The Guardian • Issue #2101

People’s budget – Working class solutions

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Photo: Nicki Mannix – pxhere.com (CC BY 2.0)

The 2024-25 Budget threw crumbs to workers, their families, the unemployed, and the environment while lining the pockets of fossil fuel corporations and the military-industrial complex.

The following are proposed priorities – political and ideological – that serve the interests of the working class. Substantial structural changes are required, especially to spending on social services, the tax system, the environment, and the military, as well as a program of nationalisation and price controls.

SOCIAL SERVICES

The cruellest aspect of the budget was the government’s refusal to lift JobSeeker and the Youth Allowance above the poverty line, or to give pensioners and carers a real increase in their income. These payments must be lifted to above the poverty line and maintained at that level.

Housing is one of the main contributors to the cost of living crisis along with inflation. An increase of up to $9.40 in rental assistance hardly touches the surface of soaring rents. The housing crisis has two key aspects: shortages and unaffordability. Cutting international student numbers will not solve the problem but it will harm the economy. In 2023 international students were worth $36.4 billion to Australia.

Instead of focusing on subsidising developers to assist home buyers and build private rental accommodation, the government should embark on a massive program of building public housing. Rent controls are needed.

Healthcare is another major contributor to the cost of living crisis. Medicare needs a complete overhaul with universal bulkbilling for GPs, specialists, pathology, dental, and mental health, and other services such as MRIs and X-rays.

Public hospitals are chronically under-staffed and under-resourced. The Commonwealth should return to funding 50 per cent of the public hospital budget in an agreement with the states and territories.

Planning and training of additional health professionals is needed to overcome shortages.

Universities are being criminally starved of funds, experiencing an explosion in insecure work and rampant wage theft. They rely largely on foreign students and corporate funding, in particular weapons manufacturers, undermining their capacity for independent research and free speech.

TAFE has taken a hit, with dodgy private operators moving into the vocational education sector.

Post secondary education fees (HELP and HECS) are a burden, and a disincentive to pursuing higher education. The Whitlam Labor government abolished fees in the mid-1970s, and the Hawke-Keating Labor government reintroduced them. They should be abolished along with fees for early childhood education and care.

Funding for legal aid, women’s and children’s services and the disabled should be increased to meet needs.

There is no money for progressing Treaty and little for Indigenous services. Indigenous communities and services should be given adequate funding and control over that funding. The government should also honour its commitment to Treaty.

There is close to $50 billion in coal, oil, and gas subsidies over the next four years. These funds should be redirected to a large-scale government program of phasing out fossil fuels and a just transition to renewables.

NATIONALISATION

Energy prices have soared while privatised energy companies pocket record profits and privatised public transport is failing commuters. Public services should be nationalised so that their prime purpose is to provide quality and affordable services to the public. Queensland is trialling 50 cent rides on all public transport to ease the cost of living and congestion on the roads. If successful it should also be of benefit to the climate.

The telecommunications sector also needs to be nationalised, or the government set up a public company to compete with the private ones.

The banks and supermarkets are wallowing in record profits. Price controls should be imposed on supermarkets and the duopoly broken up. One possible way of lowering costs is through cooperatives.

The government should establish a national public bank and insurance company, democratically run and with social charters.

A restructuring of industry is required, in particular the development of manufacturing and greater self-sufficiency. Australia should not continue to rely on being a quarry. As witnessed during and after COVID, Australia needs to develop its own pharmaceutical industry.

Independent research and development are critical to Australia’s future.

TAXATION

Over the past four decades or so there has been a gradual flattening of the taxation scale with a further flattening in the 2024-25 budget making the system increasingly regressive. A progressive tax scale is one where those on higher incomes pay higher marginal rates in the dollar.

Forty years ago, the highest marginal tax rates was 60 cents in the dollar. Today it is 45 cents and kicks in at a much higher income level. A revamp of the system to make it more progressive is needed.

FUNDING

Apart from tax reform, the above will all cost money. Here are some of the ways in which the People’s Budget could be funded:

  • Address tax avoidance schemes, such as negative gearing and export of profits offshore to tax havens. End capital gains tax concessions and the massive tax concessions for the rich rorting the superannuation system.
  • Increase company tax rate to at least 36 cents in the dollar.
  • Impose a genuine super profits tax, not just for mining companies, but the big banks, insurance companies, investment houses, tech giants, and other corporations.
  • Phase out government funding of private schools, universities, and colleges.
  • Cancel AUKUS, slash Australia’s bloated military budget to bring it into line with what is required for Australia’s defence (as against offensive capacity) and humanitarian regional and domestic responsibilities.
  • Phase out the private health insurance rebate, which is nothing more than a subsidy to an otherwise unsustainable private hospital system.
  • Oblige industry and retail superannuation funds to invest a minimum of five per cent of their investments in public infrastructure.
  • Income and low interest loans to government from the public bank.
  • End government subsidies to fossil fuel polluters.

Economically, these demands are all realisable. Many were once Labor party policy. They cannot be achieved without a fundamental change in the political direction of Australian politics. A government of a new type, committed to the interests of the people and planet is required – a government closely linked with the people’s mass movements and struggles.

It means building a united movement of left and progressive forces, of the trade unions, environmental, peace, education, and community groups prepared to put people’s interests and the planet before those of big business profits. It requires a government that plans for Australia’s future development.

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