Since being elected last year, old Tone has made more than the occasional blunder. His policies and various mutterings have led to widespread condemnation from the Twitterati, with the old classic 'Don't blame me, I didn't vote for him' being rolled out with jolting regularity. Now we are hearing Joe Hockey booming 'The age of entitlement is over' and that 'Nothing is free'. Well, anyone who spent 5 minutes listening in their Year 8 Economics class knows this. What is scary is the manner in which Hockey and co plan to return our economy to surplus.
We endured the archaic treatment of human life in the morally catastrophic (and possibly illegal) 'turn back the boats' pillar. We laughed openly at the folly of re-introducing Dames and Dukes to Australian political figures. We sat in disbelief as Tony and co dismantled governmental integrity on scientific pursuits, as they cut funding to the CSIRO and joined the cave-dwellers who seem to think climate change is a left-wing construct designed to divert funding away from upper class tax cuts (mining tax, anyone?). We watched with horror as Tony bumbled his way around various foreign incidents, openly offending Indonesian politicians and reducing one of our generations worst human rights crises in Syria to a case of 'Goodies and Baddies'. We suffered ALL of this, but it was bearable, because, cruelly and harshly, it didn't directly impact upon us. We were morally outraged, suitably embarrassed and downright confused a lot of the time, but my backyard was as green as it ever has been.
So when Joe stands in front of a carefully selected group of Pinot Noir aficionado's and, with a red wine in hand, announces that the age of entitlement is over, alarm bells started ringing in my head. The UN can deal with Tony's human rights abuses. Other countries can shoulder the brunt of our climate-denying damage. This is the final nail in the coffin of a Government who has become little more than a parrot, chirping tried and tested party lines and introducing weak, vote-winning policies that sound more impressive than they ever will be in action.
The nut's and bolts. There is no budget crisis. Do not be afraid of deficit, as it is merely a term that is used to describe the current standing of budget balance. It is not a major economic performance indicator (like growth, inflation and unemployment). Most economists agree that in a recession, the way to stimulate stagnant economic growth is by spending more, thus sending a budget in to further deficit. Australia is a triple A credit rated country. Our public debt as a proportion of GDP is one of the lowest in the developed world. Without debt, economic growth, and therefore jobs growth and investment in essential infrastructure (think second Sydney airport, the widening of the M5, hospital upgrades, investment in better roads etc etc) would falter, and once that happens there IS a budget crisis. Surplus is a word used by Government's to sound impressive and appear effective, when in actual fact slipping in to deficit can be the essential part of economic policy. Australia so expertly navigated the GFC partly due to amassing debt through Rudd's stimulus packages. We became the envy of economies worldwide because of it. Being in deficit is NOT bad. That is key in moving forward.
Now, Hockey makes some valid points. In his key note speech, he identifies that Australian's are now burdened with an ageing population and a bloated welfare and health care bill that will be difficult to service. This much is extremely true. Difficult to service, however, only if he continues down the warpath to surplus, which we now know is a purely political move that has little, if any, economic bearing on our future. Unfortunately, whilst it still may be admirable for him to tread this path, he has decided that in order to achieve this goal, it is the those of us who are most disadvantaged that will have to fork up the money. The elderly, the sick, and the middle income earners are going to be slugged the hardest, with the pension age rising to 70, $6 GP visits (proposed), possible slashing of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme privileges, a reduction in the amount of people who currently receive health care concession cards (which also incorporate public transport), and a reduction in the length of the Gonski reforms from 6 to 4 years. That's a lot to take in, so let's go through it one by one.
