The first parliamentary exchanges of the year were yet more examples of the fake differences that exist between the major parties. Opposition leader Bill Shorten called the Prime Minister “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, attacking him for his excessive wealth and labelling him “out of touch”.
Turnbull responded by describing Shorten as a “sycophant” and a “parasite”. Saying that “There was never a union leader in Melbourne that tucked his knees under more billionaires’ tables than the Leader of the Opposition”. The truth is, both are right.
Both men have close links to the establishment, are extremely well off, and are out of touch with the needs of ordinary people. They are each seen by the corporate elite as loyal representatives of their interests.
For Shorten, he is desperate to present himself in a different light as he attempts to woo working class voters. For Turnbull, he used the attack on Shorten to try and bolster his dwindling authority within the Coalition government that he leads.
The government itself is extremely weak and divided. It clings to power by a mere one seat majority and already this year it has faced corruption scandals, cabinet reshuffles, and the defection of Senator Cory Bernardi. Splitting from the Coalition, Bernardi hopes to set up his own right-wing populist party.
With fellow right-wing populists One Nation going ahead in the polls at the expense of the Liberals, it is fair to say that many in the Coalition ranks are at panic stations.
In an attempt to save a few seats at the Western Australian state election the Liberals shunned their long-term Coalition partners the Nationals and instead did a preference deal with One Nation. This has opened up yet another division in the government’s ranks.
It is somewhat incredible when you look at just how weak the government is, that they are still striving to push ahead with a whole series of attacks. Welfare recipients, students, pensioners and workers are all in the firing line. While moving to undermine the living standards of ordinary people they want to reduce tax rates for their corporate backers.
While there is debate about the finer details, in general both the major parties agree with this approach. When last in power, Labor too made regressive changes to welfare, health and education while rolling out the red carpet for big business.
Last year the Coalition and Labor joined forces to pass legislation that will allow for $6.3 billion worth of spending cuts over the next four years. While filling the parliament with bluff and fake bluster, these two parties are so close that you couldn’t get a cigarette paper in between them.
The absence of any real major opposition is what allows right-wing figures like Pauline Hanson, Jackie Lambie and Nick Xenophon to step into the breach and falsely claim to be champions of the underdog. In reality these right-wing populists agree with the Liberals and Labor on all the major questions, the differences are merely about style.
In a nutshell, all of the forces in the parliament, including the Greens, are reliable servants of profit-driven capitalism. While left figures like Bernie Sanders in the US have talked about standing up to the billionaire class, socialism and the need for a political revolution, Richard Di Natale from the Greens describes challenging capitalism as a “ridiculous notion”.
In this sense the current political set up is rigged. The rich and powerful not only control the wealth that is created, but at the moment they have ensured that even political debate stays within certain safe limits. This needs to change.
Australia desperately needs its own political revolution. We need to fight to break our trade unions and community groups away from the major parties. Their pro-capitalist policies are a dead end. Instead we need a new political force that will stand up to big business greed and fight for solutions that are unashamedly in the interests of the 99%.
The best place to start building a new type of politics is on the streets, in our workplaces and on our campuses. Already this year Trump has had some of his reactionary policies checked thanks to protests and mass civil disobedience in the US. As we have seen in places like Spain, out of protest movements like these new political organisations can be born.
The Socialist Party is fighting for a new type of politics in Australia and for a new political formation that fights for socialism. We need all those who agree to join us in this fight.
Editorial comment from the March 2017 issue of The Socialist