The Abbott Government has commenced an extreme agenda of public service cuts, privatisation and deregulation. It will intensify with recommendations from the National Commission of Audit which is to advise the Federal Government on what services and jobs should be abolished, reduced, outsourced or privatised.
ACTU President Ged Kearney recently launched the ACTU’s campaign against the National Commission of Audit. The audit is considering cuts to universal health care as well as the privatisation of Australia Post, Medibank, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Some fear that the Commission of Audit will be used as an excuse to wind Gonski back.
The Commission of Audit seeks to identify opportunities to sell public assets and slash government spending. This represents an intensification of neoliberalism. The ideology, which has dominated public policy since the 1980s, argues that corporations should be left alone to run the economy without government interference. It promotes the slashing of public services and encourages the view that the welfare system is seen as a charity, not a right.
The United States is very much committed to neoliberal policy. However, many Americans have no social services or decent and secure work. If they are sick or injured they cannot afford to go to a hospital. It is a society of super-rich and the working poor. The UK ‘Big Society’ movement has also determinedly shrunk public services. Many believe it has been responsible for the breakdown of social cohesion and led to riots. The neoliberal economic ideology promulgates austerity myths based on unsubstantiated claims of wasteful spending, budget crises, cries of "we’re broke" and that the Government is overspending, and denies that governments play a vital role in creating wealth and jobs.
Low-paid child care workers
Already the Abbott Government has shown determination to make cuts that affect the most vulnerable of our society. It has broken its election commitment to support higher wages to low-paid child care workers.
Cuts to Environmental Defenders Offices
The Abbott Government has slashed funding to a nationwide network of Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO) who provide legal advice on environmental issues such as the expansion of the coal seam gas industry. This cut blatantly supports calls from the mining industry to close the legal centres down. However, there are no proposals to cut the annual $10 billion fossil fuel subsidies paid to wealthy mining corporations.
Middle Head sell-off
The privatisation agenda now threatens public land at Middle Head in Headland Park where a new, large private aged care facility is proposed. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust which manages this Commonwealth land is being forced, due to lack of government funding, to privatise public open space that will negatively impact on the historic Middle Head Sydney Harbour National Park.
Threatened cuts to ABC
Before the 2013 Federal Election Tony Abbott said that there would be "no cuts to the ABC or SBS". However, already there are moves for an 'efficiency' study into the costs of the ABC and the SBS. This follows calls to defund and commercialise the ABC by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi.
Cutting red and green tape
Already the Abbott Government is moving fast on its deregulation agenda, aimed at cutting $1 billion in red and green tape each year to benefit business, removing workers' rights and undermining environmental safeguards.
Cuts to CSIRO job cuts
Last year the Abbott Government cut as many as 600 jobs from the CSIRO, Australia's pre-eminent science and research organisation. This means that Australia will suffer from reduced scientific research.
Government cuts to foreign aid
The Federal Government has slashed Australia's contribution to global initiatives to tackle climate change, health and sanitation crises in developing countries as part of its $650 million cuts to foreign aid. Two days before the September 2013 election, the Coalition announced it would no longer commit to a timeline for Australia to contribute 0.5 per cent of its gross national income to overseas aid, which was part of Australia's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.
Climate Commission abolished
Soon after the Abbott Government was elected it abolished the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority. Australians are in desperate need for independent and accurate information on climate change, particularly with unprecedented heat waves, drought and catastrophic bushfires. The popular press continues to misinform the public on climate change.
Warning to government
The massive swing in the NSW Miranda by-election is a warning to all governments who want to cut services such as public transport, public hospitals, TAFE and close fire station and research centres. Ultimately they will be accountable at the next election.
Janine Kitson is on leave without pay.