As we watch Abbott’s wrecking ball take aim at welfare recipients, this guest post by Derek James provides us with an insight into what these policy changes really mean for our community.
On the penultimate Sunday of 2013, in Sydney one of the Murdoch rags carried the eye catching headline “Bludgers Busted”, a triumphant headline which when viewed from a distance inspired all manner of considerations. Were the federal or state governments finally getting tough on the high flyers, by obliging them to pay their share of tax? Were they forcing corporations to improve their game by imposing restrictions on how much a CEO can bleed out of a company each year, in the wake of the recent Qantas debacle? Or had they decided to end the gravy train that was sustaining all of the ex-politicians in their non-political life, reducing them to the level of ‘ordinary citizens’? Not too much to expect, given Hockey’s now famous declaration that the ‘age of entitlement is over’, but it only required a perfunctory read of that cover page for it to became clear that none of these things were at the heart of the headline.
It was immediately clear that the editor of that Liberal fanzine had wet their pants with delight at the fact that their government was once again putting the boot into the most disadvantaged in the community, the infirm and the mentally ill, through savage changes to the Disability Support Pension. As usual, those over inflated egos that constitute the editorial core of that Murdoch owned conservative herald are quick to apply ‘wholesale smears over segments of the community. In this instance, to underscore and reinforce media engineered pre-conceptions about people who receive fortnightly DSP assistance’, it was a bitter exposition in which their tone and purpose was loud and clear. Their primary objective was to try and gather support for their government, by crafting the illusion that it was acting in the national interest.
Undoubtedly other right wing extremists and even moderate conservatives would have been every bit as delighted by this news; as was their chief propaganda publication, after all they all subscribe to the belief that the working masses and the low paid and poor majority should carry the burden of any fiscal privations imposed by their government, the harsher the better. They all love the minimalist approach to politics, provided that the ‘minimalism’ does not erode their privileges… or stature. Having spent the last six years living on an even field, in which the interests of all Australian’s were at the heart of government, the media has finally succeeded in resurrecting a narrow minded Plutocracy, in which the interests of the wealthy few hold rule over all, they do not want to ruin that by criticising their government and forcing it to engage in fair mindedness or democratic process.
Show me a ‘bully or a thug’ and I will show you a conservative, for they are one and the same, be they the tory politician or their supporter… largely motivated by greed, unthinking, uncaring and myopic. As chief among the government’s supporters, that paper proves this belief time and again, through its corporate and industry profiles and through its political fiction.
It is not a stretch to imagine that if the Abbott government was to introduce a policy of forced euthanasia for anyone over 60 to ease claim’s on the old age pension and further reduce government expenditure, that paper would, in all probability, announce the policy as a ‘Master Stroke’ and sing its praises for the next six months. What is worse is that the majority of people who subscribe to that paper would happily accept the announcement at face value, without challenging the plan or giving consideration to its long term consequences. Many would not even begin to consider the implications, until they were being led by the wrist by one of the business suit wearing Nazi’s into the gas chamber. So long as it is happening elsewhere and to someone else, they would pay it no mind.
On the matter at hand, the shakeup of the DSP, you can only wonder whether the editors and chief journalists in that media stable would be so vocal in advocating for a tougher stance against disability pensioners, if they themselves suddenly became a victim of grievous misfortune and were abandoned by their billionaire boss and other forms of support and had no choice other than to turn to the government for help? Would they be as eager to label it as the preserve of Bludgers, when they are dealing with the fallout of their carefully crafted social smear? Would they be as willing to besmirch the nature of people receiving this assistance while they are jumping through hoops to meet every challenge set by the government to prove their qualification for that pension? Probably not, though a lot would depend on whether they do have a shred of humanity in them and are not just robots.
