In a speech to the Institute of Public Affairs yesterday, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey warned that a Coalition government would implement drastic welfare cuts, finger-pointed that “attacking spending and looking for structural saves was increasingly urgent”. With a deficit of anything up to $15 billion likely this year, and federal revenue forecast to be between $60 billion to $80 billion lower than expected in the next four years, Hockey needs someone whose hide he can take it out of.
Hit the poor. The IPA would have loved that. It’s the Liberal meme they’ve been hearing for years.
The LNP have it in their veins. To attack those on welfare because a few deficits are forecast is not a new policy issue, and the deficits are a fairly shallow excuse. Deficits are irrelevant. Attacking the poor is something that the LNP just likes to do.
Let’s look at a few interesting announcements from their last great purge on welfare recipients, which occurred during their failed Welfare to Work reforms of 2005-06.
- “In May, PM John Howard unveiled a “Welfare to Work” package of changes to pensions for people with disabilities and single parents. These were part of the annual budget proposal, which also included tax cuts for the rich”.
- “A new round of tax cuts for 9 million Australians, worth $21.7 billion over four years, is the main giveaway in Peter Costello’s 10th budget, which also aims to push 190,000 people off welfare and into work. The biggest winners are higher income earners, who are set to receive new tax cuts in addition to those they had already been promised from July 1 this year. People earning $125,000 or more will now be $42 a week better off from this July, and a further $45 a week better off from July next year”.
- “The Government is likely to usher in a new wave of tax reforms by the time of the next election, promising relief for middle- to high-income earners and changes to the welfare system to encourage people into work. Mr Costello yesterday pointed to the need for continued tax relief – even beyond the changes to come into effect in July which will reduce the impact of the top tax rate of 47 per cent by raising the income threshold at which it applies from $70,000 to $80,000. The Government is also looking at cutting benefits for disability pensioners, with estimates that 150,000 recipients could be moved into the workforce”.
- “Howard’s May budget, now passed, features some of the harshest reforms yet. They will be implemented starting July 1, 2006, to the detriment of an estimated 300,000 people. They affect all welfare recipients of working age, but impact the most gravely on people receiving disability and sole-parent pensions”.
Summary: reduce tax to the high income earners and cut benefits for disability pensioners. Budget surplus – $8.9 billion.
- “New legislation will slash welfare payments for thousands of new claimants, and force single parents and the disabled into low-wage jobs. By driving down the living conditions of some of the most vulnerable members of the community, the government intends to create an enlarged pool of cheap labour available for exploitation”.
- “From July next year, those on parenting payments – mainly women – will be expected to look for at least part-time work when their youngest child turns six and is ready for school. Their welfare payment will be switched over to the lower Newstart unemployment benefit” (my bold).
Summary: introduce legislation to slash welfare payments despite a $8.9 billion surplus.
There’s a lot to be worried about when Hockey talks of welfare reforms. As with the massive axe taken to welfare recipients during the Welfare to Work reforms, are we going to see policies based on class warfare ideologies ahead of social justice? Hockey lends us further insight. His speech in London last year included an unambiguous statement about the age of unlimited and unfunded entitlement to government services and income support being over in the Western world. As Patricia at Café Whispers reported at the time, he then made the mistake of appearing on Lateline that same evening and answering very pointed questions from Tony Jones about exactly what that might mean under a Coalition government.
He repeated again his statement that “with an ageing population and an entitlement system that has seen extraordinary largesse built up over the last 50 years, Western communities, Western societies are going to have to make some very hard and unpopular decisions to wind back the involvement of the state in people’s lives.” At the same time he talked about Australians riding on the back of significant growth in Asia and the Government, if serious about their much vaunted “Asian Century, should start comparing us with our Asian neighbours when it comes to understandable levels of economic growth, inflation, employment and so on, rather than comparing us to countries in Europe and North America”. He then agreed with Tony Jones this included “entitlements . . . a significant issue”.
Having got this beautiful “Gotcha!” out of him, Jones did his best to tie Hockey down as to exactly which benefits he had in mind but got a lot of squirming and waffling in reply about it all depending and case by case issues! It’s worth watching! He wouldn’t be pinned down as to exactly which Asian countries he’d compare us with on social benefit entitlements, but he mentioned statistics for Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. You’ll have to forgive my poetic license in using India and Malaysia for rhyming reasons. After all, they are our neighbours in Asia and millions of people in all of those countries and elsewhere in Asia are currently living in abject poverty.
I was appalled to hear Joe Hockey talk about how we should look to our region for a model on welfare spending! Not so! We need to maintain and improve our mutual support standards here so that we can be a beacon to other countries around us! We are an example of what they can strive for! I can’t imagine living in a modern state which hasn’t found a way to look after its weaker and poorer members. Medical, educational and other social benefits should be fairly available to all regardless of economic status, and yes all need to make a fair contribution to their cost where they can.
Listening to the man who could be our next Treasurer I feared for our future more than ever before. He was talking as if he had no real understanding or appreciation of the enlightened society most of us are beginning to enjoy only now after centuries of struggle from the earliest days of organised labor in Western Europe. Almost a thousand years ago journeymen and their craftsmen employers were striving for improvement in their lives through the Guilds. In the 18th century ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ economist, Adam Smith noted the imbalance in the rights of workers in regards to owners or ‘masters’ in The Wealth of Nations.
The well-being of our society, its economy and its environment, is such that the fair entitlements of all its citizens are protected. Especially the poor and those on welfare for no fault of their own. For their sake at least, this Coalition team led by the likes of Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb must not come to power.
For their sake, keep your hands off the poor, Mr Hockey.
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