Isn’t it just fantastic that Labor dumped that shifty, unprincipled right winger Bill Shorten and replaced him with ALP left leader Anthony Albanese, the man who proudly proclaimed that his politics were all about “fighting Tories”?
Apologies: rewind. It seems I have totally misunderstood what Albanese and the rest of the Labor left mean by “fighting Tories”. They don’t mean attacking or combating the representatives of the rich and powerful, but grovelling and cringing before them.
That’s why Labor under Albanese’s leadership was so determined to wave through the Liberals’ massive $95 billion tax cuts, which will disproportionately benefit the richest 4 percent of taxpayers and lead to massive cuts to vital government spending on hospitals, education and public transport.
It’s also why Albanese has banned the use of terms like “the top end of town”. According to Labor’s new leader, the use of such rhetoric by Bill Shorten only “alienated” the wealthy parasites that Labor should be trying to cuddle up to.
“There is no point gilding the lily”, he said. “I want to appeal to people who are successful as well as lift people up. Labor will be seen as pro-business as well as pro-worker.”
Unsurprisingly, business groups have welcomed this shift. My heart truly bleeds for the oh so persecuted CEOs in Toorak and Vaucluse who found such rhetoric “disturbing and upsetting”.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said it was “good to hear pro-growth agendas are now supported on both political sides”.
The three-stage tax cuts Labor has capitulated to are a major step towards a regressive flat tax system. According to analysis by the Grattan Institute, the cuts will significantly reduce the share of income tax paid by the top 15 percent of taxpayers while increasing the share paid by the middle 60 percent.
As a result, Australia’s income tax system is the least progressive it has been since the late 1950s.
This is not only an enormous handout to the rich. It will also mean tens of billions of dollars – at least $40 billion according to the Grattan Institute – will have to be slashed from government spending by 2030 to pay for it.
Taking such a huge amount away from government income is a strategy to enforce austerity – including major cuts to spending on already badly neglected vital services like health, child care, education and aged care and on vital public transport and other infrastructure projects. All this at a time when workers are suffering from stagnant wages, ongoing cuts to penalty rates and an extremely sluggish economy that is not delivering well-paid full time jobs to those who need them.
Labor’s move to the right under Albanese’s leadership is not limited to tax cuts. Labor has also embraced the Liberals’ mantra of “aspiration”.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers reiterated Albanese’s commitment to Labor working with the Liberals on the economy in order to reclaim the ALP’s “rightful place as the party of aspiration and the suburbs”.
“First of all”, he said, “we accept that some of the language that we used in the last term, and I used in the last term, didn’t strike the right chord. We do acknowledge that. The second point that Anthony is making there is that if you’re on a good wicket in this country, we say ‘Good on you’. That is a good thing.”
Labor is also backing away from its more progressive polices on negative gearing, franking credits and capital gains tax. Anything and everything the wealthy might object to is on the table under Albanese.
What’s not on the table is the long list of appalling reactionary policies that Labor has already committed to, including opposition to increasing the dole. It is widely acknowledged that it is impossible for anyone to survive on the Newstart allowance, currently $245 per week. It is not only cruel and punitive towards the unemployed, but also puts a downward pressure on the wages of all workers.
Albanese similarly remains wedded to Labor’s disgraceful racist policy of imprisoning refugees in offshore concentration camps. And he refuses to oppose the Adani coal mine or to back any serious action to prevent catastrophic climate change.
This is not just a panicked overreaction to the poor election result for Labor. Well before the election, Albanese was criticising Shorten for being too antagonistic towards big business.
And Albanese himself is just the latest in a long line of Labor left figures who have failed to defend working class interests against those of big business when they get the chance.
Both the left and right of the Labor Party have as their primary goal winning elections. In pursuit of that goal, they have repeatedly watered down any progressive policies that were considered unacceptable by the powers that be.
Then, once in office, rather than determinedly fighting for workers’ interests and a better world, they have sought simply to manage the exploitative capitalist system with at best a few mild reforms. This approach has inevitably meant that when it comes to the crunch, profits are put first.
That is the whole problem with the reformist project that focuses on parliament to bring about change.
It is why we need a genuine socialist alternative to Labor – a party that does not bow down before the rich and powerful. A socialist party that seeks to spur on every manifestation of working class resistance with the goal of getting rid of the exploitative capitalist system entirely.