It is fair to say that as with all areas of government support, there are always people of low ethics, devoid of principles, who will try and in some cases succeed in exploiting the system (just as when the Rudd government introduced its Pink batts stimulus program and all of those failed Liberal businessmen suddenly became [unqualified] ‘insulation installers’, who infiltrated the scheme to its detriment) and such types should be weeded out. However given the processes involved in qualifying for the disability pension, it is difficult to see how people could rort the process – they would need to have secured the support of a compliant GP, an independent specialist and then that of the government appointed commonwealth medical officer. Three independent professionals, all career minded and often hard of nose, who gain no personal benefit from blindly endorsing applications. After all they are obliged to complete a mountain of paperwork to fully explain their decision; this is a burden that they would hardly welcome on top of their regular duties.
That said the Murdoch media are old hands at making assessments of the world at a distance through their spyglass. On this occasion they have labelled these unfortunate Australian’s as Bludgers and apparently based on little more than ‘urban myth’ and with the sole aim of poisoning attitudes toward all recipients of this assistance. It’s easy to make judgements against people from a distance, it’s far more difficult to try and see the world through another person’s eyes and their experience; which means getting up close and personal. That requires ‘empathy’ which is not an attribute found in most conservatives, the Murdoch crowd are no exception.
Beyond their fanfare and full hearted endorsement of their Prime Ministers pernicious pursuit of the weakest members of the community, if their government was serious about cutting waste and improving the bottom line, it would target the ‘real bludgers’. To anyone, even those with only a cursory interest in politics and domestic affairs, it is patently clear that the biggest drains on this countries treasury are the former politicians and the stuffed suits who preside as CEO over the majority of our largest corporations. Instead of engaging in this cynical manoeuvre, designed entirely for public consumption and which is nothing more than Howard era ‘smoke and mirror’ politics, it is the big end sponges that this ‘government’ should be cracking down on.
Anyone who is not a rusted on fan of conservatism can see that the planned ‘shake-up’ of the DSP will create more problems than it fixes. In the execution of their collective rush of blood, this government have decided to move a large body of under 40 years old and generally unemployable, extremely needy Australians out of one area of welfare and onto Newstart (No start). As soon as they are forced onto this other form of government assistance, they will be absorbed into dead end, short term ‘work for the dole arrangements’.
This probably will save the country money over the short term, due entirely to the fact that the No Start allowance is a pittance, not nearly equal to the minimum weekly wage and a far cry from the sum of what a politician would spend on their lunch in a single sitting. That meagre few hundred dollars is expected to last the recipient a fortnight, to cover food, rent and miscellaneous outlays and under the constant threat of annulment, should they fail to meet any of the pre-conditions attached to that assistance.
When these people are pushed into ‘No start’ and forced onto work for the dole ergs, made vassal to the community as cheap ‘short term labour’ it only profit’s the myriad of unprincipled businesses, who masquerade as their benefactor. These so called ‘saviours’ will receive their own government payoffs and industry plaudits, without too much of an outlay. In all probability most of these companies would argue that they are participating in the scheme out of a sense of community, but it helps that they do not have to employ any of these Australian’s on full wages and benefits.
Parallel to the instigation of this modern slavery and given that these unfortunate people are no longer being paid the pension; the volume of ‘welfare dependency’ will drop. As an immediate flow on, the unemployment rate will also drop as these people are now classed as working for welfare and no longer recorded as ‘unemployed’. It all looks good on the balance sheets and gives the illusion that the government is not entirely inept. But beneath the veneer, the reality is that it is nothing other than a parlour trick… a political ruse, executed without a care for the lives that have been impacted by the stroke of the pen.
The long term ramifications will be far more costly to the nation, as many of the affected will fall through the cracks once more and with their social support systems removed, they will turn to all manner of crime against other Australians. Further to this and because these changes have been enacted by that party that caters to the elite with its ill-conceived antics, it will be the wealthier communities that are the target of all future crime waves. Of course the perpetrators will be rounded up and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and likely given a disproportionate sentence, for biting the hand of the ruling class and once again these ‘unfortunate Australian’s’ will be an even greater burden on the taxpayer through their incarceration.
If this Abbott government is serious about putting an end to waste, it would look at curtailing the outlays to former politicians. Australia has long been the most over governed country on the planet, with more leaders than you can poke a stick at, at both the state and federal level.
