Election 2016: Asylum seekers, AFP raids and dead cats

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Dutton offends every Australian migrant, AFP raids highlight the disaster that is Turnbull’s NBN nd Labor's fairness mantra endures. John Passant analyses week two of the election campaign.

I WAS READING The Weekend Australian on Saturday.

Every one of the five senior commentators whose task was to signal who won the week gave it to Turnbull.

Chris Kenny, Paul Kelly, Peter van Onselen, Judith Sloan and Dennis Shanahan all gave the second week of the campaign to Turnbull over Shorten.

My first thought was: what parallel universe do they live in? To channel Paul Kelly, the chasm between conservative cheerleading and cold political reality could not be clearer.

The five live in Murdoch world and the "Grand Poobah" is backing Turnbull and his Government. The problem for media outlets like News Corp is that appealing only to their rabid base doesn’t expand their readership. Propping up the prime minister in the face of the reality of declining support for Turnbull and a very close election (according to IPSOS and ReachTEL polls) might even drive their intelligent conservative readers to seek out more nuanced and enlightening analyses.

What do they think gave Turnbull the advantage over Shorten? Well, there was ALP hack and right wing numbers man David Feeney, and the fact he forgot to declare his $2.3 million rental investment and didn’t know if it was negatively geared or not. Oh puh-lease, Mr Feeney.

Feeney is a classic example of what is wrong with Labor and symptomatic of its degeneration from a capitalist workers’ party to a Capitalist workers’ party, on the way to becoming a capitalist party.

The revelations about Feeney won’t surprise many workers. They also won’t change votes. A number of workers already hold their nose when they vote Labor. Their expectations about the ALP are fairly low so a bit of dirt on an apparatchik like Feeney won’t have them crossing to the even darker side.

A few of The Australians fabulous five also thought that Labor attacking Dutton for his comments about illiterate and innumerate refugees taking jobs while lounging around on the dole, and accessing other social services, would bolster the Turnbull Government. Maybe. This is the "dead cat" strategy beloved of political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.

Here is how Boris Johnson describes it:

'There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.'

What Dutton was trying to do was to put refugees front and centre in the election. In raising the spectre of dole bludging, job stealing, illiterate and innumerate refugees, Dutton was playing on the fear workers have about both unemployment and cuts to social services.

We need to be clear. It was not refugees or asylum seekers who sacked 4,400 tax office workers. It was this Government.

It is not refugees or asylum seekers who sacked or are sacking Queensland Nickel workers, or Arrium workers, or car plant workers. It is the bosses.

It is not refugees or asylum seekers replacing full time jobs with part time ones. It is the bosses.

It is not refugees or asylum seekers who are freezing the Medicare rebate, cutting billions from aged care, cutting family tax benefits, cutting health and education spending by a total of $80 billion, and giving $50 billion in tax cuts to big business, and those earning more than $80,000 and $180,000. It is this Turnbull Government.

Paul Kelly dismissed Labor’s commitment to repeal the Turnbull Government’s Medicare freeze as an example of Labor’s big spending fetish. This misunderstands the eternal battle under capitalism between profit and human need. Working class voters want governments to spend more on public health and education. Polls show these sectors as well as the economy and jobs, are the key election issues for workers.

It is why Labor is making much of the more than $70 billion the Turnbull Government will cut from spending on health and education from 2018 onwards, and the $48 billion they will give in tax cuts to business, including big business.

As inequality increases in Australia, Labor’s rhetoric of fairness strikes a chord with many voters.

While people see the Coalition as better economic managers, the reality is that Labor, since 1983, has been just as good as, if not better, in managing capitalism than the Coalition.

The Budget deficit has trebled under this Coalition Government, which is why they aren’t banging the debt and deficit drum as loudly as they did in 2013 in the run up to the election — and then in 2014, to justify their first, now totally discredited, unfair austerity Budget. Further, while the Budget papers show unemployment dropping slightly this year and the next, the low GDP increases and the collapse in the CPI suggest a slow-down in the economy that does not inspire employment or consumer confidence. The recent Reserve Bank cut to interest rates, with more to come, only reinforces that perception. Good economic managers, 'eh?

Some of the News Corp five also think that the Australian Federal Police NBN raid on Senator Conroy’s office was a positive for the Government. This beggars belief. The AFP raid will be a reverse dead cat. It has highlighted the failure of Turnbull as communications minister, some time in the distant future, delivering what will be a slow, costly and fairly inadequate, national broadband network.

The raid also undermines our right to know what our government is up to and threatens journalists for providing leaked information. One of the offices raided was Senator Conroy’s. This is an attack on representative government. 

As my union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAAsaid:

Last night’s police raids in search of the source of government documents leaked to the media again show how press freedom in Australia is under attack and needs to be an election issue, says the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

They go on to say,

‘The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The Australian, the ABC and the Delimiter website are named in search warrants.’

All because these leaked whistle-blower documents reveal the truth about the NBN and Turnbull’s role in delivering an expensive, slow and out of date network.

The ALP under Shorten has been positioning itself as the party of fairness, both to distinguish itself from the Turnbull Government and to claw back some of those on the left drifting to The Greens. Of course, Labor abandoning support for the gulags on Manus Island and Nauru could help do that.

I have no love for the ALP, whom I regard as the second 11 of capital, often better able to impose neoliberal policies on the working class through their lieutenants in the labour movement. Their craven surrender if the Fair Work Commission cuts Sunday rates is but one example. Their talk about fairness will be mere words as the reality of running a slowing Australian economy sees them – in the absence of a combative working class and mass social movements – attack us to restore profit rates for business. The task of the left must be to build that combativeness and those social movements to resist the attacks of whatever political party is in power.

Having said that, Labor’s mantra of the vague concept of fairness, its Medicare announcement giving some flesh to that, its education agenda and the ill-fated AFP raid on Conroy’s office, highlighting the disaster that is Turnbull’s NBN, gave the second week of the election to Shorten over Turnbull.

John Passant is a former assistant commissioner of the Australian Tax Office. Read more by John on his website en Passant. You can also follow him on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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