Ignore the media hacks – it is right to protest
Ignore the media hacks – it is right to protest

The Liberal Party and its backers in the media and the political establishment are in a panic. The budget, which they expected to be greeted with sullen resignation at best or short-lived hostility at worst, is more unpopular every day.

University students have led the way, taking to the streets in their thousands on 21 May and dogging Liberal politicians whenever they dare to show their faces on campuses.

Student protests have won a level of support well beyond any won in recent years. And they have been backed by substantial protests in defence of Medicare in Melbourne and Sydney at the end of May, which followed the anti-budget “March in May” protests two weeks earlier.

Media attacks

Initially, the corporate media tried to ignore the growing opposition to the budget. But in the wake of the large student rallies, they sharply changed course. The day after the student protests, the Murdoch media led a full-scale offensive aimed at demonising student protesters. Front pages denounced those who turned up as “ferals” who should “get a job”.

The Murdoch attack dogs and their allies on commercial radio and TV were backed by the more moderate but no less nefarious opponents of protest on the ABC and in Fairfax papers, who flooded the opinion pages of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. There were also the moronic talking heads segments on ABC News 24, with wise advice to rebellious youth about how better they could get their point across. The ferocious reaction by the media actually was proof of the effectiveness of protest as a means to take on the assault on the right of working class youth to access higher education.

Of all the groups targeted by this budget, the students have so far done the most to mount a fight back. And it is clear that the media and the government are afraid that the students’ example could start to catch on. That’s why they have gone to such lengths to demonise the protests. It’s why Christopher Pyne can’t do an interview without laying out in petrified tones his belief that every act of resistance is a nefarious plot by Socialist Alternative to bring down civilisation as we know it.

We’ve got a message for Christopher Pyne. If you think Socialist Alternative is out to get you, you’re right. But the big news is, we are not the only ones. Across the country, hostility to the attacks on education, and to the broader assault by the Liberals on basic rights that working people spend decades fighting to establish, is growing deeper every day.

The ruling class in Australia have now cottoned on to how unpopular the budget is. That’s why, the day after their hatchet job on student protesters, the Murdoch tabloids launched a swinging attack on all those who opposed it. Australia was derided as “a nation of whingers” on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. Scathing editorials attacked opponents of the budget and denounced Labor leader Bill Shorten for his unconscionable refusal fully to go along with the Liberals’ agenda.

The people who rule this country are ropable with the Liberals. Not because Abbott and Hockey brought down this savage budget, but because they have made such a mess of trying to sell it.

The cigar-chomping, gaffe-making, schoolboy-winking incompetence of it all makes them fearful that the Liberals are destroying a once in a lifetime opportunity to shift the balance of power in this country even further towards those at the top.

Their message to the government is “hold the line” and don’t give in to the opposition parties in the Senate; don’t be scared off by your plummeting opinion poll ratings.

Howard-era industrial relations minister Peter Reith, who now plays a central role in articulating the strategy of the Australian capitalist class, wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald at the end of May. He warned that if the budget measures were not passed, radical “fiscal reform” would be, like radical industrial “reform” was after the defeat of WorkChoices, consigned to the wastebasket for decades.

Government weakened

The Liberal government is weak. Its real agenda has now been revealed to all. It is clear that its agenda items of privatisation of public assets, the abolition of universal access to health and education, decimation of the social security system and the pension, are all deeply unpopular.

There is every opportunity not just to push back the Liberals’ current attacks, but also to begin to turn the tide against the neoliberal attacks that have been meted out by both Liberal and Labor governments over the last few decades.

But if the Liberals are going to be pushed back, it will only be by mass resistance. That is why the Liberals’ media mates are so vitriolic about the protests that have taken place so far: they know that when the opposition to their agenda by individuals in the lounge rooms and the tea rooms turns into mass, collective political action, then that opposition could become unstoppable.

We need to do everything we can to pressure opposition politicians to block this budget in the Senate. But the real game-changer in Australian politics is not going to come about through the votes of Labor or Greens politicians, let alone the other Palmer United and independent senators.

What will open up the possibility of real change is a new movement on the streets, the campuses and, crucially, in the workplaces, which starts to challenge the stultifying power of the political elites who treat this country as their own personal fiefdom.

We have the power to take them on. All we need to do is realise it.

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