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Issue #1610      September 11, 2013

Abbott PM

The lines are drawn

The Coalition took out a comfortable victory in last Saturday’s federal election and will now claim a “mandate” to implement a truly reactionary program on the people of Australia. Assessments vary. Some point out that it was Labor’s lowest vote in 100 years while others note that Kevin Rudd’s resurrection to the post of Prime Minister spared the ALP an even more devastating defeat. The picture in the Senate will become clearer in the days to come but it appears Abbott will have some manoeuvring to do to get legislation through the Upper House. The election result, and the years book-ended by the “Rudd-slide” of 2007 and the “Rudd-bath” of 2013, are rich in lessons for progressive political forces in Australia. The lessons will have to be learned quickly because Abbott is planning to press home swiftly the advantage gained for the corporate interests that favoured his elevation.

People will have to stand up and resist the backward policies of the Abbott government. (Photo: Anna Pha)

The election had its predictable and surprising moments. The ALP had effectively binned the list of relatively progressive aspirations set before the people to wide acceptance in 2007. The sleazy back-room deals cut by the Party’s right that produced the humiliating leadership changes shocked many. The persistence of many aspects of WorkChoices and the abandonment of serious measures to tackle climate change – Rudd’s “greatest moral challenge of our times” – made many others cynical. Defence of the rights of asylum seekers was thrown overboard. The ranks of the “true believers” are extremely thin in the wake of the Rudd/Gillard years.

The jig was up and big business needed a new team to keep pushing the neo-liberal economic and social agenda through. The corporate media, and Murdoch’s dominant News Corp Australia in particular, dropped all pretence to journalistic impartiality in a drive to “get” Labor. The further trashing of media “ethics” – one of the pillars of bourgeois “legitimacy” in countries like Australia – was a notable development in recent times.

The media barrage undoubtedly took its toll but, more importantly, so did the effects of the economic downturn in Australia. While the business pages and Labor liked to talk up the privileged position the country has with regards to the global economic crisis, people were feeling the effects of creaking social infrastructure and what, in other countries, is called “austerity”. Public hospitals and schools were showing the impact of years of neglect and under-funding. Recipients of government “benefits” were under increasing attack.

However, the defeat of the right wing Labor government and its replacement by the anti-people coalition partners does not mean acceptance by the people of the Coalition’s reactionary policies. On the contrary, it will spark increased organised resistance in the form of trade union and community action: people will have to stand up and resist the backward policies of the Abbott government.

The big stick will be wielded with the aim of deunionising the workforce and forcing more workers onto individual contracts. The emphasis will be on more profits at the expense of workers’ wages and conditions.

Other results were predictable. Clive Palmer’s millions were always going to make a splash. Other resource sector billionaires will take note. As the Guardian goes to press, the mining magnate looks set to take a seat in the House of Reps. At least one of his colleagues from the Palmer United Party will join him in the Senate from July 2014.

The fluke good fortune of the Liberal Democrat candidate in NSW is also likely to be bad news. It is anybody’s guess what influence the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party and the Australian Sports Party might have. A feature of the 2013 federal election was the proliferation of promptly registered, cashed up groups lengthening the ballot paper for the Senate. Most of the seemingly random new entrants favoured the Coalition when it got down to preferences.

The other major “story” from the election was the fate of the Greens. The party came under merciless attack from the corporate media before, during and after the conclusion of the virtual coalition with Labor under Gillard. In the end, while their vote dropped by just over three percent, they may maintained their numbers in the Senate.

Crucial lesson

A stunning victory was scored by Adam Bandt, or rather by the people of the seat of Melbourne on election day. Everything was thrown at the Greens member and it is testament to the importance of grass-roots political work that he has remained in his post. Organisation in the community defeated the malign influence of the media-industrial complex. He stood again on a platform that the corporate media tell us is totally on the nose among the Australian working class – defence of refugees, tough environmental measures including a swift transition to sustainable energy sources.

The sorts of skills and commitment to face-to-face persuasion demonstrated by Adam Bandt’s supporters will have to become general on the left and quickly! Abbott and soon-to-be treasurer Joe Hockey have warned that they will end the “age of entitlement”. The full consequences of that plutocratic rallying call are about to be felt.

In the post-election period it is important that all left and progressive forces talk together and work out a common approach to meet the attacks which will come thick and fast from the Abbott government.

Effective resistance will take leadership, unity and a lot of work. Reactionary political forces may dominate the parliament but the future will be shaped in our communities and workplaces. Let’s get to it.

Next article – Editorial – Both major parties sideline climate change

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