- The Guardian
- Issue #1962
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There is an alternative to the Coalition’s pro-business, gas- and oil-fuelled budget. Instead of maximising profits for the government’s big business mates, a People’s Budget puts the interests of people and the planet first.
Under such a budget, the anarchy of market forces is replaced by planned economic development and measures to protect the environment. It would be based on a public sector-led recovery and increasing the income of working people, retirees, the unemployed, and social security recipients.
Here are some examples of what a Communist Party of Australia People’s Budget would contain:
PUBLIC SECTOR-LED RECOVERY
Health, education, transport, utilities, and other vital services are gradually being privatised. Once privatised, the driving motive becomes profit, not people’s needs. Services are cut, quality and access decline, and the cost to the public increases.
A public sector-led recovery would involve the expansion of health, education, transport, and other public services. Key infrastructure would be nationalised, including former state-owned banks and insurance companies.
Universal access to health care is fundamental to building a healthy society. The CPA is committed to:
- A nationalised health system with high quality care, provided according to need rather than ability to pay
- Accessible, quality medical and dental treatment for all Australians, bulk-billed under Medicare and centrally funded
- Team-based care focused on early preventative medical services, early intervention, and provision of care in the community and in the home
- An expanded Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) with free PBS scripts for all unemployed, pensioners and other cardholders, and the cost for others reduced
- Public control of pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, and medical supplies along with the employment of salaried staff specialists
- The development of a publicly owned pharmaceutical manufacturing industry
- The urgent expansion of mental health services
- Better access to health care for those in remote and regional areas.
Universities took another hit in the Coalition’s 2021-22 budget. TAFE is being gutted with campus closures, casualisation and loss of staff. University and TAFE fees deny many working-class people the opportunity to undertake higher education or retraining later in life.
Education should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. Australia has the wealth to be able to provide a quality education at all levels and lifelong access to education. The CPA would:
- Increase funding for teaching and non-teaching staff, for the building and maintenance of classrooms and other school facilities, and the purchase of resources
- Begin phasing out state aid to non-government schools and subsidies to private institutions
- Abolish preschool, school, TAFE, and university fees
- Increase student allowances to a living wage.
PUBLIC AGED CARE
The Royal Commission into aged care revealed appalling levels of neglect and abuse, dangerously low levels of staffing, low wages, and lack of qualified staff in aged care facilities. Elderly people are dying as they wait for a home care package or being forced into nursing homes. The CPA would provide the services to enable elderly people to live meaningful lives and maintain independence. It would include these in a new Aged Care Act. In particular, it would provide:
- Improved residential care and home care
- Mandated staffing ratios in nursing homes
- Nationalise the private, for-profit nursing homes
- Provide quality health services, including mental health, for the aged
- Legislation for a registered nurse always being on duty
- More respite services, more assistive technology, and options for care at home
- Immediate funding for training more carers
- More specific aged care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including a Commissioner to address specific needs, and more opportunities for First Nations people to train as aged care workers.
Public housing has been restricted to welfare housing and renamed “social housing” with narrowed criteria for eligibility. Successive governments have cut funding for “social housing,” and gradually sold off stock to developers. Housing affordability has fallen to its lowest level ever, yet more than $3bil was taken out of public housing over the past decade. Waiting times are up to ten years.
The Communist Party of Australia would begin to implement a national, government-funded and owned public housing program with affordable rents based on income. The CPA would:
- Reverse the present trend where governments spend six times more on subsidising private housing than on public housing
- Commence a planned construction of public housing in rural and regional areas as well as cities according to social needs
- Begin construction of public housing to be carried out by the public sector, with a preference for Australian-made building materials and equipment
- Integrate public housing with other housing to avoid creating pockets of public housing for the disadvantaged
- Public housing to have rent set as a percentage of income
- Rental controls on private housing and measures to protect tenants during periods of financial stress
- Provide housing and support services for homeless youth.
Almost all the infrastructure spending announced in the Coalition’s budget related to roads. There was relatively little for public transport or rail freight services. Provision of adequate public transport to service to all communities is a social and environmental imperative. Private road transport is a major contributor to carbon pollution, while lack of access to public transport places a huge burden on poorer communities.
As the commuting public is well aware, in those states where public transport has been privatised, services that do not turn a substantial profit are cut, maintenance declines, corners are cut, and fares increase. The CPA would provide funding to:
- Upgrade railway stations, light rail, bus stops, ferry wharves, and interchanges to provide adequate seating, shelter, bicycle storage, and disabled facilities
- Nationalise all privatised public transport and rail freight
- Reopen rural rail lines and upgrade the interstate and country rail network
- Ensure new urban development is provided with adequate public transport
- Phase-out fossil fuel vehicles and provide incentives for electric vehicles.
The public service has been hit by ongoing cuts in employment, ongoing casualisation, outsourcing of responsibilities of public service. Privatisation of employment services, for example, has resulted in a lack of accountability, poor quality services, and higher costs due to built-in layers of private profits.
There are 25,000 labour-hire workers employed in public service fields, at huge cost to the taxpayer. The budget could have cut out the expensive private sector with its layers of profits and used the additional funds to hire more staff.
The CPA would bring job security to the public service and increase the number of employees so that services are adequately staffed. Public servants would receive a real wage rise and permanent employment.
WAGES AND WORKING CONDITIONS
The move toward enterprise-based agreements and individual working arrangements has served to strengthen the hand of employers and undermine the concept of centralised wage-fixing. Workers suffered serious setbacks under enterprise bargaining and individual contracts. A series of reactionary anti-trade union pieces of legislation by both Labor and Coalition governments has made the situation for trade unions extremely precarious.
