The Socialist Equality Party calls on working people and youth to support our campaign in the August 21, 2010 federal election and vote for our candidates in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
The SEP is the only party advancing a socialist program to defend the interests of the working class in opposition to the entire official political establishment—Labor, Liberal and the Greens. Our aim is to unite working people in Australia and throughout the world to put an end to the social and economic system responsible for austerity and social inequality, militarism and war, attacks on democratic rights, and environmental disaster.
The official 2010 election campaign is a fraud. It is not being held to provide the Australian people with a “democratic” choice. Under conditions of the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, the agenda of the next government has already been determined. The only purpose of the election is to put an electoral stamp of approval on the June 23-24 political coup that removed Kevin Rudd, and on the fashioning of a new, far more right wing, government. The campaign is the shortest legally possible, and called with minimum notice, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of particularly young, first time, voters.
While millions of people were shocked and angered by the sudden ousting of an elected prime minister, the political and media establishment has worked to suppress the fact that it was carried out at the direct behest of sections of business and finance, behind the backs of the Labor caucus, the Labor Party’s membership, and the population itself. The coup has demonstrated that real political power lies not with elected representatives in parliament, but with giant corporate and financial interests that directly determine not only government policy, but also its personnel. Under conditions of mounting economic and political turbulence, these unelected forces will have no hesitation in moving again—against party leaders, prime ministers and even governments—and instituting new and far more authoritarian, forms of rule. Behind the elaborate facade of parliamentary procedure and national elections stands the naked dictatorship of capital.
Gillard’s brief record as prime minister has demonstrated her eagerness to comply with their demands. Within days of the coup she scrapped Rudd’s Resource Super Profits Tax, came to an agreement with the Big Three mining companies on the framework for a new tax—handing back tens of billions of dollars—then brought in Don Argus, former chief of BHP Billiton, to draft the new tax legislation. To alleviate any concerns within the US that Labor, under Rudd, was setting a timetable on the withdrawal of Australian troops from the war in Afghanistan, she committed to deploying them there indefinitely, in direct defiance of mass public opposition. She then targeted health and education for a new wave of free-market “reform”.
At the same time, Gillard joined with Liberal leader Tony Abbott in reviving, once again, the nationalist and xenophobic traditions of White Australia to attack asylum seekers and refugees. This attack has been elevated to the very centre of the 2010 election campaign. Along with Gillard’s mantra of the need for a “sustainable population”, the scapegoating of refugees is aimed at diverting the social tensions caused by ever-worsening working conditions and 30 years of social infrastructure underfunding—of public housing, transport, roads, hospitals, child care—in a reactionary direction.
The coup, which was launched by a cabal of Labor’s factional warlords and trade union bureaucrats, has raised to the surface of political life the long developing putrefaction of the Labor Party. In 1975, in a period of acute international turmoil, the coup against the Whitlam Labor government involved the highest levels of the state apparatus and international intelligence agencies. Thirty-five years later, Rudd’s removal was carried out by forces from within the ALP itself, demonstrating that Labor has become nothing more than a corporate- and state-funded apparatus for the implementation of the interests of the ruling elite. Like the trade unions, it has long ago severed all connection with the needs and sentiments of working people. The party’s factions are rival cliques of careerists, each functioning as the bought-and-paid-for conduits for different sections of business.
The election itself is taking place in the midst of demands by the financial markets and major corporations for a global shift in government policy—from fiscal stimulus measures, implemented in the wake of the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008, and with which Rudd was most closely associated, to a new program of austerity, in which the working class will be made to pay for the multi-billion dollar bailouts of the banks and financial institutions.
This is the program that will be implemented in Australia, by whichever party forms the next government. It cannot be imposed democratically. That is why the official campaign has become reduced to the endless repetition of mind-numbing slogans and meaningless sound bites. Labor, the Liberal-National Coalition and the Greens aim to get through the election without any discussion of their real agenda: militarism and war abroad, and a major assault at home on jobs, wages, living standards and democratic rights that will drastically erode the social position of the working class.
In her National Press Club address, just prior to announcing the snap election, Gillard pledged her intention to make “hard choices and some unpopular cutbacks” as part of “prudent and disciplined economic management” to bring about “strong budget surpluses.”
