With a federal election due next month, the Morrison government is at a distant second in the polls and limping towards a likely defeat. At least six long-standing MPs have recently deserted the Liberal Party saying they will not contest the election.
Their coalition partner, the Nationals, aren’t faring much better. Damaged after a poor showing at the New South Wales state election they are embroiled in an internal dispute while also brawling with the Liberals about the need for more coal fired power stations.
The Nationals hope to outflank some of the right-wing populist parties that threaten several of their seats by suggesting that coal is the only way to create jobs. But their opportunistic comments are not helping the Liberals, who are fighting off several soft-right independents in the inner-city.
Those independents are campaigning for something to be done on climate change and they are finding an echo, even in well-to-do areas. For years the Liberals have been ardent representatives of the coal industry but this has become too much, even for many of their supporters who understand that climate change needs addressing.
Pressure on this front has been built up by the magnificent student strikes that took place in March. More than 150,000 students walked out of class demanding investment in renewables, lower emissions and the cancelling of the destructive Adani coal mine. These students gave us a glimpse of the power of mass protest.
Imagine how much more pressure could be exerted on the powers-that-be if they were joined by the trade unions. A joint student and worker strike held before the election would put heat on both the major parties and make it much more difficult for the next government to backslide after May.
The battle lines for the election are starting to be drawn. The Coalition is desperate and seems to only have scare campaigns up their sleeve. That said, their ability to scaremonger has been checked somewhat by the horrific Christchurch terror attack that was carried out by a far-right extremist.
Prior to Christchurch, the Liberals tried to whip up fear around refugees with limited results, but they may come back to that issue in the coming weeks. More recently they have started to frame immigration as a problem, announcing that they plan to cut the annual migration intake. They hope to win the sympathies of those struggling in traffic jams and on crowded public transport.
They hope to promote the idea that there is only a limited amount of jobs, homes and services available, and that more people means less to go around. This is a fraud.
What we need is massive public investment into expanded public transport, as well as public housing and services like healthcare and education. This could be easily paid for by taxing big business, but instead both the major parties support lower taxes for corporations to some degree.
The policies of the major parties are really not that far apart. Labor present themselves as more progressive than the Coalition but what they have promised doesn’t go anywhere near addressing the issues that ordinary people face.
On housing, they suggest more subsidies to landlords rather than real investment into public housing. In relation to the environment they refuse to pledge to scrap the Adani mine. On jobs, they say the election will be a referendum on wages, but their proposed changes are minor and will not guarantee the decent pay rises we need.
Labor have not come anywhere near adopting the modest demands put forward by the trade unions, or those of the student strikers.
Huge scope exists to build movements that are capable of winning reforms and challenging the profit system. But disappointingly, the trade unions and environmental groups are instead diverting people into pro-Labor election campaigns.
This lets Labor off the hook, and disarms people for the fight we will need to have after May. In the second half of this year we will likely see a slightly different political situation. A Labor government will probably come to power amidst more difficult economic times.
Just like the previous times they have been in power, and like their state counterparts, they will say there is not enough money to pay for any changes. Their big business backers will call upon them to protect their profits.
It is inevitable that either Labor will disappoint, probably sooner rather than later. Our fire will need to be turned against Labor, as well as anyone else who thinks ordinary people should shoulder the burden of a recession.
Rather than pandering to Labor, and handing them a blank cheque, preparations for this fight should be made now.
Editorial comment from the April 2019 issue of The Socialist