Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

Home


The Guardian

Current Issue

PDF Archive

Web Archive

Subscribe

Press Fund


CPA

About Us

Why you should ...

CPA introduction

CPA Policies

CPA statements

Contact Us

facebook, twitter


Major Issues

Indigenous

Unions

Health

Housing

Climate Change

Peace

Solidarity/Other


What's On

Resources

AMR

Links


Shop@CPA

Books,
T-shirts,
CDs/DVDs,
Badges,
Misc


 

Issue #1915      May 18, 2020

COVID-19 AUSTERITY

As Australians battle on through severe health and economic crises, there is a great deal of speculation about when we will return to “normal” and even talk of a “new normal.”

“But until there’s a vaccine, then there isn’t the possibility of us getting fully back to normal,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as if Australia would go back to how it was pre-pandemic. It won’t. The Coalition government and its big business mates have plans for a “new normal,” to be executed under cover of COVID-19.

Its focus has always been and remains one of profits before people and corporate rights before people’s rights. It will use the economic crisis to strengthen the grip of transnational corporations and take Australia in a more authoritarian direction.

The government did not double unemployment benefits (JobSeeker) or pay other unemployed/stood down workers JobKeeper out of altruistic motives. While these payments undeniably assist their recipients, their main purpose is to serve as an economic stimulus to boost domestic consumption of goods and services and hence keep businesses afloat. This is in addition to their other, direct subsidies to business.

That the private sector is the government’s priority was confirmed in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s economic statement to Parliament on Tuesday 12th May.

“Unleashing the power of dynamic, innovative, and open markets must be central to the recovery, with the private sector leading job creation, not government,” he told Parliament.

“SOBERING” ECONOMIC CRISIS

Apart from boasting what a good job the government is doing, the statement provided a mass of statistics for the month of March, illustrating how “sobering” the economic crisis is – an understatement if ever there were one.

“The ASX200* lost more than a third of its value in just over four weeks …

“New motor vehicle sales fell by forty-eight per cent through the year, their largest ever fall,” Frydenberg said.

“House sales fell by forty per cent … .

“During this period, accommodation and food services saw the largest fall in jobs at 33.4 percent, followed by the arts and recreation sector at twenty-seven per cent,” Frydenberg said.

These figures, as alarming as they are, understate the human toll the crisis is taking on millions of working people and their families. The economic crisis is a major setback for the many regional and rural communities that are still reeling from years of drought and the horrendous bushfires.

“FIVE-POINT PLAN”

The government’s economic statement included a “five-point plan” to address the economic crisis. The points provided no detail whatsoever; they were general feel-good statements. For example, the third point in the plan referred to “a clear plan and framework mapping out the road ahead.” A plan with a plan!

Despite the lack of detail, some aspects were clear. These centred around balancing the budget, an offensive on workers and trade unions, and boosting the profits of the big end of town.

“Australians know there is no money tree,” the Treasurer said. “What we borrow today, we must repay in the future.”

The second “we” are the most vulnerable – recipients of social security payments, workers, youth, sole parents, and others who will be on the receiving end of austerity measures. It does not include the big end of town. Quite the opposite; they stand to benefit from more tax cuts.

RORTING THE SYSTEM

A survey of 550 hospitality workers by Hospo Voice, the hospitality arm of the United Workers Union (UWU), revealed an alarming extent of exclusions. Almost seventy per cent of surveyed workers are ineligible for JobKeeper.

Of the casual and temporary migrant workers surveyed, just eleven per cent are currently working, and only five per cent are working enough to cover their living expenses. The survey also revealed that some employers were carrying out illegal practices such as requiring workers to sign non-ATO documents, entitling the employer to some of the payment. (See unitedworkers.org.au for more details.)

There is a growing practice where employers are taking the $1,500 per fortnight JobKeeper payment and then forcing workers to take accrued annual leave at the same time. The Fair Work Commission has given its blessing to such practices.

The government talks about “targeting” its JobKeeper scheme, referring to the eligibility rules which exclude around two million workers. It should be extended to ALL casual, gig and visa workers, and students who have lost their job or been stood down.

