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Tag Archives: poverty

Scott’s new targets

In October, Labor voted to pass nearly $3 billion in budget savings with revised welfare legislation which will see Family payments cut and young people on a disability support pension will have their cases reviewed.

The laws will:

  • reduce the primary income earner limit for Family Tax Benefit B from $150,000 to $100,000
  • limit the FTB – A large family payment to those with four or more children
  • review the cases of people under 35 who are receiving a disability support pension
  • include untaxed super income in eligibility assessments for the Seniors Health Card
  • remove scholarships for students moving between major cities

The most substantial cuts will involve those families who lose entitlement to FTB Part B, worth just over $3000 per year, when their youngest child turns six and is at school, although transitional arrangements will apply until July 2017. Low income lone parents will instead get a payment of $750 dollars a year per child aged 6 to 12 years.

About $10 billion in budget measures, including increasing the pension age, reducing the rate of increases to pensions and freezing family payments, remain blocked.  In a bid to woo the crossbenchers, the Government has “repackaged” those cuts and changes to a new series of bills.

The Government proposes to freeze all income-test thresholds for most benefits for three years, and FTB payment rates for two. Freezing payment rates is regressive, since lower-income families bear proportionally higher cuts.

Lone parents earning around two-thirds of the average wage lose between 5.7 to 7.1 per cent of their disposable income. A single-income couple with two school-age children and average earnings loses nearly $90 per week or 6 per cent of their disposable income.

Compare this to the $29 or less than 1 per cent of disposable income paid through the Deficit Levy by an individual on three times the average wage – close to $250,000 by 2017–18. High-income couples could together bring in up to $360,000 per year and not contribute an extra cent.

There will be no transition for unemployed people under 25, who will receive Youth Allowance rather than Newstart. People under 30 will be required to wait for up to six months before getting unemployment benefits and then Work for the Dole.

An unemployed 23-year-old loses $50 per week or 18 per cent of their disposable income. An unemployed lone parent with one 8-year-old child loses $60 per week or 12 per cent.

Senator Abetz backed down from his ridiculous idea of making unemployed people apply for 40 jobs a month which would have led to 30 million job applications a month when there’s not even a couple of hundred thousand jobs on offer.

The Government has also launched a tender process for a new $5.1 billion employment services plan and work for the dole scheme to operate for five years from July 1 next year.  One wonders which private companies will benefit from this $5 billion cash splash and whether the money would not be better spent creating jobs rather than providing slave labour for the private sector who will receive generous payments to administer the scheme.

I also wonder has this government done any modelling on increasing the pension age to 70.  When they increased the age for females from 60 to 65 in 1995 , women with disabilities in this age group increasingly claimed the DSP. The proportion rose from close to zero to about 13 per cent by 2013.  But as the number of women receiving the DSP went up, the number receiving the age pension went down by much more.

In 1995, only about 650 women aged sixty to sixty-four received the DSP and 211,000 received the age pension. By 2012, 86,000 female DSP recipients were in that age group, but only 28,000 age pensioners. So the total number receiving one or other of these pensions has nearly halved, and now the majority receive the DSP.

Increasing the pension age to 70 will just force more people onto the DSP and increase the medical and administrative costs to receive their payment.  So much for cutting red tape.

I sincerely hope Labor have the number crunchers working out exactly how much people are worse off under this government’s policies.  Add in the delay to the increase in the superannuation guarantee, higher fees for university students, cuts to health and education, increased fuel excise, scrapping the increase of the tax free threshold, and every single person is worse off though inversely proportional to their income and wealth.

The Australian Council of Social Service released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

The report provides the most up to date picture of poverty in the nation drawing on new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years. It finds that 603,000 or 17.7% of all children were living in poverty in Australia.

The poverty line for a single adult is $400 per week yet the maximum rate of payment for a single person on Newstart – when Rent Assistance and other supplementary payments is added – is only $303 per week. This is $97 per week below the 50% of median income poverty line.

It also emphasises the danger posed by Budget proposals to reduce the indexation of pension payments to the Consumer Price Index only, which is likely to result in higher poverty rates over time than would be the case if payments were indexed to wages and therefore community living standards.

Most at risk groups

  • Women – significantly more likely to experience poverty than men (14.7% compared to 13%);
  • Children and older people – face higher risks of poverty compared to other age groups (17.7% and 14.8% respectively);
  • Sole parents – at high risk with 33% in poverty in 2012 and 36.8% of all children in poverty were in sole parent households;
  • Born overseas – Poverty is higher amongst adults born in countries where the main language is not English (18.8%) than amongst those born overseas in an English speaking country (11.4%), or in Australia (11.6%);
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – ABS data does not include information to accurately measure this poverty rate, however 2011 HILDA data found 19.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in poverty, compared to 12.4% of the total Australian population;
  • People with a disability – latest available data does not allow this poverty rate to be calculated, however our previous report found 27.4% of people with a disability were living in poverty in 2009-2010 compared to 12.8% for the total population.

Abbott’s strategy to help these people is “we removed the carbon tax”.  Come on Labor, let’s compare that to all the other things they have “removed”.

Morrison doesn’t see helping these people as his responsibility.  He views them as his targets, the challenge he must face and subdue.

In the May budget they cut $44 million from the capital works budget for the National Partnership on Homelessness.

Three days before Christmas they axed funding to Community Housing Federation Australia, National Shelter, Homelessness Australia, disability groups and financial counselling services.

In the next budget, Scott Morrison is going to do something about making childcare more affordable.  This will be a welcome move if it isn’t just about making politicians able to claim for their nannies.

povertyHe will also be trying to sell Tony’s signature Paid Parental Leave Scheme or some sort of renegotiated version of it.  If it is means tested, completely unavailable to those over a certain income, then it may be worthwhile though it basically defeats Tony’s stated purpose of encouraging “women of calibre” to breed.  It’s interesting that this “workplace entitlement” is being promoted by the Minister for Social Security who wants the government to pay for maternity leave rather than the employer.  I guess Tony is desperate to have an answer other than carbon tax about what he has done for women but let’s not let it blind us to the needs of our most disadvantaged citizens.

As this government silences advocates for the homeless, the disabled, the young and the needy, our Indigenous and refugee communities, we, the public, must raise our voices to help protect our most vulnerable and to tell the government which direction we want this country to go.

“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” – Hubert H. Humphrey

An Open Letter to the corporations and people of the 1%

Dear Winners,

Congratulations on all your achievements. You have all played the game of capitalism like absolute champions, and you are, without doubt, superlative operatives of the capitalist system. Kudos to you.

Obviously it has taken a huge amount of vision, hard work, guts and determination to get you to where you are now, and I think every one agrees you should be duly compensated for all your (and your employees) efforts; and I am personally relieved to know that you have all been sufficiently remunerated so as to never want for anything ever again. Once again, kudos to you.

While I am absolutely dazzled by your stellar successes, there are a few things about the way you conduct your lives and businesses that I find quite baffling, and I was hoping you might be able to clear up my confusion.

Firstly, I want to share a little something with you that we in the 99% have known for quite some time . . .

YOU’VE WON ALREADY!

With the richest 85 people in the world now owning the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, there can be no question, in the game of acquisition you are the undisputed winners. NO CONTEST!

