Christian Porter doesn’t know the meaning of the word welfare.
In general terms it means “the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.”
More specifically, when speaking about the government, it means “statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need”.
Listening to Mr Porter, one could be forgiven for thinking that welfare meant an unfair burden placed on hard-working taxpayers by bludgers who would rather sit around drinking all day. It’s very clear that anyone on welfare should feel ashamed of themselves – they are obviously just not trying hard enough.
He is suggesting we use “mutual obligation requirements” for welfare recipients to help them get off drugs and alcohol.
“Why could mutual obligation not extend, in appropriate circumstances, to an obligation to refrain from excessive alcohol or from illicit drug use where the evidence clearly shows it creates barriers to employment, to obligations to turn up in a timely manner to key work appointments, to pay debts owed to the taxpayer, or to ensure children attend school?” he said.
Because everyone on welfare is an addict – we all know that.
There is no question that many people do need help with addictions. Cutting off their income is hardly a solution.
There is no recognition of the reasons people might turn to drugs or alcohol in the first place and no practical suggestions of how we can help them with more affordable rehabilitation beds with qualified staff (as opposed to expensive private shonky clinics), affordable housing, counselling services, community support and prevention programs, childcare, educational opportunity, skills retraining – lifting them out of the poverty that grinds them down.
Making them feel ashamed and guilty, vilified by politicians, media, and a nasty section of the community, is not helping.
Another of Porter’s suggestions is that we link welfare payments to school attendance.
Because cutting off all their income will make the kids eager to get to school and enjoy the learning experience? Can you imagine the household fights this could cause?
You can’t punish kids into wanting to go to school. That is something the Coalition can’t seem to grasp in so many of their policies. They spend money on truancy officers and more police while cutting funding to education and community programs that were achieving good results.
Porter also argued against increasing the Newstart allowance, saying the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) wanted to increase Newstart by $53 a week, at a cost to the budget of $7.7bn, but that was hard to justify.
It isn’t just ACOSS who is calling for this.
In 2012, the Business Council of Australia made a submission to a Senate inquiry saying:
“The rate of Newstart no longer meets a reasonable standard of adequacy. There is concern that the low rate of Newstart itself now presents a barrier to employment and risks entrenching poverty.”
In April this year, KPMG released a plan to reduce Australia’s structural deficit by $12 billion. They too said Newstart must be increased.
“Due to political rhetoric, payments for those who are unemployed have fallen behind other payments, to the point that it is commonly recognised that Newstart is inadequate, and significantly so,” the Solving the Structural Deficit report states.
KPMG believes dole payments should be sufficient to “allow for one to actively seek employment”.
“The low level of Newstart is encouraging the unemployed to seek higher income support in the form of disability payments. This is both psychologically damaging for the individuals and costly for government. The differential between the disability payment and Newstart needs to be substantially reduced although it need not be eliminated,” KPMG found. “The low payment has the effect of locking people into jobs for fear that they could not survive on Newstart and cannot risk moving jobs. There may even be dimensions here in the start-up and small business sector. The very low safety net may act as a disincentive to take risks.”
Mr Porter’s response to this recommendation was to dismiss it.
“This Government doesn’t believe in more taxing for the sake of more welfare spending, nor in borrowing more money to expand welfare expenditure. And where savings can be found inside the welfare system, the priority has been for expenditure in important areas such as childcare and budget repair rather than across the board increases in base payments.”
More recently, when he launched his great big scary numbers report at the Press Club, Mr Porter went into typical Coalition double-talk to justify ignoring the calls for an increase.
He wants “more thorough and consistent mutual obligations” and “better structures, rules and systems.”
He said his “priority investment approach” was less preoccupied with cutting spending on social services and more focused on identifying and eliminating “welfare traps” through evidence-based approaches and innovative policy solutions.
What a load of waffle.
He says he can’t justify spending about $2 billion a year to increase Newstart by $53 a week. How about we cancel a squadron or two of Abbott’s fighter jets, or one or two of his subs. Surely we can find some savings in the $1 trillion dollars the government intends spending on defence over the next 20 years.
The weekly dole payment that someone is supposed to live on is less than the politicians claim in accommodation allowance every night they don’t sleep in their own bed. How about we build an accommodation wing at Parliament House and save ourselves a fortune. Instead of 226 comcars driving individuals to the airport at the end of a parliamentary session, how about we buy a few buses.
While the dole has purposely been kept below the minimum wage – as an incentive for people to find work – Newstart has not been increased in real terms since 1994.
The unemployed need the resources, not to just survive, but to be able to get a job – rent, food, healthcare, clothing, transport, phone and internet.
Not only would an increase help with the “basic physical and material well-being of people in need”, it would act as a stimulus to the economy as every cent would be spent, boosting demand, thus creating more jobs, so more people “can get off welfare”- what a strange phrase that is.
As Greg Jericho points out, Porter’s approach still very much seems to be about impact on the budget, rather than the impact on the people.
Someone should remind him of the meaning of the word ‘welfare’.
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