Back in 2001, Four Corners did a program on the working poor called Going Backwards, where they quoted the statistic that 42 per cent of Australians living in poverty lived in families where one or both adults work.
Then Employment Minister, Tony Abbott, summed up the Coalition view.
“I’m prepared to accept that lots of people in work are doing it tough. But that’s true of lots of people at — on comparatively good incomes because they have heavier responsibilities.”
Lord knows, keeping up with the lifestyle in the Northern and Eastern suburbs of Sydney can be expensive. Even people who score a job that requires no qualifications, no experience and no expertise, that pays in the top 1% of incomes and that allows you to charge your employer for pretty much everything, can struggle because of their “higher responsibilities”.
Unlike the poor who only have themselves to blame for their circumstances which are due to poor choices.
“We can’t abolish poverty because poverty in part is a function of individual behaviour. We can’t stop people drinking. We can’t stop people gambling. We can’t stop people having substance problems. We can’t stop people from making mistakes that cause them to be less well-off than they might otherwise be,” Mr Abbott told Four Corners.
And we certainly won’t regulate gambling or drinking because we aren’t a nanny state, plus they make a lot of money for the government and, by happy coincidence, our donors. Party fundraising is a very important aspect of governing.
Barnaby Joyce’s solution is for everyone to move to the country.
“It annoys me when people say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a housing crisis in Australia’. I say, no mate we’ve got a housing crisis in Sydney, and you know why? Because everyone wants to live there.”
Barnaby helpfully pointed out that, in the bush, “The price of a house, average house, is slightly over $300,000. The thing about that is, you get to actually own it in your life.”
Assuming, of course, that you can save the deposit and have secure employment, a good credit rating, and sufficient assets and disposable income to convince the bank to give you a loan.
The Tamworth-based politician angrily denied the idea that moving to the country is difficult because of a lack of jobs.
“Bulls***! Of course there’s jobs here,” he said, laughing. “Of course there’s jobs here – and everywhere else! Unless you don’t want a job. And if you don’t want a job, well, those people can live everywhere as well.”
One wonders how much time Barnaby is spending in his own electorate which actually has the highest unemployment rate in NSW.
In March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed unemployment has been on a steady climb since December, when the rate was 7.9 per cent – it now sits at 8.7 per cent, well above the national average of 5.7 per cent. Across the New England North West almost 10,000 people are on Centrelink welfare payments – excluding students and apprentices – while the youth unemployment rate sits at 14.8 per cent.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson suggested that what was lacking was “the drive, the want and the commitment”.
“If you really want a job, grab your resume, dress smartly and go start knocking on doors. When I was in private business, there was nothing better than someone dressed smartly coming into my office showing initiative. Have a crack, I believe the jobs are out there.”
Belief is a wonderful sinecure, but what of those who have nothing to put on a resume and can’t afford a smart outfit?
While Barnaby has been telling everyone to move bush, people in remote communities are being forced off the land their ancestors have inhabited for thousands of years, and told to go to town.
“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have,” Abbott said during a visit to Kalgoorlie after he cut federal funding for remote communities, handing the responsibility to the states.
“If people choose to live miles away from where there’s a school, if people choose not to access the school of the air, if people choose to live where there’s no jobs, obviously it’s very, very difficult to close the gap,” he said.
“It is not unreasonable for the state government to say if the cost of providing services in a particular remote location is out of all proportion to the benefits being delivered,” Abbott said. “Fine, by all means live in a remote location, but there’s a limit to what you can expect the state to do for you if you want to live there.”
After all, as Abbott previously pointed out, “There may not be a great job for [aboriginal people] but whatever there is, they just have to do it… And if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done.”
Malcolm Turnbull shows his concern for the homeless by sleeping out one night a year. To address the housing crisis, he firmly tells the states to build more houses for investors and young people with rich parents to buy.
As people move further out in the suburban sprawl in search of somewhere affordable to live, the government is building more toll roads to help them get to work quicker. The further out you live, the more you will pay.
Joe Hockey’s observation that “The poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases” to suggest that a rise in the fuel excise was somehow a progressive tax reform, ignores the inadequacies of public transport in our outer suburbs and then Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ insistence that people should be prepared to go further than a 90 minute travel radius from home in search of employment.
In any case, they should just “get a better paying job” if they are struggling.
In response to Labor’s announced vision to reduce inequality, we have had a bevy of Coalition Ministers telling us things have actually been getting better, there is no problem, or if there is one it’s because people are lazy, that poverty is somehow their choice, that increasing welfare payments wouldn’t help, that there are jobs for anyone who wants one. Never mind that wages are stagnant, or decreasing, and job security vanishing.
As Tony Abbott reminded us, “The poor will always be with us.” Jesus said so.