Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Major parties debating at the margins

Unions need to bust open situation
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The government struggled to get a real boost from their budget in May despite all the pork barrelling. The income tax cuts proposed were paltry, and not even to be expected until the dim and distant future.

Against the backdrop of stagnating wages and skyrocketing costs of living, voters considered that an extra ten odd dollars a week wouldn’t even wet the bottom of the tank.

As for Labor, despite pledging to nearly double the government’s income tax cuts, people were far from enthused. Perhaps it was because people tend not to trust Shorten’s smarmy approach, or perhaps it’s because they don’t believe his populism, preferring to judge him on his record.

Either way Labor’s budget reply was somewhat cut across by the news that voters will soon go back to the polls for five by-elections. Fast becoming known as “super Saturday” the by-elections – four in Labor held seats – were triggered by the ongoing dual citizenship crisis.

For months Shorten claimed that no Labor MPs would be deemed ineligible but the High Court found otherwise. He has been widely criticised for his handling of the matter, with some worried that the by-elections will cut across the momentum that Labor had been developing in the lead up the federal election proper.

If Shorten loses any of the by-elections it would be a serious blow. The government will be hoping that the by-elections will give them some breathing space as they have very little stake in them. In fact, they don’t even plan on standing in two of the seats.

While most polls still have Labor in an election winning position, their lead is meagre and there is still time and scope for the government to claw back support. This is a real possibility especially given that Labor’s differences with the government are all secondary.

Neither of the major parties are really addressing the issues that matter to people: Secure jobs, real wage growth, housing affordability, energy bills and an expansion of social services. They agree on nine tenths of everything so they tend to debate at the margins. Because of this people often switch off politics and treat all the parties with derision.

While the ACTU are attempting to talk about some of the issues that matter to people they are pulling up short when it comes to Labor. Despite the fact that no real commitments have been made they have gone soft on Labor and refused to apply any real pressure to them.

Ironically a campaign focused on pressuring both Labor and the government could save Shorten by forcing him to adopt policies that are genuinely popular. More importantly however a campaign led by the ACTU that included strikes and mass protests would force working class issues onto the agenda and bust open the currently stagnant situation.

No longer would the major parties be able to talk at the margins, instead they would both be exposed as being inadequate as far as working people’s needs are concerned.

The mass ‘Change the Rules’ rally held in Melbourne last month shows the potential that exists. Let’s not waste that potential on a Labor election campaign. Let’s build upon it to reinvigorate the trade union movement and open up space for a real political alternative to the major parties.

Editorial comment from the June 2018 edition of The Socialist


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