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A Clever Strategy

It’s a familiar story. Every time a Liberal government is voted into office we hear the same old mantra about cracking down on welfare fraud. They do it every time; not because they think there is widespread fraud happening, but because history has shown it’s something that will create a particular reaction within a certain sub-set of voters. In addition to that, they are also planning an expanded ‘work for the dole’ program and have begun seeking support for re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission amid claims of bribery and corruption in the construction industry. It’s a clever strategy. These platforms have, in the past, proven to be a popular area for conservative governments to exploit. Labor, on the other hand, who have always been serious about welfare fraud,unemployment benefits and corruption and have the record to prove it, prefer to just get on with policing it and not bother with all the trumpet blowing. And so here we are again, in such familiar territory. These three issues are too broad to cover in one article so I will concentrate on just one, namely the ministerial announcement of a crackdown on welfare, announced by Kevin Andrews. It was just so predictable.

To understand what is going on here, we need to consider an interesting theory, namely that the Liberal Party exists primarily to perpetuate its own existence. That’s it! Just consider for a moment that everything the liberals do is influenced by this one principle. They also, I believe, have strong views on who should receive welfare. Is it just for the poor, the ill, and the disadvantaged? Or is it for the wealthy as well? They would hotly deny such a self-serving motive but I will leave it up to the readers to draw their own conclusions after taking a closer look at Kevin Andrews’ proposed welfare review. To gauge whether or not I’m right, let us examine this latest “crackdown” a little closer and see where it takes us.

This review is aimed at cutting the “unsustainable” cost of welfare support without addressing the elephant in the room. Did you know that a couple with assets as high as $1 million, not including the family home, can still receive a part Aged Pension? The minister has said that he won’t be looking at the Aged Pension or Family Tax Benefits. In fact,all he is looking at is the Disability Support Pension and Newstart. He says it’s not about savings but he also refers to it as an unsustainable cost. These two welfare items account for just $22.5 billion or 24% of the total welfare bill and it is here that the review will focus in an effort to find savings although, let me repeat, the minister says it’s not about savings. In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter. The DSP is unlikely to serve up any substantial savings and whatever changes are applied to Newstart the overall benefit will be swamped as unemployment levels increase this year. So, what is Kevin Andrews up to? Well, he says it’s about targeting young, working age people before they get onto the DSP.

At present the DSP IS $751 per fortnight compared with $501 per fortnight for Newstart. On face value the logical choice is to move as many DSP recipients as possible across to Newstart and, ideally, to prevent young people from getting on it in the first place. But how? The Gillard government has already acted to do this, with moderate success, and even if an additional 30% were transferred that would represent a saving of only $2-3 billion. And 30% is an unreasonably optimistic figure. 10% is more likely resulting in a saving of just $1 billion, a figure that will be swallowed up several times over when unemployment reaches 6% and job vacancies start to crumble.

So why all the fanfare about cracking down on welfare and regurgitating the ‘work for the dole’? Is it because it resonates with the working class? Is it because they think it appeals to the lowest common denominator and helps revive the ‘dole bludger’ myth we hear so often when unemployment rises? Or is it merely a PR exercise to deflect attention from Tony Abbott’s performance and other government plans? Is it to make the May budget appear as diligent as possible in the hope that we will overlook the ballooning deficit that it will produce?

There is no simple answer to pin-pointing the intentions that lie behind ministerial reviews, save that of making themselves look responsible but I’m guessing it is all of these things. My best guess is that they are responding to what they think are the perceptions of the broader electorate. They are also, I think, laying the groundwork for an expanded middle class welfare regime first started by John Howard. I think they are trying to find some wriggle room to cater for their upcoming and overly generous Paid Parental Leave Scheme. Time will tell but given the very short time frame (February), for Mission Australia head, Patrick McClure to complete the exercise, it has to tie in with something. Which brings me back to the idea that the Liberal Party’s primary raison d’être is their own preservation? It is the middle class that has handed them government. Logic says that if you hang on to the middle class vote, then you hang on to government.

This suggests to me that the backroom boys in the Liberal Party bunker have been sounding out the focus groups to try and reverse the current trend of negative opinion polls. Labor would do well to analyze this very carefully and assert its own strategy before the old but successful myths re-emerge.

