The Guardian May 22, 2002


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.

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