A war budget
by Anna Pha The Federal Budget wages war on the poor, on the sick, the aged, the unemployed, people with disabilities, working class families, working women, and Indigenous Australians. It wages war on the environment. It wages war against the people of Afghanistan and whoever else the US might decide to fight in its so-called "war on terrorism". It wages war on asylum seekers who come to our shores for assistance. It wages war on those who dare to criticise or take action in opposition to the Government's big business policies. "It's a blatant class Budget", Peter Symon, CPA General Secretary told The Guardian. "Working class families and those most disadvantaged in our community are having their living standards forced down substantially. Many will be driven into poverty. "Absolute priority is being given to military spending in preparation for future military adventures against the multitude of 'enemies' being named by US President Bush. "On the other hand billions are being channelled into the pockets of the private insurance companies, to military contractors, private health providers, to private schools and other big business friends of Howard and Costello. "The discriminatory intentions of the Government have never been clearer", said Mr Symon. Talkback radio has been flooded with desperate callers, panic-stricken that they will not be able to afford essential medications or will be removed from their disability pension. Some even talk of suicide. "This budget is committed to big spending on the 'War on Terrorism' and preventing asylum seekers from reaching Australia at the expense of our 'War on Poverty' at home", said Father Norden, spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Poverty. "It is time the Government got serious about eradicating hardship and poverty in Australia rather than continuing to introduce measures to make life tougher for those on low incomes", said Father Norden. Thousands of people with disabilities will be forced into the Job Network system if the Senate passes the Government's measures. (See page 5) Their income will be reduced by $52 a fortnight, many of their concessions will vanish, at the same time as their medication rises by $1 (28 percent) per prescription. The government hopes to drive more people into the private health sector by continuing to underfund and undermine Medicare and the public health system. The "savings" from its callous and cruel health and social security cuts (including cuts to unemployment assistance) will be poured into the war machine, policing, security, intelligence communications, locking up asylum seekers and turning people away from our borders. The only military threat to Australia is the Government's blind allegiance to the warmongering of US President Bush. There will be a new battlespace communications system for the development of intelligence infrastructure called e-security. The Government speaks in terms of sharing information with the private sector. Later in the year we can expect further increases in military spending which are not included in this budget. ASIO receives a huge boost to its funds, as does the Australian Federal Police for "Threat Assessment". These funds are to enforce the new terror laws currently before Parliament. Priorities back to front The "defence" allocation is a whopping $13.144 billion with another $2 billion on "public order and safety". The education budget is less than $12 billion and an increasing proportion of that are handouts to the private sector at the expense of public education. Tax on superannuation is to be cut for those on high incomes, but not for low or middle-income workers. "Choice" of superannuation fund is back and aims to destroy the industry schemes which were initiated by trade unions. They are to be replaced with retirement accounts and other investment schemes being promoted by the finance sector. The proposed Baby Bonus is geared to assist high income women who could gain as much as $48 per week. The 30 per cent of working women on low incomes will receive less than $10 a week. Privatisation is high on the agenda, with plans to sell the remainder of Telstra, Medibank Private, Sydney Airport, ComLand, assets of the Defence Housing Authority and many other government properties. Taken as a whole, the budget represents a further retreat by the Government from its responsibility to provide social security, health, education and other essential services to the community. The areas in which the Government is not retreating — military spending, intelligence operations, building of concentration camps, etc — are all designed to protect the interests of US and Australian corporations and the system of capitalism itself. They provide the iron fist, to shore up these interests. The Budget is also noteworthy for its failure to act in areas of critical need such as job creation, the raising of pensions, additional funding for public health and education, and the building of essential infrastructure. Response The overall Labor response is totally inadequate. Their opposition to the cuts to disability and health provisions is welcome. But Labor has remained silent on the basic corporate thrust of the budget. It has no intention of challenging the US alliance or Australia's war preparations. The Greens have taken a principled stand opposing the Government's war on social security, on health, education, the environment and its military spending. The Democrats have taken a good stand on a number of issues but, like the Labor Party, are prepared to negotiate with the Government on policy details. Pressure will need to be maintained on these two parties as well as on the Howard Government to ensure that the most vicious and callous measures are not implemented.
* * *Next week The Guardian will have further articles on the budget including an alternative strategy — what a genuinely pro-people Government would have done.