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Issue #1436      18 November 2009


For a new direction in politics

It is two years since the people of Australia threw out the Howard government. There was a host of reasons: WorkChoices; refusal to sign Kyoto or address climate change; refusal to say “Sorry” to the Stolen Generations; the Northern Territory intervention; the treatment of asylum seekers; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the so-called anti-terror laws; undermining of public hospitals, Medicare and public education; cuts to social welfare; privatisation and other neo-liberal policies. The YourRights@Work campaign which brought together trade union and community forces played a key role in the defeat of the Howard government. The defeat of the Coalition was, above all, a vote for change, for a new direction in politics.

The Rudd Labor government was elected promising a fair and just Australia; to get rid of WorkChoices; sign Kyoto and address climate change; say “Sorry”; treat asylum seekers more humanely; pull out of Iraq; reform the health system; carry out an education revolution; and after his election Rudd even claimed to have abandoned neo-liberalism.

Rudd said “Sorry” but the Northern Territory intervention continues. Land rights still come second to mining rights and corporate interests.

Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol, but is part of the developed nations’ drive to undermine it as witnessed at Barcelona (see Barcelona climate change negotiations). The government acknowledges the need to address climate change but its greenhouse gas emissions targets and emissions trading scheme fall far short of what the urgency and seriousness of the situation demand.

The anti-union, anti-worker, WorkChoices has been recycled, not torn up. The Howard government’s individual contracts (AWAs) have been abolished, but virtually all industrial action remains illegal and subject to fines and the threat of huge damages claims from employers. The anti-union building industry police force and its coercive interrogation powers are being transferred to a new structure with a name change.

There were some initial improvements in the treatment of asylum seekers, but the government is now responding to redneck pressure, with a Tampa of its own, the Oceanic Viking (see The Oceanic Viking: Saga turns to bitter farce).

The government withdrew forces from Iraq but stepped up Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, the US alliance remains the centre-piece of Australia’s foreign policy and military spending is set to escalate to record heights while additional money still cannot be found to raise unemployment benefits or better fund hospitals.

The education revolution is a “voucher” system to fund private operators and further their privatisation to the neglect of public schools. National curriculum, national testing, league tables, competition, choice and an education market – it all has a far too familiar sound to it. Likewise, the basis of health reform is privatisation, including the privatisation of Medicare itself.

Labor did more to counter the recession than the Coalition would have done, but its stimulus packages and industry assistance were aimed at shoring up retail sales, bailing out the corporate sector, supporting the banks and ensuring a profit-led recovery. The savage budget cuts are still to come when the government sets about eliminating the budget deficit. The limited positive changes that Labor has made do not meet the expectations and desire for change that saw the defeat of the Coalition.

The two-party system has dominated Australian political life for almost 100 years. Experience over a long period of time has shown that whichever of the two major parties is in power priority is given to the interests and demands of the big corporations – the banks, insurance companies, the mining conglomerates and other huge monopolies and transnational corporations.

Within the next 12 months Australians will be going back to the ballot box. The Communist Party of Australia believes that a government of a new type is needed, a government committed to putting people’s needs first. A government committed to creating jobs, increasing wages and welfare benefits, improving working conditions, restoring trade union and democratic rights, expanding and improving the public sector, fighting climate change, assisting asylum seekers, defending land rights and giving the necessary support to indigenous communities. This means building a political alternative to the two major parties.

The forthcoming elections offer a good opportunity to commence the process of building a broad coalition of left and progressive forces that will eventually be strong enough to stand up to the power of the corporations and be capable of changing the direction of politics in Australia. Some trade unions are considering standing candidates in the next elections. They should be supported. The Communist Alliance will be standing, as will the Greens and other political forces that offer a new direction in policy. These are some of the forces that could forge a real alternative to the status quo.  

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