Source: The Australia Institute
Last week’s federal budget announcement is pretty big news right now. Australia had some idea of what was coming, and after months of rhetoric from Abbott and Hockey about Australia’s so-called ‘budget emergency’ we all understood that the announcement would be tough. We had been warned that we must all share in the ‘heavy lifting’ of a budget characterised by widespread cuts.
However I don’t think many of us expected to be handed a budget in which those who are already most disadvantaged would shoulder a disproportionate percentage of the load.
I want to have a real conversation about this. After a few days of reflection I have put some of my thoughts down and I really hope to hear from others – especially if you disagree with me. I am not an economist; I can’t pretend to give an expert analysis of this budget. I don’t think that this limitation excludes me from commenting on the consequences of widespread cuts to our welfare system and essential services.
And there will be consequences.
My disappointment with this budget has nothing to do with my own situation or personal needs. Tim and I are both fortunate enough to have as much work as we need, at a salary that allows us to live comfortably and to pay our bills – including the HECS debt that I still carry. We have both studied hard, we are hard workers and we contribute our fair share as Australian taxpayers. My family is concerned about our financial situation because we’re long-term renters but I can’t deny that our lives are pretty good. Tim and I understand how lucky we are.
According to Hockey we’ll be working until we are 70 years old and we’ll pay more for our petrol than we used to. We’re finding it utterly impossible to buy a house, but we will be okay. There are so many others who can’t say the same.
There are many Australians, other people who work just as hard as us and pay their taxes, who will be significantly worse off under Hockey’s changes. If you’re having trouble understanding what all the noise is about perhaps you could try to imagine life from the perspective of these people:
- Senior citizens: Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders will lose the Seniors supplement, which currently sits at $876.20 per year for singles and $1,320.80 for couples. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money when you’re a young salaried person, but to a pensioner this could easily affect the quality of their diet, affordability of medications and their willingness to see a GP when needed. At this vulnerable time in their lives (and after a lifetime of paying into the Australian welfare system) they find themselves on the chopping block. And the cost of living continues to rise.
- Young people: The government will provide cash incentives to businesses to hire people over the age of 50, placing a further obstacle in the path of young jobseekers. There is an assumption that there are plenty of jobs to go around, but take a look at the unemployment rate in regional towns to understand how bad the odds are for jobseekers already. Furthermore, people under 30 who are unemployed will have to wait six months to be eligible for welfare assistance. Once eligible they can only claim for six months before it is cut off and the cycle begins again. Anyone who thinks that this won’t lead to an increase in homelessness, crime and abuse is ignoring reality. This is serious stuff.
- Students: In addition to the above, a university education just became less accessible for those from a lower socio-economic background. And if they graduate at 22 they face the six-monthly cycle of welfare ineligibility if they can’t be placed in a job immediately.
- Sick people: I have a fundamental issue with sick people being taxed more than healthy people for the purpose of raising money for medical research. It is my firm belief that the sort of person who can casually say, “it’s only $7!” does not understand what it’s like to not have $7. Add to that the increased cost of PBS medications, co-payments for blood tests and other procedures, and you’d better hope that your other children don’t get sick at the same time. Put simply: this co-payment will mean that fewer sick people visit their GP. It will mean that fewer children are immunised for killers like whooping cough. And I don’t mean to tell the Treasurer how to do his job here, but perhaps he’d like to consider how the cost of treating preventable illness in our community will affect health spending.
- Indigenous people: Hockey has told a particularly cruel joke here, raising the Australian pension age to 70 while the average life expectancy of an indigenous male is just 69 years (and 74 for females). Our government has responded to this gross inequity by cutting $534 million from Indigenous programs, many of which are health care services. Have you seen the stats on preventable blindness in our very own backyard? Are we proud of that?
- Asylum seekers: Let’s be clear about this – asylum seekers are permitted by law to seek refuge in another country. This isn’t even up for debate – if you believe otherwise you have been taught a terrible lie. You have a responsibility to stop that lie from spreading any further. In the Age of Information, ignorance is a choice.
