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Issue #1913      May 4, 2020

FIGHT FOR A PEOPLE-FIRST RECOVERY

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg continue to talk the economy up with plans for a rapid post-COVID-19 economic recovery in 2021. But the recovery they are referring to is one for big business, not one for the people or the planet we need for survival.

At the same time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns that before any recovery occurs, the global economy will experience “the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis”.

In a report released last month, the IMF’s chief economist Gita Gopinath said, “The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed [COVID-19] is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.”

Australia is no exception, with business closures, stand-downs, sackings, wage reductions, and charities stretched beyond their limits. The number of homeless people is on the rise. Millions of Australians are unemployed or underemployed, and their ranks continue to swell by the day.

GOVT AGENDA

The government is delusional if it thinks the economy can bounce back overnight. It certainly won’t for working people and the unemployed. What it is proposing is a full-on neo-liberal assault on workers, the unemployed, pensioners, and other recipients of government payments – all with the aim of restoring and increasing the profits of its mates in big business as quickly as possible.

In particular, the government has plans for “the removal of red tape” (read deregulation), billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts, and a new round of anti-union, anti-worker legislation. This is just a continuation of its agenda, but instead of pushing it openly, it will use the excuse of COVID-19.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, also representing the interests of the corporate sector, told cabinet last month that, “if we thought we could just grow the economy under the old settings, then we need to think again.” He is correct, but not in the pro-big business way he meant. There is another way – one that is in the interests of working people, their families, and the planet.

Capitalism is incapable of bringing about a recovery for the people. Deregulation, attacks on workers’ rights and reliance on the “markets” will not work for the people. This is evidenced by the present situation where farmers are destroying crops they cannot sell, and charities cannot meet the massive increase in the demand for food.

Workers did not cause the economic crisis, and they must not be made to pay for it.

PUBLIC SECTOR-LED RECOVERY

A multi-faceted, planned program is required which redirects the Australian economy to job creation, higher living standards, environmentally sustainable development, and to world peace. It must also reverse decades of deregulation and privatisation, with a program for full public ownership of public services and strategic enterprises, including transport, health, education, social welfare, telecommunications, banking, insurance, water and electricity.

The repeal of all anti-union, anti-worker legislation is central to the achievement of such a program that puts people first.

Jobs can be generated by increasing wages and social security payments. The current JobSeeker payments must NOT revert back to the inhumane level of $40 a day. Pensions and other government payments must NOT be reduced or undermined with tougher eligibility tests. Early childhood education MUST remain free. NO reversals post-pandemic or during the pandemic.

Since mid-2016 corporate profits have risen forty-three per cent but wages improved by just eight per cent. Penalty rates must be restored in full, and the minimum wage increased to a liveable wage.

Cuts to penalty rates were meant to create jobs, but a recent survey of over 1,800 employees and 200 owner-managers in retail and hospitality was unable to establish any evidence of growth. On the contrary, some of the analysis suggested the Sunday and public holiday employment outcomes were worse for those affected by the penalty cuts compared to those on enterprise agreements and individual contracts.

Such measures will increase the capacity of people to consume and hence demand for goods and services. In turn, this results in job creation.

PATH TO RECOVERY

On May Day, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) issued a call for a shorter working week. “The WFTU believes that the profits should be given for the improvement of working conditions of all workers of the planet. We should work fewer hours with better wages and conditions that promote cultural, humanitarian and environmental progress.”

The Communist Party of Australia supports a thirty-hour week without loss of income to create more jobs, address the impact of technology and improve the quality of life of workers.

An extensive public housing program would have the double benefit of providing much needed affordable housing as well as jobs.

At the same time, a job creation program must be backed by the necessary education and training. Education is a right and should be free and easily accessible from early childhood to tertiary levels with provision of student allowances. The apprenticeship system has been decimated, and extensive deskilling has taken place. This must be reversed with medium to large companies obliged to hire apprentices.

Decades of funding cuts and privatisation have resulted in under-resourced and understaffed public hospitals. The government should nationalise the private hospitals and other private elements of the health sector. Health is a right, not a commodity for those who can afford it. Adequate funding should be injected into the system for staffing and resources, the expansion of preventative health care, including dental, along with the necessary training.

The major insurance companies need to be returned to public hands. They cannot be left to continue ripping off customers, likewise the banks. If any evidence is needed, the banking inquiry says it all, and the treatment of drought and bush fire victims says even more.

Nationalisation of energy, water, communications, and other strategic services could when democratically run, see lower prices and better services. They could facilitate investment in renewable energy sources.

Land management is critical for wildlife and the survival of the human species. National parks should be handed over to Indigenous communities to manage, with the necessary financial support.

There is so much that could be done by the government that puts people before profits, including in such areas as the arts, culture, and recreational sport.

FUNDING THE RECOVERY

It won’t be long before the government cries poor, pointing to a gaping hole in its budget, and seeking to impose austerity measures. After all, it will have spent billions on its stimulus packages and its income from personal and corporate income tax will have suffered considerably.

A government which puts people before profits could finance the above program with the following additional sources of annual income and savings:

  • Halve the $40 billion a year spent on military to fight US wars – $20 billion;
  • Abolish fossil fuel and other subsidies to mining corporations – $25 billion;
  • Abolish negative gearing – around $5 billion;
  • Abolish the capital gains tax exemption for the family home – $40 billion;
  • Abolish capital gains tax discount – $6 billion;
  • Phase-out private health insurance rebate – $6 billion;
  • Reverse income tax cuts for highest earners – $4 billion;
  • End superannuation, trust and other tax rorts by the rich – $15 billion;
  • Reverse corporate tax cuts – raise an extra $4.8 billion.

The total for such measures is well over $125 billion, and that is without including the recent tax cuts for the wealthy and impending corporate tax cuts. Add to that the possible billions of dollars that could be collected with the introduction of measures that force the largest corporations like Apple, Google, Chevron and others to pay tax.

Redirected to socially desirable projects, these funds could go a long way towards fully funding a people-first recovery and a better life. But we will have to fight for them as never before, with trade unions and the community united in the struggle.

Start now! Write to your MPs and Senators. Write letters to newspapers. Speak out on talk-back radio. Use social media to fight for a people-first agenda.

We cannot wait until state and federal governments to cry poor and start their cuts. We MUST stop them. Act now!

Next article – Editorial – WHAT COVID-19 CAN TEACH US ABOUT CLIMATE ACTION

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