Well, Tony Abbott blew it in his Budget reply.
Any notion that his version of Paid Parental Leave might be a harbinger of a fairer deal for those who contribute socially was seriously screwed by his enthusiastic acceptance of the ALP cuts to the baby bonus. I have been concerned that getting rid of the baby bonus will affect a lot of low-income mothers who can’t access parental leave – and so I was prepared to accept Abbott saving it, even though he was driven by a concern to keep high income "women of calibre" in the workforce.
However, all Abbott did in his Budget reply was add his own unacceptable cuts to those I find so objectionable in the ALP budget. The baby bonus cut will annoy many of his Coalition party supporters, especially the Nationals. Other changes he has in mind will add to the financial misery of low income earners and those on allowance payments.
He is also cutting the small extra payment of about $4 per week that was offered to those on benefits, as some compensation for no rise in Newstart. On the strength of this I assume he will certainly join the ALP in refusing to raise Newstart. No mention of sole parents or other disadvantaged groups. They remain invisible.
Abbott will remove the low income rebate for tax paid on super contributions, which is a very overdue payback of the flat rate 15 per cent tax. Unlike those in higher income brackets that get concessional tax on contributions, low income earners have had to pay too much tax because they have a very low or nonexistent marginal tax rate. They deserve this belated minor compensation.
This is a dismal election for those of us who are concerned about those who have not shared the good times. Neither major political party wants to talk about those who for a range of reasons have not been able to support themselves financially. Carers are an exception, along with aged pensioners, and will be covered in the NDIS. Both parties are trying to claim the credit for this important set of changes. Tony rode his bike for carers and Julia cried, but there is little sympathy for those who fail the test of being disabled enough to qualify for the Disability Support Pension, and are being shoved increasingly onto the totally inadequate Newstart allowance.
Abbott’s actions to cut or ignore low income groups are more unethical than the Government’s because he’s decried the bad cuts while trying to blame them on the ALP. He will not commit to reverse them. This makes him a hypocrite. He will also cut the Gonski-driven attempts to make school funding fairer. His speech offered little or no comfort to those of us who want a fairer society. Just like the Government, all he prates on about is economic growth. Because he sees this as achievable through cost-cutting, he promises company tax cuts and lower taxes overall.
He touts the idea of a Productivity Inquiry to map out ways of further limiting the public sphere to those services the private sector can’t provide or sell. This approach augurs increasing inequalities and less collective risk sharing. John Howard cut the public sphere tax base so drastically that politicians now argue about funding basic social infrastructure.
The voter who cares about social fairness — not just jobs and money — has very limited major party choices this time if this is the sum of their wares. My view, as long term policy analyst with a feminist bent is that neither party shows any serious interest in creating a better society. The tussle over the Budget is more about who is seen as the better trimmer and cutter of the role of the public sphere, not about the wider social well being of all people, including the many unpaid contributors.
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