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Issue #1703      September 23, 2015

Different face, different rhetoric

Same anti-people policies

The main reason Tony Abbott was dumped was the government’s policies. The May 2014 budget shook the electorate. The Abbott government broke its pre-election promises not to cut health, education, the age pension and ABC funding. Public hospitals and education faced $80 billion in cuts. The broken promises continued in the 2015 budget as did the lies.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister delivered the cuts to the ABC. Then there was the attempt to introduce a Medicare co-payment.

The government laid into the most vulnerable and needy. Vital Indigenous, women’s, legal and other community services were forced to shut as their funding was discontinued. The treatment of asylum seekers, the fostering of racial and religious differences created divisions within the community and cost the Coalition considerable support.

Then Australian forces were sent to take part in another US war, this time in Syria.

The government ruled openly in the interests of the mining corporations and major banks.

Turnbull is a different face with a different rhetoric: a conservative, a merchant banker and wealthy property owner, instead of a backward, arch reactionary like Abbott.

Turnbull didn’t hold back when choosing his ministry. In what he described as a process of “renewal” more women and younger ministers were given positions. His would be a “21st century government” with “a ministry for the future”. The big question now is – will this government be any different.

Turnbull was able to swing enough inner party support by pointing to 18 months of poor ratings from six different polling agencies to defeat Tony Abbott in a party-room ballot. Key Ministers in swinging the vote in favour of Turnbull – Arthur Sinodinos, Mal Brough, Scott Ryan, Mitch Fifield and Simon Birmingham – were all rewarded with positions.

Abbott’s three-word slogans, the secrecy surrounding the government’s actions, the “captain’s calls” were taking their toll.

He was sexist, arrogant and contemptuous of working people. And he made himself and the government he headed look ludicrous when he restored the titles of knights and dames and then made Prince Philip the recipient of a knighthood for his services to Australia.

But none of these fully explain the ongoing low ratings. After all, there was no real opposition apart from the Greens whose relatively small numbers posed no immediate threat.

Turnbull compromised

Before being sworn in as PM, Turnbull had to sit down and gain the support of the National Party as the Liberal Party is one short of an absolute majority in the Lower House. They were ready with their list of demands.

Turnbull accepted all of them. These included opposition to an emissions trading scheme and support for the Coalition’s do-nothing Direct Action scheme. He also agreed, contrary to his own views, to retain Abbott’s commitment to the holding of a same-sex marriage plebiscite following the next elections.

More crucially, he agreed to hand over responsibility for water resources to the National Party instead of giving priority to scientific investigation and planning. The Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce is the new Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Previously, when Turnbull had been environment and water minister in 2007 he passed legislation to save the Murray-Darling river system which was threatened by overuse from farming.

Turnbull is not only beholden to the National Party but also to the ultra right wing of his own party. There is a solid core who do not support him and it is questionable whether they will hold back until the next elections.

It did not take long for someone to break ranks. First horse out of the box was a bitter Kevin Andrews who thought he was entitled to hold on to his Defence portfolio. In fact Andrews, the minister for WorkChoices under Howard, was dumped.

He pre-empted Turnbull’s announcement of the new portfolios with his own press conference: “Can I say that I’m disappointed that Mr Turnbull did not accept my offer to work with him. Frankly, my remaining in this job was not about me, it was all about the stability of our Defence Force in Australia and its leadership,” Kevin Andrews said.

“As you know, Defence is meant to be a natural strength for the Coalition, but during this government it’s not always been the case,” he said taking a swipe at his predecessor.

Whereas when he took over the defence portfolio, “the fragile trust between government and defence was restored.”

Turnbull faces a huge challenge in keeping up the appearances of a united party in the lead up to the next federal elections. Andrews is not the only disappointed former minister.

The biggest losers are the leaderless Labor Party. Abbott was their greatest asset. Turnbull has strong appeal amongst “middle class” Australians and small “l” liberals.

More of the same

Big business is looking for a “stronger” Treasurer to make the “tough” decisions and in Scott Morrison they have found a man proven to be ruthless. He served as the “stop the boats” minister and then pushed for cuts to social security in Abbott’s ministry.

He has already indicated his focus will be on building jobs which is spin for lower wages – based on the capitalist myth that lower wages create jobs.

The many groups who lost their funding or had it slashed are already lining up in the hope that the “new” government will restore their lost income. They will wait in vane.

The change in leadership might result in some token changes to win the vote of some sections of the community but the fundamental direction of the government will continue as before. Australia is still open for big business, still open for plunder.

If these groups and workers are to make any gains under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull it will be a result of the organised class struggle outside of Parliament which must be as broad as possible, including trade union and community organisations as well as individuals. As both Liberal and Labor have demonstrated, disunity is death.

Next article – Editorial – Europe’s breaking union

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