Abbott has a love in with middle class welfare

April 22, 2008 |

I am one of the diminishing band who think Tony Abbott gets a bad rap from the press and the punters.  Distilling last years coverage he was the “Mad Monk” who went off the reservation (to mix metaphors).  I quite like him because he actually thinks about issues and is not afraid to put his views out there.  It would be better if he developed the charm and warmth that John Button had when being candid.  A few less sharp edges would go a long way. But he enjoys that jesuitical aesthetic which journalists see as zealatory. 

Yesterday’s article in the OZ Even the rich need a helping hand (almost certainly not his choice of title – a smart arse sub editor no doubt) is enough to kick him off the stoop where the angels gather and muck about with the rest of the compromisers and rent seekers.  The party professes to get back to basics.  Not a bad thing  after 5 or so years of fiscal drift and compromise.  It then looks a bit odd for one of its senior players not only to support the policy of throwing millions of  non means tested payments to familys and interest groups but to embrace it.  It was one of the worst aspects of the governments pretty ordinary fiscal policy. 

Abbott’s arguments mark him out as an old fashioned Tory of the MacMillan mode or an Eisenhower Republican.  There is no problem that a vat of cash can’t fix.  Abbott’s conservatism has a special glaze, Catholic socialism.  Bob Santamaria must be looking on with pride.  Ugggh!!!!

Some of the justifications for keeping this largesse flowing into the leafy suburbs of our capital cities:

It’s easy enough to rail against benefits, such as a child care rebate or Family Tax Benefit Part B, being paid to millionaires or their spouses. These benefits, though, aren’t income supplements so much as a recognition of the costs associated with being a parent. Of course, low-income working mums deserve greater government support, and receive it, but aren’t all working women entitled to some support with child care? Low-income families deserve greater government support and receive it, but don’t all families deserve some official acknowledgment of the cost of rearing children?

You posed the Quesition Tone so lets answer it.  Government support and policy is not about acknowledging that it costs money to raise a child.  Government provides support when the individuals can’t support themselves.  The phrase safety net comes to mind.  It is not a merit badge wrapped in $100 notes.

The essential test of a welfare system is whether it helps to build a fair society. Taken as a whole, do government payments ensure that no one misses out on the chance of a reasonable life?

Nu uh!  Again that safety net analogy.  If you are rich there is a fair chance that you are going to have a reasonable life.  And……

Government benefits were increased, especially for families with children; taper rates were reduced so that more families benefited; and budget surpluses funded one-off payments for especially needy groups such as carers and pensioners.

One off payments were an electoral fiddle.  What is the benefit of a one off payment?  I mean was there one year where things were hideous as compared to others of wine and roses. 

The question for the critics of so-called middle-class welfare is which specific benefit would they withdraw: the deferred pension plan that encourages people to stay in the workforce; the senior health card that goes to middle income, self-funded retirees; the lower taper rates that reduce low-income earners’ disincentive to work; the mega-surplus bonuses to carers, pensioners and seniors; or the baby bonus that seems to be associated with a significant increase in the fertility rate?

Not surprising but disappointing to see Abbott pull the time worn “pose the question with the impossible answer.”  He invites us to be the grinch.  Hell, I’ll oblige:

  • Means test the baby bonus (if you want to have one, which I don’t). 
  • remove the health card to middle income self funded retirees. Again, means testing is not a dirty word.
  • Mega surpluses are not designed for churning.  Why not put the money towards, I dunno, infrastructure if  you don’t want to have a real change to the tax system.

When conducting its review the Liberal Party should ask the question of every policy with “Why is this Government’s role?”  That should clear the wooly headed thinking that afflicts Abbott at the moment.


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