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Issue #1685      May 20, 2015

Budget 2015-16

Assault on Australia’s battlers

There was plenty in Treasurer Hockey’s second federal budget for those who least require assistance. Expenditure for US-led military adventures is locked in. Incentives to build a dystopian trade zone across the north of the country are in there. Superannuation tax breaks for the truly wealthy have been left alone. So have the Private Health Insurance Rebate, the Diesel Fuel Rebate and all manner of mega-expensive taxpayer gifts to local and global corporations.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation will be sold to appreciative private owners. The ASIS spy agency will get a $300 million boost. It’s a different matter for average Australian workers and worse still for its battlers. While the corporate media has played along with the line that it is “softer” and “fairer” than its resoundingly rejected predecessor, this budget continues the punishment of the least well-off in Australian society.

Abbott and his ministers have tried to move away from the unconvincing “debt and deficit” nightmare and “end of the age of entitlement” rhetoric that failed them so badly last year. Actions speak louder than words, however.

When it comes to Australians receiving pensions and “benefits” the message is still there that you are bludging on the Commonwealth. While promoting their spectacularly shrunken paid parental leave scheme – supposed “centre-piece” of the nasty budget – Team Abbott couldn’t help describing parents (low-paid mothers in the main) from claiming the very modest Centrelink benefit and employer payments as “double-dipping”, “rorting” the system and possibly guilty of “fraud”.

Unfortunately for the government, the wives of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were both “guilty” of the non-existent “crime” of paid parental leave “fraud”. The likes of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis, were left to gloss over the lapse into last year’s media style. The facts of the matter are that even some low-paid workers – including those at Woolworths and McDonalds – have access to no-frills paid parental leave. The Large Family Supplement has been axed. These parents are among the big losers on budget night.

Retirees have been the victim of a lengthy media campaign to portray them as undeserving of the Age Pension. The hostile move in last year’s budget – to shift indexation of the pension from changes in average weekly wages to those in the Consumer Price Index – was dropped in favour of changes to asset tests for eligibility. An estimate 91,000 retirees will now have to look to using up assets outside the family home as they lose their part pension. Rent income from the former family home that pensioners put toward the cost of residential care and accommodation used to be tax-exempt. Not any more. Bit by bit, and faster rather than slower, the aged are being pushed into poverty and far fewer choices.

The unemployed continue to live under official disapproval and sanction. They are the main target of a new $1.7 billion push to wipe out social security “fraud” (that word again). The current one week wait to commence receiving Newstart payments will be pushed out to four weeks. During this month without income, many unemployed people will be forced into debt and/or homelessness. High unemployment, made much worse by government job cuts, has charity organisations braced for a new wave of needy people at their doors.

Dr John Falzon of the St Vincent de Paul Society has slammed the federal government’s priorities. “It can find the money to fund childcare and nannies for the rich, but only at the expense of the poor. In the meantime it refuses to lift the abysmally low Newstart unemployment benefit – resorting to income management instead of income adequacy,” he said.

“This Budget doesn’t dull the pain because it refuses to reinstate and increase funding for social services, social housing, public health and public education, with many of these essential services slashed in last year’s Budget. It persists in putting the boot into the unemployed, young people, sole parents, and people with a disability, blaming them for their own exclusion. It recycles a tired work-for-the-dole plan, instead of boldly building a nation through a Jobs Plan and an economic development plan especially in areas of high youth unemployment.”

Dr Falzon went on to note the 105,000 people who are experiencing homelessness and 200,000 people waiting for public housing and the abandonment of these people to charities with diminishing resources. Needless to add that funding to states for the maintenance of remote Aboriginal communities was not restored. With or without the “age of entitlement” spin, this was an anti-people budget that must be stopped by the sort of resistance shown to last year’s howler.

Next article – Remembering Al Nakba

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