In 1983, Bob Hawke was the bourgeoisie’s preferred choice to lead an Australian Labor Party government as Prime Minister. And the succession of Hawke/Keating governments did not disappoint. With the Prices and Incomes Accord, they tamed the unions and fully integrated the movement into the capitalist business plan. They opened up the economy, imposing a neoliberal agenda that delivered mass de-regulation, corporatisation and privatisation. Nearly 40 years later, the privatisation juggernaut keeps steaming ahead.
The massive transfer of public wealth goes one way — into the hands of the rich. The federal Coalition government specialises in this. Huge business tax cuts, generous corporate handouts and extravagant spending on lucrative corporate contracts: this is how money is funnelled from the public purse into the capitalist coffers.
A handful of multinational logistics companies provide “citizens services” to governments across the globe. One is Serco, which holds a slew of contracts with the Commonwealth to run these services, from call centres to prisons and immigration detention. Big-ticket arrangements with Labor state governments include the $4.3 billion health contract delivering non-clinical services at Fiona Stanley hospital in Perth and Victoria’s road safety camera program at a cost of $178 million. Another prominent name is G4S, now the third largest private employer in the world. Amongst its many contracts is the running of electronic monitoring services and prisons for the South Australian Liberal government.
Another favoured neoliberal tactic is starving the public sector of the staff needed to deliver services. In the last seven years, the Coalition slashed 19,000 jobs in the Australian Public Service, just by imposing an arbitrary staffing cap. Government department mandarins have replaced workers with consultants, converting even more public funds into private profits. The National Auditor General uncovered more than $1.2 billion spent in the 2018/2019 financial year on consultants from the top eight firms, which include KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PWC. That’s more than 3 times the expenditure a decade earlier.
It matters little if the party in government is Coalition or Labor. It was Hawke and Keating who sold the Commonwealth Bank. Howard sold the Telstra Network, leaving us with a threadbare broadband network. Both Labor and Coalition siphon more than $12 billion a year into propping up the scam that is private health insurance. It was the NSW Liberals that sold off Port Botany and Port Kembla, driving a 400% increase in rental charges.
Now the Andrews Labor government in Victoria intend to sell some or all of the Vic Roads Registration and Licensing section, having engaged Morgan Stanley to scope the sale. Members of the Australian Services Union (ASU), which covers Vic Roads workers, have been out campaigning on Melbourne’s streets, alerting the public to the threat and promoting a petition, which now has almost 5,000 signatures (see DontSellVicRoads.com.au).
When privatisation is mooted, the response of union officials is almost always the same: put out a media release flagging concerns, launch an online petition and mobilise members to lobby. When it is a Coalition government conducting a fire sale, unionists are urged to put their hopes in Labor. But when it is Labor putting up the “For Sale” sign, it is trickier for the union officials. The ASU is calling on Premier Daniel Andrews to “rein in his Treasurer.” What we are seeing in Victoria is not a politician that has gone rogue, but the logic of late capitalism where the big corporations own both parties of government.
There’s widespread, but passive, community support for the Vic Roads workers. With the right strategy, this can be turned into an active fight. Time and again, rank-and-file unionists and the community show they’ll fire up to support workers who wage a bold struggle. We not only need to prevent the Vic Roads sell-off. We need to connect the dots and fight for well-staffed and resourced, quality public services run by those who know the industry best — workers and the community they serve. Let’s put a stop to the super rich gorging on the public wealth, once and for all!