Workers have an inviolable right to a living wage and dignified and safe conditions. The CPA would:
- Increase the minimum wage by forty per cent, and support guaranteed mandatory pay rises
- Provide job security, abolishing contract and body-hire labour, and reverse the trend of casualisation
- Introduce a 35-hour working week without loss of pay, and a minimum of five weeks annual leave
- Provide labour protections in law for contract and casual labour
- Repeal all anti-union legislation, and enshrine the right to strike in law
- Replace enterprise agreements and individual contracts with trade union-negotiated collective industry agreements
- Establish a national, public superannuation fund that invests in public infrastructure
- Establish a system of generous workers’ compensation for all injured workers and their families.
Our previously strong manufacturing sector has been hit hard with off-shoring of jobs and manufacturing processes moving to lower-wage areas.
The CPA sees it as vital that our manufacturing industry is developed and protected from the neoliberal race to the bottom. The private sector has failed to deliver for Australian workers. They have taken government hand-outs, exploited Australian workers, and gone offshore.
The CPA would abandon the failed neoliberal policies and replace them with pro-people policies built on a strong manufacturing sector.
The government’s gas-fired recovery will not only accelerate climate change, but not even generate more than a handful of jobs. The industry is one of the least labour-intensive in Australia.
The climate crisis is real in Australia – soil salinisation, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, drought, floods, bushfires, and record high temperatures. This is the consequence of unregulated capitalist exploitation.
To alleviate some of the worst features of the environmental crisis, the CPA advocates:
- Developing a national energy plan, with legislated targets, for transition to an ecologically sustainable energy system under public ownership
- Massively investing in research and development of alternative renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation
- Making energy efficiency and conservation key determinants of urban planning
- Restoration of Australia’s water systems and provision of adequate safe drinking water for communities through coordinated national planning
- Phase out unsustainable water-hungry industries such as cotton
- Closing all uranium mines in Australia and opposing the establishment of nuclear waste dumps in Australia.
Militarism is part of the US drive for world domination. Australia has signed away its independence to US imperialism. High military spending steals resources from education, hospitals, social security, and environmental protection, and undermines sustainable development. The CPA would:
- Immediately cut military spending by at least ten per cent
- Convert military-related industries to socially useful and environmentally sustainable production
- End the Australian military alliance with the US
- End the hosting of US military bases on Australian soil
- Purchase dual-use equipment such as helicopters for use in bushfires and floods.
Industries comprised of predominately women workers often pay workers more poorly than male-dominated industries. While women today are entering the workforce in record numbers, they commonly encounter problems when they have children. Many are forced to abandon the workforce because they do not qualify for leave or cannot afford childcare. The CPA would:
Enforce equal pay for work of equal value
End social security payments based on relationship status, so that women have access to an independent income
Enforce anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation to assist Indigenous, migrant, and disabled women to become economically independent
Provide publicly funded before-school, after-school and long day childcare facilities for all who need them and for good quality, free early childhood education and care
Pay parental leave for at least twenty-six weeks.
The CPA is committed to the following policies:
- Recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original occupiers and owners of Australian territory and their right to own and control their land and resources on the basis of communal and inalienable title
- Better provision of services to Indigenous communities
- Immediate repeal of the Intervention and the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory
- The restoration of the Community Development and Employment Program for all Indigenous communities that request it
- The establishment as soon as possible of a genuinely representative national Aboriginal advisory body
- Implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing them Home Report.
The carers’, student, and youth allowances are well below the poverty line, and were neglected in the recent budget. The age pension and JobSeeker are long overdue for real increase to enable recipients to live in dignity.
The government failed to adequately fund the NDIS and then attempted to cut costs by introducing confronting “independent” assessments. There is currently a moratorium on these assessments. The CPA would:
- Increase social security payments to one third of average weekly earnings
- Fully fund the NDIS to meet the needs of people with disability, and abolish the “independent” assessments
- End “work for the dole” schemes
- End fake traineeships.
Full employment is CPA policy. Job creation must be based on an overall economic and social program. All the above policies would create thousands of additional jobs in health, education, aged care, community, construction, the public sector, housing, and public transport.
Development of the manufacturing sector, public production of pharmaceuticals, and research would be key areas of government investment. Renewable energy, research and development, and environmental protection would see the creation of many more jobs than are lost by shutting down the fossil fuel sector. The creation of these jobs would be central to a just transition.
All these measures cost money. But there is no shortage of money; it is a question of distribution. At present billions of dollars are being paid in subsidies to the big end of town. This would cease and the funds redirected to benefit the people. The CPA would:
- Undertake substantial reform of the tax system, with a strongly progressive income tax
- Increase the corporate tax rate
- Cancel the billions in corporate handouts and fossil fuel subsidies
- Cut military spending by at least $10bil
- Phase out the $6bil subsidy to private hospitals
- End the billions of dollars rorted by the rich manipulating superannuation funds
- Tax the big monopolies who divert profits offshore to tax havens.
Not all the above reforms could be completed within one budget, or within capitalism. They run contrary to the Coalition’s anti-people and environmentally destructive budget. The ALP, too, is wedded to neoliberalism with a few soft touches around the edges. Achieving all these changes requires a government of a new type.
The CPA cannot single-handedly achieve the policies outlined above. It would take the support of the trade union movement and other progressive forces who are prepared to fight for the interests of the working class.