Robbing the poor to give to the rich

In the wake of the Trump and Brexit earthquakes, members of the political and media establishment in Australia have spent much of their time on the psychiatrist’s couch, composing agonising tweets asking why everybody hates them.

A brief survey of the last two weeks should provide all the answers they need.

Friday 17 March: After weeks of prevarication, Malcolm Turnbull admits to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell what everyone already knew – that the government fully supports the Fair Work Commission decision to slash Sunday penalty rates without compensation. This would take thousands of dollars out of the pockets of already struggling hospitality and retail workers.

Political and media supporters of the prime minister are quick to back Turnbull. Their haste may be more a product of trying to wrap things up before they knock off for the weekend than any particular political evangelism. Family time is everything, after all.

Wednesday 29 March (1): Members of the public visit Parliament House. OK, that’s not the full story. Not all members of the public get a dinner with the federal cabinet just by swanning into Canberra on an early autumn morning. These were some very special members of the public: the board of the Business Council of Australia.

Why were they there? Did Qantas CEO Alan Joyce come to apologise and provide recompense for the fact Qantas paid no corporate tax in 2014-15? Was Commonwealth Bank boss Ian Narev on a mission to explain how the banks plan to give back all the money that they have gouged from the public over the past half century?

No. The main purpose of the visit was to lobby in favour of the Turnbull government’s proposal to slash the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. That does raise the perplexing question of why they were dining with federal ministers, who are all already enthusiastically in favour of the policy.

Maybe they would have done better shouting dinner to senator Jacquie Lambie. For all her sickening anti-Muslim bigotry, she at least has a belligerent reluctance to support government policies that are wholly in the service of the rich.

Wednesday 29 March (2): The government makes its submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review. So does the Australian Retailers Association, which proposes an increase to the minimum wage of 1.2 percent. That’s below the level of inflation –a wage cut even if you accept that the official inflation figures accurately reflect increases in living costs. And the only people who wouldn’t accept that are certified communists, the radically inclined fringe who do things like pay power bills.

The government doesn’t name its own figure, but its submission is entirely aimed at countering arguments in favour of a rise in minimum or award wages. According to the government, “increases in minimum and award wages are poorly targeted to improve low-paid workers’ relative living standards and address the needs of the low-paid”.

The current minimum wage is $17.70 an hour. That’s $672.70 a week, or just under $35,000 a year, for a full time adult worker. It’s a disgrace – a national shame that condemns hundreds of thousands of working people to poverty. But shame isn’t really the government’s thing. For the Turnbull government and its corporate mates, the minimum wage is not low enough.

Thursday, 30 March: employment minister Michaelia Cash, previously a lawyer with the union-bashing firm Freehills, also appears on Neil Mitchell’s show to back the government’s Fair Work argument that minimum wage workers don’t deserve a pay rise. The government claims that “many” of them are from well-off households. She can’t give a figure as to how many this “many” are.

To the extent that the government puts forward an empirical case, it is based on the argument that only a small percentage of those in the bottom income quintile (20 percent) are on the minimum wage. There’s a simple answer to this. Most people in the bottom quintile are unemployed or on the aged pension. Their income is even less than the appallingly inadequate minimum wage.

Friday 31 March: Business Council of Australia boss Grant King rounds everything out in a speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce: “To suggest that a reduction in the corporate tax rate to maintain a competitive investment environment should be rejected because an independent commission has determined to reduce penalty rates, is the basest of political arguments and should be called out as such”.

That’s right. Pointing to a link between those policies that claw flesh off the backs of the poor and those that load fresh meat on the plates of the rich is disingenuousness of the highest order.

And they wonder why we hate them.