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Welfare Reform: Turnbull is No Menzies

Turnbull’s claim that the Turnbull Liberal Party is a party embracing Menzies Liberalism, is a self-delusional fallacy. In terms of progressive welfare reform, the Menzies Liberal is dead.

The neo-liberal/conservative successors of Menzies are the insidious pathogen that flows through the Liberal party’s veins to sustain its current mutant form. Menzies views on social security and Turnbull’s stigmatising and punitive approach are poles apart.

Deviants and Outsiders

Since the 1990s The Liberal Party of Australia has embraced the Thatcherist concepts of framing the jobless as ‘deviants and outsiders.’ Increasing punitive measures imposed upon the jobless has existed since Howard. Howard embraced Thatcherism and punitive measures have spiralled out of control since then, with each successive Liberal Government. Turnbull’s Welfare Reform Bill, currently before Senate Committee is increasingly worse and is no exception.

I will use Adam’s Equity Theory to explain how those who embrace the tenets of Thatcherism, encourage societal divide, anger and acceptance of punitive welfare.

Equity theory

Equity Theory is based on the logic that humans will make social comparison’s between themselves and others. In doing so they assess effort exerted for reward gained.

Social division is created through the use of negative narrative. Categorisations such as ‘bludgers, loafers, lazy and more recently ‘the taxed not’, forces humans to make a comparison with others. To determine if one is in the ‘in-group or the ‘out-group’ is a natural reaction.

Therefore, they encourage the public to actively compare their personal input into society against those on welfare. Is their personal effort (work) for reward (income) equal with those who receive financial ‘reward’ for no effort?

A stigmatising narrative drives the view that reward is equal. When in reality it is not.

The first Thatcher government was able to launch an anti-welfare campaign by tapping into deep-seated resentment of `something for nothing’ welfare beneficiaries, to especial effect when it could be suggested that those in receipt of the state’s generosity were largely `outsiders’ (Phillip M. Larkin)

Enabling An Angry Society

Equity theory is a motivational theory. However, it also belongs to the grouping of justice theories. This is because the construct of justice underpins the motivational factors and behavioural response.

How an individual perceives distributive justice shapes our culture. This sets down the parameters of the socially acceptable response to express anger at unfairness.

For example, union activism is (largely) a socially acceptable way to express anger and protest unfair work laws. The behavioural response is anger. The motivator is to achieve equality for those worse off.

Manufactured Unfairness

In the context of welfare, the perception of unfairness through the lens of distributive justice is manufactured by those in power who have an inherent dislike for those on welfare.

The use of a negative stigmatising narrative creates this enabling environment. The perception that those on welfare receive an equal reward for no effort is championed by influential politicians and political commentators. Therefore, this creates an enabling environment for the public to express anger towards those on welfare.

In the seminal research of distributive justice and relative deprivation, the connection between perceived injustice and aggression is clearly evident. If a state of injustice exists and it is to a person’s disadvantage – that is they person experiences deprivation – he or she will display anger. (Einarsen et. al)

However, in the instance of manufactured unfairness, deprivation is a subjective perception.

In this instance, the collective views those on welfare as ‘better off’ (as they expel less effort for the perceived ‘same’ reward). Therefore, the collective considers their situation as ‘worse off’ and unfair (deprivation).

As Newstart is 20% below the poverty line, in reality, this is clearly not the case. However, the negative narrative and the layering of punitive welfare measures over time, masks this.

Punitive Measures Creep

In contrast to the union activism example above, the collective’s behavioural response is largely influenced by what I term as “punitive measures creep”.

This is the gradual increase in scope and intensity that punitive measures are imposed on welfare recipients by the Government.

The collective accepts increasingly harsh punitive measures. This is because they perceive these measures redress the unfairness. It is a fair punishment for the lack of exertion in exchange for the ‘same reward’. In essence, they no longer feel deprived.

Therefore, the collective is content with widening the scope of welfare recipients who must comply with punitive measures. They also accept the harshness or intensity of the measures as justified.

For example, although the opposition parties successfully prevented the implementation of Abbott’s ‘starve for six months‘ reform, there was some acceptance amongst the public.

Radical versus Incremental Policy Innovation

I would strongly argue that Abbott’s six-month wait also saw a large movement of rejection because it was not a gradual change. Whereas, historically, the changes to punitive welfare measures are gradual.

