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Tag Archives: Natasha Stott Despoja

Howard’s golden age: a history lesson

“I’ll recreate Howard’s golden age.”

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he is “wholly and solely” dedicated to recreating the “golden age” of the last coalition government.

We, the electorate who will decide if Tony Abbott gets his chance, need to be reminded of what life was like in Howard’s golden age.

Here’s one from the vault, written by Natasha Stott Despoja in 2002 at the heart of the golden age which prods our memory:

Many Australians are aware of how the Howard Government’s poll-driven rhetoric is reshaping the Australian psyche. But they don’t know how the poll-driven policies are reshaping Australian government.

Over the past seven years Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have repeatedly cut support to the poor and vulnerable, and spent taxpayers’ money buying votes. This government is the highest-taxing, highest-spending government in our history. Government spending has jumped from 32 to 38 per cent of gross domestic product while it has been in power. But at each budget it has cut services to the poor.

This year’s budget is the latest instalment. People earning more than $85,000 are getting tax cuts in the form of the superannuation surcharge changes, and the baby bonus will pay high-income women up to five times as much as low-income women. Yet this government has no reservations about cuts for the disabled and to poor people’s access to medicine.

The government’s cuts to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are aimed at the poor. The goal is to cut the number of people using the subsidised medicine scheme by adding $1 to the cost for concession cardholders (who make up 80 per cent of scheme costs). It is the very poor that will make the decision not to get a prescription filled because of a $1 increase.

The changes to the disability pension do the same to the disabled. Under the government’s proposal, people who are capable of working more than 15 hours a week won’t be eligible for the pension. They will be treated like any unemployed person. At a time when there are eight registered unemployed people for every job, the disabled face an uphill battle competing for jobs. Discrimination, and the effort required by employers, makes it likely that the disabled will be the ones left on the shelf.

The government wants to compound the difficulties these people already face in their day-to-day lives by removing their supports. Not only will their incomes be cut by more than $52 a fortnight, they will also lose pensioner concession cards and will be subject to penalties if they fail to negotiate the hoops and hurdles of “mutual obligation”.

While such high levels of long-term unemployment exist, these cuts are pointless and cruel.

The government now has a clear choice – and an opportunity to clearly state its priorities. The opportunity for this transparency in the government’s agenda should be welcomed, because over the past seven years the Treasurer has implemented this strategy by stealth. Despite Australia experiencing a once-in-a-generation economic boom, at every turn the Treasurer has argued that he has no choice but to implement cuts for the most disadvantaged.

This year’s diversion is the war on terrorism. The war costs are in the order of just 10 per cent of the deficit. The government’s rhetoric is a poll-driven ploy to distract people from the facts. The budget is under strain due to a blow-out in spending on well-to-do swinging voters.

So far, this strategy has been electorally successful, but we ask the government to consider the Australia it will deliver. Under this government we are losing the Australian ethos of “a fair go for all”. The sort of vision Howard and Costello are pitching is an Australia where the most vulnerable in our community are displaced and the wealthiest are given tax breaks.

Stop attacks on the poor.

(Senator Natasha Stott Despoja was leader of the Australian Democrats).

The Tony Abbott we see and hear today is a mirror image of the John Howard of 2002. Bugger the poor.

For the poor, disabled or disadvantaged, history has provided a valuable lesson of Howard’s golden era: it was miserable. For the poor, disabled or disadvantaged it’s without question that life has dealt them a miserable hand anyway. Many – the vast majority – survive purely because of Government assistance, as meagre as it is. It will never be enough regardless of which political party are in power, but it will be a damn sight worse under Abbott.

When Employment Minister in 2001 during Howard’s golden age, Tony Abbott was:

. . . notorious for describing the unemployed as “job snobs”. On July 9, he went further, blaming the poor for their own plight. He told the ABC Four Corners program: “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.”

This is one demographic which the man has shown absolute contempt, the strugglers in society. He did as a Minister in the Howard Government, and he still does now:

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has dismayed welfare services by telling them that governments cannot stop people from being homeless ”if that’s their choice” and declining to match the Rudd government’s goal to halve homelessness by 2020 . . . “we just can’t stop people from being homeless if that’s their choice”.

The Coalition has today confirmed that they would re-impose a 15 per cent tax on Australia’s lowest paid workers (earning below $37,000) including 2.1 million women. When asked today during his appearance at the National Press Club whether he would maintain the Low Income Superannuation Contribution (LISC) Tony Abbott confirmed the Coalition would not keep this important Labor tax cut.

The Opposition Leader today unveiled his “tough-love” welfare plan to strip away unemployment benefits for people in areas where there are skill shortages, ramp up work for the dole and overhaul the disability pension. In his first big policy announcement since last year’s election, Mr Abbott also calls for long-term jobless to have half their welfare withheld to pay for the necessities of life such as food, housing and clothing.

The Opposition Leader says Work for the Dole should be compulsory for everyone under 50 who’s been on unemployment benefits for more than six months; that young jobseekers in areas of labour shortages should have their dole suspended; long-term unemployed people should have half their welfare income quarantined; with a new disability support pension for people with treatable disabilities.

Natasha Stott Despoja gave us a history lesson of Howard’s golden age. Abbott wants to recreate it. If we haven’t learned from history … it will be repeated.

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