Imposing such measures in Australia, as in other countries, will lead to explosive social and political conflicts. The most important task confronting the working class is the fight for its own independent program to meet its own class interests and to break the stranglehold of the corporate and financial elite over society. The development of such a struggle, on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program, is the axis of the SEP’s election campaign.
The global capitalist breakdown
The official campaign is marked by a bipartisan agreement, backed by the corporate media, that virtually no mention be made of the global economic crisis. Notwithstanding claims that Australia has somehow been able to escape its impact, few countries are more vulnerable to shifts in the global economy. In October 2008, the country’s Big Four banks faced immediate insolvency when the flow of international finance dried up overnight. They only survived because of Rudd’s bank guarantee. The fact that the country has so far avoided technical recession is due, not to its “exceptional” characteristics, but to its extraordinary dependence on a continuous flow of mineral exports to China.
Whole sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, large sections of retail and the service industry, have slumped, with hundreds of thousands of workers laid off, placed on short-time work, or forced to endure wage cuts.
The China boom itself rests on extremely shaky foundations—massive government stimulus and ever-expanding bank credit. Any slowdown, let alone a major economic crisis, will have an immediate impact, threatening to plunge the Australian economy into recession and worse.
The deepening global economic crisis is exacerbating geo-strategic rivalries between the major powers, fuelled by the historic decline of US capitalism. The criminal and predatory US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have already cost the lives of well over a million, and transformed millions more into refugees, have been aimed at defending the global hegemony of the US and its access to raw materials and resources, against its rivals in Europe and Asia. Other powers, major and minor, are seeking to shore up their own “spheres of influence”. Australia’s neo-colonial military operations in East Timor and throughout the South Pacific, backed by Washington, are part of a quid pro quo for Canberra’s military contribution in the Middle East and Central Asia. Potential military flashpoints are emerging across the planet—not least in the Asia-Pacific region, where tensions between the US and China continue to mount, exacerbating the strategic dilemma confronting the Australian ruling elite between its long-standing strategic alliance with the US on the one hand, and its economic dependence on China, on the other.
There is no peaceful solution within the existing social and economic order. Once again humanity confronts the danger of imperialist war unless the capitalist profit system is overturned by the international working class and replaced by a democratically organised and rationally planned world economy.
That is why the international socialist program advanced by the SEP has become a burning necessity.
The record of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government
Labor’s record in office stands as a damning indictment of all those political tendencies that campaigned for Rudd in the 2007 election on the grounds that a Labor government would represent a lesser evil, and even a progressive alternative, to Howard. The Socialist Equality Party alone warned of the true character of a Rudd-led administration.
In its 2007 election statement, the SEP insisted: “A Rudd Labor government will not reverse the GST or the privatisation of health and education or the slashing of welfare or the casualisation of work. It will not reverse the disadvantage and poverty suffered by the Aboriginal people. Its opposition to Howard’s new industrial relations legislation is a fraud. Drawn up after closed door discussions with business representatives, Labor’s policy has been given the thumbs up because it retains all the essential aspects of WorkChoices. All ‘unauthorised’ industrial action, including strikes, secondary boycotts and industry-wide wage contract bargaining, will remain illegal.”
This warning was borne out. Far from winding back Howard’s policies, the Labor government deepened them. On every score, there was a seamless transition, from the former Howard government to that of Kevin Rudd and his deputy, Julia Gillard, after the 2007 election.
Australian forces remained embroiled in Washington’s criminal operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; a new defence White Paper has mapped out a huge $100 billion expansion of the Australian military; backed by the trade unions, Labor’s Fair Work Australia has sweeping powers to curtail the right of workers to engage in industrial activity in defence of their rights and conditions; Rudd offered a token apology to the Aboriginal stolen generation, serving as political cover for his expansion of the military-police intervention against Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and the planned national extension of its assault on the right to welfare, via welfare quarantining; he maintained all the essential features of the Howard government’s “border protection” policies, including incarcerating hundreds of refugees with no legal rights on Christmas Island; and on climate change, the government has done nothing to address the issue, with its purported carbon emissions reduction target of just 5 percent by 2020 falling far short of the minimum required to even begin to address global warming.
