Until quite recently, any discussion of income inequality in Australia was met by howls of “class war” from the political right. Particularly under Abbott, the right wanted to fight on culture war issues, while treating economic policy as a matter of competent management, in which the conservative parties were assumed, by default, to be superior.
Suddenly, however, it appears we are going to have a class war election, largely because of the choices made by the Turnbull government.
The obvious starting point is the trigger for the (presumed) double dissolution, the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a regulatory body designed to be more hostile to unions than the Fair Work Commission and related bodies. At the same time, the government has promised to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body established by Labor with the opposite intent.
While anything is possible, the most likely outcome is that the ABCC bill will be passed by the Senate with amendments calling for things like a Royal Commission into banks, an inquiry into corruption in business, tax evasion and so on. To get the double dissolution, Turnbull will have to reject those amendments. So, the big question arising from the putative basis of the election will be “who are the real crooks here?”.
Turning to policy, the tax reform fiasco has pushed Turnbull to a position where, according to leaks, the only tax measures in the forthcoming Budget will be a cut in company tax rates and the abolition of the budget repair levy on high income earners (despite the obvious fact that the budget has not been repaired. I have to say, I find this difficult to believe. Surely the government has some kind of rabbit in the hat to obscure the fact that they are giving only to the rich, while taking from the poor. But this is unlikely to succeed in deceiving many.
Then there’s health and education. Abbott was thrown out, in large measure, because he broke promises to match Labor on the Gonski and NDIS reforms. Turnbull was part of the LNP government elected on the basis of those promises, and is bound by them just as much as Abbott was. But, like Abbott, he is breaking his promises in a class-war fashion. In order to keep the (bipartisan) promise that no rich school would be worse off, he is breaking the promises made to poor state schools.
In all of this, the class war aspect is pretty much undisguised. The one issue where Turnbull wants to maintain the old rhetoric relates to personal background. According to his backers, it’s perfectly OK to attack Shorten on the basis that he is a former trade union official, but it’s class war to mention that Turnbull is a multi-millionaire advocating policies that benefit him and people like him. Good luck with that.