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Issue #1664      November 12, 2014


The ANZAC spirit and the dictates of capitalism

For many years, major political figures – and especially Prime Ministers – have struck their most respectful poses and waxed their most lyrical when talking about Australian service men and women. The willingness, professionalism and bravery of these citizens has been abused time and time again in pursuit of the geo-political objectives of British and then US imperialism but it appeared that the sacrifice was appreciated in the halls of power. Recent events, however, drive home the reality that official reverence for the country’s soldiers, sailors and air force crew is nothing compared to that shown to capitalist economics.

The Abbott government is at war with its public servants and is keen to step out of its social responsibilities entirely. The budget has slashed jobs from an already struggling public sector and now wage cuts are being imposed. Workplace agreements for 165,000 public servants in over 100 agencies expired in June and the government is insisting that new agreements must deliver pay increases significantly below any rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Workers are after an increase of 12.5 percent over three years in an attempt to keep pace with mounting cost of living pressures.

Public servants rightly argue they deserve productivity increases, as well, given that they have been forced to take on the duties of former colleagues made “redundant” by the Abbott government. The government is not listening. In the Department of Human Services, for example, workers are being offered a take-it-or-leave-it 0.8 percent extra per year – way below growth in the CPI, which makes it a sizeable pay cut in real terms.

Abbott anticipated the anger the wage cutting would generate. Prior to the federal budget, he intervened to postpone a recommendation from the Remuneration Tribunal for a fat increase to parliamentarians’ pay packets. This initiative may have prevented the inevitable tabloid headline or two but is unlikely to cause hardship on Capital Hill. Parliamentary salaries and allowances are generous, to put it mildly. Cuts to public servants’ pay, on the other hand, are going to hurt.

Despite the institutional intimidation built into current industrial relations, public servants are fighting back. One section of the community that can’t fight back is the supposedly respected defence forces. There is nothing they can do about the insulting 1.5 percent per annum pay rise handed down to them. Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie has suggested that at Remembrance Day ceremonies to be held this week, service men and women should turn their backs on government representatives.

“I have one message to all Australians that will help our ADF receive a fair pay rise – with the spirit of the ANZACs, turn your backs,” the Senator (and former soldier) said. It’s unlikely to happen. It remains to be seen if Ms Lambie will hold to her promise to vote down government bills until the insulting pay deal is fixed. For the stance she has taken, Lambie has incurred the wrath of “respectable” opinion makers for a lack of “respect” for the ANZAC tradition. The same conservative commentators said nothing about the lack of respect shown via the pay cut or the inadequacy of assistance given to traumatised army personnel returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“We’d all like to pay our serving Defence personnel more,” Abbott said recently, “but there’s going to have to be a very tight pay restraint across the public sector, including the defence personnel. I regret that.”

Abbott proceeded to blame the parlous situation on the need to wipe out billions of dollars-worth of debt racked up by the previous government. Once that is achieved, the story goes, better pay deals could be back on the table. Workers should never be sucked in by this sort of cynical line. When and if the debt is turned around and when and if the Australian economy gets back to health, restraint will be demanded to “safeguard the recovery” or to prevent “overheating” the economy, a hike in interest rates, and so on. In reality, big business and the parliamentarians who serve its interests are as respectful and considerate of the welfare of workers as they are of Australia’s service men and women – not at all.

Next article – No private health insurance in primary care

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