Australia’s Liberal (Tory) government faces defeat in elections next Saturday as the Labor Party tacks to the left. Over six years and three separate prime ministers, the Tories have waged war on unions and working class people.
They have cut wages for low paid workers and slashed spending on health and education – while delivering tax cuts for the rich. Now even their racist scare tactics are failing to claw back votes.
Earlier this year, the government wasted millions of dollars reopening the Christmas Island detention centre. It accused refugees brought to Australia to access emergency medical care of kicking locals off hospital queues.
But most people now oppose the government’s torture of refugees on the offshore islands of Manus and Nauru.
The Tories are deeply divided – particularly over climate change. Many Tory MPs are outright climate deniers and fanatical defenders of the coal industry. Even the government’s own hopeless climate policy was dumped as being too much for its MPs to stomach.
Australia remains heavily reliant on coal, which provides 60 percent of power generation and a multi-billion dollar export industry. Prime minister Scott Morrison even waved around a lump of coal in parliament to taunt climate activists.
The success of the school climate strikes here was one indication of the growing desire for action on climate change. Organisers estimate 150,000 joined the protests.
Labor hopes to tap into the disgust at stagnant wages as corporate profits soar. It’s promising to tax high income earners, and end subsidies for shareholders and wealthy property investors. This would fund spending for schools, childcare and hospitals.
The union movement secured pledges from Labor to reverse some anti-union laws and make other changes on industrial relations. So it has gone all out to campaign for Labor across marginal seats.
And Labor has presented itself as the party of climate action. It backs a 50 percent renewable energy target and the use of electric vehicles, along with pollution limits for big companies.
But Labor has refused to oppose the Adani coal mine, the target of a long-running environmental campaign. And its plans on renewable energy would simply replace coal power plants that are closing anyway. Labor has also announced plans to expand fracking in northern Australia.
There will be widespread celebration if the Tories lose. But Labor’s promises aren’t anywhere near enough. A Labor win would still leave Australia with some of the toughest anti-strike laws in the developed world.
And Labor refuses to bring the 900 refugees who have faced almost six years of torture on Manus and Nauru islands to Australia.
High school climate activists are talking about calling another walkout for September. Whether over climate change, refugees or union rights, we will need more of this kind of action to win real change.