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Issue #1896      November 27, 2019

Creeping fascism

The ageing population is a “time bomb”, threatening the government’s sacred budget surplus. The trade unions are “lawless”; the unemployed are “leaners”, sponging on hard working Australians; people with a disability are simply a drain on the budget. As for sole parents and battered partners (overwhelmingly women), it’s their behaviour that put them in that position. They too are undeserving. So runs the message from Canberra as the cuts and stigmatisation continue.

Anyone who is seen as unfit for productive employment and capitalist exploitation is being thrown onto the scrap heap by the Coalition and its big business mates. They see no point in spending money on such people. Instead, they would rather focus on corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate sector.

But not all spending is being cut. There are billions of dollars for the construction of new roads; the building of submarines to fight the US’s wars; for subsidies to the fossil fuel sector; subsidies for private hospitals; and tax cuts for the rich and the corporate sector.

The fascistic Ensuring Integrity Bill looks set to pass the Senate this week as the Coalition clinches deals with key cross-benchers who abandon any pretence of supporting workers. It adds to the battery of laws restricting trade union and democratic rights.

The aim of the legislation is to destroy any trade union that dares to defend its members’ interests and disqualify any union official that carries out their responsibility towards their members.

Police state

Australia has been moving step by step towards a police state over the past two or more decades. Before much longer we are going to wake up to find our democratic rights have been removed, that dissent will not be tolerated and all militant trade union actions outlawed.

At the same time, there will only be a skeleton of the welfare state at most, with the most vulnerable dependent on charities for survival and a second rate health system and schools for the poor. Indigenous Australians, already experiencing marginalisation and poverty and the highest incarceration rates in the world, will be further subjugated.

At the end of the last century the Howard government began slashing social spending and launched an all-out attack on the trade union movement. In particular, there was the historic struggle by maritime workers on the waterfront, in a fight for the future of their union and jobs.

Industrial relations ministers Peter Reith and later Tony Abbott led the assault, which included the introduction of non-union, individual employment “agreements” and the infamous Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). They set out to deregulate employment relations and kill off militant trade unionism.

The Howard government also began attacking other democratic rights with a series of so-called “anti-terror” laws.

The “anti-terror” laws and other attacks on democratic rights have continued unabated since the Howard days. The government’s latest plans are for legislation that would ban boycotts.

The Howard government sent the military into 73 Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, in its racist and anti-democratic “Intervention”. It withheld 50 percent of welfare payments from Indigenous welfare recipients in the form of the BasicsCard (see Out of an Abbott and into a Forrest); gave itself the power to take possession of Aboriginal land and property; increased police presence in Aboriginal communities; amongst other measures.

Of course, the communities involved were not consulted first.

The BasicsCard can only be used at merchants that the Department of Human Services has approved of and then on a restricted range of goods. This concept of the government managing what a person can spend their income on has since been extended further to other communities and groups including to non-Indigenous Australians.

While imposing income management, the government did nothing to provide income adequacy. Unemployment benefits remain frozen. Other allowances have been cut.

It is only a matter of time before the BasicsCard or the newer Cashless Card are extended to all welfare recipients.

The Abbott government took up the attack on social security recipients with a vengeance under its treasurer Joe Hockey. Since then the Turnbull and Morrison governments have continued the offensive, with the NDIS scheme carrying the brunt for attaining the budget surplus.

“Age of entitlement is over”

Hockey’s horror budget of May 2014 made the neo-liberal agenda of the Coalition government and ruling class of Australia very clear. This budget signalled the government’s plans for fundamental changes in the role of government. It included $80 billion in cuts to health and education over the coming ten years.

The aim was to divest itself of basic social responsibilities, of raising central revenue from income taxes and funding social and other needs. It abrogated its responsibilities to the people, its international responsibilities (foreign aid cuts) and turned its back on the environment. At the same time it began a virulent attack on science which continues today in government circles, most notably denial of the science of climate change.

One of the budget’s meanest provisions was to deny unemployed people who were under 25 access to benefits for the first six months of unemployment – a measure that it failed to get through.

The budget was met with such strong opposition that the government pulled back on some of its measures, including the introduction of a $7 co-payment for services covered by Medicare. Most of the budget has since been passed in stages. In the case of Medicare, rebates were frozen, a backdoor means of introducing a gap as doctors could no longer afford to bulk bill.

Hockey announced: “The age of entitlement is over.” By entitlement he meant anything provided to the people by government and collectively funded through general revenue.

He also talked in terms of people who do the “heavy lifting” and those who are “leaners”. “Leaners” were people on the dole, carers’ payments, “rorting” new mothers who “double-dip” parental leave, etc. This stigmatisation was in sharp contrast to the “lifters” who did all the hard work and whose taxes funded the “leaners”.

The cuts continue along with deregulation of the economy and privatisation. More government responsibilities have been handed over to the for-profit private sector with disastrous consequences for those who use the services.

Stigmatisation and blame for those who receive government payments continues today. The political spin-doctors have been hard at work and changed the language and arguments to cover up the government’s real intent.

Frydenberg – Hockey clone

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is cut from the same cloth as his Coalition predecessors. While not pointing to leaners or declaring the age of entitlement is over, he is none-the-less discriminating against and further disadvantaging the most vulnerable in the community.

The lowest paid and poor are on the hit list, as it becomes harder and harder to meet eligibility requirements for government benefits. Thousands of people are being cut off their entitlements, consistent with the declaration that the age of entitlement is over. The payments are also shrinking.

Hockey indicated that his aim was to reduce income taxes to zero. The process of regressive tax cuts is heading in that direction, with the wealthy being the greatest beneficiaries.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to cut taxes. That’s in our DNA,” Frydenberg said. The people would be left to fund the bloated military budget, police, security agencies and whatever is left of government through the GST. Already there is talk about increasing the GST.

Same line, new spin

The claims that are all-too-often trotted out such as we can no longer afford to provide social welfare programs including the NDIS, that the ageing are a problem, that we will not be able to afford to pay them the age pension, that Medicare is blowing out and becoming unaffordable, are an indictment of the capitalist system.

Midst all the wealth, and there is no shortage of wealth, we are constantly being told that basic human rights are unaffordable, while the redistribution of wealth towards the rich and powerful continues.

The Coalition got a shock in 2014 when their budget was so resoundingly defeated as thousands of people around Australia took to the streets protesting against it. They learnt a lesson. Instead of presenting their agenda in one budget, introduce it gradually and refine the spin and arguments to sell it.

At the same time they have passed a battery of repressive laws to put down any dissent and lock up those who protest or attempt to defend people’s rights and living standards. The Ensuring Integrity Bill is the latest of these bills, and one of the most reactionary pieces of legislation ever to go before the Australian Parliament, a reflection of the creeping fascism taking hold in the body politic.

Fight back

Frydenberg’s latest assault on age pensioners should be a call to arms to build the broadest movement possible to not only defeat the Coalition but to elect a government which is prepared to govern in the interests of people.

If capitalism cannot provide for the well-being of Australians and afford them democratic rights, then it is clearly passed its use-by date. It is time to replace it with socialism.

The fight back must begin!

Next article – Editorial – People’s Power!

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