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Issue #1653      August 27, 2014


Executioner of people’s rights

It is becoming clear that there is considerable unrest within the ranks of the Coalition caucus and the Liberal Party. Treasurer Joe Hockey is becoming an embarrassment with gaffe after gaffe as he attempts to sell the line that the budget is fair. Every new attempt by Hockey to defend the budget reveals just how out of touch he is with ordinary people and their lives, and sees him and the government sink deeper. Murdoch’s Australian, which did so much to put the Coalition into office and supports the budget, is now running hard on Hockey’s failure to sell it.

“Coalition doubts spread over Hockey’s sales job” and “Dow chief: the world laughs at us”, are just two headlines on the one page (15-08-2014). Under the first heading, Stephanie Balogh writes, “Joe Hockey has fuelled internal criticism of his performance as chief salesman of the budget, prompting colleagues to question his ability to lock in support for the Abbott government’s economic narrative.” Former Liberal leader John Hewson is one of a number of prominent Liberals outside of Parliament laying into Hockey’s performance. Most of the criticism focuses on Hockey’s personal performance, although within the ranks of caucus there are some who feel he should back off on some unpopular policies like the paid parental leave scheme and Medicare co-payment.

The footage on Channel 9 of a smug Hockey and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, smoking cigars outside Treasury on the eve of the May 13 austerity budget was a big turnoff to the electorate. After the budget Hockey attempted to defend the Medicare $7 co-payment, saying that his (high income) electorate of North Sydney has “one of the highest rates of bulkbilling in Australia”. Not true. His relatively wealthy electorate has one of the lowest bulkbilling rates in Sydney, confirming that the most disadvantaged and lower income recipients rely on bulkbilling and would be hit hard by the co-payment. Comparing the cost of the $7 co-payment with two beers fell just as flat.

But the gaffe that refuses to go away is Hockey’s claim that the increase in the fuel tax was fair because the “poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases.” How does he think poor people living in the outer suburbs get to work when they do not have public transport, or poor farmers in rural Australia get around without a car? The cigar-smoking Treasurer once again could not appear more out of touch with ordinary working people.

Whoever advised Hockey to sell the budget as fair was setting him up to fail. The ridicule and criticism of Hockey’s marketing is being used by the media to divert attention from the content of the budget. In effect they are trying to personalise the failure of the budget. The austerity measures cannot be covered up or the public fooled as to their impact. The ongoing gradual transformation of government that has been underway for some decades has reached a critical point where the next steps – dismantling the “welfare state” and changing the role of government – will have such negative impact on living standards that they cannot be sold.

Hockey is the messenger, the executioner of people’s rights for global capital, for the largest transnational corporations. Changing a few ministers around might buy a little time, but any leader attempting to sell and defend the budget measures is attempting the impossible. No one can hide the impact the many cuts and co-payment would have. The Australian people do not want to see their past gains and rights swept away and they do not want to be driven into poverty and despair.

There is an opening to put pressure on government leaders from within by lobbying local MPs and Senators over budget measures. They are already very anxious about public reaction to the budget and sensitive when it comes to the question of re-election. The budget must be defeated. This will require a mass mobilisation of all those forces opposing it and the establishment of community/trade union committees to campaign, not just to bust the budget or defeat the Coalition, but to build the forces to elect a pro-people, pro-environment government in it is place.

Next article – Free Palestine: The quest for truth and justice continues

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