As with the development of products, sometimes radical innovation is rejected. (A famous example is Apple TV). Incremental innovation is generally low risk and more acceptable to current users (i.e. IPhone 4,5,6, and 7).

Turnbull’s current welfare reform Bill falls into the realm of incremental innovation (if we can reach across the divide and apply this term). This Bill widens the scope of those who need to participate in ‘job search compliance’. It also widens the scope of the types of welfare recipients who are labelled ‘jobseekers’. Sickness Benefit recipients, for example.

This Bill also gradually increases the intensity or harshness of measures, by removing what is deemed ‘an acceptable excuse.’ For example, those with the classified disorder of drug addiction will no longer be exempt.

So Mr Innovation is actually innovative – just in a really shitty way.

Menzies On Social Security

Menzies Welfare

The Robert Menzies viewed through the lens of his election speech in 1946, is no comparison to the values displayed by the Turnbull Government.

Throughout his speech, Menzies framed the jobless as a ‘temporary necessity.’

Unlike the Turnbull Government and Abbott Government, Menzies recognised that there was not enough work for everyone. Menzies spoke of full employment. His view was to create enough jobs for everyone. Not to punish them for his lack of job creation. However, Turnbull does.

A Necessary Incident

Menzies Quote 1

In this excerpt above, Menzies demonstrates that he understands that there is not enough work and his passion is to change that.

The Turnbull Government Obsessed with Social Security

Below, Menzies is detailing his intention to invest in Australia and build jobs, rather than focus on welfare. Although this is the mantra of the Turnbull Government (Jobs and Growth) it is not evident in their actions.

Menzies Quote 2

It would appear that as there are 17 job seekers for every job vacancy and the Government has submitted another Bill with a focus on imposing more punitive measures on the jobless, therefore it would appear that the Turnbull Government has “turned its back upon these matters and devotes all its attention to social security.”

The concentration on punitive welfare instead of investing in real jobs and opportunity is a hallmark of the Liberal Governments of Abbott and Turnbull. It appears these were not Menzie’s values at all.

Turnbull’s idea that his leadership represents Menzies, is a self-delusional fallacy. The Menzies Liberal is dead.

The Mutant Form with No X-Gene

The Abbott and Turnbull Governments are a mutant form of what once was. The Marvel Comic Mutants, we know as the X-Men and their nemeses, exist in their current form as they are ‘post-human’ because they carry a special gene.

The X-Gene is a ‘super-human’ gene. In the example of Menzies, we will frame the gene as Menzies frames himself. For the purpose of the argument, if we were to view the X-Gene as a super-human who has a vision of progressive values and compassionate towards those on welfare; then Turnbull evidently does not carry this gene.

The closest Turnbull will ever get to the X-Gene is his adoption of X in MacGregor’s X-Y theory. This is because he views those on welfare, as unmotivated and unwilling to work and he needs to come down upon them with punishment and authority.

If Turnbull perceives Menzies beliefs as reflective of his own leadership; and believes he has the capacity to champion this now, he is a bit late to lead this change.

Turnbull is the late starter stuck in the barrier and Shorten is a length away from winning the race.

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  1. Jaquix

    Trish, brilliant article, you have absolutely nailed it! I’ve shared it to FB because it needs as wide an audience as possible. I was struck by Turnbull claiming that his Liberals were following Menzies aim not to be “for the big money, business establishment” . He is either delusional or blatantly lying. That is exactly what the Liberals DO stand for, and all their actions prove it.

  2. wam

    A lovely read but being ignorant of mutants I’ll stick with:
    The X chromosome in humans spans more than 153 million base pairs. It represents about 800 protein-coding genes compared to the Y chromosome containing about 70 genes

    and wonder why men think we are superior?

    if trumball is a two-faced lying opportunist then he is already menzies

    pps I remember lloyd bentsen

  3. Arthur Tarry

    The attempt by the liberals/conservatives to claim true allegiance to so-called Menzian philosophical ideas
    Is utterly puerile. Menzies reputation amongst those that revere him is largely based on his length of service as prime minister, and his only long term moitivation – winning elections. To assign reverence to him like he is some sort of demi-god is to swallow the Howard account of Menzies hook line and sinker. Menzies was a politician through and through and, as a consequence, primarily motivated about staying in power at any cost. And he did so. He had, in my opinion, no other motivation and this is his only legacy. The liberals/conservatives have subsequently followed this dictum to the letter. If this requires the tearing up of decency, the lack of truth, scurrilous allegations or the shredding of conventions then so be it. They are, collectively, not an admirable lot.

