As if by some kind of divine right, the Australian Government yesterday told millions of working poor they were no longer entitled to the same penalty rates they’ve been enjoying for working on Sundays and public holidays. The cuts could take upto $6000 out of the yearly wages of hospitality, retail, fast food and pharmacy workers. A reduction of up to 50% in the added income of some of the lowest paid workers in the country. A gift to a business community who have experienced a slowing economy under the last few years of LNP rule. Something they can use to convince small business of their special place in the collective heart of the party before interest rates shoot up next year and put a whole bunch of ‘em out of business.
Obviously this isn’t just about bribery. It’s ideological too. When business wanted to open on Sundays not so long ago they were forced to pay penalty rates, not only because the unions made them do it but because ‘Big C’ conservatives knew that working Sundays meant time away from the family unit. We now live in a society where the conservative faction of the LNP aren’t concerned with the family unit unless they can use it as a way to put the boot into the LGBT community. Apparently now that Sunday trading is as commonplace as it is workers and their families have adapted. If you say so..
A few days ago Michael Sukkar MP, the LNP’s Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, said that the best way to deal with the housing affordability crisis was for people to find ‘a higher paying job’. A couple of days later the government cut penalty rates. The LNP’s ideological rampage has kicked back in quicker than you can say ‘the age of entitlement is over’. In case you were distracted by all the infighting, defections and poor communication; this is a party who believe in haves and have nots. They see the separation of rich and poor to be a market led evolutionary consequence, rather than something they really care to do much about. They don’t like people who don’t earn much and aren’t afraid to remind them at any opportunity. To quote Robyn Hitchcock “Half the world’s starving and half the world bloats, half the world sits on the other and gloats”. That’s the vision.
The thing is though, in 2017 populism reigns supreme. The LNP’s let-them-eat-cakery is almost certainly not what people are looking for in a regime. They are well aware of the fact that they have over two years before the next election, but they’re also one George Christiansen shaped hissy fit away from a hung parliament. A slashing of penalty rates might put a smile on the faces of the business owners still bothering to pay proper rates to their staff (rather than cash or workplace agreements) but it will almost certainly force affected voters towards Shorten’s ALP or even One Nation as the party who will take care of their needs when it comes to jobs and wages. Both Labor and One Nation know that all they need to do is oppose elitism in any form that it might take and their credibility as populists can snowball further. Labor are ideologically opposed to cutting penalty rates, people know that. One Nation will say whatever they have to to define them as a party for struggling Australian workers. The LNP know they can’t do these things from their position of privilege and power so they grind on with ideology, taking money out of the pockets of people who may have once voted for them, had the LNP cared to listen.
This little morsel of unpopular policy may overshadow good work the government are doing. Turnbull seems to have handled Trump reasonably well and in turn has come off looking like a bit of a leader (small victories). Our investment in military to decrease reliance on US protection of our trade routes is also something this government should be commended on. It’s just when you’re polling 4 points behind the opposition in two-party preferred polls after such debacles as the Centrelink debt disaster you’re hardy going to be helping your reputation with an already struggling electorate by cutting the wages of some of the lowest paid workers in the country.
Pauline Hanson and One Nation are clearly a basket case of a party. Every couple of weeks there seems to be something which comes out about a candidate doing or saying something unforgivably stupid. The fact they seem to be growing in popularity by the day should be a signal to the current government that despite all the small wins they’re getting they are seen as completely out of touch with the realities of life in working class Australia. Labor on the other hand are a professional, well oiled machine of highly educated wonks and career politicians. The question is though; do they come off as cruel and elitist? No. Out of touch? Maybe to some, but if the polling suggests anything then Australia have made up their minds about who they want running the country and it’s not the LNP.
Turnbull, Morrison, Dutton and co should take a look around and realise their ideological assault on the poor is driving people away from the party. It’s not just about penalty rates. The fact is a good portion of hospitality workers weren’t being paid them anyway. It’s about a country which will eject them from government for a very long time if they think they’re being exploited.
This isn’t the Howard years. The current LNP government are not one with a reputation for political nous and stability, surfing on a sea of mining boom cash. This is a government who have mismanaged the economy and have come down on the poor time and time again to make up for it. In a world where people are wholesale rejecting the political classes for being out of touch this government can either try to reconnect or continue on their ideological killing spree before the electorate replaces them with someone who at the very least pretends to be on their side.