Well today is May Day. International Workers Day. It has been a long time in Australia since May Day has served as an actual call to arms, but today is that day. Today May Day reminds us of how important Labor governments are. Today May Day reminds us how working people must organise and fight against the rich and the privileged simply in order to live a decent life. Today the Abbott governments radical Thatcherite manifesto – the commission of audit – was released.
Remember when Kevin Rudd chided Tony Abbott in the 2013 debates asking constantly “what are you going to cut?” Well Abbott may have cleverly avoided the question then, making Rudd look somewhat desperate and pathetic. But we have the answer now. We know what he’s going to cut. It might not all happen this budget or this term of government, but we know the game their playing now. Of course those of us that are switched on really always knew. Tony Abbott once said that “cutting taxes is in the Liberal party’s DNA”. No, but what is in the Liberal party’s DNA is a fundamental belief that government does not have a role in alleviating misery or desperation. It is a social Darwinist philosophy; whatever happens naturally should be allowed to happen. If you lose your job then so be it, you are on your own. If you are born disabled, then you better hope you have a rich uncle or a saintly mother to care for you. If you can’t afford to go to University, tough. It is a philosophy that is fundamentally anti-egalitarian. It is an ancient philosophy, passed down from Callicles to Robert Nozick. It assumes that might is right, that equality is only a hurdle to knock down in the search for some debased animalistic kind of freedom. It is rarely a philosophy held in such overt ways by someone who has not had a privileged life. It is, however a philosophy that entrenches privilege and ensures the 99 per cent are not a threat to the one per cent. This is the point I wish to impress, this commission of audit is not about economics (for these policies will certainly not be good for our economic growth), it is about self-interested philosophy; indeed it is about ideology in the most Marxist sense of the word.
So what is in this commission of audit? It in one fell swoop completely undermines universal healthcare in Australia. It rules large chunks of the population ineligible for public healthcare, rules out free healthcare for everybody and even aims to charge people to visit sick relatives at the hospital. Perhaps most cruelly of all, after promising to support Gillard’s National Disability Insurance Scheme the report now makes clear that Abbott is preparing to significantly cut the funding to it. Margaret Thatcher may be the obvious comparison but what comes most strongly to my mind is King John, of Robin Hood fame. Whilst destroying universal healthcare, it simultaneously stabs at the heart of public education in this country. The report recommends that the vast majority of the Gonski money be never allocated, setting public education back a generation. All federal funding of apprenticeships will be withdrawn. The cost of going to University will not only go up significantly, our HECs system of universal higher education loans will be completely tarnished because students will now be asked to repay their loans as soon as they begin earning the minimum wage. Which is curious because the commission also wants to end the minimum wage. Yes you read correctly; states will be free to set the minimum wage at whatever they like. In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, people under 30 (a completely arbitrary cut off) must first relocate to areas of the country where there might be employment opportunities. This is a dehumanising policy, people are not pawns in a game. We are not simply consumers and producers who must live according to the whims of the invisible hand of the market. Yet we will be treated as such by this government. It will be much harder to retire and there will be less care for the elderly. Funding will be cut to the ABC and SBS. Foreign aid cut. The department of Human Services will be privatised, as will more public roads, the post office and the mint. We’ll be paying corporations to print our own money!
But today is May Day. And it must spur us into action. Let us ensure that this commission of audit is to Abbott what WorkChoices was to Howard. It has not yet become law and let us try and make it so unpopular that the worst aspects of it never become law. Let us scream our righteous indignation from the mountain tops until the political careers of all these nasty Tories are ruined forever. Let us organise. Let us never forget that politics affects all of our lives intimately and let us never forget that Labor governments built Australia while Liberal/National governments seek to reduce it to a marketplace. Let us maintain the rage for 3 years, until election day and beyond.
Elliot Brice is a high school teacher who has an Honours degree in Philosophy from The University of Melbourne.