I will be joining my local March in March today because I believe the Abbott government is illegitimate.
Abbott’s Liberal/National Coalition has treated Australian voters with thinly disguised contempt. They blatantly misled us about their intentions in opposition, assuring us there would be no surprises and no broken promises, then blindsided us with extreme right-wing policies in government.
They promised to govern for all Australians. In reality, their every decision makes the rich richer, the privileged more privileged, and the powerful more powerful. Abbott has surrounded himself with advisors who look, talk, and think like him (particularly business lobbyists and climate change deniers); appointed a Cabinet containing just one woman; sacked public servants perceived as disloyal; and abolished multiple expert advisory bodies.
They promised to govern competently. In reality, when occasionally diverted from their script by an intelligent questioner, their ministers reveal a laughable ignorance about even their own policies.
They promised strong, stable, accountable government with a long-term vision for the future direction of the nation. In reality, they are not delivering this because their ideology is to palm off major decisions onto unelected corporate leaders ruthlessly pursuing short-term self-interest. The supposed wisdom of the market is disrupting, among other things, the formerly stable climate that has sustained humanity for millennia.
They promised to address climate change at no cost. In reality, they are abolishing all existing climate policies, and will replace them by paying polluting companies to take actions with little effect, while approving relentless expansion of the fossil fuel mining industries driving the problem.
They promised to improve the environment. In reality, they have slashed federal environmental programs, delegated their environmental protection powers to the states, and granted themselves legal immunity from challenges to past environmental approvals.
They promised to protect Australia’s sovereignty in global climate talks. In reality, they are agreeing to investor-state dispute settlement in free trade negotiations, giving multinational corporations the power to sue a government for any policy that hurts their profits. This will have a gagging effect on the ability of governments to introduce laws to hold corporations accountable.
They promised to liberate individuals from big government. In reality, only corporations and other elites will be freed from regulations which hold them accountable to the voting public; while women are held back, minorities and disadvantaged groups punished, and asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus Island with no right to know why.
They promised to increase free speech and protect political freedoms. In reality, they are promoting free speech only for racists, they are intimidating the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over “unpatriotic” reporting, they will reinstate a commission with draconian powers to investigate building unions, they propose to outlaw environmental boycotts, and their state-level colleagues are pushing draconian anti-protest laws designed to silence political opponents.
They promised transparency. In reality, they have attempted to shut down the flow of information by axing the Climate Commission, taking down a government website on nutrition, deleting pre-election speeches from their website, centralizing control of ministerial media relations, promoting right-wing propaganda in schools, refusing to release a budget audit report, refusing to release the Trans-Pacific Partnership text, announcing major policies over the Xmas break, hiding information about boat arrivals, denying media access to immigration detention centres, instructing asylum seekers not to talk to visitors, stopping media briefings on asylum seekers, making false claims about events on Manus Island, and refusing to place any credence in allegations against members of the Australian navy.
They promised to save the lives of asylum seekers. In reality, one person has been killed and seventy-seven injured on Manus Island, the indefinite detention system is driving refugees to self-harm and attempted suicide, and an advisory group on asylum seeker health has been scrapped.
They promised no children in detention. In reality, they have sent unaccompanied minors to Nauru, and separated a newborn baby from its mother.
They promised to improve our country by growing its economy. In reality, the social health of developed countries is impaired less by poverty than by the economic, social, and political inequalities (not to mention environmental crises) promoted by an unrestrained market. Australia is already one of the richest countries in the world.
They promised a land of opportunity that would allow everyone to get ahead. In reality, they aim to remove all restraints from a free market system that tends to entrench existing vast inequalities in economic, social, and political power.
They promised not to participate in class warfare. In reality, their policies are redistributing wealth upwards.
They promised to protect and create jobs by fighting restrictions on mining, supporting manufacturing industries, and promoting free trade. In reality, unemployment is growing, they are sacking government employees, and they are sitting back and watching the death of Australian manufacturing, caused partly by the mining boom and free trade.
They promised to relieve the cost of living for ordinary Australians by cutting taxes. In reality, their tax cuts will favour corporations and the rich, they are bullying companies into cutting wages, they have proposed cutting penalty rates, they are likely to make harsh cuts to welfare in the coming budget, and they may yet increase the retirement age and the Goods and Services Tax.
They promised to cut wasteful spending to reduce out-of-control debt and deficit. In reality, the supposed waste they are cutting includes environmental programs to protect our future, scientific research to advance human knowledge, legal aid to help citizens stand up for themselves, and foreign aid to poorer countries. Future “savings” may include privatization of public assets. Yet Australia’s national debt is smaller than that of most countries, and Abbott has no qualms about spending big on new roads.
They promised not to cut education, health, or disability funding. In reality, they made cuts to all three in MYEFO.
They promised to reveal all their policies and budget cuts well before the election. In reality, they hid major policies and cuts until two days before the election, and now pretend to await reviews stacked with hand-picked business lobbyists who anyone can see will recommend a radical neoliberal agenda.
They promised not to misuse taxpayer money. In reality, they have been caught claiming expenses for attendance of weddings and suchlike.
The Nationals promised to protect rural interests, in particular to protect agriculture by reining in the coal seam gas industry. In reality, the Coalition is dominated by the Liberals, they have a policy of extracting every molecule of gas, and they are ignoring the climate crisis threatening the very existence of agriculture and rural towns.
Regular readers of this blog will know I was far from a fan of the former Labor government (to whom I would also apply a few of the above criticisms), but the arguments advanced against its legitimacy were in my view baseless. I cannot bring myself to say the same of the Abbott government – in my view they won by misleading and manipulating voters, and their agenda is almost entirely harmful.
The marches being held all over the country this weekend suggest thousands of Australians are thinking along similar lines.