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Issue #1684      May 13, 2015


Budget 2015 – Undermining principles

Joe Hockey’s second federal budget is set to be announced as this issue of the Guardian goes to press. Hints, pre-announced policies and leaks have led many to conclude that it will have a much “softer” approach; that the Abbott government has learnt its lesson that the community won’t accept measures that assist the already wealthy and attack the less well-off. Many figure that the government has lost its commitment to budget surpluses and other articles of neo-liberal faith. It is true that many Coalition parliamentarians never believed their own “debt crisis” propaganda, but it would be a mistake to believe the federal government is scrapping its pro-corporate, anti-people agenda.

Abbott & Co have shifted focus. For some time now, they have been engaging the public – or, at least, columnists in the major dailies – in a “conversation” about the nature of pensions and other government payments. The age pension has had particular emphasis. Questions were raised about whether pensioners should be allowed to draw a pension while living in homes worth over $1 million, for example. The argument goes why shouldn’t they be obliged to sell off the family home that has had its market value swollen through the growth of the big city housing bubble, down-size their accommodation and live off part of the proceeds?

The “discussion” has now moved to the broader topic of who should be entitled to a pension. The idea has been floated that retirees who most people would presumably consider wealthy are currently receiving the age pension. The fact that the amounts paid are not large and struggle to be called even a “part pension” is glossed over. Concepts of “wealth” in this era of monumentally expensive housing, residential aged care and other necessities are sidestepped, too.

Part of the federal government’s previous approach to savaging the pension was to shift indexation of any increases from movements in average weekly wages to changes in the Consumer Price Index. Given the current circumstances, that step would have saved the Commonwealth $23 billion over the next decade – money the government could then splash on corporate tax cuts, rebates, tax-payer donated infrastructure, and so on. Even in these days of media and institutional neo-liberal consensus, it was just too blatant in its anti-people approach.

The tactic currently favoured is to undermine the principle of universal access in the minds of the Australian people. In the post-WW2 years, popular notions of social justice rested on this pillar. If you were a higher income earner, for example, and were not interested in private home ownership and wanted to rent public housing that was perfectly acceptable. You paid a higher rent and your choice not to join the private housing market was respected. Fast forward to the 21st century and access to public housing is restricted to those living near or below the poverty line. It is called “social” housing to make clear the link to “social security” or “welfare”, as it is now being called in the best condescending tradition.

Medicare reflects the same core value of universal access as does public education. All such institutions are under attack from neo-liberals the world over. With regard to the age pension, Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg spelt out the thinking in a recent television interview. He insisted that taxation shouldn’t be considered a form of enforced saving for income in retirement. That’s what superannuation is for. This is the attitude of the capitalist ruling class in countries like Australia at the current stage of global economic crisis. People must “self-provision” for needs such as health, education and retirement income.

The idea that we could all contribute to public funds for services and assistance as required must be flushed completely out of the thinking of first world populations, according to this perverse mentality. The role of governments is to rule in the interests of corporations that will grow fat on the needs of the people. The scant remnants of public services and benefits should be inadequate, punitive and restricted to the destitute. In the battle of ideas raging in the midst of very real struggle out there in Australian society, this is the anti-people ideology that must be defeated.

Next article – United against uni deregulation

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