So here’s what puzzles me . . . Do you not realise the game is over and that you have won? Because quite honestly the way you are carrying on, it’s like a boxer relentlessly pummelling an opponent that is passed out on the ropes, it’s just not sportsmanlike, and really, it’s not making you look good.

starving

In spite of all your wealth and unmitigated successes you continue to slash real wages, cut costs, off shore, out source, trim benefits, buy off politicians, lobby for favourable legislation, dodge taxes, and exploit loopholes with a staggering rapacity. In your relentless drive for profit you mercilessly exploit sub living wages, control the public discourse through your media domination, and poison and pollute our world with utter impunity.

poverty 2

So my question is this . . . why are you continuing to play hard ball when you have so clearly already won? Surely at a certain point the figures displayed on your profit statements must start to seem fairly abstract? What on earth are you hoping to achieve? Do you really need a better quarterly result? What for? You already have everything that money could possibly buy you. And quite frankly if being stupefyingly wealthy hasn’t made you happy yet, it’s bordering on disillusion to think that a few more zeros on your balance sheet are going to do the trick.

And if you are truly happy with all you have achieved, then don’t you think it might be just the teensiest bit psychopathic to keep on punching when the fight is so clearly over?

While I personally find your unabated appetite for capital acquisition somewhat unfathomable, it obviously makes perfect sense to you, (either that or you have never actually sat down to analyse the broader costs and benefits of your chosen course).  Given the utter pain, despair and deprivation suffered by the world’s poor, (such as the average Bangladeshi garment worker who works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in dangerous, overcrowded conditions for a paltry $38 a month), I am sure you must have some very good reasons for your steadfast persistence in squeezing those at the bottom even harder. Although I struggle to understand what those reasons may be I have, in my speculations, come up with a few possibilities.

1. You are competing amongst and against yourselves.

I suspect there is a fair bit of this going on among you 1% ers’. It’s not enough that you have well and truly surpassed the 99%, (it would appear that that victory has long since lost it’s taste); now it’s just a competition between you 1% er’s to see who’s got the biggest bank account/company/summer house/yacht.

forbes billionairs

I find it difficult to attach any other motive to the recent attempt by Rupert Murdoch (one of your most famous poster boys) to acquire Time Warner. At 85 years of age, the builder and controller of the largest News Empire on the planet is still playing for more? Doesn’t he realise that to most people this just looks like the chest beating, ego pumping manoeuvre of a recently cuckolded old man trying desperately to prove that he’s still top dog? Kind of tragic really, and a little undignified.

The sad fact is this is not a game that can be won, no matter how much you’ve got you will always want more, it’s a bottomless bucket of desire.

So let me say it once again ; if you in the 1% can not be content with what you have already achieved, then trust me, one more victory is not going to help.

2. You are simply acting out of blind habit and you have never bothered to stop and question what you are actually doing?

I am willing to bet that this is bottom line for quite a number of you. You learnt the rules, and you’ve played the game so hard and so long that it’s the only game you now know. You live for the sport of it, the hunt, the chase, the endless craving for that next conquest; the ruthless reduction of wages, the corporate take over, the quarterly profit statement, the pumping up of your share price, the tucking of another politician snuggly into your pocket, this is your heroin.

handcuffed-to-money

You are, for want of a better word, addicted to the game. If this indeed is the case then let me remind you of something I am sure you already know; addiction is not a road to happiness! It is an itch you can never scratch in an endless cycle of craving and pain, and it effects every one around you (and not in good way).

3. You are completely ignorant about the suffering you are causing others?

This is a bit of a stretch, but I am prepared to concede that SOME OF YOU may have spent so little time out in the big, wide, underprivileged world, have spent your lives so steeped in privilege as to have no idea of the havoc you are wreaking, the pain you are causing, and the abject poverty you are creating.

mansionhomeless 1

That said it’s worth remembering that ignorance is no excuse, neither in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of those whose necks you are so gleefully standing on.

4. You still feel genuinely insecure?

I realise that most people wouldn’t suspect it, but there is some research that suggests the richer you are the more insecure you feel, if this is true then you 1% er’s must be living in an absolute paranoid lather; worried that people don’t really care about you and are just drawn to your money, or maybe just fearful that you might loose your money. Clearly your answer to this is to get more money (so you will still have some left if and when you loose a wad) and surround yourselves with other hyper rich people, (who have enough money not to be eyeing off yours).

fear of poverty

At the risk of repeating myself; if you in the 1% can not feel secure with what you have already have, then trust me, a bit more money is not going to help.

5. You simply don’t care about others?

I admit I find this highly unlikely. I am sure you love your family and friends, and would go to great lengths to protect them. What maybe the case however is that you do not experience yourselves as part of the broader human family; and thus those that are not known to you personally are too abstract to you to evoke your natural caring human instincts.

homeless americaplease help

This disconnect is broadly supported by a media narrative that casts the “have nots” as either lacking in the smarts to get ahead, or as shiftless lazy leaners trying to gouge a free ride, which makes it much easier to see them as deserving of their wretched fate, (after all, they are not hard working, self made actualisers like you and your cohorts).

While I understand you may find this narrative very comforting, and a perfectly adequate justification for your modus operandi, that doesn’t make it true. Even here in the west there are plenty of people working 2-3 jobs, 80 hours or more just to subsist, so you could not call them lazy. And does a person possessed of an average or lower intelligence really deserve to be denied a decent life just because they were born sub-brilliant?

6. You have never read the history of the French Revolution?

Perhaps you are not aware that history is awash with stories where the peasants decide that quietly starving is not a viable option and have taken up arms against their wealthy oppressors. And as a general rule when they get their hands on them, they kill them!

Now I’m not agitating for that, I don’t want to see you, or anyone else killed; but it’s worth noting that when legislation is passed making it illegal to feed the homeless, when you cut off the water to supply to poorest 1/3 of a city, when you squeeze wages and benefits to the point where employees need to work 3 jobs, never get to see their children and can barely make rent. When you smash unions, or fail to pay your taxes so their is no money for social support…. you need to understand you are creating an environment you may not be able to control. Keep playing hard ball and eventually THE PITCH FORKS WILL COME!

french revolution

7. You are genuinely unaware of your power to effect change?

With the stroke of a pen the Walton family could raise tens of millions out of abject poverty, and it wouldn’t make a whip of difference to them personally; they wouldn’t have to go without anything. NIKE could raise the wages of it’s manufacturing staff to a living standard, and all it would cost them would be one or two less basketball players in an ad.

How is it that you guys are not doing this? Don’t you get it? YOU HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE A BETTER WORLD for millions and millions of people.

Bill Gates gets it, Oprah gets it, Bob Geldof gets it, Nick Hanauer gets it, Bill Liao gets it, and whether or not you like their choices, they are all out there pitching for a better world.

I realise the system has it’s own momentum, and you are just going with the flow, but the system is causing insane amounts of grief and suffering for billions of people.

We have more than enough food to feed the planet, but people are starving; we have cities full of empty houses and streets full of homeless people; we have amazing medicines and people dying for lack of access; there are cities with water supplies denying clean water to citizens. Does this seem right to you?

What kind of life should a person working full time be able to afford? Should they be able to afford a house, food and water, healthcare and an education for their children? I really want to know your thoughts on this, because it looks to me like you think a living wage is way too high?

But seriously, would it kill you to pay living wages?

