The Biggest Budget Lie

15 May 2014
It seems almost redundant to be posting yet another article about the budget. The anger is unprecedented. People whom I've never seen say a word about politics on Facebook in years are venting their fury. But what is truly repulsive here is not so much what's in the budget itself - we knew the Coalition are a bag of dicks, and cuts to seniors' payments, a $7 payment to visit the doctor, and requiring those under 30 to wait six months before receiving unemployment benefits, along with a host of other, unannounced cruel cuts, should come as no surprise - but Joe Hockey's responses to criticism, showing that he is not merely out of touch with the effects of his changes, but displays a disdain for the poor and a disregard for the true state of the economy and job market bordering on sociopathy. 

This morning's interview with Chris Uhlman on ABC radio gave a dark look into the twisted recesses of Hockey's mind; a mind that is shared by most of the wealthy elite in Abbott's government. Challenged on whether people would struggle to afford a $7 co-payment to visit the doctor, Hockey replied:

JOE HOCKEY: But, but, I'd say to you, Chris, one of the things that quite astounds me is some people are screaming about $7 co-payment. One packet of cigarettes cost $22. That gives you three visits to the doctor. You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that's two middies of beer to go to the doctor.  Let's have some perspective about the costs of taking care of our health. And is a parent really going to deny their sick child a visit to the doctor which would be the equivalent payment of a couple of beers or one-third of a packet of cigarettes? 

This is what they think poor people spend all their money on - cigarettes, beer and McDonalds (one of the young asswipes at the IPA announced the co-payment was less than the cost of the Big Mac meal he had for lunch). Leaving aside the multiple layers of irony here - cigarette companies have long targeted lower income earners, and the Liberal party happily takes donations from tobacco companies - unemployment in Australia is running at about 6%. On top of that, around 40% of Australian workers are in insecure employment - casual and contract roles. 15% of Australians smoke. So that's a whole lot of people from whom affording to visit to the doctor is not simply a matter of giving up a packet of cigarettes- despite that cigarettes are of course highly addictive and your party profits from that addiction - it can be a question of affording basic food. Macaroni, rice, mashed potato, sausages. Fruit for the kids, the adults go without. Not McDonalds (even though your appointed human rights commissioner says McDonalds has human rights). Bizarre how these people see the world - the inner city goat cheese eaters, the poor smokers and drinkers, and themselves, the hard workers, keepers of all that's good and true. 

Moving on to how the unemployed young person with no government benefits who can't afford a beer is going to afford a trip to the doctor:

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well, if you were 27 years old and had lost your job and weren't getting unemployment benefits, you might not have the choice of a middy of a beer, a packet of cigarettes or a visit to the doctor. 

JOE HOCKEY: Well, I would expect to be in a job. That'd be the starting point, you'd be in a job. And we need you to work. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: What if you can't get one?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, that's what we've got to do. Everything we are doing is about lifting the tide so that we can get more people into jobs. 

The last time I was unemployed, it took over 100 applications in four months before I found a position. One week without money is an eternity. I don't need to tell you what four (or six) months is like. Of course, back then I didn't have a car or a licence. In many regional and outer urban areas (including politicians' beloved western Sydney), employers simply won't consider applicants without their own car, whether the job requires driving or not, because of the unreliability of public transport. How do you pay for a car without money? Or clothes and haircuts suitable for job interviews? How even to afford the bus fare to a job interview? But it doesn't really make much difference. The jobs aren't there. As someone on Twitter said, Hockey is saying if you've lost your job and can't get a job, to get a job.

This is the great big lie underpinning the budget: that there are jobs out there if you're willing to work for them, and the bigger lie of modern society - that if you work hard and are a good person, then barring major calamity you will be able to build a decent life for yourself. It's not true, even as Hockey et al keep pretending it is. A job is a job, but insecure employment is a massive problem. Take one family I know of - she is a teacher and he is a garbo. Now, that should be secure employment enabling them to lead a moderately comfortable lifestyle. But in today's outsourced, economic rationalist economy, it means insecurity, short term contracts, casual work, jobs promised that then fall through. And very little money spare for doctors visits - certainly none spent on cigarettes or fast food. This is repeated all over Australia - casual work isn't just students doing shifts of retail and bar work around their studies. It's major companies and government departments outsourcing their work to recruitment agencies, hiring casuals with no leave or benefits who can give years of service - and be fired on an hour's notice.

Employers can afford to be extremely picky. Unemployed people under 25 will soon find themselves losing thousands of dollars in benefits a year - with those aged 25-29, as mentioned, somehow expected to go six months with no income at all - but youth unemployment is running at a national average of 12%, up to 20% in many regional areas. This creates overwhelming demand for entry-level positions. With such a huge candidate pool, employers can demand their own conditions. Looking at job ads lately, requirements frequently include own car and licence, round-the-clock availability at short notice, no guaranteed minimum hours. How the heck do you manage children or study or another job to help pay the bills if you are supposed to offer permanent availability at an hour's notice?

The barriers are endless, and getting worse. Gutting TAFE means the courses for people to increase skills are not available. Even volunteer work is affected; many volunteer roles now require interviews and reference checks; they also have their pick of candidates trying to give themselves any edge in the workplace. Volunteering is wonderful, but it is predicated on having the time to do so, not being required on demand to your casual job. And don't even get me started on the rise of the unpaid internship - jobs for those who can afford (or have parents who can afford) to go without a regular income for six months. (Maybe that's what unemployed people under 30 will be expected to do now, in between hospitalisations for starvation). And all this is supposing you have no disabilities. What hope do you have if you're in a wheelchair? And if you enjoyed that piece on Ramp Up please let them know - they've just had their funding cut.

So every time Hockey opens his mouth with remarks about smoking and just getting a job, forgive me if I'm shaking with rage and wanting to do the heavy lifting of my knee into his crotch. There's no economic plan to address underemployment or youth unemployment. Hockey keeps making facile remarks like "lifting the tide to get people into jobs" when even a medium talent like himself should realise a surplus does not create jobs, you don't create jobs by cutting programs and benefits, as if he thinks all that stands between the disadvantaged and gainful employment is $50 a week and an assessment. As I was posting this, Hockey lamented that there has been too much political discussion of the budget and not enough economic discussion. The Commonwealth Bank just posted a record $2.2bn quarterly profit. The government steadied them through the GFC. Do you really think if you raised company tax a bit, they'd stop being a bank? Or go overseas? If the moning tax was kept and increased would Gina Rinehart dig up all her bauxite and bury it somewhere else? He's got no clue, no heart, no courage and no brain, all in one. Well, it's time to stand up for ourselves (since apparently Labor won't do it; the Greens can't do it all on their own). With a cigar smoking millionaire telling poor people what's good for them, I say the man in Australia who is not a socialist is an asshole. Forget simply marching in May. Let's storm the barricades.


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