As for Gillard, she proved to be the most determined and vicious of all the Labor ministers in pursuing the government’s “reform” agenda. The key architect of Fair Work Australia, she took responsibility for attacking any section of workers who moved to challenge its anti-democratic abrogation of the right to strike and other industrial action. She smeared as “thugs” construction workers at Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge project who took industrial action in defence of their jobs, and threatened “the full force of the law” against construction workers on the West Australian Pluto gas field project who had sought to secure decent working conditions. As education minister, she rammed through the NAPLAN and MySchool standardised testing regime against widespread opposition among parents, teachers and students.
At the same time, Gillard took great care to cultivate close relations with key Washington figures, making known her unconditional commitment to Australia’s alliance with US imperialism—as well as her unwavering support for Israel and its attacks on the Palestinian people, especially during the murderous Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009, when she was acting prime minister.
Having established her credentials for the ruling class, Gillard became the uncontested replacement for Rudd.
Escalating social inequality
The nearly three years of the Rudd-Gillard government has resulted in increased social hardship for broad layers of the working class. Labor’s boasts of a “miracle” economy and of avoiding recession, mask the reality of widespread unemployment, casualisation, job insecurity, and debt stress.
While the reported unemployment rate is just over 5 percent, one third of the workforce is employed in part-time or casual jobs that are often low-paid and temporary.
Even according to the official figures, there are 610,000 unemployed—about 200,000 more than when the financial crisis erupted in 2008—and another 1.2 million people are “under-employed”, taking the total to nearly 16 percent of the workforce. This does not include the estimated half a million workers who have had their hours cut, those who have given up looking for work, or the 770,000 people placed on disability support pensions. The official jobless rate in key western Sydney suburbs in the March quarter was as high as 13.6 percent in Parramatta South, 13.1 percent in south-west Blacktown, 12.2 percent in Fairfield East, 11.9 percent in north-west Bankstown and 11.5 percent in Auburn. By contrast, in Sydney’s wealthy eastern suburbs, the figure stood at 1.3 percent.
Real wages for low-paid workers have fallen by 15 percent since 1999, fuelling the explosion in personal debt over the last two decades, which is even higher, per capita, than in the US. Between 1996 and 2007, credit card debt rose by 460 percent and household debt overall by 340 percent. At the other end of the scale, bank and corporate profits have soared at the direct expense of the working class, sending social inequality to new levels. During 2009, the wealth of Australia’s 173,000 millionaires (excluding their homes) rose 37 percent, to almost $600 billion.
The sharply rising cost of purchasing a home in Australia’s cities has led many working people to take on enormous borrowings, with 40 percent of the 225,000 first home buyers who entered the market since late 2008 now suffering mortgage stress. More than 30,000 defaults are expected this year. Many of those who manage to hold onto their homes only do so by cutting expenditure on other basic necessities—a report released last month revealed that some people in Sydney’s western suburbs were forced to reduce the amount they ate. The Australian housing market has been described as a “time bomb”, with home prices at least 42 percent above the long-term trend. When it bursts, hundreds of thousands of people will be left owing more than their home is worth.
The Labor government has been totally indifferent to the extreme poverty its policies have produced for the most vulnerable layers of the population. Numerous welfare recipients, including the unemployed, disabled, single parents, carers, and old-age pensioners, continue to receive a pittance, while many are subject to Centrelink surveillance measures and punitive “welfare to work” programs. Some 26 percent of Australians older than 65 live below the OECD’s poverty threshold, one of the highest rates of all advanced capitalist countries. Rudd’s promise of cutting homelessness by 20 percent by 2013 and 50 percent by 2020 was a sham—the numbers of homeless have increased since Labor came to power. Large numbers of people suffering mental illness confront grossly underfunded and short-staffed facilities. Every day about 1,200 people with symptoms of mental illness are refused admission to psychiatric units.
A socialist program for the working class
Whether Gillard Labor or an Abbott-led Coalition comes to power, it will intensify this social and economic assault on the working class, in line with the austerity measures being implemented internationally. The Socialist Equality Party urges the development of the widest possible struggles against the corporate-controlled parties and the institutions of the capitalist state, and advances the socialist program on which these struggles must be based. The SEP insists that this program cannot be carried out through parliament, but only through the development of an independent mass political movement of the working class aimed at the complete reorganisation of society in the interests of the majority, not the wealthy few.
