In a swift and relatively clean execution by the Liberal Party parliamentary caucus, Tony Abbott has been ousted as Australian Prime Minister and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.
The working class and the left have every reason to cheer at the fall of Abbott, who has led attacks on unions, the poor, refugees and asylum seekers, and stood in the way of gay marriage.
Abbot is a right wing conservative Catholic with a reactionary agenda, pro-coal, anti-renewables, climate change denier, anti-gay marriage, monarchist. He has long been a leader of the right wing, conservative wing of the Liberal Party, and panders to the racism of the far right.
Turnbull is a liberal merchant banker — pro-gay marriage, for action on climate change, republican. He is the leader of the “moderates”, and distrusted by the right wing Liberals.
However Turnbull is merely another sort of class warrior — socially progressive, intelligent, witty and a good communicator, but just as committed to attacks on working class organisation and living standards.
If anything he may be more effective for the ruling class than Abbott.
Abbott was dumped over electoral concerns; the governing coalition (Liberal-National) has been behind in the last 30 Murdoch press polls. He spoke in “three word slogans” and the government has been attacked in the (non-Murdoch) press for being dysfunctional and having no coherent message.
Their “achievements” have all been negative ones: repealing various pieces of Labour legislation (mining tax, carbon tax), ruthlessly attacking refugees and asylum seekers to “stop the boats” and establishing a Royal Commission to witch hunt trade unions.
Their first budget was a vicious attack on the working class, but they were unable to get most of it through the Senate.
On policy, Turnbull has immediately appeased the right wing, saying that he will not change the stance on issues where he clearly differs, such as gay marriage (plebiscite after the next election) or climate change. He is in lock step on the racist approach to asylum seekers.
Turnbull’s main point of policy distinction is not economics; that the Liberals need to “explain” to the public why hard reforms are needed. Central in this is likely to be tax reforms: most likely regressive changes to GST (like VAT), increased rates and broadening to include health and education.
Turnbull may try to soften his agenda by including things that Abbott had ruled out, such as changes to rorts for the well off, like superannuation concessions (soon to cost more than the old age pension), negative gearing (claiming losses of property investment against other income), and capital gains tax. Business lobbies are calling for some of these measures to get the budget back to balance.
Many people — not just Labor Party members — have said they are worried that it will be harder for ALP to win the next election now, as all Labor’s leader Bill Shorten had to do was not be Abbott.
Turnbull is a harder target, as Shorten and the ALP right don’t disagree with him on much. But that misses the point; we need to use the Liberals’ desperate move to dump Abbott to reinvigorate the labour movement to organise and fight on all fronts.
There is no equivalent to Jeremy Corbyn in the ALP. There used to be Labor politicians like George Peterson, and Carlo Carli who were openly socialist and could be relied upon to be at the demonstrations and picket lines. But they are hard to find now.
The soft left of Shorten’s rival Anthony Albanese and Victoria State premier Daniel Andrews may have better practical policies that benefit working class people, but they stay entirely within the neo-liberal consensus.
• For what the Australian left is saying:
Socialist Alternative: Give me a paralysed government run by an idiot over a suave scum bucket who gets things done
Solidarity: Turnbull — a new salesman but the same agenda
John Passant (ex-Socialist Alternative): Prime Ministerial deck chairs: What the hell is going on in Australia?