John Kelly blogs at: The View from My Garden


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  1. John Kelly

    Reblogged this on THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN and commented:

    To understand what is going on here, we need to consider an interesting theory, namely that the Liberal Party exists primarily to perpetuate its own existence. Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  2. rossleighbrisbane

    As I wrote elsewhere, it seems strange that when the major problem is an ageing population, that it’s that part of welfare that isn’t being examined. Surely, unemployment will cease to be a problem now that the “adults are back in charge” and Australia is “open for business”! 🙂

  3. lawrencewinder

    Good article. Just smoke and mirrors… to obfuscate their incompetence….

  4. Hotspringer

    Every time some poor bugger works for the dole, he is taking up what could be a proper paid job. Almost as cheap as visa 456 rorters.

  5. Hotspringer

    Dole bludgers and malingerers (Juliar Bishop knows all about THEM), off to the work house!!!

  6. allenmcmahon

    Attacking the ‘undeserving poor’ will always play well with the LNP base and if they go outside of the DSP and Newstart it will affect their supporters which will never do. The LNP currently have around 50 reviews going on and I think most of these are distractions to cover the fact that they have virtually no policies.

    The LNP has potential winner with Newstart as there are 33,000 asylum seekers without work rights an currently on Newstart. The cost per person when you include Medicare and the limited concessions they receive works out at $38,000 per person. The LNP will bring in work rights with temporary protection visas and based on history 80% will have some form of employment and be paying tax within six months. The 80% figure is higher that government estimates chiefly because anyone receiving any form of payment like the family allowance is classified as a welfare recipient.

  7. Ian

    How about cracking down on Family Tax Benefit? That would save a heap.

  8. diannaart

    the Liberal Party exists primarily to perpetuate its own existence

    Rather like a virus, which fails if it kills its host, hence the Liberal Party does not go quite as far as it would like.

  9. olddavey

    I can’t wait to see that 5 or 10 percent of malingering newstart recipients doing their work for the dole gig while waiting for their partner to get pregnant and collect the $75k they voted for.
    I would guess that percentage is about right.

    I saw a young woman working as a casual in a supermarket (probably on around $15k pa) on tv before the election saying she would vote for Abbott because he was going to give her $75k to have a baby and she wouldn’t have to work for 5 years.

    Votes like that will come back to the ALP at the next election.

  10. strobedriver

    Also posted on ‘Bludgers’
    The issue underlying the welfare ‘reform’ is that consecutive governments in Australia have sought to move the Australian system toward the Americanisation of welfare – the Gillard government moving sole-parents’ onto Newstart shows that our governments are in many ways tarred by the same brush – and this needs to be fought against for historical reasons, as well as contemporary ones. Anyone doubting this should simply Google Sen Tomlinson of Wisconsin and see how he solved the ‘problems’ of welfare in his state in the USA. The LNP/Coalition in Australia are, and have been, ruthless with the health/welfare budgets and this is because they fundamentally do not understand that keeping a population (and their children) well eventually contributes to a better and robust society in which all benefit. On an historical note ‘welfare’ came about due to the Industrial Revolution and the promises that living in an urban/city environment brought which Industrialists encouraged the agri-populace to share in. Finally after years of horrendous treatment of the poor, the elite realized that if you don’t provide healthcare for the workers then you don’t have any workers — and if you don’t have any workers then you don’t have a profit. Simple but true equation unless burdened by whether the poor should be cared for and that all children (and their parents’) need to be cared for by the State.

  11. joy cooper

    This saying that Gillard moved sole parents on to Newstart is incorrect. What happened was that some single parents were a in a sort of anomaly existing from the Howard era whereby they continued to get the full benefit even if their youngest was 16 whereas others didn’t. The Howard government decreed after a certain year most had to try to get back into the workforce (with assistance) when their youngest turned 6 or 7. A neighbour of mine, at the time, who had no partner & was on the supporting parent’s benefit, became pregnant when her other child was 6. All the Gillard government did was to remove this anomaly. The rest of the single parents will still receive the benefit. When this occurred one TV channel (7) commiserated with a mother of four teenaged boys who was still on a supporting parents’ benefit when her youngest was 16. The older boys were on Newstart.

    The treatment such people will get much much worse with the government we have had inflicted upon us by credulous & moronic voters such as that aforementioned casual supermarket worker who stupidly thought she would get $75000 from Abbott to have a baby. Give me strength.

  12. Carol Johnston

    Preservation is always part of a government’s unspoken policy. How to stay popular and remain
    the preferred party. Money is finite but who gets it? I think the Libs are making some necessary
    decisions. I’m applying for my Older Australian pension this year with confidence nevertheless.

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