How have Australians Truly Fared in the Last 11 Years?

The Howard government – which faced the Australian electorate as voters went to the polls Nov. 24 – had been running a massive taxpayer-funded advertising blitz happily endorsed by some media.

Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 42, November 25-December 1, 2007

The Howard government – which faced the Australian electorate as voters went to the polls Nov. 24 – had been running a massive taxpayer-funded advertising blitz happily endorsed by some media.

The campaign – and the conservative Lib-National Party coalition’s rule of Australia – seem to have been built on frightening fundamental mythical beliefs which seem to have been readily accepted by the majority of the electorate if the Party’s re-elections in 1996, 2000 and 2004 are anything to go by.

These mythical beliefs now critically cover up current threats to the most basic civil, human and democratic rights of Australians: will Australians have realized this at all?

1. The “economic boom” is for all Australians to share

The first belief seems to be that the government’s much-touted “economic growth” and “boom” are for all Australians and this wealth is for all to share.

The truth from their actions since elected in 1996: this government is for big business, and big money and has continuously ignored the welfare of workers and working families. This government is against organised labour. It is arguably a government against the average Australian.

While politicians, big business and the rich continue to benefit massively from the “economic boom,” average Australian workers and families are being squeezed. The gap between rich and poor is widening rapidly.

Over 4 million working Australians have already lost protection from being unfairly dismissed from the government’s Workchoices legislation (1)

Wages of 1.2 million workers have declined from $6.02 since the introduction of Workchoices (1)

The government’s enforcement of AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements) of individual employee-employer contracts has cut take-home pay and conditions like penalty rates, overtime, public holiday pay, annual leave entitlements (1)

Contrary to government claims, the serious fall in average wages from Workchoices laws has not led to any discernible rise in productivity, as investigated and published in a research report by Prof. David Peetz of Griffith University (who has then been subsequently vilified and publicly attacked by the government until he was driven out of the public domain, a similar experience to many others of dissenting and independent opinion who have been bullied, intimated, harassed and denigrated by the government – as explained below) (2)

In July 2007, Federal politicians gave themselves a pay rise of 6.7 percent. In stark contrast, the government refused the 4-percent pay increase sought by the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) for Australia’s lowest-paid workers, agreeing to a mere 2-percent pay rise for these workers, most of whom are women in part-time, casual or lower-skilled occupations (3)

The 6.7-percent pay rise for the government and Federal politicians translated to a basic salary of at least just under $124,000 per year (3)

This is a far cry from the $24,000 per year of the average Australian employee whose basic wage is threatened by the government’s stripping back and planned removal of the award system and pressure to move workers to AWAs or individual contracts with employers.

The good times, however, continue with the wealth flowing on to big business – chief executives of the 300 largest sharemarket-listed companies in Australia gave themselves a 28-percent pay rise – equating to an annual pay package of Aust$2.56 million, up from $1.99 million last year. (4)

In addition, the tax incentives given to the rich or high income earners is bigger in proportion to the lower income earners as tax rate is capped at 40% and 44-percernt when incomes reach $150,000 and $75,000. (5)

Meanwhile, one in ten Australians or 2 million – live in poverty and in 2007, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reported that Australia has the 14th highest rate of child poverty among OECD nations . (6)

While the Liberal Coalition government has consistently and continually reported via a highly-Liberal friendly media on double-digit earnings growth, a strong domestic economy and a resources boom, the reality on the ground for the average Australian has been quite different.

Infrastructure and basic services’ costs are increasingly becoming more difficult to meet with the fall in real wages and rising prices of goods and services -also from the GST apart from inflation and rising interest rates which by the way has gone up six times, contrary to Howard’s last electoral promise that there would be no interest rate rises (obviously yet another lie!)

Basic, affordable infrastructure for taxpayers has been neglected – evident from the current crisis in health and dental care, the glaring lack of public housing and child care facilities, the soaring costs of education and even the increasingly noticeable serious water shortage brought to public attention with the Murray-Darling drought which has slashed billions of dollars from economic growth.

Housing which is secure and priced within range of average pockets has become a big problem, with more than 100,000 Australians estimated as using homeless crisis centers this year and the high costs of tertiary education (once free under the Whitlam Labour government) – now means that 25 percent of full-time undergraduates regularly miss classes and study commitments because they have to work. (7)

The shortage of hospital beds, medical staff and emergency facilities has led to patient deaths and accidents. One of these numerous cases, Allan Osterberg, 30, died in a Canberra Hospital in October while waiting around for four hours for treatment after a heart attack and in November, Jana Horska miscarried in the Royal North Shore Hospital Emergency department toilet in NSW while waiting for treatment. (8)

Many patients awaiting urgent if not emergency surgery are being sent home for lack of beds, staff and facilities. (8)

The costs of private dental treatment are so high that many go on the public dental system – about 650,000 are on the waiting lists. (9)

For Aborigines, the situation is worse – lack of health care has meant that the life expectancy of indigenous children born between 1996 and 2001 is around 18 years less than that of the general population (10) and the average life expectancy of adult Aborigines is less than 40 years.

The government insists on its userpays system -that education, health and other basic services cannot be free while it unrelentingly pushes down workers’ wages and conditions with its Workchoices. It has refused to spend on hospitals and dental clinics, public housing and public education.

Meanwhile, $3 billion of taxpayers’ money has already been directed by the government to the war in Iraq, as estimated in research by the Sydney Morning Herald’s M. Davis and P. Coorey in their article of March 21, 2007.

Of course the rhetoric and buying of votes continue. In November, the government announced tax cuts of $34 billion. (11)

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