti-Gillard campaign to a new level in its June 22 edition: “For the sake of the nation, Ms Gillard should stand aside.”

“It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again,” it said.

“Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.”

What hypocrisy from a paper that had focused on gutter politics and failed so dismally to report on policy!

The large corporate media monopolies including Fairfax (The Age), have played a key role in denying voters “a proper contest of ideas and policies” and undermined the “democratic processes” with their focus on personalities and gossip.

Only the Australian Greens and the Independents, who are not given serious coverage, have consistently stood above opportunistic appeals to the tabloid media and attempted to debate issues and promote policies for discussion. Even the bills moved by the Greens rarely gain coverage, let alone become the subject of “policy-driven democratic debate”.

The scene was set for Rudd’s supporters and Gillard camp defectors who feared the loss of their seats, to make their move on June 26, with just one day left in the current sitting of Parliament.

It all went to script. Rudd became PM and overnight the opinion polls put Labor back into the contest. Democracy had been restored! Labor was back on track!

“Julia Gillard has delivered the ultimate act of leadership and paid the ultimate price, ending the most poisonous, inglorious chapter in modern Labor Party history,” The Age crowed when Gillard brought on the leadership spill. (26-06-2013)

Rudd’s crucifixion

The whole unsavoury process, including the role of big business, the tabloid media and ratings agencies, had a déjà vu feel about it.

In 2010, in the lead-up to Gillard’s unseating of Rudd, the opinion polls had turned against Labor, albeit to only a modest extent compared with 2013. This provided the excuse for her (corporate-backed) leadership challenge.

Following her swearing in as PM, Gillard attempted to justify her actions to Parliament: “I formed the view that the best way of making sure that this government was back on track ... was to take the course that I took last night and this morning.” (23-06-2013)

“But I am full of understanding for the perspective that the Australian people that they want strong management of our borders and I will provide it,” Gillard said.

Gillard used her first press conference to address the Rudd government’s fallout with the mining industry over a proposed resource super profits tax. She sought cooperation with the mining corporations, and they drafted the new weaker minerals resources rental tax that replaced Rudd’s resource super profits tax.

There were similar compromises on the question of pricing carbon. As part of a deal with the Australian Greens not to block supply, the government introduced a carbon price which would evolve into an emissions trading scheme.

Gillard lurched further to the right regarding asylum seekers, attempting to outdo the Coalition by restoring mandatory detention, including children, and expanding on the Howard government’s so-called “Pacific Solution”. She continued the Northern Territory Intervention.

The main neo-liberal thrust of policy remained unchanged.

Rudd’s resurrection

Come 2013, Rudd is now reviewing many of the same issues – asylum seekers, the mining tax, relations with employers, carbon tax and the economy. He has strongly indicated that he will abandon the “class-warfare rhetoric” that the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and mass media claim have been the backdrop to Labor’s policies, in particular regarding Section 457 worker visas.

“Now that the leadership has been resolved there is a need for decisive action in key areas to restore business and community confidence,” the BCA said, with high expectations from Rudd to deliver.

Phoney debate

So now there may be a tighter contest between two parties for government in the next elections. But it will not be the “proper contest of ideas and policies” or the “vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate” that The Age claimed it was calling for. That requires an honest media and a genuine alternative. The only contest of ideas in parliament is from the Greens, and their ideas get little air time in the mass media.

There will be a vigorous contest, largely between personalities but also around the details of implementation of neo-liberal economic and social policies. It will be a fiery debate about how to implement the demands of the BCA and other corporate interests within neo-liberal parameters.

While changes to single parent payments, union right of entry, education and health funding and the election date may win more votes, the main thrust of the Coalition’s policy will go unchallenged by Labor. Nor will the electorate know what has been promised to the BCA and other corporate interests behind closed doors.

Privatisation, the role of the public sector, public housing, public transport, job creation, defence of Medicare, abolition of university and TAFE fees, the right to strike, cuts to social security, alternative energy research and development, climate change, the Northern Territory Intervention, mandatory detention of asylum seekers, military spending, the US Alliance and US bases in Australia, etc, are not on the agenda in this “contest of ideas”.

The Age’s role suggests that a section of the ruling class would prefer Labor were in office to carry through the next round of social security and other budget cuts in what looks set to be a period of economic crisis. Rudd is also seen as important with his knowledge of and focus on China and relations with the US.

When Gillard challenged Rudd, when Rudd challenged Gillard, it was not on an alternative political platform. The traditional Left and Right divides on policies that were fought out in bygone eras of the ALP were totally absent. Each promised to strengthen ties or improve relations with business, to meet new demands of the BCA, the mining sector or financial institutions.

An Abbott Coalition government would be far worse for the working class and trade union movement than a Rudd Labor government. Labor is just as committed to the right-wing neo-liberal agenda as the Coalition. The main difference is in the detail, the provision of safety nets and concessions to the trade union movement by Labor.

The original aim of the Labor Party at the time of its formation by trade unions (see Labor’s legacy lost) was to give workers and their trade unions a voice in Parliament. It can hardly be said that Labor plays that role today. The two major parties serve big business.

The working class need their own party, an independent party that puts the interests of the working people first, before those of the capitalist class. That party is a Communist Party.

The role of mining corporations, other big business interests and the mass media with its monopoly control, in unseating and anointing Prime Ministers brings home the need for working class media. The Guardian, the workers’ weekly, has an important role to play in representing the working class’s interests and bringing the truth to the people.

If nothing else, the events of the past week illustrate the urgency and importance of building the Communist Party of Australia and increasing the sales of The Guardian. We urge readers to consider joining the CPA, send a donation to the The Guardian and becoming a regular subscriber.  

Next article – Editorial – The powers behind the throne

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