The demand of tens of thousands of people who marched through the streets in cities around Australia on May 18 was clear. They want the federal government’s killer budget blocked.
They want Labor, the Greens and independents to band together in the Senate to block the major bills implementing the attacks on Medicare, education and welfare.
They want the supply/appropriation bills (the bills that authorise the funds from treasury required by the government to carry on its day-to-day business) to be blocked, thereby forcing the government to go to a new election.
And there are good reasons for this popular demand to block the budget.
First, Abbott has no political mandate for this budget. These crippling attacks on hard-won social services were never put to the public at the last election. Abbott made explicit promises that he has broken in this budget and his election campaign last year was laced with bare-faced lies.
Second, the social impact of this budget will be horrendous. Australia will lose its free and universal health care system. Good education will become the privilege of the rich. The poorest and most disadvantaged will suffer.
The burden of taxation will fall ever more on the poor while the corporate rich are rewarded with lower taxes, more concessions and subsidies. Thousands will be thrown out of work and be forced to survive on even less than the below-the-poverty line welfare payments we have now.
Third, if this budget is not blocked and this government brought to account by being forced to a new election now, many of the reactionary measures it implements will not be repealed if Labor becomes government in a couple of years. That's the track record of the Labor Party in government. Remember the GST? Labor did not repeal it. Remember John Howard's WorkChoices laws? Labor turned them into a Work Choices lite.
At this stage the Labor opposition has said it will not block supply. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has said that Labor only oppose some of the budget measures like the $7 fee for GP visits, the increase in petrol excise, the cuts to family benefits, unemployment benefits, pensions and some of the education measures.
The Greens have not decided to block the budget either, though there is a debate about this in the Greens and some Greens parliamentarians have indicated that they support blocking the budget.
The Palmer United Party is also only opposing particular measures in the budget.
But all these parties say they are not afraid of going to a new election. “Bring it on,” Shorten said in his budget reply.
Well, Shorten, let's bring it on!
The polls are showing that the Abbott government will lose an election held now.
There would be even a greater certainty of an Abbott defeat if such an election was held under the pressure of a sustained and independent mass mobilisation of workers, students, pensioners and oppressed and marginalised communities.
Blocking the budget in the Senate can stop the hard-to-repair damage that the Abbott budget will otherwise inflict on some of the most important social gains won by the labour movement and other progressive social movements in Australia.
Of course, we need a government that is truly committed to putting people and the environment ahead of corporate profits to really stop the attacks on our social services, jobs and rights. That's sadly a way off our current reality. The desperately-needed viable political alternative has yet to be built. But today we can strengthen the movement of workers and oppressed that is needed to make a government of the people, by the people and for the people a reality in the future.
(Peter Boyle is a national co-convener of the Socialist Alliance.)