In a sharp contrast to the largely middle-class post-budget marches and student protest rallies in Melbourne and other Australian capitals, today’s march from Trades Hall to Parliament House was made up principally of union workers.
With flags from the CFMEU, Plumbers Union, United Voice, ANIMF, CPSU and NIW displayed, a large cross-section of employed workers took part in the ‘Bust the Budget’ event. They were joined by AMBOs, disability support workers and pensioner groups.
While the attendees were principally workers, with some having brought their families along, one immediate difference between this kind of event today and a traditional trade union march was just how much coverage it was immediately generating.
In a sign of the times a mixture of professional and amateur journalists/photographers ran alongside the swell of protesters, with many relying simply on their mobile phones to take notes and upload photos to social media sites. The Twitter hashtag #bustthebudget quickly featured numerous photos and video from the morning, ensuring greater visibility.
The march route from Trades Hall, down Russell to La Trobe, Swanston to Parliament, brought traffic to a standstill, with organisers and police directing the estimated 30,000 protesters.
The event was organised to further stoke anger surrounding the May Federal Budget, with cuts announced to many government services. Repeatedly loudspeaker-wielding organisers decried it as a criminal budget, one that favoured the interests of big business over communities and families.
In an example of unfortunate timing, Treasurer Joe Hockey’s statement from yesterday evening that income tax being used to fund welfare expenditure was unfair was seized on by CPSU President Nadine Flood speaking outside Parliament –
“I don’t know how many of you woke up this morning listening to Joe Hockey trying to tell Australia about what is fair. I don’t know about you, but it made me sick. […]Is it fair that Australians on average wages support those who need the support most? Well Joe Hockey that just shows how out of touch you are – because yes it is fair. […] We support those who need our support most!”
This followed a speech from ETU State Secretary Troy Gray that also roused the crowd, describing the budget not as a broken promise to voters, but “an arrogant slap in the face”.
The event also drew harsh criticism against the current Victorian State government, with Premier Dennis Napthine’s name frequently mentioned alongside Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. With the exception of a poorly timed budgie smuggler joke, many of the speakers stayed on point with regard to the budget and state-wide cuts.
Workers were thanked for attending in “defiance of their employers”, a sign of just how politically charged these protests are becoming. Worryingly for the government it is clear emotions continue to run high, despite attempts to justify cuts made by appealing to the current national deficit.