The government’s “green army” – further details of which were announced today – will:
… target indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, gap-year students, graduates and the unemployed.
Ignore the program, instead, it is the word “target” which is of some significance. It would suggest that the scheme is directly aimed at singling out these people.
The answer is simple: it’s electorally popular to “single out” certain groups and in particular Indigenous Australians, people on the Disability Support Pension and the unemployed. It would be electorally popular among the ‘perceptively astute’ millions of redneck or apathetic middle-class voters in our country to see lazy ‘Abos’, people ‘feigning a disability’ or dole bludgers actually being forced off their backsides to give something back to the hard-working, tax paying Australians they suck a livelihood from. The government will rack up a few points for this.
These groups are easy targets and Coalition governments have a history of targeting them or any other minority group they can entice the electorate to turn against.
I recall a Howard Minister once muttering to my department head that “Aboriginal bashing is good politics”. It is a tactic now skilfully employed by Tony Abbott. It was he who said, “There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they just have to do it, and if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done”. And it is he who thinks the racist and appalling Northern Territory Intervention didn’t go far enough.
Truly inspiring words for millions of blood-hungry voters to feast upon.
As for disability pensioners as political targets, Bernard Keane wrote that:
The Disability Support Pension is a particular fixation of policymakers, partly because it has been expanding rapidly for more than two decades; but also, one feels, because, when it comes to welfare clichés, someone fraudulently claiming disability is considered even worse than the stereotypical dole bludger or single mother.
And as Kaye Lee reminded us:
The Abbott government is preparing Australians for an overhaul of the welfare system, with Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews indicating too many depend on the government for their incomes. Mr Andrews said the review shows that more than five million Australians, or about one in five, now receive income support payments.
In his 2009 book, Battlelines, Mr Abbott wrote that one of the Howard government’s most significant achievements was “slowing the rise in the number of people claiming the disability pension”. Mr Andrews suggests that the difference in indexation between Newstart and pensions leads to a “perverse incentive for people to get onto the DSP”.
Parenting payments and the disability support pension were two areas of welfare that “would be sensible to review again”, Mr Andrews told the ABC.
Indeed, Tony Abbott publicly declared three years ago he was “ready to wield the stick” to appeal to “his John Howard base”. Howard himself attempted disability reforms in 2006 with his failed Welfare to Work policy. Failed or not, Tony Abbott wants to appeal to the same base. Remember that Abbott wrote one of the Howard government’s most significant achievements was “slowing the rise in the number of people claiming the disability pension”. It’s good to repeat this to the electorate, however, the facts show this was untrue. But nonetheless, it’s of absolute importance to tell everybody that the Coalition can get those lazy people off their arses, as he now proposes with his green army.
John Lord once wrote on this site that a political party has but two ambitions. One is to win government. The other is to stay in there. A successful tactic is of course to inspire the Howard base to “gang up” against those who have no electoral clout. Howard was the master and Abbott hasn’t forgotten his lessons.
You would remember that opinion polls in 2001 showed that the Howard Government was facing massive defeat. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed all that, but not enough to Howard’s satisfaction. He was able to terrorise the gullible rednecks into believing that terrorists were hopping onto any rickety old boat and heading to our shores with murderous intent. From 1996 to that point of time 221 boatloads of refugees sailed unhindered into Australian waters. Number 222 – just after the September 2001 attacks – ran into a bit of trouble and running to its aid was the Norwegian vessel the Tampa and running to Howard’s aid was an election. I’m sure that most readers here will have fresh in their mind the stench surrounding the politicisation of the Tampa incident and how it was the turning point for Howard’s fortunes. And as the average IQ of the electorate plummets we see the same tactic of demonisation being successfully administered by the current government. It’s the nature of the game.
Public servants are another easy target to win votes. They are, in the minds of most people who don’t know one, over-paid, lazy, and unimportant. And of course there are too many of them and are an unnecessary burden on the tax-payer. Abbott went into the election singling them out for punishment. The uneducated section of the electorate simply love to see anybody they don’t like being “bashed” by the government. Public servants sit in the same pool as Indigenous Australians, DSP recipients and the unemployed. Coalition governments have demonstrated, successfully, that it is good politics to convince the electorate that they need – to borrow Abbott’s words – the stick wielded at them.
I would readily conclude that policies and progress aren’t issues of importance for the Coalition. Vote winning is the only goal and on this principle the target groups are the apathetic middle-class or the bogan, redneck racists that have swelled dramatically in numbers since 2001 and unfortunately, possess an enormous amount of political clout.
And so it is with today’s announcement of some of the finer details of the green army. Political analysts have long been critical of this program and have condemned it as a farce and a potential failure. Would that matter? No, not to the government. It doesn’t have to succeed because it will be a vote winner purely because of the strength of its agenda. It targets groups that have no bearing on election results while cementing public opinion against those very groups. I would argue that the number of voters nodding that “it’s good that these lazy bastards are made to work” will far outnumber those that confess “it’s good to see some trees planted.”
That will be something to listen out for.
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