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Issue #1716      January 27, 2016

Dump this anti-people govt

Last week former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews publicly advocated the dispatch of Australian ground troops to support the US in the Middle East, just like former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once offered the US President Australian troops before even being asked for them.

After Abbott was deposed as Prime Minister in September he swore he would cause no trouble. However, he and his supporters have carried out an insidious and provocative campaign of public statements and media appearances. In December Abbott publicly warned against terrorism, which he linked to Islam, and last week he challenged Turnbull to make industrial relations the key issue in this year’s federal election.

Not all Turnbull’s troubles can be blamed on Abbott or his faction. Junior minister Jamie Briggs was sacked and may be prosecuted for having released text messages and the image of a female public servant who had publicly protested at his unwelcome advances.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has publicly apologised after he mistakenly sent an email calling a journalist who covered the Briggs story a “mad f***ing witch” to the journalist herself.

Mal Brough, the suspended Special Minister of State responsible for ensuring ethical behaviour within government, may face prosecution for having authorised the copying of diary entries of the former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper. Innovations Minister Christopher Pyne and assistant minister Wyatt Roy were also involved.

These incidents are allegedly highly informative about the arrogance, male chauvinism and reckless disregard of the law of some Liberal ministers, but not about the divisions within the Coalition. Those matters have been demonstrated by other events.

Last November Senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz crossed the floor over a motion regarding partial student unionism. In December former cabinet minister Ian MacFarlane announced he intended leaving the Liberal Party and joining the Nationals.

Newly-elected MP Andrew Hastie recently warned about “the theological roots of Islamic terrorism”, leading the head of ASIO to ask Hastie and Liberal Dan Tehan to desist from any practice that might jeopardise intelligence links with the Muslim community.

The former speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop, is still refusing to step aside, and at a Liberal Party gathering in December Turnbull’s statement “We are not run by factions” was greeted with scornful laughter.

Behind the turmoil

The Abbott faction, which holds lunchtime meetings hosted by Peter Dutton every week, is attempting to take control of the government from within the Coalition’s parliamentary caucus. Turnbull has attempted to split their ranks by giving some of them cabinet portfolios – but not in sufficient numbers to allow them to jeopardise his position.

Although Dutton is a cabinet minister, Turnbull demoted him from permanent membership of cabinet’s national security committee, leaving it dominated by Turnbull’s supporters. Backbencher Andrew Nikolic has pressured Turnbull to reinstate Dutton as a permanent committee member, and former minister Eric Abetz is pushing for Abbott to rejoin the cabinet.

Part of the reason for Abbott’s overthrow was the government’s low ratings in the poll following its infamous 2014 federal budget, which included the attempted introduction of GP co-payments and the virtual commercialisation of Australian universities.

Those initiatives were blocked in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and cross benchers. Moreover, it was clear that because of Abbott’s snarling negativity, vindictive policies and personal hang-ups, (which resulted, among other things, in his amazingly stupid proposal to knight Prince Phillip), the Coalition would have no chance of winning an election and implementing its budget objectives with Abbott at the helm.

Abbott is doubtless still smouldering over the defeat of the 2014 budget policies. But that resentment alone would hardly justify the machinations of the Abbott clique – especially given that the Turnbull regime has merely changed the Coalition’s tactics rather than renouncing the policies themselves.

Turnbull has rebutted Abbott’s call for the deployment of more Australian troops. He is doubtless aware of the electoral danger posed by involvement in another seemingly endless Middle Eastern war, and of the very changed conditions, with Russian forces countering the US military presence in Syria.

But regarding industrial relations, economic and military issues Abbott and Turnbull differ only with respect to tactics and public relations. Their objectives are identical.

Climate change is a different matter. It has been a primary factor in the leadership battles between Turnbull and Abbott. The global energy market is about to undergo a fundamental change, and Turnbull is likely to lend a sympathetic ear to those sectors of capital that are deeply concerned about climate change and don’t have an interest in preserving the status quo re carbon emissions.

Abbott, in contrast, is an obsessive crusader for the heavily-polluting coal and gas mining industries, and his government tried (albeit in vain) to eliminate government agencies responsible for tracking or mitigating climate change.

Turnbull has retained a formal commitment to the Abbott government’s laughable “direct action” policies. However, the Abbott regime was overthrown just prior to last year’s Paris Climate Change conference and Turnbull’s representatives did not play a key role in blocking agreement on climate change mitigation at the Paris Conference, as Abbott’s did in Lima two years earlier.

The climate change issue was undoubtedly a crucial factor in MacFarlane’s decision to transfer to the Nationals. He had been a member of Turnbull’s shadow cabinet prior to Abbott’s seizing control of the coalition in 2013, and received a key portfolio from Abbott immediately afterwards. When Turnbull regained power last October he pointedly refused MacFarlane a cabinet position.

Many National Party members have close links to the coal and gas mining industries.

If MacFarlane had joined the Nationals they would have exerted leverage to gain a fourth cabinet position, thereby increasing the influence of the pro-Abbott group. MacFarlane’s membership application was rejected, but only by the smallest possible majority.

The economy, industrial relations and the Middle East conflict are all issues which members of the Abbott faction will use to gain influence within cabinet. However, their real motivating force in 2016 will undoubtedly be their commitment to maintaining the marketing supremacy of the coal and gas industries.

And it’s even possible that given their ability to undermine opposing forces, the Abbott gang might regain the Coalition leadership.

This election year is the time to dump this dysfunctional government with its vile, anti-people agenda. The Communist Party of Australia believes that profound social change in Australia will be led and then defended within communities, in the workplace and in the streets. But even at this stage, the chance to present pro-people alternatives to the current corporate agenda at election time can’t be passed up.

For information about how you can assist the Party to register our electoral organisation, the Communists, to run candidates in this year’s elections, see “Communists gear up for federal election.”

Next article – Editorial – The damage done

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