* For a massive public works program to provide well-paid and secure jobs for all
An emergency public works program must be launched immediately to provide employment for all. This must include the building of new, and the repairing of old, social infrastructure—roads, rail and other public transport systems, adequate water storage capacity and renewable energy supplies, sewerage systems, public housing, aged and child-care facilities, schools, universities and TAFEs, hospitals and other medical facilities.
* For a secure, living wage and decent living conditions for all
Instead of the poverty-level minimum wage, and below poverty-level pension and welfare payments, a decent annual living wage, covering all needs, must be guaranteed to everyone as a basic right. This must be paid not only to all workers, but to all those who, due to disability, old age, illness or care responsibilities, are unable to work.
* For a free, high quality, universal public health system
First-class health care, including access to the latest medical technologies and treatments, must be guaranteed to all, without fees or caps on treatment. This must cover all health requirements, from birth to death, including hospital, dental, psychiatric, rehabilitation, aged care, and the needs of the disabled.
* For a free, high quality public school, university and TAFE education system
Billions of dollars must be poured into education to ensure free, well-staffed, quality public education, including child care and kindergartens, is available to all children and young people, regardless of where they live, or the socio-economic status of their parents. This must incorporate the most advanced educational theories and technologies. All students, including overseas students, must have the right to access free tertiary education, along with the full range of cultural, intellectual, recreational and sporting activities that are critical to campus life.
* For a comprehensive program to meet the needs of young people.
Young workers must be guaranteed well paid, full-time employment, with reduced hours on full pay for those under 21 to allow them to fully participate in recreational and cultural activities. There must be a vast expansion in apprenticeships and technical training. All tertiary students should automatically receive a living wage. Student fees must be abolished, including for overseas students, and loan debts cancelled.
* For defence of the earth’s environment
The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has revealed the complicity of successive US governments with the profit-driven recklessness of the major oil corporations, and more fundamentally, the incompatibility of the profit system with an inhabitable world environment. The central goal of Labor’s proposed Emissions Trading Scheme was not to reduce greenhouse pollution but to establish a lucrative new transnational market in carbon credits for the major Australian financial institutions and banks. Resolving the climate change crisis is impossible outside of the expropriation of the giant global polluters under the democratic control of the working class. Only then can a rational plan be developed to produce the energy required to meet social need, while protecting the environment. This must begin with the investment of billions into alternative forms of energy and transport.
* For the expropriation of the banks and giant financial institutions. For the nationalisation of the major corporations
None of these measures can be implemented without a fundamental reorganisation of the Australian and world economy in the interests of the majority. The accumulated wealth created by the working class must be directed to the satisfaction of pressing social needs, with the banks and giant financial institutions expropriated, with full protection to small depositors, and placed under public ownership, democratically controlled by the working class. Likewise the major, multi-billion dollar corporations—including telecommunications, energy, mining and agriculture—must be nationalised, with full compensation to small shareholders, and subjected to public ownership and democratic control. This will provide the resources necessary to eliminate poverty and meet the social needs of the Australian and world population. Only when social need, not private profit, becomes the organising principle of production and all aspects of social life, will the extraordinary human and technical resources that are now available be utilised to provide a decent living standard and safe environment for all.
* Against militarism and war
All Australian military and police personnel and other foreign forces must be immediately withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, and the countries of the South Pacific, and the necessary resources allocated to construct decent housing and social infrastructure—including schools and hospitals—for the local populations. Compensation must be paid to the victims of Australian war crimes, and those responsible, including political and military leaders, put on trial. The SEP advocates a socialist foreign policy, based on international working class solidarity. This includes the rescinding of the ANZUS Treaty, the closure of all US military facilities in Australia, including Pine Gap, and the ending of all Australian intelligence operations against the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region and at home. It also includes the disbanding of the entire Australian military apparatus, and the utilisation of the resources for socially useful purposes, including the building of badly needed infrastructure—in Australia and throughout the region.
