Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attempt to overcome his government’s deep political crisis with a “redefined” speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday failed spectacularly. Ongoing factional strife within Morrison’s Liberal Party has erupted into open warfare, and the question remains whether the prime minister will even survive until the next federal election, likely to be held in May.
Morrison’s speech had two purposes.
First, to try to dampen mass popular anger over his pivotal role in spreading the virus, which has created the country’s worst COVID surge since the pandemic began. His and the government’s results in opinion polls are the lowest since Morrison was installed as prime minister in August 2018. And second, to convince the ruling elite that his government is capable of pushing through the prosecution of the reopening campaign and the pro-business restructuring that must accompany it. .
On the contrary, the speech only made matters worse on both fronts.
Amid massive infection, illness and death resulting from governments’ decision to allow the spread of Omicron in December, Morrison admitted for the first time, “I haven’t got it all figured out” and “I I’ll take my fair share of criticism. and blame.
But the prime minister has refused to apologize for the disaster, in line with his rhetoric to the business elite that he will continue the policies that caused it. “You have to be ready to listen to that advice, but also to make the decisions that strike the right balance,” he said.
Later, during the Q&A, Morrison claimed that his government had been “too optimistic” about Omicron and that “we could have communicated more clearly about the risks and challenges we were still facing.” confronted”. His only regret is that the army was not called in sooner to carry out the vaccination operation, which suggests discussions and plans to deploy the army more generally in the event of social unrest.
To assert an optimistic misunderstanding is a fraud. The government, backed by the entire “National Cabinet” of federal, state and territorial leaders, deliberately misled the public. They all insisted that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was “mild”, in order to justify the lifting of almost all safety restrictions, followed by the reopening of schools, in order to push workers back into the workplace. despite massive infections.
Even after 1,519 COVID deaths were reported in January alone, including more than 450 elderly residents, Morrison said dismissively that “our health response has ensured that our health and aged care system has stood the test of time. to the global pandemic. To add insult to this dismissal of the death toll, he then promised overworked, underpaid older workers two $400 ‘retention’ payments before May, the likely election month, while rejecting calls for increases. of salary.
Morrison once again attempted, as he has for two years, to offer the prospect of “locking in our economic recovery” in 2022, saying his government stood for “sound economic management”. This means further increasing corporate profits at the expense of workers’ jobs, wages and working conditions.
Morrison also sought to raise fears of “a direct threat to Australia’s economic and security interests”. He did not name China. But he pointed to the signing of the AUKUS agreement, a military alliance directed against Beijing, the “power-up” of the “Quad”, a quasi-military pact with the United States, Japan and India to confront the China, and the sealing of military agreements or “strategic partnership” agreements with India, South Korea, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
In other words, the key elements of Morrison’s call were that he would increase the fortunes of the ultra-rich and accelerate a ‘national security’ agenda involving further attacks on democratic rights and escalating involvement. of Australia in wars waged by the United States. .
Even at the National Press Club event, there were indications that sections of the ruling class and the Liberal Party itself don’t think Morrison measures up.
Network 10 and Australian Journalist Peter van Onselen, who has connections within the party and is a leading figure in Murdoch’s press, read text messages, apparently dating back two years, in which the Liberal premier of New Wales from the South (NSW) Gladys Berejiklian described Morrison as “a horrible, horrible person” who was more concerned with political scoring than people’s lives. In response, an unnamed minister called him a cheat and “completely psychopathic”.
Such texts could only have been leaked by senior figures in the Liberal-National Coalition, which is increasingly wracked by factional infighting.
A few days after the speech, the conflicts broke out openly. Such is the resentment that a few months before the federal election, the Liberal Party was unable to finalize the preselection of candidates for more than ten seats. Some of them are crucial constituencies, including Hughes in Sydney, where incumbent Craig Kelly defected from government last year, and Warringah, the seat previously held by former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Incumbent MPs face potential challenges to their candidacy, including Environment Minister Sussan Ley, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and prominent North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman. Thirteen others, including six cabinet ministers, are stepping down from federal politics, prompting media references to rats fleeing a sinking ship.
In line with Van Onsolen’s decision to drop a bombshell on the National Press Club, the media for Murdoch, previously a key backer of Morrison, took on an increasingly skeptical tone about his political viability. Similar views are expressed by leading commentators from rival group Nine Media. There are wider fears of a potential collapse, both of the Liberal Party and of its governing coalition with the Nationals.
Under these conditions, Labor presents itself as the vehicle best suited to implement the demands of the financial elite, for austerity, militarism and forcing the population to “live with the virus”.
Its leader, Anthony Albanese, repeatedly recalled the 1980s, when the Hawke and Keating Labor governments formed a three-way alliance with unions and big business to impose sweeping economic deregulation and restructuring.
Albanese was installed as leader after Labor lost the ‘impossible’ 2019 election because large swaths of the working population, hostile as they were to the Liberal Nationals, did not believe in his bogus “fair go” rhetoric.
Labor reacted by swinging even further to the right, abandoning token tax measures and abandoning any demagogic reference to social inequality. Instead, Albanese insisted that Labor is an “aspirational” party.
Throughout the pandemic, the Labor Party has largely marched alongside the government, supporting and enforcing profit-driven pandemic policies, massive donations to big business and attacks on democratic rights, including the forced debarment of small businesses. political parties without parliamentary representation. On foreign policy, Labor insists it could work more closely with the Biden administration, as the United States prepares for war with Russia and China to try to reverse the decline economy of American capitalism by military means.
Labor’s right-wing rhetoric demonstrates that the next election will solve nothing for workers and young people. This is why, in the deepening political crisis and the federal elections, the working class must take an independent position, against the Coalition, Labor and the entire parliamentary apparatus.
The needless sacrifice of lives worldwide in the pandemic has exposed the moral and social bankruptcy of capitalism and all of its political servants. A totally opposite political perspective must be embraced and fought against. This is socialist, based on the protection of health and life, not on private profit, and the total reorganization of economic and social life by workers’ governments.
This is the perspective for which only the Socialist Equality Party fought. In order to advance this agenda as broadly as possible, we will be candidates in the Federal elections, despite the new anti-democratic electoral laws pushed through Parliament jointly by the Labor Party and the Coalition.
But there should be no illusions that socialism can be achieved through the parliamentary apparatus of capitalism. Indeed, the election laws are a warning of the anxiety and determination of the ruling class to silence any opposition from workers and youth. A new revolutionary leadership must be built in the working class to overthrow the entire bankrupt capitalist order.