So I am asking you, the 1% er’s, what exactly is your end game? Pushing billions of people into crushing poverty so you can die with a bigger bank balance? Is that really what you want for your legacy? Does that make you happy? Because if not, then maybe it’s time you guys stirred things up a bit; raised some wages, paid some taxes perhaps, who knows, maybe working towards a better world for ALL of our human family will be the trick! It might seem like a crazy idea, but it’s worth a try.

Take your coal and shove it

Whilst Abbott, Hunt, Palmer and Newman regale us with their humanitarian effort to lift India out of poverty by selling them coal, the Indians recognise ill-informed self-serving greed when they see it. Far from embracing our colonial noblesse oblige, they view us as ignorant corporate lapdogs, and can you blame them.

The following is a letter from Shankar Sharma, an Indian Power Policy Analyst, to Campbell Newman.

Dear Mr. Newman,

Greetings from Mysore, India.

May I draw your team’s attention to a recent news item in “au.finance.yahoo.com” under the heading “Poor Indians need our coal: Qld premier”. ?

The statement attributed to you that “Those who say we can immediately change, I’m afraid, are condemning people in China, but particularly in India, who live in poverty, condemning them to that poverty,” has surprised many people here in India. This statement, if reported correctly, indicates to me that you did not have the benefit of effective briefing by your officers.

The following facts should assist your officers to provide correct briefing on all the related issues.

  • “To take 1.3 billion people in India out of poverty is going to require significant energy, and coal particularly is what they’re after.”

It is highly irrational to assume that everyone in 1.3 billion is poor.

About 30% of the population is reported to be poor and also without access to electricity. It is also equally irrational to assume that coal power is the only way of providing electricity to those who have no access to electricity, and to assume that it is the only way of lifting the poor from the clutches of poverty.

It should be noted that between 1990 & 2013 (as per Central Electricity Authority publication “Growth of Electricity in India” ) the installed electricity generating capacity in India increased from about 64,000 MW to 223,000 MW, and during the same period the national per capita electricity production increased from about 330 kWH to about 917 kWH. During this period Coal power capacity increased from about 41,000 MW to about 131,000 MW, and is at present 60% of the total power capacity in the country. But the number of people outside the purview of electricity network did not change considerably during this period. It should become amply clear that if much of the additional electricity produced in this period was used to provide electricity to un-electrified houses, there should have been no households un-electrified today. But the very characteristics of a grid based electricity infrastructure, wherein the coal power has been the king, cannot ensure equitable access to electricity for all, especially in a diverse country like India. Most of such additional power generation has gone to meet the escalating demand of people in urban areas and of the industries and commerce at the cost of rural poor.

In this context it should also be noted that the lack of access to electricity for the 30% population in India is basically because of the difficulties associated with integrated grid power. The issues of low density of loads in rural areas, the high cost of extension of grid supply to remote villages, inability of the villagers to pay for such grid power, poor economy of the coal power plants in small sizes etc. are all behind 30% of India’s population being denied electricity even after 6 decades of independence.

In view of the fact that the power sector in India is beset with huge inefficiencies (the sector is often termed as a leaking bucket, with the potential to save as much as 30 -40% of the demand on the integrated grid) the addition of new power production capacity, such as coal power plants, cannot be termed as rational investment from the perspective of the common man.

The development economists will even find it hilarious that about 400 Million poor in India should depend on imported coal from distant Australia to come out of poverty on a sustainable basis. The experience of two Ultra Mega Coal Power Plants on the West Coast of India, which were designed to depend entirely on imported coal, should be a lesson that the uncertainties associated with the supply and price of imported coal should not be associated with rational economic decision

 A holistic view of the issues surrounding the coal power in a densely populated country like India clearly establishes the hollow claim of coal power lobbies. It is not surprising that coal advocacy groups are silent on the health and pollution issues associated with coal mining, coal burning and ash disposal activities.

Whereas your statement refers to lifting 1.3 Billion Indian from poverty, it is surprising that it seems that you have not been briefed on the social and environmental aspects of burning large quantities of coal in a densely populated and resource constrained country like India.

A study report “COAL KILLS” by three NGOs on the pollution impacts of coal in India has estimated that in 2011-2012, emissions from Indian coal plants resulted in 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases from exposure to total PM10 pollution.

As per another report by Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention “The True Cost of Coal – Air Pollution and Public Health’, coal combustion in China is the source of 70% of the country’s soot emissions; 85% of its sulfur dioxide emissions; 67% of its nitrogen oxide emissions; and 80% of its carbon dioxide emissions. One has to question as to how such pollution statistics can be construed as contributing to the welfare of children, women, old aged, sick people amongst the vulnerable sections of our societies.

According to a report of January 2011 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., USA “Benefits of Beyond BAU” the death toll in a wealthy country such as USA was estimated to be between 8,000 and 34,000 premature deaths every year from inhaling fine particulate matter from coal combustion.

An authentic report on the major health effects of massive coal burning is a report of 2009 by the title “Coal’s Assault on Human Health” by Physicians for Social Responsibility. This report refers to coal combustion emissions such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM), nitric oxides, mercury, and a number of other hazardous substances, which damage the respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems of the human body. In particular, these emissions contribute to some of the most widespread diseases, including asthma, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, which can devastate the life of poor people who generally have to do even without basic healthcare facilities.

A media release on 13 February 2013, from a new collaborative network of health organizations in Australia has said: “The local and global effect of fossil fuel use on health and wellbeing is an immediate problem as well as an issue of intergenerational equity, with the exploitation of these resources causing irreversible harm to Earth’s systems, compromising the health and security of future generations.”

An article “The mining and burning of coal: effects on health and the environment” in Sept. 2011 issue of Medical Journal Australia has concluded that:

 (i) “Communities in which coal mining or burning occurs have been shown to suffer significant health impacts;

(ii) The health and climate costs of coal are unseen, and when costs to health systems are included, coal is an expensive fuel.”

In view of all these health impacts it is sad that the coal power advocates continue to claim that the coal power will lead to real economic development and sustainable development; because in all such cases the people who are impacted most are the poor people.

While the health and the associated social issues of coal power should become crystal clear from a plethora of credible reports from around the world, the recent decision of the international financial institutions and many national governments from around the world on coal financing should demonstrate how the relevance of coal power in eradicating the poverty is being viewed at global level.

Earlier this year, two of the world’s largest IFIs, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB), announced their historic restrictions on coal financing. Since then governments from around the world — from the U.S. to Norway — have followed suit. There also was the U.K. government’s announcement that it too will end support for overseas coal plant construction. Recently the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) also announced its decision to move beyond coal.

While the coal power in a densely populate country like India has huge health costs, the increasing number of coal power plants are also putting unsustainable pressure on natural resources like land and fresh water.

Whereas India has been facing huge problems in these two resources for decades, the vast number of additional coal power plants will exacerbate the problems to the detriment of the poor and the vulnerable sections of the society, who are the worst affected sections by forced displacement and by the denial of access to adequate quantities of fresh water.

All these issues should establish that in a densely populated and resources constrained country like India, coal power should not be viewed as a savior for the poor, but as a perpetrator of injustice of all kinds for such vulnerable sections of our society, not only in India and China but all over the world.

