The public sector of the economy consists of all that is owned and run by government, including industrial enterprises, infrastructure and the services provided by the three levels of government, as well as land, water, buildings and government revenue and investments.
In Australia, the development of capitalism with mass commodity production at the turn of the 20th Century and particularly following WW2 required considerable assistance from the public sector. Governments built infrastructure, educated and trained workers extending the education system by setting up many universities and colleges. The government was involved in housing construction and built large public hospitals.
Governments also played a role in regulating some aspects of the capitalist economy. The resources of the public sector were used to mitigate crises in the capitalist economy when they arose.
With the growth of large monopolies in Australia – in industry, mining, banking, retail and other spheres – the ruling class began to see that government assistance in the form of public enterprises and infrastructure as an obstacle to the further growth of monopoly capitalism. It is now being described by the ruling class as “discriminatory state Capitalism”.
This new wave of thinking has the purpose of giving unbridled power to the big monopolies and new sources of profit-making. The monopolies are assisted by such means as the withdrawal of government regulations, privatisation of government enterprises, reduction in government services, the introduction of the user-pay system, free market competition meaning greater power for the monopolies, and free trade to do away with national restrictions on the activities of transnational corporations.
This strategy has entailed an ongoing assault on the public sector. Governments in Australia have hived off virtually all of their industrial and financial enterprises. The government airline, as well as airports and shipping facilities, have been privatised. Private companies now build roads. Government services including the Commonwealth Employment Service and many welfare functions have been handed to either private enterprise or Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).
Over the last few years federal and state governments have resorted to savage cuts in spending to fund corporate tax cuts and other corporate handouts. The main focus is to slash the number of jobs in the public sector – in schools, hospitals and across all government departments. At the same time the government seeks to privatise whatever services it has left. Social security, pensions and community services, in particular, are under attack.
As part of the struggle for real change in the workers’ interests, the Communist Party campaigns for:
- Public ownership of key sectors of the economy.
- A strong public sector which gives people better, more reliable and cheaper services and more control of the economy.
- An end to and reversal of the sell-off of public services, or the contracting out of their management to private corporations.
- Stronger community participation in and control over public assets and services and for greater workers’ participation in the management of enterprises.
- Where appropriate, profitable publicly-owned enterprises be used as a source of government revenue to fund other services.
- Centralised funding or subsidisation of other public services out of central revenue, such as health, education, public transport, etc, to enable universal access and achieve equity goals. How would health, transport and education be run, if profit was the only consideration?
- Private enterprise, being motivated solely by the profit motive and operating on a “user pays” basis, cannot offer the same quality of services or provide them on the basis of universality and equity.
- Economic and social planning.
- Reject Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses in any trade agreements.
- The Communist Party seeks not only an alleviation of day-to-day problems faced by workers but continuation of the struggle through to the achievement of socialism.
The call for a strong public sector and increased public control and ownership of society’s key economic and social assets is a call for a different sort of society – one which is planned and where people not profits drive economic activity, where co-operation, not exploitation is the norm, and where people can expect to play an active role in managing their world – a socialist society.