“L” CURVE

Forget about the “V” or “U” curve. It will take years to emerge from this economic crisis which is shaping up to be as bad or worse than the Great Depression.

As workers are allowed to return to work, bosses will cherry pick who gets a job. They will try to exploit the vulnerability of desperate, unemployed workers to slash wages, undermine working conditions and cut staffing levels.

It is the largest monopolies and financial institutions that emerge from such crises bigger and more powerful than ever, in particular the finance sector.

When the six-month moratorium on mortgage repayments comes to an end, even more families will face poverty and homelessness. It will be many years, if ever that unemployment levels return to their pre-crisis level. For youth and older workers the picture is extremely bleak.

The closure of so many businesses, bankruptcies and job losses are taking their toll. Many families are drawing on their lifelong savings, including superannuation – the latter made possible by the government. Charities and foodbanks cannot keep up with demand. Poverty is on the rise. Millions are desperate and afraid of what tomorrow holds for them.

So many workers are more vulnerable than ever, whether employed or not.

NEOLIBERALISM ON STEROIDS

The sacred budget surplus has taken a hit with the cost of the multi-billion dollar COVID-19 packages and the considerable reduction in personal and company income tax to come as a result of a shrinking economy and high rate of unemployment.

The government has plans for a full neoliberal agenda of balancing the budget, corporate tax cuts, deregulation, further privatisation, union-bashing and wage cuts. Restoration of corporate profits for the big end of town is their number one priority.

The government’s concept of a recovery is a recovery in profits, not one for people.

The budget deficit will be used as an excuse for further privatisations and a host of austerity measures including savage cuts to social security and the public sector. The ABC, SBS, Medicare, and the administration of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) are among the targets for privatisation, along with other areas of government such as the Department of Human Services, that have not already been privatised.

Public sector wages are being frozen, and thousands of sackings can be expected at state and federal levels.

Such austerity measures prolong the crisis, shrink the real economy as the businesses that survived grow bigger and more powerful at the expense of the people.

Frydenberg, in his economic statement to Parliament, repeated previous statements that the recovery (read for the private sector) will be based on “cutting red tape to reduce the cost burden on businesses and the economy and tax and industrial relations reform as a means of increasing our competitiveness.”

The cutting of red tape refers to deregulation – removing restrictions on businesses and what remains of labour regulations that protect workers. The tax reforms include corporate tax cuts and possibly an expansion or increase in the goods and services tax (GST).

Industrial relations reform includes the Ensuring Integrity Bill, individual employment contracts and an attempt to abolish awards. The latter would leave workers with just the minimal safety net of the National Employment Standards (NES) to fall back on.

This is the “new normal” that the Coalition government and their business mates have in mind for Australian workers and their families.

STRUGGLE AHEAD

The struggle for workers’ rights continues. The conditions and forms of this struggle may be different under COVID-19 restrictions, but as the May Day and other cavalcades have proved, it is possible to fight back.

Social media has become even more important for dissemination of information, organising and lobbying. Parliamentarians remain sensitive to public pressure.

There is another way out of the economic crisis. First and foremost is job creation and higher incomes, with a public-sector lead recovery. This means:

  • no wage freezes
  • an increase in the minimum wage
  • keeping the unemployment benefit at $1,100 per fortnight
  • 30-hour working week
  • public infrastructure program to build housing, hospitals and schools and expand public transport
  • conversion of military industry to build solar panels and wind turbines
  • increase the number of apprenticeships
  • increase funding for research, education and training.

Trade union rights are essential, in particular the right to strike. Awards need expanding and the minimum wage increased. Industry agreements should be made legal. All of this will take a struggle involving the unity of the trade union movement and community.

There is another “new normal” – a “people’s normal” – to be fought for and won.

Next article – Editorial – HASTIE’S ANTI-CHINA RHETORIC

Back to index page

Go to What's On Go to Shop at CPA Go to Australian Marxist Review Go to Join the CPA Go to Subscribe to the Guardian Go to the CPA Maritime Branch website Go to the Resources section of our web site Go to the PDF of the Hot Earth booklet go to the World Federation of Trade Unions web site go to the Solidnet  web site Go to Find out more about the CPA