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Issue #1868      May 15, 2019

May 18 election

Axe the privateers

As the “presidential” race approaches the May 18 finish line, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his entourage continue to dish out largesse in marginal seats. Millions of dollars are there for the taking by boy scouts, church and other organisations with children – all in the name of security.

The Liberal and Labor Parties and media have turned the election campaign into a US-style personality battle between two leaders. At every opportunity the Liberals accuse Labor of “high taxing” and “reckless spending”.

Labor’s promised tax cuts are more progressive than those of the Coalition but neither party’s offers address those whose incomes are below the tax threshold.

Age pensioners, the unemployed and other recipients of social security payments have little if anything to look forward to.

Housing crisis

More than 100,000 people are homeless in Australia and another 300,000 to 400,000 more are experiencing housing stress due to high rents or mortgage repayments. This is set to increase as more people come off interest-only repayments and are forced to repay some of the principal borrowings.

The question of public-versus-private lies at the heart of this housing crisis. In the mid-20th century local and state governments built public housing. Since then they have failed to properly maintain housing stock and wound back their public works departments. Public housing has been largely privatised, with valuable land in cities sold off to developers.

Labor is offering a subsidy of $8,500 a year over 15 years to investors who build new homes for people on low and middle incomes to rent at an “affordable” rate – 20 percent below market rent.

The program aims to produce 20,000 “affordable” units over three years, building to a much larger target of 250,000 dwellings over ten years. This will fall far short of current needs, let alone future ones.

The policy relies on the private sector, with the public purse subsidising the housing and the private sector pocketing the returns. It is another example of corporate welfare. State and local governments should be building public housing.

Labor’s policies to tackle negative gearing rorts and reduce capital gains concessions hit the wealthy. They would not apply to existing investments, despite all the lies spread by the Coalition. Labor hopes to bring in an additional $32 billion over 10 years by restricting negative gearing to new dwellings and reducing the capital gains tax concession from 50 to 25 percent of a person’s marginal tax rate. It also believes this will increase the incentive for private investors to build new dwellings and reduce the cost.

The Coalition established a $1 billion fund for states and local governments and has released some Commonwealth land for housing. These funds will be soaked up by government bureaucracies and the private sector.

The Australian Greens have all but been shut out of the public eye, with little chance to counter the lies and distortions of their policies, by the Coalition and extreme right parties.

The Greens argue that governments should provide sufficient public and community housing to meet current need and projected demand with a minimum target of 20 percent affordable and public housing.

TAFE

Years of privatisation and cuts by state and federal governments have almost destroyed TAFE (technical and further education). The private for-profit vocational education and training (VET) has mushroomed with hundreds of thousands of students. The sector has been riddled with scandals and corruption, milking governments of millions of dollars with no results to show.

An analysis done by the NSW Greens in 2016 using federal government figures found that private vocational courses cost taxpayers seven times as much as public TAFE courses.

TAFE has had its funding gutted, courses closed, staff sacked and buildings sold off to the private sector. TAFE is now a shadow of its former self with a little under 10 percent of the students in the VET sector. At the same time employers are crying out for more skilled labour and apprentices. The Victorian Labor government promised 100,000 free TAFE places in last year’s elections but TAFE is struggling to meet the demand because of cuts.

Federally, Labor has promised to waive fees for 100,000 students to enable them to access TAFE courses with a view to assisting them gain employment in areas where there are shortages. In addition, the aim is for at least 50 percent of those places to go to women.

TAFE was once free, providing many working class youth access to education and training and a second chance to those who had dropped out early. It also provided programs for women seeking to return to work after a break.

Only the Australian Greens have opposed the privatisation of TAFE and promised to make TAFE and university education free.

Early childhood education

Privatisation is also an issue in the area of early childhood education. Every wage increase is passed on in fees by the private, for-profit sector so as to maintain profits.

Last week, Labor’s early childhood education funding proposals did enter the campaign, with promises of government funding to increase the wages of early childhood educators by 20 percent over eight years.

These workers are low paid, despite their qualifications, skills, the demanding nature of their work and the responsibilities it carries. The thinking behind the policy is to provide a much needed wage rise without it having an impact on fees.

Fees are already unaffordable for many parents, usually women, on low to middle incomes who all-too-often find they are only working to pay the fees with little or nothing left over. Labor says it would ensure that the companies providing the services also continued to pay wage increases during those years, so that its subsidy actually resulted in a boost to income.

Any extra income is always welcome, but the approach being proposed does not go to the heart of the problem. Early childhood education is education whether it is 15 hours per week, which is being offered for free, or whether it covers the hours of parents working full-time.

Like primary and secondary school it should be free, public and universally accessible. State and federal governments should take responsibility for providing and fully funding pre-school education through the public education system.

As soon as a service is provided by the private sector on a for-profit basis, the profit motive drives the business, not the interests of the young children in their care.

Aged care

There is a similar problem with aged care which has seen a massive growth in private for-profit centres. The present royal commission into the sector illustrates starkly the consequences as businesses (care providers) chase profits above all. Also, the low pay and appalling working conditions no doubt contribute to the calibre and shameful conduct of some staff.

Chronic under-staffing and lack of training result in the horrendous outcomes that are being highlighted in the royal commission. Once private profits enter the equation, there is a conflict of interest and care takes a long second place.

This is also another vital service that should be funded and provided by the public sector instead of tax cuts for the wealthy.

The failure of the Coalition to address climate change and the looming environmental dangers reflects the power of the corporate sector – in particular mining companies – and the influence it has on the government.

The private sector and the failure of governments to take responsibility for the well-being of society and the planet are issues of critical importance. On a positive note, many younger voters are very aware of climate and the environmental crises facing us, and support change.

The strong desire for change amongst workers was reflected in the well-attended May Day actions held around Australia last week. Protesters demanded full restoration of penalty rates, a living wage, the right to strike, the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, an end to the privatisation of public services, increased funding to public hospitals, TAFE and schools, and immediate action on climate change.

The immediate aim in the May 18 election is to defeat the Coalition, to ensure it does not have control of either House. The Communist Party of Australia supports giving first preferences to left and progressive candidates with Coalition candidates followed by extreme right independents and parties last.

Next article – Editorial – Ideals that won victory are still the greatest of ideals

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