Monday, April 08, 2013

Ah Shit! Here I go again

Tony Abbott has tweaked his doorstop schtick a little:  he's added a new sound bite. As well as repeating the  standard promises to repeal the carbon tax, repeal the mining tax, stop the boats, get the budget back in the black and cut red tape, he’s going to revitalise Work-for-the-Dole.

That promise to resurrect Work-for-the-Dole is straight out of the Liberals' policy platform Our Plan – RealSolutions for all Australians: The direction, values and policy priorities ofthe next Coalition Government. It's fleshed out on page 20 of the plan. The Liberals promise that they “will deliver higher productivity growth by boosting workforce participation” and “encourage every Australian to be a productive contributor in the nation's life”.

When it comes to the unemployed and other Centrelink clients, the Liberals propose the following specific measures to boost their workforce participation and personal productivity:

         All long  unemployed people term will be encouraged to work – if not for a wage then for the dole:
We will ensure that people of working age are actually working, preferably for a wage – but if not the dole – by reinvigorating the work-for-the-dole programme that was one of the great successes of the previous Coalition Government...
         The unemployed will be rewarded for getting jobs and keeping them:
We will introduce a new Job Commitment Bonus for lon-term employeees [sic] who get a job and remain off welfare for 12 months and a further bonus if they remain off welfare for 24 months.
         There will be incentives for job seekers to move to areas where work is available:
We will introduce a new Jobseeker Relocation Bonus for young job seekers who move to take a job.
         Work for the dole will be made mandatory for all long term unemployed peope under 50:
We will make work-for-the-dole mandatory for all long-term unemployed welfare beneficiaries under 50 years of age and tighten work-for-the-dole requirements...
         Dole payments for under 30s in areas where unskilled work is readily available will be suspended:
We will start suspending dole payments for people under 30 years of age in areas where unskilled work is readily available...
         As many people as possible will be moved off the Disability Support Pensiononto Newstart:
We will adopt a smarter approach to the disability pension that distinguishes between disabilities that are likely to be permanent and those that are not, which will help to preventt older unemployed people being parked on welfare...

How voters respond to these proposals will depend on which row of tits they're sucking on the Federal Government sow.

If they're sucking on the tits in the right row – the row which dispenses Centrelink senior executive's salaries, health insurance tax rebates, tax concessions for superannuation and negative gearing for investment properties – odds are they'll be all for them. Except maybe that silliness about paying ex-dole-bludgers bonuses for holding down a job or showing a willingness to move home to get one.

There are two major attractions for the suckers on the right hand side of the sow. First, the implied – if largely empty – promise of money saved on the least popular form of government spending. Second, the satisfaction of knowing that the idlers and malingerers who're bludging off your taxes are once again going to be on the receiving end of some heavy bureaucratic arse-kicking until they get their shit together.

Us suckers on the left of the sow – the side which dispenses age and disability pensions, supporting parents benefit and Newstart –  have good reason to think Oh shit! Here we go again – lots of stick and bugger all carrot. Once again we're on the  wrong end of the Liberal Party's class war rhetoric with all that entails like getting the run-around from Centrelink under a government – and a senior Centrelink bureaucracy – that cultivates active resentment of welfare recipients. Once again we're going to be a social problem – the intergenerationally welfare dependent, anti-social and potentially criminal underclass.

So much for Tony Abbott's 1994 declaration – prominently quoted in the Liberals' Plan – that he stands 'for government that gets off people's backs'. Clearly there's a significant exception to that maxim: people who, in the eyes of the voters who really count, deserve to have the government on their backs.

Postscript: it's worth noting that there's very little difference between Liberal Party policy and ALP practice on welfare issues. Where the Liberals proudly declare their plans to make life harder for Centrelink clients, Labor prefers to do it more quietly and hope no-one notices the lack of difference between the two parties' positions.