Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Abbott Government, social policy and the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism

Treasurer Joe Hockey's announcement that the Abbott Government plans to increase the pension age (from 67 to 70), impose more welfare means testing and introduce co-payments for medical services comes as no surprise, but provides more evidence of the continuing assault on public spending for the less well off, the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The Abbott Government has already imposed severe spending cuts across many portfolios and shown its intention to cut back public expenditure for the less well off by fundamentally transforming income support in areas such as the Disability Support pension (DSP), family and welfare payments and welfare support for the long term unemployed.

In addition, there is the expectation that both the report into the Welfare System (the McClure Review) and the report of the National Commission of Audit (the Business Council of Australia report), both due to be released soon, will recommend serious austerity policies and market driven social policies.

The Abbott Government's market fundamentalist policies and its austerity agenda are intended to dismantle public spending for the less well off and the vulnerable, and fundamentally transform public spending and public assets to make them suitable to deliver profit to the business and corporate sector and largess to the already well off.

What is also worth noting is that this fundamental transformation of social policy and welfare support is being undertaken without any real consultation with the social policy and welfare sector, and continues to be driven by advice from, and the agendas of influential pro- business and corporate lobby groups, such as the Business Council of Australia.

Moreover, the Abbott  Government has consistently concealed its real social policy intentions and denied it was planning to impose these policies. None of the policies were made public prior to the last election and back in November 2013 Treasurer Joe Hockey lied when he said that the Government had no plans to increase the pension age.

While it dismantles social policies that support the less well off and the vulnerable it retains and expands profligate policies for the corporate and business sector and the rich and already well off, such as superannuation tax concessions, various housing-related tax benefits, paid parental leave, asset tests and corporate tax benefits, to name but a few.

On his blog En Passant former Tax Office economist, blogger, activist and academic John Passant alerts us to the hypocrisy and deceit of Treasurer Joe Hockey's proposals on the age pension:
Let me get this right. The revenue forgone on tax concessions for superannuation at $45 bn will soon be more than the cost of the pension (over $40 bn). Of that $45 bn in tax concessions $10 to $15 bn will go to the top 10% of income earners. Yet Australia’s greatest Treasurer, Joe Hockey, wants to rein in expenditure on the pension by for example extending the access age to 70 (after Labor increased it to 67 over time by 2023) and tightening up the asset test to perhaps include the family home. Priorities. 

According to the OECD Australia has one of the lowest relative pensions of any member countries (Turkey and Mexico are lower) and 35% of Australian pensioners live in poverty. Priorities.

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