Labor has hit rock bottom. Julia Gillard has thrown human rights overboard in her bid to outflank Abbott from the right over refugees.
Incredibly, her efforts have allowed Tony Abbott to propose Nauru as a humanitarian alternative to the Malaysian solution.
Labor’s attempt to get around the High Court ruling against the Malaysia solution, with new legislation to allow offshore processing, has revealed their complete bankruptcy.
Malaysia was always an appalling idea. It showed total disregard for the 800 to be expelled to Malaysia, where they would have faced arrest, caning and a life without a future.
For the first time since Rudd’s 2007 election, Labor Left MPs have stirred to life. They have taken a stand in caucus against Gillard’s determined effort to pull Labor further right.
With Liberals and Greens to vote against Gillard’s new legislation, asylum seekers will have to be processed on Australian territory—a victory for the refugee movement.
The whole sorry episode is symptomatic of Labor’s crisis. Labor’s poll ratings are at rock bottom and Gillard has handed the political initiative to the Liberals again and again.
Rather than building state-owned solar power stations, Labor has adopted a carbon tax that will protect coal companies’ profits and do nothing to stimulate renewable energy. But it will increase costs for ordinary people.
The tax has given Abbott a stick to beat Gillard with. It has allowed him to parade as the person concerned about cost of living and it has encouraged the growth of the loony, climate denier, Tea Party-style “people’s revolt”.
Labor is so concerned to run the system that it is incapable of connecting with the concerns of ordinary people or adopting policies that could win them support.
Opinion polls show that Labor is well to the right of the electorate. A new survey by the think tank Per Capita found 79 per cent of people think spending on public services should be higher and 72 per cent say business doesn’t pay enough tax.
But Gillard’s capitulation to the mining bosses means the mining tax will take $60 billion less from the mining companies over the next decade.
Similarly, Labor’s self-congratulation around Treasurer Wayne Swan’s “Finance Minister of the Year” award from Euromoney was nauseating.
This is the same Treasurer whose 2011 budget imposed restrictions on disability pensions and demanded increased “efficiencies” (read: cuts) from the public service, the same treasurer that has earmarked millions more dollars to keep the NT Intervention going and extend income management.
Swan wants a 3 per cent pay cap on public servants, but the CEOs of Australia’s top 50 companies had a pay rise of almost 12 per cent this year. Coles boss Ian McLeod will get $15.63 million this year. But this doesn’t matter to Labor, what matters is Swan’s approval from the big end of town.
In her recent speech on Labor’s future, Gillard declared that her education reforms and MySchool—that are driving competition and the market into public education—were “closest to her heart” of all her achievements in office.
Such is the scale of disaffection that there is speculation of a Rudd comeback—as if this will help things. Rudd was nearly as unpopular and had near-identical policies.
The prospect of an Abbott government is horrifying, but Labor is heading for a landslide defeat. The Greens have played a principled role opposing Gillard’s Malaysia solution the whole way. But their promise to “fight this right the way through the parliamentary process” will not be enough.
The vote to stop offshore processing is important. If Labor MPs are willing to absent themselves or vote against Gillard, it could be the beginning of a fight to shift Labor left. But it is what happens outside parliament that is decisive for the fight ahead.
Labor Left has taken a small stand because there is a refugee campaign that looks to protests and demonstrations. And now we can build on the end of offshore processing to campaign to end mandatory detention.
Building every bit of resistance to Labor’s right-wing policies will be crucial. The refugee campaign, climate activists and unions are where the potential to change the direction lies. If the climate movement can break out of its carbon tax straight jacket, it can seize the initiative from Tony Abbott. There are important strikes in Qantas, the mines and the public service. Successful industrial action could show there is an alternative to Labor that doesn’t lead to Abbott.
Now, more than ever, we need to build a political alternative to Labor—to build stronger movements, mobilise activists, draw in Greens and Labor supporters and link the struggles together. An alternative to Gillard and Abbott—and a different world—is possible, but we’ll have to fight for it.