Australian Labor’s budget reply and the fear of political unrest
13 May 2017
The response by the opposition Labor Party to the Liberal-National Party Coalition government’s budget testifies to the mounting concerns in ruling-class circles over the extent of social discontent. In a populist and rambling speech, Labor leader Bill Shorten denounced the deterioration of working-class living standards, falling real wages and growing underemployment. He accused the Liberal Party of waging a “war on young people.” He vowed Labor would block many of the budget measures in the Senate, the upper house of the parliament, which the government does not control.
The budget, brought down on Tuesday night by Treasurer Scott Morrison, was pitched as an effort to eliminate intractable deficits while, at the same time, ramping up military spending and cutting corporate and high income tax rates. It includes immediate increases in student university fees and cuts to university funding; further punitive measures to drive people off welfare; vicious initiatives against overseas workers and non-citizen permanent residents; ongoing job cuts in the public service; and an increase, from 2019, in the Medicare levy paid by most wage earners, from 2 percent to 2.5 percent of their income.
So-called “defence” spending, under conditions of Australia’s frontline involvement in US war preparations against China, potential war with North Korea, and ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, was boosted by over 6 percent. Over the next four years, military spending will exceed $150 billion; the Turnbull government is accelerating increases in the defence budget to two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in order to comply with the Trump administration’s…