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Issue #1725      April 6, 2016

Editorial

Oppose the govt’s reactionary agenda

If the Turnbull Coalition government can win the upcoming elections with a majority (including any allied cross-benchers) in the Senate then it will be in a position to push ahead with its program, just as the Howard government did with its anti-union WorkChoices laws and its cuts to social spending and nothing less than the dismantling of the Federation.

The government’s plan to effectively dismantle the Federation is a reactionary concept in the service of finance capital and the war plans of imperialism.

There is a great deal in common between the former Howard approach and agenda and that of the present government. Both governments started their terms by commissioning an Audit Commission (1996 and 2013). Both reports spelled out a program for privatisation and deregulation of government services and functions and a new role for government.

Both governments established Royal Commissions – thinly veiled witch-hunts against the building and construction division of the CFMEU. The Howard government set up the Australian Building and Construction Commission which was later modified by Labor. The Abbott/Turnbull government brought in legislation to not only fully restore the ABCC but to broaden its coverage and strengthen its repressive measures.

The Abbott/Turnbull government has initiated a plethora of inquiries to provide blueprints for every aspect of government policy: defence, development of northern Australia, superannuation, taxation, health, education. All of these reports are centred on privatisation, deregulation, opening up Australia’s markets and economy to foreign corporations and overseas labour. They also seek to bring Australia’s laws and regulations into line with the requirements of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) which is still the subject of secret negotiations.

Former Treasurer Joe Hockey talked in terms of changing the role of government. And that is what is being undertaken, step-by-step, along with a restructure of the economy and an all-out attempt to destroy the militant trade unions that might stand in the way of this agenda. Indigenous Australians are also on the hit list, as their rightful ownership and connection to their land is a barrier to the plans of mining corporations.

The 2014 Hockey budget, with its attempt to slash $80 billion from the funding of public hospitals and schools, was a sign of things to come. So too was the move to abolish bulk billing by introducing a co-payment.

The aim is for the government to pull completely out of funding or taking any responsibility for health, education, aged care, disability and most other services: the abandonment of its responsibility as the government of the Commonwealth of Australia. Turnbull’s attitude is states can take full responsibility and ultimately be able to raise or lower taxes as they wish.

The states would have to raise income and take responsibility for provision of services. The federal government would retain what the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation describes as “core policies” such as foreign affairs, federal police, defence and the federal judicial system.

The hike in the GST is “off the table” for now, but only for now. Turnbull’s “once in a generation tax reform” was resoundingly rejected by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) last week. This was the plan for states and territories to set their own income tax rates over and above the federal government rates to compensate for cuts to funding.

Although this proposal took some in the media by surprise, it did not come out of thin air. It was contained in the 2014 Audit Commission report. This would result in residents of some states being taxed far more heavily or receiving inferior services. Turnbull sees it as making states more “competitive” in attracting investment – a claim he says would confer their “sovereignty”.

The 2014 National Commission of Audit report called for “competitive federalism”. In reality, it is a proposal to take Australia backwards, to break the nation up into competing “sovereign states” in a race to the bottom in pursuit of global investors. It recommends giving state governments access to personal income tax revenues, for the federal government to lower income tax rates and “allow room for the states to levy their own income tax surcharge”.

This would drag Australia back to pre-1901 when it was a group of British colonial possessions, leaving people without a proper welfare system, living from hand to mouth, fearing illness in a system where user pays applies to everything. Competing corporate states would be left to swim … or mostly sink.

Pivot

The government set up a committee to make recommendations on the Development of Northern Australia. It defined northern Australia as north of the Tropic of Capricorn, spanning Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. “Northern Australia covers over forty percent of Australia’s land mass but contains only four percent of Australia’s population. It has abundant land, water and mineral resources. It has medical and educational institutions with world-class facilities. Northern Australia is on the doorstep of Asia and a significant portion of it is part of the tropical world – which by 2050 will encompass over half the world’s population,” the report says.

The report is suitably titled “Pivot North”. One of its main objectives is the development of the military sector of the economy and Australia’s support for the US’s pivot on Asia.

The 2016 Defence White Paper outlined how the north of Australia will host expanded bases, spy stations, joint training and testing facilities. US long range, heavy bombers will be stationed in Darwin. US forces and air force bomber planes already use Australia’s Bradshaw Military Base near Darwin for exercises and reconnaissance. There will be a permanent presence of US forces on a rotational basis. The boost in naval and air power outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) will enable Australia, in its role as the US’s deputy sheriff, to project force further and more powerfully in the region. It also sets out to deepen and accelerate the integration of Australian military in the US war machine. (Guardian, “War clouds gather”, #1723, 16-03-2016)

There is already a Minister for Northern Australia and the report recommends the creation of a Department of Northern Australian Development. The report stops short of recommending the creation of a new state but that is an objective.

Possibly the most important of the recommendations, particularly in light of the Turnbull government’s taxation proposals, is the creation of special economic zones with their own legal and taxation regimes.

Corporate taxes would be slashed while workers would bare the burden of income and consumption taxes.

This would lay the basis for the import of overseas workers and local workers to be employed on totally deregulated wages and conditions with no protections whatsoever.

Historically there has been a consolidation of powers from the states to Commonwealth, including taxation powers and the funding of basic services such as health and education. The government’s plan to effectively dismantle the Federation is a reactionary concept in the service of finance capital and the war plans of imperialism.

It must be opposed by left and progressive forces and all right thinking people, beginning with expulsion of the Turnbull government in the coming federal election.

Next article – Quote of the Week

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