Phew. That’s a relief. The Budget Emergency has been downgraded by the need to keep a reasonable number of people in jobs and smallish businesses solvent – for the time being. The Border Emergency, now in the hands of a military task force operating inside a comical Cone of Silence, has been demoted to passing irritant (unless you are one of the asylum seekers who drowns at sea in the course of this irritation. Or who is shipped off post-haste to an island detention centre. Or who is left in limbo in Australia on a punitive Temporary Protection Visa).
Even the decades-old war on left-wing student unions – Tony Abbott’s original crusade – has been, it seems, sufficiently won. No need for further activity there, Minister Pyne – for the moment, anyway.
So the Real Tony Abbott is now free to stand up.
Not Tony Abbott, mediaeval Catholic, arch-conservative, the man who wants to wind the clock back to a good-old-days amalgam of Howard-era prosperity and Menzies-age social mores, the Tony Abbott we have been on high alert for since 7 September. And not the pragmatic populist New Abbott who will settle into a steady-as-she-goes centrism, as some commentators have sketched.
The Real Tony Abbott’s Real Agenda appears to include several much more disturbing items:
1.Investor State Dispute Settlements
As Mike Seccombe recently pointed out on The Global Mail, the new government is reconsidering signing a number of free-trade agreements that include Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses that give foreign companies the right to sue governments in unaccountable international forums. As Seccombe notes, companies are able to take legal action in international tribunals for regulations and laws that affect their business, such as environmental safeguards that hamper mining, or pharmaceutical benefits schemes that control drug prices – and they do. An oil company sued Ecuador for $1.77 billion, and a US resource company sued the Canadian province of Quebec over a moratorium on fracking.
And Philip Morris is pursuing action against the Australian government over our plain cigarette packaging laws via a trade agreement we signed with Hong Kong in 1993 that included ISDS clauses.
The Labor government in 2011 said it wouldn’t agree to these provisions in free trade agreements under any circumstances. But big business lobbies including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry support ISDS clauses because of the protection they offer Australian companies investing overseas, with no regard for their effects on our own sovereignty.
Clearly, if the Abbott government were to conclude agreements including these mechanisms, it would be a big win for international capital, and a big lose for our governments’ ability to regulate business activity. Whose interests does that serve?
2. Repeal the MRRT
The promised repeal of the mining tax is another obvious example of the real Abbott agenda. As the recent loss of Western Australia’s AAA credit rating shows, the resources boom has not delivered anywhere near the financial benefits promised – even to the state that had the biggest share of it. (Tellingly, the WA Treasurer Troy Buswell’s response to the loss has been to foreshadow ‘workforce reform, program evaluation and reduction, asset sales and outsourcing of government activities’ – that is, an extension of neoliberal cuts to government services and programs.)
Axing the MRRT returns profits to multinational resource companies, and repays the debt Abbott owes them for their campaign against the Labor government – all at a cost to ordinary people in Australia.
3. Dismantle carbon pricing and green energy support
If Abbott succeeds in repealing the carbon tax and dismantling the government agencies and infrastructure that administer and support action on climate change, at least a decade will pass before Australia is in a position to take any kind of meaningful action. Market-based or otherwise, it will simply be off the agenda.
The implications of this are that resource companies with heavy investments in fossil fuels in Australia (most of which cannot actually now be extracted if we are to avoid dangerous levels of warming) will have a decade up their sleeves to convert resources in the ground into cash in the bank without paying even a fraction of the environmental cost through the tax – even as it appears that Abbott’s Coalition government may be forced to cut emissions twice as fast as they now plan if they are to honour global agreements that they supported in opposition.
It’s obvious that the Coalition’s agenda is to buy time for resource companies to intensify their extraction and maximise their profits in the short term. There is no long game for fossil fuels.
The Real Tony Abbott that is emerging from this picture is a man who will govern for international capital and big business even more assiduously than Coalition governments of the past.
He is a truly twenty-first-century figure in this respect, a politician who has seen national borders fall and the state subordinated to the corporation (even as he rails against the ‘threat’ posed to our borders by asylum seekers and the ‘sovereign risk’ brought about by the MRRT), and welcomes it.
While Abbott has promised his foreign policy would be about Jakarta, not Geneva, it looks like his economic orientation is much more towards Wall Street than High Street. That should worry us all.