“Unless there is major structural change that is made to our welfare system over the next decade and beyond, over a generation, our social services expenditure will swallow the budget.”
- Scott Morrison, Wednesday 25th February, 2015
For once, Scott Morrison and I seem to agree, although I’m sure that his idea of “major structural change” is plenty different to my own.
What seems to be the focus of the press conference being held today with our Social Services Minister is the notion that our expenditure on welfare is somehow unsustainable or even dangerous to our future prosperity.
In my recent article on Basic Income and Australian Welfare, I pointed out that Australia ranks 25th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of welfare spending, despite many of those countries experiencing far tougher economic situations than our own. This disparity between our ability to provide basic service for those in need and the willingness of our government to do so I believe highlights a serious problem within the leadership of this country.
A severe lack of empathy coupled with an economic consciousness that seems to have been grown in the vacuum chamber of Liberal party ideological round-tables is a terrifying prospect for the many thousands of disabled, elderly and poverty-stricken Australians these proposed cutbacks to social security will affect.
It has been shown time and again that spending on the poorest areas of a society is one of the fastest and most secure ways to eradicate the vast majority of crime, domestic abuse and mental health issues in a population. Many of our endemic social issues are directly related to the existential insecurities poverty brings about in the human psyche, and on a purely economic basis I would put it to anyone undecided about welfare spending that a healthy, sane citizenry is far more capable and likely to produce profit than a sick, mad one.
The likelihood of honest, mature discussion about this situation with the Minister for Social Security seems low, with Morrison stating today that “every measure that’s on the table in the Senate remains on the table. I want to be really clear about that and if someone wants me to take one of those measures off I’m going to put something else on because the rules are the same for other members of parliament as they are for the government. The budget needs repair.”
For more information on the welfare system and a possible alternative to the punitive measure proposed by the Coalition government, head over to my recent article on the subject.
President of the Human Rights Committee Gillian Triggs has come under fire from the government for the “Forgotten Children” report into the plight of young persons in our detention camps. Triggs has confirmed that the government sought her resignation from the HRC, commenting that the inducement, which included an offer for “other work” by attorney general George Brandis, was a “disgraceful proposal” .
The government appears to be taking a strategy of ruthless aggression towards any individual bringing factual information to light that demonstrates their failings. The sheer wastefulness of such a partisan approach is highlighted in committee chair Ian McDonald’s comments yesterday, which confirmed that though he is more than comfortable attacking Gillian Triggs over the report, he hasn’t even bothered to read it himself: “I haven’t bothered to read the final report because I think it is partisan.”
Ironic indeed coming from a member so partisan he cannot bring himself to so much as consider an opposing viewpoint.
This “hardline” approach is a disservice to the Australian people, making what should be a reasoned and informed exchange of information between mature adults resemble the squabbling and clique politics of a high-school canteen.
It is clear that maturity and a truly non-partisan attitude from our elected officials will not simply spring up on its own. We must demand these traits from our elected officials if we are to bring the power of the democratic system to bear on the issues that need it the most, namely the treatment of our fellow human beings.
If we read between the lines, we can see that the Coalition’s attitude towards its citizenry is not one of respect or compassion. The main talking point throughout all of our current big ticket issues, from terrorism to social security to human rights, is cost. How much will it cost the taxpayer?
It is becoming clearer by the day that, as a people, we are in need of a government that prioritises people. Profit is all well and good for those who stand to benefit from it, but for the vast majority of us who do not occupy positions of prestige and power, we are keenly aware that the millions stuffing the pockets of Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are millions we could desperately use.
It is simply not good enough to run a government based overwhelmingly on the pursuit and hoarding of money.
The failing of such a narrow view is that it does not take into account costs that cannot be represented quantitatively. The human cost of tightening the valve on social security is immense, with many people facing homelessness, starvation and possibly even death under the new legislation. Many more will find themselves marginalised because their particular brand of suffering is not “serious enough” to warrant taxpayer funding.
The fear and desperation felt by many people on social security is something I’m all too familiar with. It tears apart families, breaks relationships and worsens mental illness and fatigue. These problems are manifest in the rates of domestic violence and petty crime in our lower socio-economic areas.
Is this not the very kind of situation where empathy and a basic respect for human life is needed most? Surely, 25th out of 30 OECD countries in welfare spending, we can afford to invest in our brothers, sisters, cousins, colleagues, teachers, friends?
If we look at the real costs of poverty, I’d say we can’t afford not to.