Even after they ‘retire’ they still want their say on a surplus of issues, dispensing their $500 an hour advice to all who are willing to pay to hear them. This on top of their over inflated superannuation’s, a lump sum that is constantly replenished through their exorbitant pension (which rises every time their former and still ruling political peers get a pay rise, which can be three or four times per year). They get their own office, complete with secretary, a prestigious vehicle complete with chauffeur, as well as a gold travel pass for domestic and international travel (for the rest of their life), and all of it through the sweat of the taxpayer.
On top of this, many among them receive corporate invitations to take up seats on any number of corporate boards (in a figurehead role, complete with benefits, financial or other).
From the little that the Australian people are told, it seems that most of the former and serving Australian politicians are on a better wicket than the President of the United States, this in a country where the national population is barely the equal of the population of New York City.
When it is to their benefit, our politicians like to remind the electorate that they work for us. We the Australian public are their boss and yet they never defer to the electorate through referendums or other electoral processes to receive clearance to set up their extortionate political lives. In times like now they just tell the working man to pay more tax and everyone else on the lower branches of the fiscal tree to tighten their belts.
People reading this should stop and calculate just how many former politicians are still feeding off the taxpayers, state and federally. We still have seven Prime ministers milking the system, as well as all of the former premiers and other MP’s with their snouts buried deep in the public purse. In many of these cases, the individual has done great things for our country, but this does not earn them the right to put themselves above other Australian’s. As soon as they leave public life for retirement, they should be on the same conditions as everyone else. If they are self-sufficient, through their super and other income, they shouldn’t get the pension, but where they do qualify, what they receive should be the same as everyone else.
It has to be said that this flagrant exploitation of our system is not limited to the politician’s; it is also common among their corporate mates. How often has a major company fallen on hard times through mismanagement or other weaknesses and then gone cap in hand to the government, apportioning blame on external elements and looking to take advantage of the taxpayers, ostensibly in the national interest. How often after the company fails does the taxpayer discover that much of their money has been eaten up in administrative fees and charges, which means it has lined the pocket of an immoral CEO or the board who have exploited his or her ineptitude. More often than not the CEO turns up at another company doing the same poor job again.
In consideration of all these things, this crackdown on recipients of the DSP, this assault on Australia’s most vulnerable by this puppet for the rich, is a sick joke. A joke made worse in the wake of its decision to replace the Commonwealth 737’s (procured by the Howard government on a lease deal that expires next year, at a cost of $600 Million to the taxpayer [minus fuel and running costs presumably?]) with a single much larger plane, fitted out with every kind of advanced communication system imaginable, ostensibly to maintain contact with cabinet while travelling abroad… it could also double as an airborne command centre for when the government’s policies spark trouble. There is also the suggestion that it will be something of a flying five star hotel, equipped with opulent fixtures such as ‘gold taps’ and ‘marble sink tops’. Part of the sales pitch to the public is that this jumbo will carry officials and the press gallery, with the Prime Minister and his entourage on overseas trips.
The decision to upgrade the commonwealth jet at huge cost to the country comes only weeks after the same government announced its intention to replace the fleet of commonwealth cars, Holden commodores, with the far more expensive and bomb proofed BMW’s. Why on earth would he require a bomb proof motor pool? This one announcement alone should have alarm bells ringing for all Australian’s from all walks of life throughout the land… what does this individual and his cronies have planned for our country and its future that they need a bomb proof Commonwealth fleet?
It could be argued that the Australian government’s decision to go after the mentally ill was inspired by their Prime Ministers own achievements, perhaps every time he look’s in the mirror since last September, he is astounded by just how far society will allow a raving psychotic to climb and if he can reach such heights, anyone is capable… but now I think the decision to screw the ill, infirm and poor, is a preconceived plan and just the tip of a nasty big ice berg. The non-affluent majority should consider this and then take steps to stifle this regimes ambition, before it take’s this country places that it doesn’t want to go.