Whereas the present Australian government has chosen not to acknowledge the urgent need to reduce the total GHG emissions at the global level, the majority of scientific communities, international institutions and governments around the world have no doubt about such a need. The recommendations from the latest Synthesis Report, AR5, from IPCC to minimise GHG emissions from the burning of coal cannot be ignored for the sake of very survival of human kind.

In summary, the Coal, which is a major source of GHG emissions and other pollutants, cannot be seen as necessary to address the twin issue of providing electricity to all and to pull the vast number of people from the clutches of poverty.

While the argument that poor Indians need Australian coal can be at best described as an effort to hide commercial interest behind the so called concern for the poor, Australia’s coal export is not only doing great damage to the legitimate interests of the poor in India, but also compromising the true interest of its own people by destroying its fragile environment.

It is worthy of notice what has been reported in The Australian on 4 Nov. 2014.

“TONY Abbott’s declaration that coal is good for humanity has been attacked by Australian National University academic Elizabeth Hanna, who warns thousands of people will be sentenced to death if Australia keeps exporting it.

Dr Hanna, whose research was included in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, predicted Australia faced days hotter than 50C within 10 or 15 years under continuing global warming and this would dramatically increase the number of heat-related deaths.

If that happens, “we are at risk of mass-death events in Australia, similar to the death tolls due to extreme heat overseas’’, she said.

“In 2003, 70,000 people died in Europe and 55,000 died in Russia in 2010 due to extreme heat.” ”

A rational analysis of all the related issues will reveal that Australia can contribute to the true interests of the poor in India by investing in and persuading the Indian authorities to undertake urgent improvement measures in the existing power infrastructure such as highest possible efficiencies and optimal levels of conservation in electricity sector, and in widespread usage of distributed type of renewable energy sources such as roof top SPV systems and community based bio-energy systems.

Regards

Shankar Sharma

Power Policy Analyst

# 1026, 5th Main Road, E&F Block, Ramakrishna Nagara Mysore, Karnataka, India – 570022

 

Upside down downunder

We sure do things upside down downunder.

Tony Abbott’s chief business adviser first tells us we are unprepared for global cooling, followed by lashing out at the UN response to the Ebola outbreak and labelling the world body a “refuge of anti-western authoritarians bent on achieving one-world government”.

Newman wrote an opinion piece for the Australian newspaper in which he said the UN’s “leanings are predominantly socialist and antipathetical to the future security and prosperity of the west”.

“The philosophy of the UN is basically anti-capitalist,” he writes. “Countries that pay the most dues, mostly rich Anglo countries, are those to which the world body shows the greatest disdain.”

Is he suggesting that we should receive foreign aid in thanks for using up all of the world’s resources while killing the planet?

Aside from Maurice Newman’s bizarre ravings, our inaction on climate change, our inadequate response to the Ebola crisis, the chief executive of Whitehaven Coal telling us that coal “may well be the only energy source” that can address man-made climate change, and the sheer bastardry of cutting real wages and entitlements to defence personnel as we send them off to war…..we are also ignoring the call from the rest of the world to take action to address income inequality.

Despite being one of the richest nations on earth, one in seven Australians are living in poverty.  Thirty per cent of Australians who receive social security payments live below the poverty line, including 55 per cent of those on unemployment benefits. Fifteen per cent of aged pensioners live in poverty.

So it seems unfathomable as to why these people would be targeted when the government is looking for savings.

Since 1980, the richest 1 percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which the IMF have data.

In the US, the share of income taken home by the top one percent more than doubled since the 1980s, returning to where it was on the eve of the Great Depression. In the UK, France, and Germany, the share of private capital in national income is now back to levels last seen almost a century ago.

The 85 richest people in the world, who could fit into a single London double-decker, control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population– that is 3.5 billion people.

With facts like these, it is no wonder that rising inequality has risen to the top of the agenda—not only among groups normally focused on social justice, but also increasingly among politicians, central bankers, and business leaders.

Our politicians are telling us that they want to provide the opportunity for each person to be their best selves but the reality is that we do not have equal opportunity. Money will always buy better-quality education and health care, for example. But due to current levels of inequality, too many people in too many countries have only the most basic access to these services, if at all. Fundamentally, excessive inequality makes capitalism less inclusive. It hinders people from participating fully and developing their potential.

Disparity also brings division. The principles of solidarity and reciprocity that bind societies together are more likely to erode in excessively unequal societies. History also teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots.

A greater concentration of wealth could—if unchecked—even undermine the principles of meritocracy and democracy. It could undermine the principle of equal rights proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Redistributive policies always produce winners and losers. Yet if we want capitalism to do its job—enabling as many people as possible to participate and benefit from the economy—then it needs to be more inclusive. That means addressing extreme income disparity.

One way to address this is through a progressive tax system but instead, our government is looking at regressive measures like increasing the fuel excise and the GST. These will impact far more greatly on low income earners.

Another avenue is to expand access to education and health but instead, our government is cutting needs-based education funding, making the cost of tertiary education prohibitive, and introducing a co-payment to discourage people from seeing the doctor.

Abbott, Hockey and Cormann assure us that if we make the rich richer we will all benefit. Everyone from the Pope to Rupert Murdoch knows this is rubbish.

Two weeks ago In Washington, in a speech to the world’s most powerful finance ministers and central bankers, Rupert Murdoch accused them of making policies to benefit the super rich.

In it, he blamed the leaders for increasing inequality, said the ladder of generational progress was now at risk, and warned that a moment of great global reckoning had arrived.

I note that his criticism of poor policy does not stop him from taking advantage of said policies. “I’ll only be as good as you make me be” seems to be the prevailing principle.

Hockey’s response to Murdoch’s barrage was interesting.

“Certainly, as he says, loose monetary policy has helped people who own a lot of assets to become richer, and that’s why loose monetary policy needs to be reversed over time, and we’ll get back to normal levels of monetary policy, normal levels of interest rates,” Mr Hockey told AM’s presenter Chris Uhlmann.

“Governments, on the other hand, have also run out of money and can’t keep spending money – particularly on the credit card – to try and stimulate growth.

“So, if loose monetary policy is not available and actually makes the rich get richer, and governments have run out of money, how are we going to get growth going in the world economy over the next few years? And the only way to do it is through structural changes that make us better at what we do.”

The structural changes suggested by Mr Hockey will increase inequality and send more people into poverty which is indeed what Coalition governments are good at doing.

Pope Francis recently tweeted “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

In last autumn’s essay, Evangelii Gaudium, Francis wrote that: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills … Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”

The claim that human beings have an intrinsic value in themselves, irrespective of their usefulness to other people, is one that unites Christianity and socialism. But if you think the market is the real world, it makes no sense at all, since in the market, value is simply the outcome of supply and demand.

A recent article by Lissa Johnson (on Ne Matilda) discusses decades of research into political psychology.

“Another ubiquitous finding is that conservatism is inversely related to the pursuit of social and economic equality. Conservatism correlates strongly with a preference for fixed social hierarchies entailing inequality between social groups, along with punitive attitudes towards marginalised and/or non-conforming members of society, who are seen as destabilising elements that threaten social cohesion.”

Australia is indeed a wondrous place where coal will save us from climate change, where helping the rich to get richer will make us all happier, and where the poor will be asked to pay off the nation’s debt.

Cherchez des revenus

When my husband lost his job not long after the birth of our first child, my immediate reaction was to ring my old boss and go back to work.  I didn’t sit there thinking what spending I could cut – I actively pursued employment.  We were already pretty frugal, living on one income, so cuts would have meant a lowering of our living standard – doable but not my first choice.

