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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Editorial

A new political low point in Australian politics

Australians have been shocked by the sharpness of the budget’s attacks on their way of life, their financial and social security. The corporate dictatorship’s mask has slipped to reveal a very ugly agenda aimed at completing the grab-back of rights and conditions achieved over many decades of struggle. The public is stunned by the hypocrisy of privileged parliamentarians serving super-profitable transnationals demanding sacrifice from the lowest income earners in the country. Talk of the end of the “age of entitlement” and demands that “we” must live within our means have stood in stark contrast to commitments to buy an extra F-35 fighters at a cost to the taxpayer of $12 billion and a $60,000 scholarship for the Abbott’s daughter to study design at a private college.

The growing contrast between the lives and expectations of the elites in Australia and the rest of us has mobilised thousands upon thousands to take their protest to the streets. Day by day, the full consequences of the budget and the level of the government’s contempt for workers and other less privileged Australians are becoming clear.

An important emblematic example of the government’s brazenness is the decision by the Abbott government to strip the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA) of $6.7 million-worth of funding to carry on the politically-charged Royal Commission into the Rudd government’s home insulation scheme. Attorney-General Senator George Brandis initially denied the funding for the inquiry into the initiative aimed at stimulating the economy had been diverted from other sources. He later confessed that the funding had been taken from the budget for witness expenses during the RCIRCSA.

Damage controlling door-step interviews could not conceal the motives of the government. Abbott and Brandis were at pains to stress the RCIRCSA will still be the most expensive Royal Commission in Australian history. Commissioner Ian Hanger will receive $730,000 for his services. The plain facts are, however, that the Gillard government’s original allocation of $14 million for witnesses will be raided to go after the reputation of Labor in government and deliver some very useful distraction from the budget fall-out.

The RCIRCSA was always going to be an expensive exercise. Decades and decades of neglect and cover-up by mainly religious institutions will take a lot of time and resources. Embarrassment to powerful bodies like the Catholic Church has already occurred and drawn long-overdue apologies from them. The shameful revelations must be painful to the deeply religious Prime Minister and other members of the government. An opportunity to hasten or limit the damage to the reputations of those conservative institutions would be seized with both hands.

Another proposal from government spokespersons underscores the extreme ambition of the Coalition in removing the public’s safety net. Until now, debts for courses incurred by students under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) were written off when the individual died. A major part of the sales pitch for the Hawke-era student loan system was that repayments would only be extracted via the recipient’s income tax once they reach a certain comfortable income level. The debt would increase at the rate of the Consumer Price Index. Larger voluntary repayments by students would be encouraged by a government contribution.

All the elements of the scheme have been subject to change over the years. The overall trend is towards a less generous regime for students in higher education. The budget worsens the situation for aspirants from low income backgrounds. They had already been discouraged by the cost of courses and the resultant debt. Universities are once more bastions of establishment privilege.

The change to HECS that has disgusted working class families is the proposal to recovery debts from the estate of deceased former students. Nothing demonstrates the fact that higher education is to be nothing more than a high cost product delivered by corporations quite like this ghoulish “reform”. Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Treasurer Joe Hockey scrambled to defuse the furore that followed revelations that the federal government was considering such a step but the damage to its fast disintegrating reputation has been done. One more illusion about the ruling class agenda for Australian workers – for those who still harbour such illusions – was shattered.

Next article – Save FASS Food Testing Laboratory

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