You know what they say — never talk about politics or religion? I’ll leave religion out of this one, but the current situation is too pungent to leave it unmentioned. Not trying to offend anyone, but it’s quite possible. (If you’d rather read a more economy-focused take on why a surplus isn’t necessary right now, Glen Murray has an excellent article here.)
I’m not a member of any political party, and don’t ever expect to align my beliefs fully with any one party either. There’s no chance of a party sharing all my views being elected anyway — except maybe in the Senate, where anything goes, right? — so I’ll have to vote for the option that offends least, as we all do. By writing this, I hope to nail my colours to the wall, provoke some thought, and prod a few minds into action.
What’s the purpose of government? Local government is easy: bins and dogs. Bigger than that? For starters, building things we all need which are too important to leave to private industry. Government needs to fund health, education, police, transport and much else besides. They need to regulate areas they can’t fund themselves and try to steer the country in the right direction by encouraging some investments and discouraging others.
A main purpose of government is to make sure nobody falls through the cracks left by our free market system. Unchecked, monopolies would bleed us all dry, and people who can’t afford the necessities would suffer without them. Health insurance and higher education are already getting very expensive, and if you let the market decide every price, they’ll decide on a higher price than that which is actually good for the country, and a lower wage than is actually good for its workers.
The American system is much more closely wedded to the free market, with an abysmally low minimum wage that can never lift you out of poverty, higher degrees for six figures, and the possibility of an illness sending you bankrupt. Money is blind. Incidentally, on that blind international scale of money, Australia has low debt, a AAA credit rating, and survived the GFC better than almost any other country.
Critically, governments aren’t households, and don’t need to be run in the same way. At an absolute baseline, they can print more money if they really need it — though of course too much of this can have adverse consequences. In general, most government expenditure is an investment, so a dollar which sees a return down the line was a dollar spent for good reason. Choosing simply not to spend money in order to get back into surplus is not in our long-term interests.
Unfortunately, the Commission of Audit set up by the Liberal Party (note for international readers: the Conservatives) has reported that we need to slash the minimum wage, increase taxes, raise the retirement age, charge $15 for doctor or hospital visits, and fund nannies. It’s ideology, not necessity, which drives them. The commission is staffed by ex-Liberal party ministers and owners of big business, so you couldn’t really find a group less aware of how ordinary people live. When was the last time any of them caught a bus and interacted with regular humans?
So far, the Commission of Audit report has heavily influenced Hockey’s first budget, which is pretty appalling. They’re trying: a $7 co-payment for visiting a GP (or emergency department for non-emergencies), uncapping the fees for higher education, charging research PhD students the same fees as undergraduates, killing the dole by making you wait six months before getting anything, then forcing you to work 25 hours a week for it, lifting the retirement age to 70, reducing/removing family tax benefit for many families, stripping funding from countless preventative programs and smaller investments, removing funding for non-religious chaplains in schools but more money for the others, stripped $80 billion from state health and education budgets to force them to ask for a GST increase — they couldn’t have done much worse. So what to do?
- Remember this nonsense next time you vote. Every election, the parties do their best to appear as similar as possible, to woo swinging voters. And each election time, someone will say “they’re all the same”. They are not the same, not even close. The ALP is hardly perfect, but their policies certainly benefit more people than the Liberal party’s policies do.
- Raise loud, noisy hell with your local member. Tell them very clearly that prioritising defence spending on jets the rest of the world has rejected while stopping poor people from visiting the doctor is simply wrong.
- If you really want to simplify things, in the goodies vs baddies style which Prime Minister Abbott himself has used, then ask yourself the question: which party is against renewable energy of any kind, against free healthcare, against public broadcasting, for mining and media billionaires, for knights and dames, against fast internet for everyone, against funding for Indigenous affairs, against funding for the disabled, against treating refugees humanely — then ask if they’re the goodies or the baddies.
Even if you really believe that everyone should support themselves (not everyone can, despite best efforts) and that everyone should pay their own way for everything (even though we all have basic needs and not everyone can afford them) then (even though that sounds pretty selfish) think about it this way. Taxes are the necessary cost of society. If you don’t provide a baseline level of support for everyone, you no longer have a functioning society. Endemic suffering leads not just to unhappiness, but to poverty, to crime, to violence, to a broken country for generations. Like Greece. Or, from another angle, like America.
To put it bluntly: if the rich keep all the money for themselves, they’ll create a country not worth living in. We are all better off if we’re all better off.