Which is why everything this government is doing in the budget seems so wrong to me.

They screamed blue murder about the burden on cost of living imposed by the carbon tax but the cuts they are making take far more away from those least able to afford it than removing the carbon tax will replace. The poor, the sick, the elderly, the unemployed, our students – all will face a substantial reduction in future disposable income.

While we increasingly hear about the lack of affordable housing, and a possible housing price bubble due to low interest rates and a burgeoning investment market sending prices soaring, both parties hasten to say they have no intention of changing the negative gearing tax concessions. Why not?

Negative gearing allows investors to deduct losses made on rental properties from their other income, thereby reducing their overall annual tax liability. The Grattan Institute says it costs the federal government $2.4 billion a year, and there is “little justification for it”.

The Reserve Bank said strong demand by investors meant investor housing loans now accounted for about 40 per cent of all home loans. It said it had become so concerned about Australia’s overheating property markets that it was openly questioning whether bank lending practices were “conservative enough”.

Once again, I find this an odd statement. If the banks’ lending becomes more conservative, the people who will miss out on loans are the first home buyers, not the investors.  Why not make it less attractive to investors by removing negative gearing?  They are the ones driving up the prices.

Then there is their approach to superannuation.

As Treasury revealed in the budget, the annual cost of superannuation tax concessions is set to surge in coming years, making the current cost — nearly $32 billion — look paltry as it rises to a remarkable $50 billion in 2017-18. At that point the cost of superannuation will exceed the cost of the age pension

Australia’s richest taxpayers will collect over $35.5 billion in tax concessions via the superannuation system over the next five years, and by 2017-18 they will be taking over $8 billion a year.

And far from contributing to the burden of helping repair the deficit, the top 5% of taxpayers will enjoy an increase in tax concessions above current levels of over $2.9 billion dollars by 2017. That increase by itself is almost enough to wipe out the revenue generated by the government’s temporary deficit levy on incomes over $180,000, which is forecast to yield just over $3 billion in that period.

Just curbing the growth between now and 2017-18 could deliver nearly $15 billion to the government, several times more revenue than the temporary tax levy, twice as much as the cuts to foreign aid, and many multiples of savings through punitive cuts to Newstart.

Hockey also removed the legislation to tax retirement incomes at 15% on the excess over $100,000 pa, foregoing over $3 billion in revenue.

At the other end of the scale, the people most likely to qualify for an old age pension are having their superannuation savings slashed by the delay of the superannuation guarantee increase by 7 years and the removal of the low income co-contribution.

And then we have capital gains tax concessions.

The other big costs are the capital gains tax exemption on the family home (estimated to grow to $57 billion over the three years to 2017-18) the 50 per cent discount on capital gains (which could hit $70.5 billion over the same period) and the cost of CGT discounts for individuals and trusts (estimated at $28.3 billion).

Whilst removing the CGT exemption from the family home could have deleterious impacts, a broad-based land tax (preferably in place of stamp duties) would encourage a more efficient use of the housing stock and improve labour mobility, penalise land banking and vagrancy (increasing effective land supply in the process), and help to make infrastructure investments self-funding for governments (since any land value uplift brought about through increased infrastructure investment would be partly captured by the government via increased land tax receipts).

A report released earlier this year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that Australia has the highest tax expenditures in the OECD when measured against GDP. These include government revenues foregone as a result of differential, or preferential, treatment of specific sectors, activities, regions, or agents. They can take many forms, including allowances (deductions from the base), exemptions (exclusions from the base), rate relief (lower rates), credits (reductions in liability) and tax deferrals (postponing payments).

There is a strong case to limit superannuation concessions, which have increasingly become a mechanism for richer older people to avoid paying tax, rather than a genuine means for Australians to pay for their own retirement and avoid drawing on the Aged Pension. There are very good reasons to quarantine negative gearing losses, so that they can only be applied against income from the same asset, as well as removing the capital gains tax concession on investments (why should they be taxed at a lower rate than income?). These concessions are skewed towards the wealthy and high income earners, undermining the progressiveness of the tax system.

Mathias Cormann assures us that we have very strict tax avoidance laws.

These “strict” laws allow 75 individuals who made an average of $2.6 million each in 2011-12 to pay no tax at all – no income tax, no Medicare levy and no Medicare surcharge.

These “strict” laws allow almost a third of Australia’s largest companies to pay less than 10¢ in the dollar in corporate tax.

Ernst & Young is the auditor of Westfield Group, James Hardie and 21st Century Fox, all of which pay less than 1 per cent tax, according to the report, Who Pays for Our Common Wealth, produced by the Tax Justice Network and the union United Voice.

It is also the auditor of some of the US multinational tech companies accused of paying minimal tax in Australia, including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.

Accounts show 21st Century Fox spent $US19 million on tax advice from E&Y in 2013.

The G20 assure us that they are talking about how to cut down on tax avoidance. A deal struck at the G20 summit in Cairns will see authorities in more than 40 countries sharing information — including bank balances and income — to identify companies that avoid tax.

But Australia will not begin swapping the financial details until September 2018, one year after countries including Britain, Germany, India, Ireland, The Netherlands and a handful of tax havens.

Why wait? We make our own laws, we could close the loopholes right now if we wanted to.  Instead, we are slashing staff at the Australian Tax Office by so much (4,700 over the next few years) that they will not have the personnel to pursue tax cheats.

“Morale is down and 3000 of our most senior staff have recently taken redundancy package,” said one former officer. “There was also an absurd clear out of senior transfer pricing staff about two years ago, so there is very little likelihood of the ATO ‘manning-up’ on multinationals any time soon. The general impression among senior ATO officers is that we are supposed to give the big firms what they want and to usher the revenue out the door. The News decision (not to appeal the $882 rebate to Rupert) is symptomatic of that and a lot of staff were pissed we caved on that case.”

With reports that one in three elderly Australians are living in poverty, despite being among the most highly educated senior citizens in the world, that 17% of our children live in poverty, that making unemployed people under 30 wait six months for income support and raising the eligibility age for the dole to 25 could breach human rights to social services and an adequate standard of living, I would suggest that if Tony Abbott wants to spend hundreds of billions on defence and border security he starts taxing his party donors, beginning with Rupert.

Perhaps you may want to see how the French are approaching their deficit.

Il est evident.  Cherchez des revenus, stupide.

 

Why do people riot?

As we look at the turmoil around the world, it only reinforces how lucky we are to live in Australia.  While it is far from being a perfect society, we do not see people being slaughtered because of their religion or ethnicity.  We do not have to fight to have fair elections or for the right to speak freely.  All people have the opportunity to gain an education and our standard of living is one of the highest in the world.

But even in this halcyon environment we have seen moments of unrest as in the Cronulla and Redfern riots.  They do not compare to the riots we see elsewhere, with troops killing their own people, but they were symptomatic of underlying tensions nevertheless.

The 2005 Cronulla riots grew from an incident where a verbal exchange had taken place after three lifesavers approached a group of four young Lebanese men on Cronulla Beach with both groups accusing the other of staring at them. One of the Lebanese men reportedly responded to the accusations, “I’m allowed to; now f*ck off and leave our beach”, to which a lifesaver responded, “I come down here out of my own spare time to save you dumb c*nts from drowning; now piss off, you scum”.  Testosterone took over and a fight ensued.

