A year ago, Tony Abbott was swept to power as Australia’s 28th Prime Minister with a 3.6% per cent swing, ending almost six years of Labor government.
The Coalition has a handy 35-seat majority in the House of Representatives, but with a hung Senate, it has found it far from smooth sailing in the Upper House.
Nevertheless, in 12 months Tony Abbott has left his stamp on the nation, for better or worse, Working Life reports.
On the eve of the Abbott Government’s first anniversary, Working Life asked 12 prominent national union leaders for their assessment of how the Coalition has performed, and how its policies have impacted on their members.
Today, ACTU President Ged Kearney also had her say.
PADDY CRUMLIN, National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
“Despite a sales job of a “no surprises, no excuses” government if elected, Tony Abbott in office is more “no regard for and no excuses” to the Australian electorate on the turnaround on virtually every key policy they stood for.
“Industrial relations has seen a virtual ideological jihad against trade unions and organised workers.
“Penalty rates under attack, the dilution of job security for Australian workers through a program to open the jobs market to overseas workers regardless of availability of the national workforce and the assisted demise of Australian manufacturing from cars to canned tomatoes.
“They give no excuses for a vision for Australia where we make nothing and still get overseas labour to soak up what remaining employment opportunities there are because they are cheaper and potentially more compliant.
“Australians do get a bit of special attention though. They have to pay for their university education alone and then look forward to less superannuation, and pension entitlements and more expensive health care at the stump end of their lives. What a gang!!”
DAVE NOONAN Acting National Secretary, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union
“Abbott’s slash and burn approach is deeply felt by workers in the industries covered by the CFMEU. Young people are hurting due to high unemployment, the record low number of apprenticeships, the cuts in training and support and the ease with which employers can continue to exploit overseas workers instead of giving young people a start.
“He wants everyone in our industries – where the work can be backbreaking – to work longer and retire with less.
“He has no plan for jobs. He hasn’t simply let manufacturing die, he has pushed it over the edge, hurting communities and the economy, in order to punish unions.
“He has ignored the needs of mining communities and backed big mining companies without exception.
“He has stood in our way when we strive to make our workplaces safer, by trying to tie us up in red tape and exorbitant fines – which will be exacerbated if he succeeds in reintroducing the ABCC.
“Abbott’s Royal Commission is a political witch hunt aimed at smearing our union, but the hearings have shown that we are passionate and effective in defending our members’ rights and safety on the job.
“And this is only one year in.”
NADINE FLOOD National Secretary, Community and Public Sector Union
“365 days: 16,500 public service jobs to be cut; a 19% cut to the CSIRO; a $120 million cut to the ABC; 165,000 public sector workers facing an extreme attack in bargaining; up to 60% of workers’ rights to be stripped from agreements for pay offers of zero to 1.1%; and 75 Commission of Audit ideas for outsourcing and cuts at large.
“There are just too many nasties to count.
“The numbers tell a story but not the human cost. Of what it’s like to lose your job, or to keep it but fear losing your rights. Of a community seeing government services and support get cut.
“Tony Abbott has also given us numbers of hope: of 150,000 marching; of hundreds of community groups opposing his agenda; of 4000 joining the CPSU since the Budget, and of a movement that can and has to grow in voice, power and unity.”
ANGELO GAVRIELATOS Federal President, Australian Education Union
“The Abbott Government has chosen to spend its first year entrenching inequality in schools by abandoning needs-based Gonski funding agreements with the states.
“Schools will miss out on two-thirds of the extra funding that would have been provided under Gonski and all schools will get a cut in real terms from 2018.
“That means fewer teachers, less support for students and bigger gaps between rich and poor schools.
“The Abbott Government also broke its election promise to introduce extra funding for students with disabilities in 2015, and will effectively cut $100 million from disability education next year.”
LEE THOMAS Federal Secretary, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
“For the past 30 years, Medicare has been the cornerstone of Australia’s system of universal healthcare.
“But after only 12 months, the Abbott Government is hell-bent on destroying it.
“Proposed co-payments for GP visits and other basic health services will make it unaffordable for people to see their doctor, forcing them into already-overcrowded hospital emergency departments, or worse still, putting off treatment altogether.
“Tony Abbott’s pre-election promise of no health cuts turned out to be a lie.
“The ANMF is campaigning against the Abbott Government’s budget through our Lies, Cuts and Broken Promises campaign.
PAUL BASTIAN National Secretary, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union
“In one year, the Coalition Government has attacked Australian manufacturing in an unprecedented way.
“As well as forcing the auto industry out the door – jeopardising the future of tens of thousands of workers — the Government has sought to undermine manufacturing across the country.