  4. stephentardrew

    I despise this greed infested poor excuse for a government. These people are robber barons.

  5. Roscoe

    these people like Malcolm have never had to work to achieve what they have, it has all been handed to them by their parents, the likes of Abbott, Turnbull, Hockey, the list is long but all the same, private schools, university, perhaps a scholarship, law then politics.

  6. John Boyd

    I am trying to remember whether he actually implemented any of those noble ideas. Health care? Before medicare, the major cause of bankruptcies were health costs. Menzies was a tory through and through. A sycophantic Anglophile (remember that nauseating verse about the Queen), who hung around in London in the first year of WWII seeking to be in the War Cabinet, but basically ignored by Churchill, committing Australian forces in pursuit of that agenda. Thought Hitler was great (‘If you were Germans, you would take you hats off to Herr Hitler, who does really rule Germany, and is not a figurehead…’ 1938 address to Australian Women’s League). During the depression, May 3, 1931, in the pulpit of Wesley Church, Lonsdale Street, ‘Rather than that Australia should fail to pay her honest debts to her bondholders, I would prefer to see every man, woman and child in Australia die of starvation in the next six months’. Shaped Australia?! Spare me!

  7. paulwalter

    reform is always code for repression.

  8. michael lacey

    John Boyd like your summary better!

  9. jimhaz

    Better than letting the conservatives completely take over the party. Turnbull is nowhere near as bad as people are saying.

  10. PK1765

    Good anaylsis up until the last paragraph… when the pro ALP comes out as it does with all Trish’s articles which is why I don’t share them… as the ALP can do no wrong in her eyes which is far from the truth… they are also neo-liberalists and have played a significant part in leading us to todays situation.

  11. Trish Corry

    PK1765 I only hope the Greens-loving-Trish- loathing commentariat remember my work fondly after I’m dead. I’m not really sure who else I could have mentioned in the last line, who is the opposition leader and who has been ahead in the polls for a long time now. rolls eyes

  12. Trish Corry

    By all means Jimhaz – let them fight it out. The public overwhelming rejected Abbott’s conservatives. I am of the firm belief that this infighting needs to happen. At least Abbott had a clear agenda. Turnbull does not. A strong agenda is necessary. To do that, they need to decide who they are.

  13. Trish Corry

    Hi John. I’m surprised more people have not come out and detailed Menzies failures. My piece speaks to how he framed himself in terms of his attitude towards welfare, in contrast to Turnbull. Although Menzies received a swing towards him, he did not win the 1946 election, Chifley did. It was difficult to write this considering it was Gough’s birthday yesterday. There is no comparison if we are choosing greatness to describe past leaders.

  14. John Boyd

    While we talk about Turnbull….He may be beholden to the ‘hard right of the party’, but that is the price of ambition. We are seeing the ‘real’ Turnbull. He just woke up one morning and wondered what he could next do to satisfy his ego. He had tried being the first president of the republic, but that plan was scuppered by Howard’s clever by half referendum question. ‘Oh well’, he thinks, ‘I will be the next prime minister, that would do nicely’. So a bit more investment, help from his mate Scott Morrison, and a jump on the climate change bandwagon, and he is leader of the opposition. So fast forward a bit. Climate change is off the agenda for the Liberal party, so suddenly he is happy to lead a party that does not take climate change seriously. His ‘fabled’ debating skills have deserted him, largely because you usually need at least some facts to back up your position. Suddenly, he is looking a bit past it. The ultimate ‘hollow man’, with no principles or real policies; it’s all just about Malcolm. He never believed in anything except his own ambition, and he will say what ever is necessary to get there.

  15. diannaart

    Excellent work.

    Menzies does appear far more beneficent when compared to the big “ell’s’ of today. His gift to society continues to be cherry-picked in the religious manner.

    This is happening to John Howard. Even Howard is remembered more for his ban on guns than anything else he did. Rather like a broken clock he got something right, once. Except, maybe, for the GST, while this achievement was the beginning of the end for the Australian Democrats, thanks to Meg Lees (talk about knocking out birds with one stone), the GST is a proud achievement of the neo-conservative’s user-pays economy.

