Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Turnbull weak but a real opposition still absent

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As speculation increases about the timing of the next federal election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s authority seems to be dwindling further by the day.

Last month Turnbull registered the dreaded 30th Newspoll in a row where he trailed the Labor opposition on two-party preferred terms. This was the measure Turnbull himself used to oust Tony Abbott in 2015.

Failing his own polling test is only one of Turnbull’s many problems. Clinging to power by a single seat, and without a majority in the Senate, both the Liberal and National parties that make up the coalition are riven with divisions.

Both the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, are disgruntled and they continue to snipe at Turnbull from the sidelines. And within the Coalition parties differences are emerging over issues such as energy and immigration policy.

These differences reflect a frustration within Coalition ranks about their waning support. But none of the different groupings have a viable plan to address their shrinking social base.

The slight policy differences are of minor consequence to the masses of ordinary people who need a party that stands for their interests rather than the big business elite.

Whether or not an election is held later this year or early in 2019, the May budget will be the last before people head to the polls. There is no doubt that Turnbull and his treasurer Scott Morrison will try and use this budget to boost their fortunes.

While the heart of the budget will be pro-big business, it will likely include some pork barrelling. Turnbull will see this as taking some short term pain in order to prolong his chances of survival.

The government’s dilemma however is that their big business backers are already displeased with the state of the budget. Amidst sluggish economic conditions, and the looming threat of a trade war, corporations are desperate to protect their profits.

They want the government to further reduce spending on social services in order to pay for company tax cuts. The government wanted to oblige by reducing the company tax rate from 30% to 25% by 2026 but this move was blocked in the Senate.

At a cost of $30 billion, the idea is extremely unpopular. People are rightly sceptical about the claim that employers will use the money to grant wage increases and create jobs. This was confirmed when the results of a Business Council of Australia survey were recently leaked to the press.

The survey of Australian CEOs found that a mere 17% of them would use tax cuts to either boost employment or increase wages. Most said that they would instead use the extra funds to return money to shareholders.

People have contempt for big business lies, and the popular opposition to corporate handouts is what lies behind Labor and the crossbench senators being forced to vote against the tax cuts in the Senate.

Labor’s aversion to Turnbull’s plan does not stem from a principled position. It is pure opportunism. In recent months Bill Shorten has tacked in a mildly populist direction. Sensing the discontent that exists he is attempting to ride the wave.

Labor are in fact a party that pioneered company tax cuts in the 1980s. In addition, the shadow treasurer Chris Bowen has for years championed the idea of reducing the company tax rate to 25% (In 1986 it was 49%). These charlatans should be judged on their records, not their populist words.

If Labor win the next election, it will not be due to widespread support for the party, but rather because people want to punish the incumbents. Once in office they would quickly shed their populist clothes and get back to representing the rich and powerful.

We should look no further than the current state governments in Western Australia and Victoria for examples of how Labor have acted just the same as their Liberal Party predecessors.

While Turnbull is extremely weak, the problem is that a real opposition to big business greed is still absent. The potential is there to harness the anger that exists towards big business, but people’s frustrations are yet to find a genuine expression.

An outlet could be found if the trade unions, community groups and social movements came together and, instead of blindly backing Labor, built a real political alternative to the Coalition.

If a new party made up of these social forces took on a program aimed at reversing wealth inequality and challenging corporate domination it would quickly gain support and shake up politics in this country in a big way.

Editorial comment from the May 2018 issue of The Socialist


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