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Those with the least are still expected to do the most in the face of inflation

  • 31 October 2022
A budget is anything but self-contained. We might like to think it is, and it is often portrayed as if it is. But budgets, like the governments that construct them, are the epitome of interrelatedness. The budgets of the Morrison government were very much reflective of the global neoliberal playbook. That frame can best be described as one that presumes and promotes an ethic of individualism, the idea that you’re pretty much on your own, that, in the former prime minister’s words, ‘if you have a go, you get a go,’ inferring the purported rightness of inequality, since, if you’re not ‘getting a go’ it can only be because you didn’t really ‘have a go.’ In other words, if you are suffering from the ravages of neoliberal capitalism, you have only yourself to blame!

Neoliberalism can best be described as capitalism on steroids. It means a systematic attempt by the leading owners of private capital, through the government of the day, to take from those who have least and give to those who have most. It seeks to achieve this through two principle means: 1) Dismantling (and often commodifying) what we’ve built in the public sphere; the social infrastructure we fought for, like Medicare, social security, public education, and public housing; and 2) atomising the working class, and by working class I mean, in the broadest sense, all of us who are not the chief owners of private capital, whether we’re well paid, poorly paid, unpaid, unemployed, underemployed, retired, disabled, studying, or caring, whether we’re in standard employment, casual employment, gig work, informal work, sham contract work… all of us.

Workers have been crushed by the attacks on our right to collectively organise, by the demonisation and criminalisation of the union movement. Which is why the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill, introduced in the same week as the budget, is so important in helping to reverse the destructive trajectory that has resulted in wage suppression, precarisation, spiralling prices and unrestrained (and undertaxed!) super profits. The IR bill is a significant stride in the direction of rebalancing the unconscionable inequity in power relations between employers and workers, allowing greater scope for workers to collectively bargain for better pay and conditions.

In the first Chalmers budget we see a firm, albeit modest, assertion of the role of government in the long-term project of exiting the dismal and destructive era of neoliberalism and incrementally creating, in