Editorial comment from the September 2015 issue of The Socialist
Tony Abbott had hoped that his less crude approach to the government’s second budget would give him the time and space to regroup in the lead up to the next federal election. He has had no such luck. The brief reprieve he did experience was cut across by a new expenses scandal.
It was revealed that the parliamentary speaker Bronwyn Bishop had spent in excess of $5000 of taxpayer funds chartering a helicopter to fly the short distance from Melbourne to Geelong. Making matters worse she was in Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser.
It took Bishop some weeks to admit that the helicopter ride was a mistake and to pay back the money. Abbott for his part initially refused to condemn the scam.
In the end Bishop was forced to resign as speaker under pressure from government MPs who said they were inundated by people complaining about a ‘snouts in the trough’ culture. The drama has further damaged an already weak government with recent polls showing the Labor opposition leading on a two-party preferred basis 53-47. Close to two thirds of people are dissatisfied with Abbott’s performance.
Opportunistically Labor came out and criticised Bishops extravagant expenses but it was soon revealed that a number of Labor MPs, including Tony Burke, were also guilty of spending up big at the taxpayers’ expense. Burke himself spent $6500 of government funds on a business-class family holiday to Uluru.
Unsurprisingly exorbitant travel claims are widespread amongst MPs from all the major parties. Even the federal treasurer Joe Hockey spent more than $14,000 flying his family business-class to Perth for a school holiday trip. So much for an end to the ‘age of entitlement’!
In an attempt to cover over the rorts Abbott announced what is in reality a fake inquiry into the matter. Concerned about the impacts the scandal is having on the entire political establishment Labor leader Bill Shorten called for an “end to the saga”.
The truth is the bulk of the travel expenses claimed are ‘within the rules’ but the issue is that most people see them as extravagant acts being carried out by out of touch politicians. While MPs hypocritically lecture people about the need for budget cuts and austerity they themselves refuse to tighten their belts. It reinforces the feeling that ordinary people are being asked to sacrifice in order to maintain conditions for the rich and powerful.
The whole travel expenses debacle has further exposed the divisions that exist with the ruling coalition and the ongoing leadership tensions. The root cause of these tensions has been the inability of the government to satisfy both voters and its big business backers.
On the one had big business is demanding that more be done to protect their profit making interests as the economy slows, but the austerity measures they require are extremely unpopular with ordinary voters. The deteriorating economic situation has imposed this dilemma on all the capitalist parties and has created a situation whereby they are in a state of constant crisis as they attempt to balance these conflicting interests.
It’s in this context that the expenses scandal has taken off and further diminished the standing of the major parties. This also explains why despite the crisis facing the government the Labor opposition are not further ahead in the polls. People do not trust either of the major parties as they both face the same quandary.
Out of frustration most people have resorted to using one major party to punish the other at election time. While perhaps allowing people to temporarily let off steam this strategy is not a solution.
Ordinary people need to forge a new type of politics in Australia – a politics that embodies the needs and aspirations of the bulk of the population. A party based on these principles would have no need to try and balance between conflicting interests and instead it could focus reversing the trend towards economic and social inequality.