The fact remains that, however unpleasant the Australian government tries to be, it cannot match the terror from which those who are genuine refugees are fleeing. That remains the fundamental flaw in the policy of deterrence.
– Malcolm Fraser
Source (plus a bunch more info): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-13/budget-winners-and-losers/5433178
There seems to be a pervasive attitude amongst Australians that conservative parties care about the economy, while the left-leaning parties just spend money and jump up and down about trendy welfare issues. As long as we subscribe to this attitude we can never have adult conversations about the shape of our nation. Political discourse will continue to be driven by catchy, fear-mongering headlines and insults.
I am a left-leaning voter. It’s a source of amusement to some people in my life, and I’ve been called a ‘hippie’ by more than one for the concern I have shown about asylum seeker issues and the environment. My beliefs don’t stem from some childish need to be different or because I enjoy jumping up on my soapbox – I actually find political discussions with conservative voters really stressful, particularly when they’re people I care about. I am a left-leaning voter because human beings are more important to me than Gina Rinehart’s power and comfort.
- I don’t support my tax dollars being used for subsidies for big business at the expense of struggling families.
- I don’t want families to pay more for fuel while the mining industry pays less for theirs – especially if we continue to ignore investment in renewable energy (the Australian Renewable Energy Agency has been axed too).
- I believe in protecting our Medicare system, and I believe that senior citizens who have paid into that system over the course of their lifetime should be the last to lose it.
- I believe in on-the-ground, practical support for our indigenous communities and refugees. I also believe that any ‘solutions’ created and sold to the nation from Canberra will fail.
- I believe that a tertiary education should be accessible to all, and that the resulting debt should not be equivalent to a mortgage. I believe that disadvantaged people will be less likely than their financially-stable neighbours to take up a university place because of the eventual debt and that this will widen the gap between rich and poor.
- I believe in the work of the CSIRO and independent media such as the ABC and SBS.
- I believe that some school chaplains do good work and that much depends greatly on the individual and the power/scope granted to them by their school board. I do not support the federal government’s commitment to provide $250 billion dollars to the school chaplains program over the next four years at the expense of the vulnerable groups above. Instead, I support the provision of qualified counsellors to schools, especially if the government insists on slashing the income of Australians who are already struggling to make ends meet. Sadly this is not on the table.
I could go on, and on, but you get the idea.
What are we doing here, Australia? How is it that in the year 2014 we have become such a mean, self-satisfying nation with the government we deserve? Why is it that we, with our AAA credit rating and our capacity to dodge the full weight of the GFC, can justify such appalling injustice for the sake of achieving a surplus?
I was fortunate to attend a speech and Q&A session with former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser last night. He spoke about his new book Dangerous Allies and the need for Australia to stop cuddling up to the USA and Britain for protection. He had some other pretty big ideas too: increase the population to 40 million, triple our spending on defence and start acting as though we belong at the grown-up’s table on our own merits.
You’d probably expect this sort of leader to be big on border protection and preserving our national identity too – you know, the sorts of excuses that people give for rejecting immigration and refugees lest they change our ‘way of life’. Instead, he condemned the two major parties for the inhumane way in which we have treated these vulnerable people and for neglecting our duties in the region.
When one member of the audience asked Mr Fraser which of his achievements in office he was most proud of he referred to the bipartisan efforts of Whitlam and Fraser to take in large numbers of refugees following the Vietnam War and to crush the White Australia Policy. In 1980 he gave a speech saying that the age of bigotry and racism in Australia had come to an end. “Had I been right about that,” he said last night, “that would have been my greatest achievement”.
I wonder, had both major parties decided not to spike election issues with racist fear-mongering language, what sort of government would we have today? And what sort of budget would have been handed down if bigotry had not been such an effective election strategy?
Can Kevin Andrews tell me how many chaplains it will take to make up for the damage that has been done to disadvantaged people in his care? I just want to make sure that we’ve allocated enough cash.