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Issue #1695      July 29, 2015


Helicopter jaunts and equality of sacrifice

Last week’s parliamentary leaders’ retreat in Sydney was dominated by talk of tax reform. Prime Minister Abbott, state premiers and territory chief ministers were all pretty much on the same page. “Australia”, that broadest of definitions encompassing a very unequal society, has a debt problem. The biggest component of this problem, supposedly, is the health budget. The Medicare levy doesn’t meet the cost of public health and something has got to give. Public spending cuts will continue as will privatisation but now, it seems, taxation will have to be increased, as well. Of course, the idea of increasing corporate tax is not even considered. Neither is any measure that would dampen the drive of the already wealthy to go out and get even wealthier. The GST, the tax that clobbers the less well off hardest, appears to be the front runner in the tax hike stakes.

Working people are accustomed to sacrifice. They would be prepared to tighten the belt in a good, common cause. But “fixing” the supposed debt crisis is not such a cause. Underlining the class bias of the sacrifices being envisaged by the parliamentary leaders was the other big story of the week – Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop’s $5,227 helicopter ride to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser in Geelong.

“It was done within entitlement,” the conservative veteran said. It was an instructive choice of words. Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey became famous with a speech to a London audience for flagging the end of the “age of entitlement”. Not so for the servants of the monopolies, it seems. The tabloid tidbit about the chartered helicopter ride opened the floodgates on revelations about the speaker’s travel and other claims. A two week trip to Europe cost the taxpayer $88,000. Bishop’s attendance at arts events over eight days between 2010 and 2013 cost $3,300. And, going back to the years between 1998 and 2001, the bill for her chartered flights came in at $139,196.01. That was seven times the spend by then junior ministers Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

The PM has put Bishop “on probation”. The period of the punishment is not defined. Neither are the consequences. It’s a farce. The Finance Department is investigating but it is doubtful any impropriety will be discovered. Pampering and privilege are part of the system. Nothing will be done about Joe Hockey claiming a $270-a-night taxpayer-funded travelling allowance to stay in a Canberra house majority-owned by his wife. In 2007, it came to light that the very wealthy Malcolm Turnbull rented a house from his wife when in Canberra. Mr Turnbull paid $10,000 a year to his wife under the arrangement and claimed another $10 a night in allowances when she stayed in Canberra.

Joe Hockey has also claimed that the surge in petrol prices won’t impact greatly on low income Australians because they don’t drive cars as much as their well off counterparts. He says he “totally understands” the frustration of Australians locked out of the housing market and condemned to pay high rents in the major Australian cities. His advice sounded rather like Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France in the 18th century who, when told that the poor of Paris had no bread, suggested they should eat cake. Hockey’s suggestion to Australians suffering accommodation stress is that they should get high-paying jobs.

The born to rule arrogance of the government is on display. Abbott & Co make quite a display of wearing hard hats and high-visibility vests during their photo opps. A more representative image was the secretly snapped one of Treasurer Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann chomping on cigars, revelling in their privilege in private while, in public, laying down demands for greater austerity for the working people of Australia.

The Liberals will try to absolve themselves by pointing to self-indulgent practices on the other side of the house. Workers should learn the real lesson from revelations about rule by the rich and work towards a new politics based on radical change and social justice. The forces needed to carry out those changes, including a strong mass Communist Party, have to be built. It’s not enough to share a “meme” about Australia’s plutocratic political class on Facebook, it’s time to build the genuine left alternative.

Next article – Abbott’s inner clique splits Coalition

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