Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Welfare

The real deficit is the one between their ears…

As mentioned below, the Liberals had a press conference this morning on debt reduction, and released a shiny new policy document. Naturally the media ignored the policy for the horse race issue, so your dutiful blogger went through and read the proposal. One problem: It doesn’t actually say anything. Here is the sum total of the Liberals policy for debt reduction 6-12 months before an election:

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

1)The Coalition will do more with less by reducing waste and duplication throughout the Australian Government, and between the federal and state governments.
2)The Coalition will immediately upon coming into government establish a Commission for Sustainable Finances to report within three months on waste and duplication in every agency and program of the government.
3) The Coalition will not repeat Labor’s cash splashes. Handing out $23 billion in cash may be popular, but it recklessly adds to debt.
4) The Coalition will pursue a vigorous reform, infrastructure and innovation agenda to lift productivity and increase economic growth.
5) The Coalition will support small businesses, the engine room of the economy, through our Small Business Action Plan.
6) The Coalition commits to a responsible long term objective of returning government’s share of the economy to the level achieved by the previous Coalition Government…. The last five Coalition Budgets had spending of less than 25% of GDP. Only the Coalition can be trusted to return the government’s share of the economy to this level.
7)The Coalition is committed to addressing all of these problems (Complexity, time-cost,reduced incentives etc) in a comprehensive and principled program of tax reform.
8)The Coalition will establish a Parliamentary Budget Office, which will be independent of both the government and the opposition, to ensure the public and Parliament receive honest and timely analysis of the budget, financial results and specific programs.
9) Further, the public will be able to track government debt at a real-time website detailing the size and composition of borrowings, interest paid and projections into the future.

Putting it into a list makes it look far more substantial, but have a look again at that list. Only #8 & 9 deal with specifics (both are good ideas, though the website is more about advertising, as such figures are already on budget.gov.au) Numbers 1,4,7 have been promised by every single opposition since the beginning of time but dont matter at all without specifics. (Here is just one of dozens of press releases labor put out on the issue prior to the 2007 election). Number 5 is just a statement of support, and 3 is utterly redundant (of course they won’t repeat the stimulus given its already in place and the crisis is passed!). Only 6 seems new, though as I’ve mentioned before there is no logical reason why 25% is the ideal figure (indeed in early September Hockey was saying it must be “no more than 24%, but I guess round numbers rule).

Given the bad position the Liberals are in today, only a comprehensive, detailed policy will get them any attention. If Rule #1 of Federal oppositions is don’t repeat the Fightback mistake of 93 (with Turnbull eerily imitating Hewson), Rule #2 is don’t do invisibly small target’s (ala Beazley 98) either. There is a happy balance in the middle. Howard and Rudd both won by proposing a number of key, detailed area’s of policy in ground they wanted to fight on, and then obscuring the differences on everything else. Turnbull can’t win, but he can at least fight a respectable campaign for principles he believes in by being bold. Far better to be remembered for going out fighting for your ideas (that may one day become accepted wisdom as Hewson’s GST now is), than as a front man without the courage of his convictions. (Jason Soon on Crikey makes a similar point about Turnbull’s failure to live up to his hoped-for-liberal creed)

If the brain’s trust in Liberal HQ want some ideas, how about reducing the churn of taxes/welfare as John Humphreys advocates:

The Australian welfare system—including health, education and handouts—costs more than $250 billion per year. Some of this is redistribution from the relatively rich to the relatively poor. However, about half of the welfare is pointless ‘churn,’ where the same person both pays taxes and receives welfare benefits.
Some of this churn is ‘cash churn’ where people both pay tax and receive cash from the government. But the bigger problem is ‘services churn’ where middle- and high-income earners pay tax and receive government-subsidised health and schooling services.

By removing middle-class welfare in exchange for income tax cuts, the government could reduce tax and welfare by about $80 billion without leaving anybody worse off.

Such reform would be bold, enticing (everyone, esp the press would focus on the massive tax cuts this would mean), rally the base (cutting welfare/bureaucracy) and give a radical plan to pay down the debt in their first term, not to mention long term benefits to pay for healthcare (as Humphreys’ advocates). Hell I’d vote for it…

The idea’s are out there, the Government has massive targets that can and should be hit, but so long as the Liberal Party is serving up this shallow pap, the equivalent of a warm towel to fix a gunshot, they will be rightly ignored.

The virtue of hard work

From a rather standard anti-welfare piece:
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The apparently simple act of tending a public park in Moree or repairing an aged pensioner’s roof in Gunnedah provides someone with a sense of purpose and belonging. In “remote” and “non-remote” towns, the programs have given many Aboriginal people a reason to get up in the morning.

Mark Coulton MP is the author and makes a fair case that Rudd is mistaken in closing down some of the community development employment programs in indigenous communities. Yet can we finally call an end to that old tired, and patronising cliche that the mere act of forced labour will give people purpose and meaning in their lives. It is a line you only ever see come from those who have never faced such demands themselves, and when accompanied by a Government Ideology and Rhetoric of ‘Responsibility’ (as it was under Howards Work for the Dole scheme) serves only to deliver a message of punishment melted out to those who need assistance.

People acquire purpose and meaning in their lives when they are able to make choices in their lives, and pursue an opportunity they recognise could be fulfilling. All of us have likely found that some job or act pushed upon us was much more enjoyable than previously thought, perhaps even enough to make us think this could be a career opportunity (for instance I fell into Academia, I never sought it out). However that is not comparable to being forced to jump through hoops just so you can keep surviving on a menial income.

These programs work most when there is the possibility that in fixing roofs or gardening in parks that real jobs and opportunities will be awaiting at the end either through contacts made or skills earnt. That is, as if it were one of the very same training programs poo-pooed by the government as a crimp on the tax payers. Only this time, instead of the people running the program trying proactively to pass on skills and contacts, you have to await those involved to pick up the incentive and motivation to seek these things out. In short, whatever is good about this program is found in an environment often actively working to counter those impulses.

Coulton makes a good argument about some of these specific programs and individual circumstances, and the problem of welfare dependence is one way way too many on the left ignore or place in the too-hard basket. We need to do better, and need to address these issues. To make welfare systems a trampoline that bounces people back up into society as quickly as possible. That should be the aim and intention of all these programs. But it’s not enough. Along side it has to be provision to provide opportunities and choices for all members of society in the way that the middle and upper class largely take for granted. Want to know why so few of their members end up on welfare ? It’s less hard work, talent or different virtues, but instead a world view that is pregnant with possibilities. Hence the loss of one job is simply the chance to pursue another path, or perhaps just comes buffeted with the assurance that another source of employment will come along shortly. With such a world view, people are willing to risk, to change, and to dream. They are able to try their hand at new chances and in that occasionally find their true purpose and meaning, with not only financial but social support around them. But for some in society, where not only are accounts empty, but families divided, then such risks are foolish, such dreams distracting, and every inch gained has to be held onto for dear life, lest the slide back start to pick up pace. It is world view as much as anything that determines the winners and losers in this life, and in that whilst the Government can not help everybody, it has to realise the multifaceted ways in which it needs to approach and deal with this issue. Simply putting the unemployed up on ladders in the bleeting sun, or forcing them to pick up rubbish in parks simply will not do it.

And that dear readers is post 100 on the new home for the blog. This blog has been hard work at times, but I’m really enjoying it. It certainly has helped give my time more meaning and opportunity, but it’d be a hell of a punishment if forced on someone. If you have any suggestions, comments or feedback, please feel free to drop me an email at the address up on the top right of your screen. Thank you for reading, and now on with the penning of the next post.