Racial tensions were already prevalent among the two racial groups due to the Sydney Gang Rapes of 2000, among other social incidents, which likely contributed to the scale of the escalation.

Several other violent assaults occurred over the next week, encouraged by idiots like Alan Jones who said “We don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney”.

Jones also broadcast and endorsed one listener’s suggestion that bikie gangs be brought down to Cronulla railway station to deal with “Lebanese thugs” and that the event be televised, arguing that despite their reputation bikie gangs do “a lot of good things”. By Thursday, Jones had stirred significant discussion, and stated “I’m the person that’s led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it’s gathered to this.” Jones was later found to have breached the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Code of Conduct section 1.3(a), as his comments were “likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity”.

The next weekend, approximately 5,000 people gathered in and around North Cronulla Beach and, in a shameful display of alcohol fuelled mob mentality, flag draped yobbos went around attacking innocent people just because they had a swarthy complexion.

When everything finally settled down, I think there was shame felt on both sides with apologies made by some of the worst perpetrators.  Hopefully some lessons were learned, not least of all by Alan Jones.

The Redfern riots in 2004 were also sparked by a single incident – the death of T.J. Hickey, a 17 year old Aboriginal youth who died after losing control of his bicycle during an alleged police chase.  There were claims that the police car clipped T.J’s bike but the police deny this.

On the evening of 14 February, Aboriginal youths gathered from across Sydney to the Redfern area, and when police closed the Eveleigh Street entrance to the station, the crowd became violent and began to throw bottles, bricks, live fireworks and Molotov cocktails. The violence escalated into a full-scale riot around The Block, during which Redfern railway station was briefly alight, suffering superficial damage. The riot continued into the early morning, until police used fire brigade water hoses to disperse the crowd. Total damages include a torched car (previously stolen from a western suburb), and 40 police officers injured.

Writer-director Sarah Spillane produced the low-budget drama Around the Block, set amid the turmoil in the Aboriginal community during the Redfern riots.

A long-time Redfern resident who taught at the largely indigenous Eora College, Spillane said:

“The riots were a scary time for everyone, including the local indigenous residents, because tension between locals and the police had reached boiling point.  There was a lot of anger and The Block looked and felt like a war zone.”

Spillane knew the personal stories of teenagers caught up in the riots. Like Liam in the film, many were torn between a sense of duty to fight for their community and wanting reconciliation through other methods. She saw students at Eora turning to art, music, video and theatre to get their voices heard.

It would be easy to label those involved in these incidents as hooligans or criminals but that would not be accurate.

It usually takes an incident to get a riot started, such as an accident or the police attacking or killing an innocent bystander. But once it has begun, the raging mob has a life of its own. Deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments galvanize people into action. And the mob provides cover, an anonymity that makes it easier to overcome one’s usual reticence or moral scruples. One is immersed, engulfed. And it can become an exuberant experience, a joyful release for long suppressed emotions.

It offers a kind of intense belonging, not dissimilar to what spectators feel at a sports event or fans at a rock concert. But because it isn’t focused on a game or performance, it easily gets out of hand.

This is not to justify the behaviour of the mob, but to recognize that we all can so easily become “hooligans” ourselves. To be sure, delinquents and petty thieves can easily join in under the cover the mob provides. But riots do not rely on criminals or “criminality, pure and simple”, as David Cameron described the 2011 riots and subsequent looting in England.

Thinking that way, though, can distract us from the underlying conditions that give rise to such events. They can be appeals to be heard, when normal channels don’t work. They can be eruptions of rage, when frustrations boil over. They can be expressions of hope that things could change. And they could be all these things – and more.

And that is what the Australian people are feeling with this Abbott government.  These very feelings caused the recent riots on Manus Island.

Not that I am suggesting there will be rioting in the streets – violence never solves anything – but, as they said in Newsweek after the English riots:

“If there’s one underlying condition that these movements share, it has to do with unemployment and bitter poverty among people who desire to be part of the middle class, and who are keenly aware of the sharp inequality between themselves and their country’s wealthy elite.”

Take heed Mr Abbott before you send this country down the path of entrenched poverty.

Note:  Changes to Newstart expected to save government $1.2 billion.  Foregone revenue from giving tax concessions to people fraudulently claiming business usage of their vehicle – $1.8 billion.

Also by Kaye Lee:

What Gina wants, Gina gets

Hi ho, Hi ho….where am I spose to go?

It’s all about the choices you make

My kids are ok, yours can go beg.

 

How many children’s lives will Tony’s jets cost?

Despite the tragedy of gun crime and the seemingly never-ending massacres in the USA, most Americans are against any changes to their gun laws. Even the most moderate individuals believe they must own a gun to defend their family and property regardless of the fact that they have never had to actually use it. The fact that they have a gun sitting there is security for them and a deterrent for would be attackers. Perhaps their society has deteriorated so far that this is their reality – it is certainly their mentality.

They have the same ‘deterrence’ mentality when it comes to their defence forces. They are the biggest and the best. They see themselves as the world police and this is no doubt true to a large degree, even if you disagree with their policing methods and targets.

The Washington foreign policy establishment is accustomed to the authority, prestige, and privilege of being the overwhelmingly dominant power on the planet. There are politically powerful military contractors that also have a voice in U.S. foreign and military policy. But is it really necessary?

The U.S. lost most of its influence in Latin America over the past 15 years, and the region has done quite well, with a sharp reduction in poverty for the first time in decades. The Washington-based International Monetary Fund has also lost most of its influence over the middle-income countries of the world, and these have also done remarkably better in the 2000s.

There is a widespread belief that if the United States does not run the world, somebody worse — possibly China — will. Using a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, China will displace the U.S. as the world’s largest economy this year. The money that China needs to build a fighter jet or pay military personnel is a lot less than the equivalent in dollars that the U.S. has to pay for the same goods and services, and they have 1.3 billion people.

So should we be worried?

China is a rising power, but the government does not seem to be interested in building an empire. Unlike the United States, which has hundreds of military bases throughout the globe, China doesn’t have any. The Chinese government seems to be very focused on economic growth; trying to become a developed country as soon as it can. Their standard of living is generally lower and they have a long way to go to become a rich country so are most unlikely to start a war that would cut off their markets and supply chain.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2012 the US spent over $682 billion or 4.4% of GDP on defence. Globally, $1.756 trillion was spent on defence with Australia contributing 1.4% of that – some $26.5 billion or 1.6% of GDP.

Even though we have been told that the country has a budget emergency and that everyone must face cuts and contribute to improving our fiscal position, there will be no cuts to defence spending. Quite the contrary, the Coalition wants defence spending to be doubled to $50 billion a year within a decade and have commissioned yet another white paper.

Senator Johnston wanted academic and noted commentator Alan Dupont to write the report, and Mr Dupont had begun work in the Defence Department and had assembled a team to work on the document. However, the appointment was never confirmed and “The Prime Minister’s Office” decided that the white paper would be written within the Defence Department as John Howard had done previously.

Senior sources have said that even a defence budget of $50bn by 2023 could not afford the defence force outlined in the 2009 white paper, and confirmed in its 2013 successor. I doubt this year’s effort will suggest any cutbacks since Tony got a chance to sit in a fighter jet. Asking the defence forces how much they need is like giving a kid the keys to the candy store.