    The Goods and Services Tax is the tax everyone pays, even the spuriously named “taxed not”.

    Would love an app which inserts “everyone pays GST” whenever some nuff-nuff claims those on welfare do not pay tax.


    Trish, maybe Bill Shorten can pull off a “Bradbury” if the LNP continues to self-destruct.


  16. Aussie Pride


  17. jimhaz

    [The public overwhelming rejected Abbott’s conservatives]

    False. They rejected him ONLY JUST.

    I am of the firm belief that this infighting needs to happen.

    On that I agree. However in the present climate of the election of the most crude western politician ever- Trump, the conservatives are all primed as they see themselves winning. They are much like drunken North Shore jocks sticking the boot and stomping on the heads of the left and they have a very large mob of authoritarian minded or simply Murdoch brainwashed idiots in the public who are cheering them on.

    [At least Abbott had a clear agenda. Turnbull does not. A strong agenda is necessary. To do that, they need to decide who they are]

    I have problems with this comment. 1. Abbott has never had a clear agenda- other than rewarding the already successful and punishing the non-successful. His policies were always piecemeal crap and still are. The agenda was never his but was the IPA’s and corrupt religious influence on LNP membership. He is not actually intelligent enough to have an agenda OF HIS OWN…albeit that he has written books I’ve never read. Same for Bernardi. 2. A strong agenda means ideology and that is actually crap on both sides left or right. 3. Every LNPer knows who they are…money obessed.

  18. Trish Corry

    Yes I agree to an extent. Abbott’s overarching theme was Austerity and reining in spending. Turnbull is much more ambiguous.

  19. ozibody

    Thank you Trish ; being Australian born in Jan. 1933 , (into a politically aware, recent migrant U.K. couple) I appreciate what you have written of that era.

    I find myself reflecting back upon those times. One factor (in particular) emerges … why is it that major parties, faced with challenges, drag out and festoon ‘legends’ long gone, in an attempt to realign themselves ? … take credit ? Totally disregarding that we live in ‘today’s’ society !

    No hitches emerging in respect to collecting just proceeds from an insurance company … in today’s world ? … see your article header.

    Whilst the entire World is currently languishing under the ‘ corporatocracy ‘ form of governance, which shames any even Conservative image, little wonder Mr. Turnbull tries to assume a ‘ Liberal ‘ look!

    Business can never set the style of flourishing Governance for countries. By it’s very definition Business is a ‘ competitive ‘ structure … the Devil take the hindmost ! … any ‘ common element ‘ can only exist by forming ‘ Us v Them ‘ alliances ! ………….(Corporations ) … Seeds from which Empires emerge … e.g. the U.S of A !

    Ref. your final sentence … the time is prime …. for radical reform of our Political approach … with the accent upon the ‘ RADICAL ‘ word ….. gaining Power is one thing BUT the Fair & Just execution of Power is what Really counts ! … ( pudding analogy) !

    Should the next Aus, Government continue to walk in the shadow of $ $ Big Money $ $ … it will be in the shadow of ‘ the Shadow ‘ ! ………. ….. ( goodnight nurse ) …

  20. J

    Howard got something right? Gun control reform? I mean surely it was born out fear that the Lnp might be targeted by disillusioned citizens (one could only hope), however the speech by turnbullshit was with out doubt a plea for votes like the $70 in electric sup for the pensions, a plea that the LNP has a heart & not one of capitalist greed, they are a far throw from Menzies, On the flip side all this infighting might be the end of them

  21. stephengb2014

    It is interesting that the current Liberal Party Constitution listed objectives of the Liberal party includes a number of socially responsible objectives that, by all accounts, the Liberal party has never even attempted to pursue?

    I applaud Turnbulls call to return to the real Liberal Party, however I am accutely aware of the considerable number of lies perpetrated by the leadership of the LNP, let alone the misinformation and the dirty politics.
    S G B

  22. diannaart


    Thank you for your response.

    However, I believe you missed my point, I was not giving reasons WHY Howard achieved one single thing, I was making the observation that Prime Ministers plus time are (mostly) viewed more positively, even the Rodent and this is what is happening to Menzies as each Liberal faction attempts to claim him as their hero.


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