Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Australian ruling class conference last week

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week political, business and media representatives of the ruling class met in Melbourne at the Sustaining Prosperity Conference, sponsored by Murdoch’s Australian newspaper. Members of the Socialist Party participated in a rally outside the event on the day it was addressed by Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson.
All politically conscious workers and youth should take an interest in the deliberations of this “National Conference” of our ruling class.The central themes were:

1. The fear of an impending recession. An interesting graph (sourced from the Reserve Bank and in the Weekend Australian of 2-3/4/05) showed the close similarities (“an ominous parallel” according to the paper) between the percentage of GDP change in the run up to the deep recession of 1992 and the current conjuncture.

2. Criticism of the Howard government of ‘going soft’ on counter-reforms during the economic upturn, and of course criticism of the ALP and minor parties for slowing down counter-reform in the Senate. There was open praise for the neo-liberal agenda of the Hawke-Keating ‘Labor’ government of 1983-96 (“Australia’s current prosperity (for the rich – Ed) was built on the reform (read counter-reform – Ed) laid by the Hawke and Keating governments”, explained the Austalian to its readers). They understand, as do all astutue workers, that it was during this period that the basis of the neo-liberal attacks were laid, including the wage cutting Accord between government, bosses and the ACTU and the smashing of militant unions like the BLF and Pilots Federation.

3. New ideas from ruling class thinkers as to how better to take more money from the working class and poor and put it in the wallets of their masters. They are looking forward to July 1st when they believe they can effect these ideas, or some of them at least. New ideas canvassed included a 30% flat tax rate, which would be even better for bosses and a five year freeze on the minimum wage. Wesfarmers’ CEO Michael Chaney hit out at the current Industrial Relations system for its “flaw” of seeking fairness.

In order that the tabloid press got diverted, Conference organisers wheeled out an ‘expert social researcher’ Ann Harding who presented figures which claimed to show that the poor have done tremendously well under the Howard government. This is what got the headlines. In fact her figures are flawed as they concentrate on wage or social security income, without taking into account rises in the cost of educations, public transport, child care etc. The Senate Committe on Poverty in Australia had a much better and broader approach to the issue and their results have been outlined on the SP web site (see our National Confernence resolution in August).

The ALP representatives argued from the Right of Howard, criticising him for “complanancy” towards counter-reforms. After years of playing down their connection to the Hawke-Keating government, Labor representatives are now rediscovering their neo-liberal ancestors. It all got a bit like Alice in Wonderland when former Federal ALP Industrial Relations spokesperson, Craig Emerson, told his party to “end the class war” which apparently referred to Latham’s criticism of Howard’s bias towards private schools.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet’s role in the proceedings was to pathetically plead to the ruling class that “there was no credible evidence from overseas to proving that a minimum wage damaged the employment prospects of the low paid”. He offered no resistance in words or in terms of threatened industrial action to the ideas presented by Sustaining Prosperity.
However the fact that he was invited shows that the ruling class still need the services of the union bureaucracy to sell the cuts to organised labour and the broader working class. The 1998 MUA dispute showed that they don’t have the strength to do without this bureaucracy.

For Marxists, we understand that the words at this conference must be studied and discussed by workers – however we also understand that the balance of class forces remains the same on July 1st as it was a day earlier. The ruling class have not yet won or even started the battle necessary to get a UK NUM-style victory against the working class.

Their attacks will radicalise big sections of the class and provide big opporunities for Marxists to get an echo for their alternative programme, campaigning ideas, and leadership.


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