* For the rights of immigrant workers and refugees
All people must have the unconditional right to live and work in the country of their choice, with full citizenship rights. The SEP defends the unconditional right of refugees to asylum and rejects the entire reactionary framework of “border protection” promoted by every parliamentary party, including the Greens. All refugees in detention centres must be released immediately and all forms of immigration control and restriction lifted. The social crisis in Australia’s major urban centres is not due to overpopulation or refugees, but to systematic government underfunding and to the privatisation of public infrastructure.
* For the defence of democratic rights
All workers must have the right to organise and to full legal protection from unfair dismissal. All laws against strikes and pickets must be repealed. All discrimination based on nationality, ethnic background, religion, gender or sexual preference must be outlawed. Women must have the right to unrestricted abortion on demand, and homosexuals the right to marry and enjoy the same rights and benefits as other married couples.
All federal and state “anti-terror” legislation, enacted since 2001 in the fraudulent “war on terror”, must be repealed. Its real targets are not terrorists, but ordinary people. Its aim is to build up the forces of the capitalist state and prepare for authoritarian forms of rule against the working class.
Likewise, anti-democratic electoral measures, including those aimed at protecting the two-party system by preventing minor parties from standing candidates under their party name, and the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of first-time voters through the early closing of electoral rolls, must also be repealed.
The police-military intervention into the Northern Territory must be immediately withdrawn and the harassment and coercion of Aboriginal communities ended. The terrible conditions facing Aboriginal people, the most oppressed section of the working class, will not be resolved by “reconciliation” or through state repression. They can only be overcome through the unification of the working class, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, in the struggle against the social and economic system responsible for all the crimes, both past and present, committed against Australia’s indigenous population.
* For a workers’ government
The needs and interests of the majority can only be won through mass struggle and the building of new, independent organisations of the working class. These must become instruments for the revolutionary mobilisation of the working class to take political power in its own hands and establish a workers’ government—a government of the working class, by the working class and for the working class—to implement socialist policies.
For the international unity of the working class
The program of the Socialist Equality Party, the Australian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, is grounded on the common interests of the international working class. Its goal is to unite the struggles of workers in every country. The problems confronting workers in Australia—economic insecurity, unemployment, declining living standards, attacks on democratic rights, militarism and the threat of war, environmental degradation—are essentially the same as those facing workers in every part of the world. They are global problems requiring a global solution. They can only be tackled on the basis of an international socialist program, fought for against all political tendencies that seek to subordinate the working class to its “own” bourgeoisie and national state.
For the political independence of the working class
The fight for the independent interests of the working class cannot be conducted through the old, national-based organisations—the Labor Party and trade unions. After more than 100 years of bitter experience, the working class must draw the necessary lessons and make a conscious political break with the Labor Party and its nationalist program. While Labor was founded in the 1890s as a mass party of the working class, its program has always been based on the defence of the capitalist system. It was Labor that furnished the Australian nation-state with its founding ideology of racial exclusivism, protectionism, and class compromise. With the rise of globalised production over the last three decades Labor’s relationship to the working class has undergone a decisive transformation. Like its social democratic counterparts internationally, the Labor Party has abandoned its old program of limited national reform and become a vehicle for the interests of big business and finance capital, undermining the wages and conditions of working people in the name of productivity, profits, and international competitiveness.
Similarly, the trade unions, as in every other country, now offer their services in policing job losses and plant closures, wage cuts, and productivity drives, on behalf of the employers, suppressing all resistance from workers. Under the current Labor government, bureaucrats sit alongside corporate executives on multi-billion dollar superannuation fund boards, their lucrative incomes tied to profitable investments and largely independent from their membership and dues. The coming upsurge in the class struggle will rapidly take the form of a rank-and-file rebellion against the trade unions. The Socialist Equality Party encourages workers to form factory and workplace committees independently of the unions to unify with other sections of workers in struggle, and advance their own independent class interests.
In this election, the trade unions are once more seeking to corral the working class behind Labor, yet again trotting out the “lesser evil” line by raising the spectre of a return to WorkChoices. As in 2007, the various pseudo-left organisations have once again lined up behind this bogus campaign. At the same time, hostile to an independent political movement of the working class, these middle class outfits are seeking to channel growing disaffection and disgust with the Labor Party—especially among the youth—behind the Greens, promoting them as some kind of “left”, progressive, alternative to Labor.