Increasing the pension age to 70. Depending on when you were born, currently the age is between 65 and 67. Why does this affect only the low to middle income earners? Well, superannuation can be relied upon by those who have enough of it from the age of 60, which means that they can retire 7 years earlier than those who haven't earned as much in their lifetime. There are multiple problems with this increase to 70, and it shows the inexplicable short-sightedness of our Government. Firstly, this will only affect those who are most needy. Joe Bloggs who has spent the last 20 years sitting in an air conditioned office barking orders at subordinates before taking long lunches and business flights will be comfortably retired at age 60, flying the world. Meanwhile, Joe Toggs, who has spent his life labouring as a roofer in 40 degree days, with fingers the size of sausages and a raft of health issues related to his profession, will have to soldier on TILL HE IS 70!! Can you imagine hiring a roofer, and some 69 year old grandfather rocks up at your place to re-tile it? Not only is this cruel and unfair, it is dangerous. In increasing the pension age, Tone may save a quick buck, but the economic impact could be far reaching. A 69 year old is going to be significantly less productive than a 29 year old. By forcing them to work for an extra 3 years, you are greatly endangering their health. Skin cancer, falls, serious injury like back problems and arthritis, the mental burden of physically putting their body through such pain every day. This results in more GP visits, more hospital visits, and ultimately a GREATER cost to the taxpayer than if he/she were receiving the pension. And I don't know if you worked this one out, but how many employers are keen to keep workers who are past 65 employed? If they fire them, or make them redundant, where does this person then go for work? Who is going to hire a 65 year old who has laboured his or her entire life? Is Tony going to provide incentives for businesses to employ older workers? Is he going to provide re-training facilities so these people can learn new skills and enter a different area of the work force? Or is the older worker going to be forced on to NewStart because they are now unemployable?
$6 GP visits. I don't know about you, but my dad hates the doctor. He will only go if he is dying, I kid you not. $6 may not seem like a lot of money, but for someone who is already hard up paying rent and food, or who has kids, and they have serious medical problems or are constantly bugged by medical niggles, this will add up. All of a sudden, that slight pain in your chest, or that dull ache in your leg takes a backseat because you need to pay rent, or electricity, or buy dinner. Fast forward 2 weeks and you're in emergency because your leg has turned a deep shade of purple and you can't walk on it. All of a sudden, a simple GP visit which would've cost the Government $50 now costs them thousands as you're stuck in hospital undergoing a raft of expensive tests and procedures. All this tax will do is raise $750 million over four years. That is nothing. Abbott spent $16 million on a Cadbury factory revamp.. This is just blatantly bad economic policy.
There's a reason why the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is costing the Government so much. Medications are stupidly expensive. I have first hand knowledge in this. With my health care concession card, I actually can afford to eat. Without it, I cannot. The three medications I take, if I were to pay full price for them, would run me around $120 a month, which is a whopping $1440 a year, which is the same amount a pack a week smoker would spend. For patients who require a large amount of medications to ensure their quality of life and their health, it isn't feasible for them to pay full price for medications. A box of sleeping tablets can run well over $60. A month's supply of anti-depressants is similar. Cutting funding to the PBS is cruel and unfair. We should be nourishing and helping the sick, not sticking our hands in their pockets.
Hockey and Abbott have finally sunk to the lowest rung on the ladder. Instead of dipping in to their ludicrous Paid Parental Scheme, which has no means test whatsoever and is a stark beacon of female-minded policy amongst a sea of misogynistic rhetoric, they've decided to take benefits away from the poor. Australia is a beautiful country that is blessed with a huge abundance of natural resources and a robust and diverse economy. A country must be judged upon how it treats its most needy. North Korea stomp them in to the dust. China exploit them to achieve their stratospheric levels of growth. Spain abandoned them. Meanwhile, countries with the most admirable and enviable living conditions also spend the most on welfare. Australia spends the 5th most in the world per capita on welfare, coming 2 places behind America. However, as a percentage of GDP, we drop to a staggering 22nd. There is a lot of money being generated by our economy, and comparatively, not a lot of it is going to welfare, to the neediest of our citizens. John Howard was crucified by his introduction of a GST, but it was effective. Rudd and Swann were criticised for their stimulus package, yet it steered us through a dangerous period. Hockey and Abbott have given a leg up to their business associates, for some reason the parroted line of everyone now needs to pull their weight only refers to those least able to. This budget will be the final nail in a coffin that has already begun it's descent, with Australia's moral integrity weighing it down. It's deplorable.