And what do we get for this huge expenditure? Do we really need to send tens of billions of dollars out of our economy to the US for fighter jets or to the Japanese for submarines or to South Korea to say thanks for the Free Trade Agreement? What do our submarines and fighter jets actually do? Why would China invade us when we are happy to sell them the country for a fraction of what a war would cost?

Whatever the internal political systems of the countries whose representation in the international arena will increase, the end result is likely to be more democratic governance at the international level, with a greater rule of international law, fewer wars, and more social and economic progress. There will be more negotiation and less orders.

In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons in America lived in poverty. 16.4 million children, or 22.0 percent, were poor. In Australia, 17.2% of our children live in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.”

Homelessness, poor health, hunger—poverty’s consequences can be severe. Growing up in poverty can harm children’s well-being and development and limit their opportunities and academic success. And poverty imposes huge costs on society through lost productivity and higher spending on health care and incarceration.

Some theorists have accused the poor of having little concern for the future and preferring to “live for the moment”; others have accused them of engaging in self‐defeating behavior. Still other theorists have characterized the poor as fatalists, resigning themselves to a culture of poverty in which nothing can be done to change their economic outcomes. In this culture of poverty—which passes from generation to generation—the poor feel negative, inferior, passive, hopeless, and powerless.

The “blame the poor” perspective is stereotypic and not applicable to all of the underclass. Not only are most poor people able and willing to work hard, they do so when given the chance. The real trouble has to do with such problems as minimum wages and lack of access to the education necessary for obtaining a better‐paying job when unemployment is increasing.

I once saw a t-shirt that said “Definition of a Canadian: an unarmed American with health care”. Whilst there is much to admire about America, they are a very different country to us with a very different mentality to us. Letting them dictate to us about defence capability is no more sensible than following their lead on gun laws. We have universal healthcare and free education. They don’t. Let’s not swap our priorities for theirs.

Tony Abbott was in the habit of counting Labor’s deficit in lost “teaching hospitals”. How many children’s lives will Tony’s jets cost?

Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

Can anybody make any sense out of what this government doing? asks Jennifer Wilson.

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.

Image courtesy of politifake.org

Image courtesy of politifake.org

It is not them or us, they are us.

Australians have the highest median wealth per adult in the world ($233,504). We have the second highest average wealth ($428,250). We are a mere 0.36% of the world’s adult population but we account for 3.78% of the world’s top 1% wealthiest. The only nation with a more lopsided share of the top 1% is Switzerland.

So why is it that an estimated 2,265,000 people or 12.8% of all people are living below the internationally accepted poverty line used to measure financial hardship in wealthy countries?

Australia’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in 2012.  Wages in 2013 grew by 2.6%. On the other hand, since the mid 1990s, Newstart has gone from just below 50% of the median household income to now around 30% – which is an alarming $74pw below the poverty line .

Over a third (37%) of people whose main income is social security are living below the poverty line, including 52% of people in households on Newstart Allowance. The low level of this payment means that when unemployment goes up, more people are thrown into poverty. The Newstart Allowance has not been increased in real terms since 1994 so households relying on it have been falling further behind community living standards and into poverty.

There are almost 600,000 children living in families below the poverty line. About half of those children are in sole parent families, and one quarter of people in sole parent families are living below the poverty line.

In October 2012, the Australian Council of Social Service released a report urging the Commonwealth and state governments to take steps in their next Budgets to reduce poverty, by increasing income support for those in the deepest poverty, strengthening employment services for long-term unemployed people, and easing the high cost of housing for people on low incomes who rent privately.

People on social security and those in very low paid work receive Rent Assistance to help with housing costs, but at a maximum of $70 a week this is less than a third of typical rents for flats in capital cities and mining towns. 62% of Newstart recipients pay over 30% of their income in housing costs, placing them under “housing stress”.

“High priority should be given in the next Federal Budget to raising the Newstart Allowance by $50 per week for single people and sole parents, and the cuts to income support for sole parents should be reversed or at least delayed.”

There is a $149 per week gap between Newstart Allowance and pensions. In 1980, the Age and Disability Support Pensions and the Allowance payments such as Newstart and Widow Allowance were the same, at $58 a week. The Harmer Pension review of 2009 resulted in an increase to pensions but not to Newstart. Pensions increased by $32 a week. The Henry Taxation Review recommended that the same increase be given to Allowance recipients, which would equate to $50 a week in 2012.

Pensions are indexed in a different manner to Newstart. Pensions are indexed to Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE), the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or the Pensioner and Beneficiary Cost of Living Index – whichever is greater. Newstart is only indexed to the CPI. In September 2011, the MTAWE increase was 4% while the CPI increase was 2.5%, which resulted in an increase of $10 for pensions and $6 for Newstart.

Newstart and other payments are indexed twice yearly with the CPI, meaning that they are linked to increases in prices, rather than wages. That means they fall behind increases in community living standards. While the CPI rose by 17% between 2005 and 2011, average wages rose by 23%.

Newstart is less than half of the minimum wage in Australia. While minimum wage is $606, Newstart is $246 – 40% of minimum wage. Even taking account of income tax, a single unemployed person would double their disposable income if they got a job at the minimum wage. So there is scope to increase it without eroding work incentives.

As Dr David Morawetz, Director Social Justice Fund, says

“In Australia, we might not have the level of abject poverty that one sees in developing countries, and we have only a fraction of the world’s 1.3 billion poor. But in a country as wealthy and as lucky as ours, it is a travesty that there are still so many people living in poverty. We can do better.

Poverty is bad for our social relationships, and for our sense of community. It is bad for business. Most of all, it is bad for those who are experiencing it: for their sense of self-worth, for their physical well-being, and perhaps most importantly for their children, for our future generations. We all need to do something about it.”

David Thompson, from Jobs Australia adds

A lack of money inspires not just shame, anxiety, and occasionally stoic resignation, but also a powerful sense that things could be different. The basic decencies of respectful encounters with institutions, which can cost nothing, matter a lot. Many people living in poverty have immense reserves of energy and drive to make a decent living for themselves, and a future for their children, if only they are given the right chances.

Dr John Falzon, CEO, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council said

Our problem in Australia is not the “idleness of the poor.” Our problem is inequality. This is a social question, not a question of behaviour. We do irreparable harm when we turn it into a question of individual behaviour, blaming people for their own poverty. It is a matter of deep shame for a wealthy nation like ours that our unemployment benefits, for example, have been kept deliberately low as a means of humiliating the very people they were originally designed to assist.

Charities like the St Vincent de Paul Society will always be there for the people who are waging a daily battle from below the poverty line, but the message we are hearing is that people do not want charity. They want justice. And we support them in this struggle for their rights.

We support helping people into the paid workforce. The time has come, however, to abandon the foolish notion that forcing them into deeper poverty improves their chances of employment. You don’t build people up by putting them down. You don’t help them get work by forcing them into poverty.

We stand with all who are trying to create a good society; a society that does not accept the scourge of rising inequality and exclusion from the essentials of life; a society that does not humiliate people. New passions are springing up. They point to glaring contradictions. They also offer the promise that another kind of society is possible, and can be created collectively under the guiding stars of struggle and hope.

Even the Business Council of Australia (BCA) argues the Newstart payment ‘itself now presents a barrier to employment and risks entrenching poverty.’