While making appeals on certain social questions, the Greens are a thoroughly bourgeois party, organically opposed to socialism. They have long advocated the reactionary nostrums of “sustainable population”, and, on the crucial question of the environment, oppose any challenge to the profit system, advocating instead the same market-based mechanisms favoured by powerful sections of the corporate and financial elite.
On the opening day of the campaign, the Greens stitched up a sordid preference swap deal with the Labor Party in the hope of securing the balance of power in the Senate for the first time. Greens’ leader Bob Brown has sent an unambiguous message to the ruling elite that he is committed to ensuring “parliamentary stability” and is happy to collaborate with either Gillard or Abbott, including supporting cuts to public spending and other austerity measures, to maintain it. The coalition Labor-Green government recently installed in Tasmania points the way to ever closer relations between Labor, Liberal, and Greens across the country. While claiming to be an alternative to the two major parties, the Greens are an integral part of the political establishment and function as a vital safety valve, keeping voters alienated from Labor and Liberal subordinated to their agenda.
Having lined up behind Labor’s campaign in 2007, the middle class, pseudo-lefts—Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party and others—share direct responsibility for the right-wing measures carried out by the Rudd-Gillard government. In the 2010 election they are again straining to prevent a movement of the working class developing outside of the official parliamentary framework, acting as apologists for the political coup against Rudd, urging support for the Greens and Labor, and desperately striving to maintain any lingering illusions that these parties can be pressured to the left. Should they be called upon by the Australian ruling elite to play a more direct role within the parliamentary political establishment, and even within a coalition government, they will eagerly comply, as their counterparts have done in countries such as Brazil, Italy, and France.
Join the fight for international socialism! Build the Socialist Equality Party!
The Socialist Equality Party bases itself on the great liberating traditions of the international socialist movement. These are today embodied in the program of the world Trotskyist party, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), and its internet centre, the World Socialist Web Site.
The October 1917 Russian Revolution saw a popular mass movement, led by the Bolshevik Party, overthrow the capitalist order and establish the Soviet Union as the world’s first workers’ state. However, the defeat of the revolutionary movements of the working class in Germany and Europe after the First World War left the Russian workers’ state isolated in a poor and war-devastated economy, creating the conditions for the emergence, and eventual triumph, of a privileged bureaucracy, headed by Joseph Stalin. The Stalinists abandoned the internationalist program on which the Russian Revolution had been based and adopted instead the anti-Marxist perspective of building “socialism in one country”. This nationalist outlook provided the ideological basis for a repressive bureaucratic apparatus that destroyed Soviet democracy, murdered hundreds of thousands of genuine Marxists, and sabotaged the revolutionary struggles of workers around the world.
The SEP bases itself on the legacy of the most courageous and far-sighted representatives of the working class. This tradition encompasses the International Left Opposition, established by Leon Trotsky in the Soviet Union in 1923, and the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution, founded by Trotsky in 1938. In 1972, the Socialist Labour League, the forerunner of the SEP, was founded to uphold and advance this international perspective as the Australian section of the ICFI.
The Socialist Equality Party urges the strongest vote for our candidates. But the central focus of our campaign is to present ideas and analyses, and to fight for a program. Our campaign is oriented beyond this election, because the working class must prepare for immense political struggles outside the stultifying framework of the two-party system and parliament, which cannot be pressured or reformed to meet its needs. That is why the SEP will not be making “preference deals” with other parties or advocating any preferences.
The SEP encourages all those who agree with our program to contact us and volunteer to participate in our election campaign, to become regular readers of the World Socialist Web Site and to help distribute our election material as widely as possible. We appeal to all high school and university students to join the International Students for Social Equality (ISSE)—the world student movement of the ICFI—and to build branches on university campuses, in TAFEs and schools.
Above all, we call on all those who oppose militarism and war, and who agree with the fight for internationalism, for social equality and for democratic rights, to join and build the Socialist Equality Party.
Authorised by N. Beams, 307 Macquarie St, Liverpool, NSW 2170