VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Andrews’ government’s budget cake


Bill F.

The Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has carved up the first budget cake of Labor Premier Dan Andrews’ government. It serves some tasty chunks for big business and then serves smaller portions to the working people.

The budget allocations are a typical social democrat exercise – keeping capitalist profit-making ticking over efficiently while keeping the working class and small farmers and communities disappointed, but not furiously rebellious.

With a rapidly growing population, Victoria has serious problems with run-down and overcrowded schools and inadequate funding for public hospitals. In this capitalist system these things are always issues of blame and point-scoring between the state and federal levels of government. Widespread opposition to the austerity cut-backs in the last federal budget flowed into a strong union mobilisation during the election campaign and swept Labor into office, with the expectation that education and healthcare funding would get a significant boost.

Labor’s response was to shell out for badly needed hospital beds and a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital. More than 60 schools will be renovated and 10 new schools built, but the promised new technical schools will be delayed for two years, and the final two years of the ‘Gonski’ education agreement have not been funded.

Traffic congestion is a huge problem in Melbourne due to the inadequate privatised public transport and short-term planning based around freeways and toll-roads. Labor came to office last year on the back of a popular campaign to scrap the disastrous East-West Link project. Labor belatedly took up the popular demand and campaigned in favour of building a new underground Melbourne Metro line with 5 new stations linking the east and west sides with the centre of the city. Work would start on removing some 50 level crossings and improving travel times with extra trains, improved signalling and a trial of all-night public transport on Fridays and Saturdays.

These plans were well received, but the East-West Consortium contracted by the previous Coalition government just weeks before the election had to be ‘compensated’ at the cost of $399 million, plus an extra $600,000 in legal fees. There is still uncertainty about the ongoing funding for Melbourne Metro as the Abbott federal government was ready to throw billions of dollars at the East-West (road) Link, but is opposed to funding suburban rail public transport.

Labor’s solution to its immediate funding problems is to privatise the Port of Melbourne, the largest in the country, even though it is highly profitable and expected to handle double the tonnage over the next ten years. As part of “fattening up for sale” the Andrews government is planning to improve road transport access to the Port area and the under-utilised Webb Dock. This will most likely be done in conjunction with a proposal from the Transurban tollwaymonopoly to build a new Western Distributor Tollway linking West Gate Freeway to CityLink via a 2 km tunnel and a new crossing over the Maribrynong River with an elevated roadway along Footscray Road. Even though the tollway may charge trucks $13 a journey, these costs will inevitably be passed onto the people in the form of higher prices. Cars will be looking at a $3 toll if they want to avoid the bottlenecks on West Gate Bridge.

While these were the big ticket items, much smaller amounts of cash have been set aside for many worthy projects, such as regional programs, asbestos removal, supporting disadvantaged schools, more child protection workers and a clean-up of rivers and parklands. Labor was unwilling to fully fund many projects and had committed to keeping the budget in surplus. However, more public service jobs will be created to manage the changes and cater for the growing population.

So, a ‘bread and butter’ budget for the masses? Well, not quite. The people were demanding action on healthcare and education which had suffered from previous austerity budgets, federal and state. Some concessions had to be made.

With the demise of the manufacturing industry thanks to imperialist ‘globalisation’, in particular the immanent closure of Ford, Toyota and General Motors Holden, there is an obvious need for re-training workers and improving educational standards in schools. While Andrews and Co. shovelled out $3.9 billion in this budget, almost 25% goes to private schools under a new state government funding formula that undercuts the agreed ‘Gonski’ model.

While the spend on public transport gets the headlines and certainly benefits the people of Melbourne, it also benefits big business by overcoming the congestion that effects work hours, delays deliveries and dents profits. Money will also go into widening the Tullamarine Freeway (instead of the long-postponed rail connection to the airport) and the Western Ring Road, while the Western Distributor will funnel road transport directly to and from the soon-to-be-privatised port.

It all creates a few jobs in a listless economy, at a time when the heroes of capitalism are nervous about investment. This is the role of governments under capitalism; to prop it up and spread the burden onto the people when times are tough, and step back and let the pigs get at the trough when things pick up. It’s called ‘socialise the losses, privatise the profits’.

With all the commentary about funding disputes between the state and federal governments, there is little connection made between the tight budget constraints and the enormous tax evasion and avoidance carried on every day of the week by multinational corporations and the big local monopolies. 

When Nicholas Moore, the chief executive of Macquarie Group, can rake in nearly $8000 an hour, there is no shortage of wealth in society; it’s just in the wrong pockets. Socialism would spread the wealth created by the working people and use it in a planned way to provide meaningful jobs in sustainable industries, with decent housing, education and healthcare for all the people, and at minimal or no cost. The alternative is not Liberal or Labor; the alternative is socialism.