It is difficult to be accurate about what a $50/week increase in Newstart would cost but it has been estimated it will cost taxpayers anywhere between $8 billion and $15 billion over the forward estimates.

While Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey tell us that spending $22 billion on Tony’s paid parental leave scheme, or $12 billion on US made jets that experts say are dodgy and will be obsolete before we ever see them, or over $10 billion on Operation Sovereign Borders, or over $3 billion in handouts to polluters, or countless billions on roads, are all good investments, I would ask them to consider the proven productivity gains from lifting people out of poverty. I would also ask them to consider the health benefits and consequent savings. I would ask them to consider the benefits of needs based education funding so children born into poverty have some chance of achieving their potential.

If we can’t appeal to your humanity, surely you can understand that economically it makes much more sense to increase the purchasing power of the masses, which will drive demand, which will create jobs, which will increase production, which will increase profits. Every cent that goes to a poor person will be recycled into the economy. Increased profits to billionaires go to off-shore tax havens.

Missing

I haven’t seen a film for 8-9 years. / It’s $12 – / I just can’t. / I have no social life/unless it’s free./I can’t afford to go to a café / and drink coffee – / I just can’t. / I tried putting $3 a day into my budget. I felt a little more human, / existing within society… / I had to stop doing it,/I couldn’t live anymore./Like being invited out to dinner / or a friend saying, / ‘do you want to catch up for a meal?’ I just can’t, no. / I miss it. Tracey

Dole bludger

I’m desperate for money./ If there were any jobs…/ …I’d be started at 9 o’clock this morning./ I have to tell everyone I’m a dole bludger and / I don’t have any money./ Nobody wants to know a dole bludger. / My family thinks I’m still working./ I got sacked four years ago. / I didn’t tell them I’m a dole bludger. / Mum would get upset,/ she wants my future to be secure. /To be able to tell my family that I’ve got a job…./ a proper job…. / Nobody wants to know a / dole bludger. Bettina

The power of congregations

gosford anglican churchIt has long been my view that the potential and resources of the church are largely wasted on worship.

There are few institutions with the power to influence fundamental change – governments, unions, the military, big corporations, and the church. This government is undermining the unions, using the military for civil operations, and paving the way for big corporations. Globally, we see the military and corporations wielding power in different states. In times like these, as in other times of crisis, the church needs to step up and use its power to remind the world of its responsibilities.

Despite the falling numbers in church attendance, and the growing number of people who identify as having no religion, there are positive signs of this happening.

Pope Francis is speaking out about poverty, income inequality, the economy, climate change and homosexuality, whilst adopting a much humbler lifestyle and encouraging his clergy to do the same.

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us …”

Caritas Australia has added its voice to other groups protesting against the Federal Government’s cuts of $650 million from Australia’s official aid program in the 2013-14 financial year to direct the money into Tony’s “roads of the 21st century”.

The Australian Christian Lobby also expressed disappointment at the funding cuts, announced on January 18.

Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan said it was “unfortunate such a decision had been made in the first year of our partnership with the new government”.

He said the generosity of the Australian public, bolstered by Caritas’ 40-year partnership with the Australian Government, had led to beneficial change in many countries.

“In the last year alone, this partnership enabled Caritas Australia to reach more than 1.1 million people across 20 countries,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

Other organisations such as Care, Save the Children, ChildFund, Plan International and the Fred Hollows Foundation – who also have partnership agreements with the Government – have had their funding cut by about eight per cent.

Churches are not only speaking out against cuts to foreign aid and charities, some are also making conscience investment decisions.

Resolutions passed by the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in April show that it is possible for religious institutions to take concerted action on climate change.

The Synod resolved to divest from stocks and shares in corporations engaged in the extraction of fossil fuels, and to redirect investments into renewable energy. A second resolution, again passed by consensus, saw the Synod agree to to call upon the state government to protect important farming land, water resources and conservation areas from coal and coal seam gas mining. A third resolution, with unanimous support once again, called upon the Synod and the Assembly to speak and act pastorally as well as prophetically in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Individual churches are also making a difference. If you have not heard of Gosford Anglican Church and Father Rod then you are missing out. He organises and speaks at rallies and his signs are an internet hit. One of my favourites was “Jesus had 2 dads and he turned out ok”.

The Church has taken a stand on various hot topics of modern society, including marriage equality, asylum seekers and women’s rights.

“From a theological perspective, Jesus was on about one thing and one thing only, and that’s what he called the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God manifests itself in compassion and justice and true humility and there are lots of things going on in our society at the moment that aren’t about those things, like the way we treat gay people by not allowing them to be married, the way we treat our planet and the way we treat asylum seekers. These are the things Christians should be seeking – justice and compassion. We contribute to that.”

Another church that has attracted attention is the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church.

In a bold pro-active move, the congregation thought the best possible response to the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit would be to conduct one of its own, one which they considered would put people before profit. The church raised $15,000 to commission its own Audit on behalf of the people of Australia: the People’s Commission of Audit carried out by independent public policy research organisation The Australia Institute.

They intend to release the results this month before the government releases their Commission of Audit recommendations. The comparison will be very interesting.

I would highly recommend their newsletter “The Beacon”. It is very informative on both domestic and global issues and contains excellent articles by people like refugee advocate Julian Burnside. The March edition was devoted entirely to the asylum seeker problem and is well worth a read, as are all their publications.

I am encouraged by these displays of the church taking a role in calling for change. I understand the importance of separation of church and state but, when the state is abrogating its responsibilities to humanity, then we must all join together in demanding better.

Capitalism isn’t democracy

tax

Photo: signgenerators.com

Capitalism is an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.

Democracy is government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

In our current political climate, these systems have become incompatible.   When governments put the interest of private corporations first they can no longer adequately protect the rights of ordinary citizens or the interests of future generations and the environment.

Political institutions function in a world in which power is linked to property.  Economic power can affect democracy, but the masses cannot infiltrate the bastions of capitalism. The wealthy have been able to buy power and distort democracy to suit their agenda where the interests of the few have overwhelmed the interests of the many.

The Right would have us believe that “small” government is best and that only privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts can save us.  In a capitalist democracy, the state is a dispenser of many valuable prizes. Whoever amasses the most political power wins the most valuable prizes. The rewards include property rights, friendly regulators, subsidies, tax breaks, and free or cheap use of the commons. The notion that the state promotes “the common good” is sadly naive.

Profit-maximizing corporations dominate our economy.  The only obvious counterweight is government, yet government is dominated by these same corporations.  Corporations are decimating their old adversary, unions, and have turned the media into their mouthpiece.

Unlike many other countries, we have very few restrictions on paid political advertising and donations to political parties and lobby groups.  As politicians have increasingly turned to advertising, image consultants, and spin doctors (like the odious Mark Textor), and begun forming policy on the basis of polls, the influence of donors and message control has grown.

Where are the politicians who have the courage to stand up to these corporations and the obscenely rich individuals whose wealth has been growing at an exponential rate while so much of humanity languishes in poverty?  Where are the elected representatives who will make decisions for the common good and the future?

Unless corporations can be convinced to be driven by something other than profit, which is highly unlikely, we must have government regulation to protect us and to provide the services and safety net that will lift the well-being of all Australians.  And we must have someone who has the chutzpah to demand a fair go.

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