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Issue #1852      December 12, 2018

Editorial

A momentous year

The goodwill that accompanied the passing of the federal marriage equality laws in December 2017 didn’t last long. The contradictions underlying capitalism re-emerged with a vengeance this year.

After initial refusal and then a great deal of procrastination the Turnbull government was forced by public pressure to launch a Royal Commission into the conduct of Australia’s banks and financial institutions. The outcome has been shocking, with revelations of widespread fraud, misleading conduct and ruthless treatment of customers. Finance corporation AMP and a number of the banks were forced to admit to having charged thousands of customers for services they never received.

The Coalition is intent on financially breaking militant unions. In the 12 months to April this year 38 workers died on Australian building sites and the fatality rate is rising 25 percent annually. Nevertheless, the government wants its star chamber, the Australian Building and Construction Commission to impose multimillion dollar fines on the construction unions. The government also approved the abolition of penalty rates for Australia’s lowest paid workers, and it was unconcerned when stories emerged this year of gross underpayment to casual and low-pay workers.

There were no significant advances in the government’s treatment of Indigenous people this year. It has virtually ignored them, after responsibility for Indigenous Affairs was allocated to the scowling, swaggering former PM Tony Abbott.

This year, the behind-the-scenes battle over climate change and coal-fired energy production claimed the scalp of yet another Australian Prime Minister. Despite mid-winter bushfires, soaring temperatures and wild storms, the government trivialises climate change. It denigrates renewable energy generation and storage as expensive and unreliable, even though wind and solar farms cost relatively little to run and South Australia’s $90 million lithium battery facility saved $40 million this year while helping to stabilise energy distribution.

The nation’s decrepit coal-fired power stations are among the biggest contributors to our rising carbon emission rates. Determined to retain power but caught between growing public concern and the need to placate the Coalition’s rabidly pro-coal, climate change deniers, the Turnbull government decided to introduce the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). That feeble scheme paid lip service to meeting Australia’s emission reduction commitment under the Paris Agreement, and it failed to give emission reduction top priority.

Morrison in charge

Nevertheless, the Coalition’s climate change deniers hated it, and Turnbull axed it to appease them. But it wasn’t enough. In August, he himself was axed and replaced as Prime Minister by climate change denier and religious fundamentalist Scott Morrison, who strongly opposes marriage equality.

Despite loud public opposition, the Morrison government continues to defend construction of the huge Adani coal mine. It would threaten Queensland’s groundwater reserves and the Great Barrier Reef as well as exacerbate climate change – but the government doesn’t give a damn. Climate change will have a terrible impact on future generations. But the government treats with contempt recent nationwide strikes over climate change by schoolchildren, telling them haughtily to get back to their studies. (See Voices from the student protests)

Last week veteran naturalist David Attenborough warned that climate change is now the greatest threat to the future existence of human life on earth. Labor’s position on energy and climate change is far better than the Coalition’s but it’s still woefully inadequate to deal with the terrible challenges of climate change.

Morrison has shown no compassion for children who have suffered terrible mental damage as a result of years in offshore immigration detention. Last week he organised deferral of an Opposition bill to bring children from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. In October Médicins Sans Frontières psychologists who were studying the mental health of children on Nauru, including detainees and local resident children, were booted off the island. The government uttered not a word in protest.

The government also converted the benign “opt-in” My Health centralised medical data bank scheme to an “opt out” scheme that threatens patient confidentiality and foreshadows the future privatisation of Medicare. (See My Health Record – Still time to opt out)

It threatened the independence of the ABC, pressuring its director to sack certain journalists, and as the Guardian goes to press, Cabinet is considering whether to move the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But its popularity is shrinking. During the year the Coalition was thrashed in a series of by-elections, most memorably in Wentworth, formerly one of Australia’s safest conservative seats. In last month’s Victorian state elections the Coalition suffered an historically unprecedented collapse in electoral support.

The year’s events have set the scene for removal of the odious federal Coalition government. But despite the astonishing by-election and state election results, Labor is still underestimating the strength of public demand for political change.

Last week it caved in and backed legislation that would enable the government to spy on citizens and corporations with wide powers to demand and access confidential data in any form. The legislation had been opposed by Labor itself, as well as many individuals and community organisations, because it would allow the government to breach people’s privacy at will and result in the destruction of Australia’s IT sector. (See Big Brother strikes again) Labor has accepted the government’s promise that it would enact amendments next year to rectify the legislation’s shortcomings, but the new law is essentially contrary to the public interest.

Australia now has some of the most repressive industrial relations legislation in the developed world. However, there’s no guarantee that Labor will rectify the raw deal workers have received from the Fair Work Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, or that it will back workers in their struggle for better pay, improved and safer conditions, and industrial rights.

At next year’s federal elections the public will doubtless wreak vengeance on the Coalition for years of misrule, but Labor must be pressured into adopting better policies, and independent left and progressive candidates with good policies should get our support.

The working people of Australia have no time to lose and everything to gain by seizing the potentially great opportunities for a better political deal that the new year offers.

Next article – Eureka and Beyond

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