“It has failed to commit to shipbuilding, failed to commit to steel fabricators, and failed to support the industry at large.
“Manufacturing has always been the base of Australia’s economy – solid, skilled and a driver of research and innovation which spills across all sectors of the economy.
“Hitting manufacturing, as well as hitting innovation and research, will have long-term negative effects for Australian workers, for employment and for our economy at large.”
DAVID SMITH National Secretary, Australian Services Union
“Ordinary Australians won’t be celebrating this Federal Government’s first anniversary and if the Liberal-National parliamentarians have any shame, they won’t be cracking out the champagne and cigars either.
“ASU members are facing the dire consequences of this Government’s decisions along with so many others. In local government, funding is being slashed with job losses and reductions in quality services to the community looming.
“In airlines, we’ve seen the Government try to undermine Australian content laws for Qantas and continuing to turn a blind eye to economy damaging offshoring occurring elsewhere.
“The Government’s so called “asset recycling” Bill to reward states and territories which privatise their assets will do untold damage to our electricity sector, among others, and hit consumers with the inevitable increases that come with profit based private companies taking over.
“The list keeps growing and on the eve of their anniversary, the Federal Government has gifted workers a multi-billion dollar cut to their retirement savings with the superannuation guarantee freeze and LISC cut.
“Sorry Mr Abbott, there was no honeymoon for you and certainly no “happy first anniversary” cards from the ASU either.”
JEANNIE REA President, National Tertiary Education Union
“Despite promises to the contrary before the election, the Abbott Government has outlined the most dramatic changes to the higher education sector in a generation.
“Funding has been slashed, fees will go up, private providers will receive public funding, and students will be charged at market interest rates on their debt.
“These changes will saddle graduates with mortgage-sized debts and create a two-tier system that locks students from poorer backgrounds and women out of the highest quality education.
“Courses will be cut and campuses will close leading to job losses, and more casualisation with four-in-five new jobs in the sector already short-term or casual contracts.”
TONY SHELDON National Secretary, Transport Workers’ Union
“After only one year, the Federal Government is looking to put lives at risk by “reviewing” Australia’s road safety watchdog – the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
“The Tribunal has powers to intervene when clients use economic pressure to force truck drivers and truck companies to act unsafely.
“Truck driving is Australia’s most dangerous job, with a workplace fatality rate 15 times higher than the national average. Yet major Liberal donor Coles has campaigned hard against the RSRT and some Government MPs have described the Tribunal as “red tape”.
“Our message to the Abbott Government is that road safety is not red tape, and the RSRT should be allowed to do its job in delivering safer roads.”
DAVID O’BYRNE National Secretary, United Voice
“The past year has exposed the Abbott Government’s mean-spirited indifference to low and middle income earners and families. Its persecution of helpless people is somehow monstrous, somehow pitiful.
“The 2014 Budget is striking for its relentless cuts to essential services and increased costs for those who can least afford them.
“The betrayal of cleaners who look after federal building and clean the very offices of the Government that made this despicable decision illustrates their vindictiveness. The dumping of the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines will see them lose 20% of their pay, on top of a dramatic reduction in working conditions and job security.
“These guidelines were established to protect cleaners in an industry with a long and well-documented history of underpayment, exploitation and unsafe work practices. Thanks to the Abbott Government these hard-working cleaners now face the future with anxiety and uncertainty.
“So much for Tony Abbott’s pre-election claim that no worker will be worse off. But we have always fought. Together, we will face and defeat this radical Government, and together we will win.”
TIM KENNEDY National Secretary, National Union of Workers
“After a year with Tony Abbott at the helm, inequality and insecurity has grown rapidly. The only benefit in Abbott’s attack on everyone (except his own constituency – the 1%) is that people have pulled together and shown that we can resist extremism.
“What comes next is the creative and collaborative process of offering an alternative vision, something that the union movement can and needs to help build.
“With Abbott’s current attacks on the Fair Work Act, and other signals of tearing apart hard–won rights for working people, the attack on organised labour is only beginning.
“Nevertheless, organised and united, people power can win.”
SCOTT McDINE National Secretary, Australian Workers’ Union
“The Abbott Government seems hell bent on winning the race to the bottom, by undermining Australian jobs and job security.
“Every aspect of the Coalition’s workplace policy – from loosening up provisions against the exploitation of workers on 457 visas, through to punishing the unemployed, seems aimed at undermining our social safety net.
“It’s incumbent on all of us to campaign for quality jobs with decent security, wages and conditions. We don’t want to leave Aussie kids without a future in a jobless wasteland.”