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Issue #1756      November 9, 2016

Poison from the right

Any expectations that the Turnbull government would be different to the one fronted by Tony Abbott have long been dashed. Malcolm Turnbull sold his soul to the ultra-right forces within the Liberal Party to gain the prime ministership, and remains beholden to them. These forces are a well-organised grouping within the Liberal and also National Parties. They do the front running for big corporations, along with the Murdoch media and a host of right-wing “think tanks”.

Family First and One Nation Senators also line up on the far right, including Family First’s Bob Day who recently was forced to resign.

Their membership includes Liberals Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi, George Brandis, Scott Morrison, Michaelia Cash, Matthias Cormann, Peter Dutton, Cencetta Fierra Vanti-Wells and National Party George Christiensen.

Some of the better known think tanks are the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), its spin-off the Sydney Institute, the Institute for Private Enterprise, the Menzies Research Centre, the HR Nicholls Society, the Centre for Independent (sic) Studies (CIS), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Lowy Institute.

They also have strong links with other overseas institutions with whom they consult and coordinate their policy development.

For example, the IPA has a close relationship with the American Enterprise Institute, an extreme right-wing think tank.

Globalisation drives neo-liberal agenda

Most of these think tanks have their origins in the 1970s and ‘80s, a period when the capitalist class was turning away from Keynesian economics towards “free market” policies of deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation.

This shift arose out of the changing demands of transnational corporations as they expanded their operations around the world – a process now called “globalisation”. Foreign investments, mergers and takeovers were on the rise as giant monopolies carved up the globe.

State borders, differing regulations, restrictions on foreign investment, import tariffs and quotas, controls on capital flows, labour laws and other government regulations were seen as barriers to their operations.

These corporations were forever looking for larger and larger profits and new sources of profit-generation. Hence the drive for corporate tax cuts, privatisation and more recently the export of jobs overseas and import of cheap labour on 457 and other visas.

In Australia, the process got under way in earnest under the Hawke/Keating government. At the time it was referred to as “economic rationalism”. In Britain it was Margaret Thatcher who led the charge and in the US Ronald Reagan with “Reaganomics”.

Those pushing these hard, right-wing scorched-earth policies were referred to as the New Right. They were well organised as they set out to displace the small “l” liberals and take-over the Coalition parties. Their policies were also taken up by the Labor Party.

As a captive of the hard right, Turnbull had little choice but to ditch many of his previously held positions or face the boot as Prime Minister.

The Howard government with Peter Reith and later Kevin Andrews and Tony Abbott as industrial relations ministers, launched a massive offensive against the trade union movement and workers. Successive waves of legislation saw the undermining of hard won and long held rights and working conditions.

While employers were popping champagne corks, workers were being crucified under the most vicious pieces of the Howard government’s legislation – WorkChoices with its non-union, individual employment contracts and their enforcer the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Neo-liberalism – or “free market” economics – the terms commonly used today, has resulted in a massive widening of the gap between the rich and those on lower incomes, lower living standards for many and rising job insecurity. Privatisation alongside successive cuts to social security, health services, public education and other areas of the public sector have hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

More and more people are rejecting the policies of the extreme right. This is reflected in the turmoil in the US elections and the election of a left candidate as leader of the Labour Party in Britain. The unpopularity of the major parties has also opened the door to the extreme right parties such as Family First and One Nation.

Media plays crucial role

The capitalist media plays an important role in selling highly unpopular polices as necessary – “living beyond our means”, “budget crisis”, “mustn’t leave an unmanageable debt to our children”, and so on. At the same time the vulnerable, the poor, and the unemployed are blamed for their plight as though it is some behavioural or attitudinal problem on their part, not the capitalist system.

Radio shock jocks like Alan Jones, Steve Price and Howard Sattler do a job for the employers behind these policies. The corporate print media, the Australian newspaper in particular, also back the extremist lines. Columnists such as Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Janet Albrechtsen spit their anti-worker and socially conservative poison on a daily basis.

They do not limit themselves to attacking trade unions or supporting horrendous budget cuts but seek to denigrate Aboriginal people, single parents as non-deserving, demonise asylum seekers and Muslims and promote xenophobia, homophobia and racism. Marriage equality, abortion and IVF are also strongly opposed. A number are Christian fundamentalists and share prayer group gatherings with some members of the ALP.

Many present as climate change deniers to go into bat for coal and gas mining or nuclear energy. Some are war mongers.

Much of the policy work is done by the think tanks which are largely funded by big corporations and wealthy individuals. Several also receive some government funding.

HR Nicholls Society

The HR Nicholls Society is one of the most notorious of these think tanks. It openly declares that it is “dedicated to reducing the power of unions and promoting industrial relations changes that benefit employers.”

It was established in 1985. Its co-founders included the then Coalition Treasurer Peter Costello, secretary to Treasury John Stone, and Ray Evans the Executive Officer at Western Mining Corporation – all luminaries of the New Right. Industrial relations minister in the Howard government Peter Reith was a member of its Board.

It has never let up in its fight for the scrapping of the award system and the abolition of the Industrial Relations Commission/Fair Work Commission – in other words a completely deregulated, union-free labour market.

Its members and close associates include Family First Bob Day, Liberal MP James Paterson and the present Employment Minister Michaelia Cash,

Right-wing neo-liberal Des Moore established the Institute for Private Enterprise (IPE) in 1996 after leaving the IPA. He was critical of the Howard government’s WorkChoices for not going far enough!

The legislation “continues to severely constrain” the freedom of employers to negotiate with workers arrangements that suit them best he said at the time. The IPE seeks to reduce the role of government and promotes privatisation of everything.

There is considerable cross-over of membership of the various think tanks and their employment by government departments and agencies as advisers and policy makers.

For example, Moore was one of the architects of the former neo-liberal Kennett government’s Project Victoria – a business project for the deregulation and privatisation of Victoria’s economy, most of which was carried out between 1992-1999. He is also a member of ASPI.

It should not come as a surprise that he is a trenchant critic of the science of climate change.

Same anti-union agenda

These reactionary forces operate together, pushing a consistent line and adopting the same spin to sell the message. They have not let up in their agenda to destroy the trade union movement and remove all constraints on the exploitation of workers.

The Abbott/Turnbull resurrection of the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations bill are only the start of the government’s campaign to destroy the award system and decimate the trade union movement.

The same New Right or ultra-conservative forces that drove the Howard government’s industrial relations agenda are just as determined as ever. Some of the personnel may have changed but the mining corporations, financial institutions and other big corporations are still in the driving seat through their agents in the mass media, their think tanks and politicians.

In the period since the Howard government, the trade union movement has been seriously weakened, both in numbers, class consciousness and industrial strength.

The recent deaths in the construction industry show what can happen when the rights of trade unions are curbed and employers are free of “constraints” on their operations. Trade unions are the only force that can protect workers under capitalism. Employers will not and governments do not.

As the statement of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) published in last week’s Guardian stated:

“Political forces committed to the interests of the working class, foremost of which is the Communist Party of Australia, must be strengthened to reverse the dangerous current direction of industrial relations in the country. The Communist Party joins others in calling for a campaign for safe workplaces and the scrapping of legislation for the ABCC and the removal of its remnants in the form of the so-called Fair Work Building and Construction.” (“Stop the workplace carnage: Touch one, touch all!” Guardian, Issue #1755 02-11-2016)

The CPA also calls for the repeal of all other anti-union legislation and for new laws that genuinely protect the rights and health and safety of workers.

Next article – Editorial – The fight for peace and the environment

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