Budget 2014: Ignoring Real Lives

The 2014 Budget from the Abbott Government confirms my impressions of this Government as one committed to punishing people for making the ‘wrong’ decisions.

It’s clear that both the previous and current federal governments had come to a shared belief that asylum seekers who sought to arrive in Australia by boat had made the ‘wrong decision’ – a bad choice that deserved punishment. I have previously written that the punitive and abusive policies perpetrated by successive governments fail to take account of the reality of people’s lives. There appears to be little or no consideration given to what life is like for people who live in war-ravaged countries, even if our troops have been recently fighting in those places, and little or no effort made to imagine the almost impossibly grave and dangerous situations of people who make decisions to get on a boat. (It was instructive  to read in a 2012 profile by Jane Cadzow of the current Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, that he doesn’t like to read other than Australian fiction because he can’t ‘relate’ to the stories from elsewhere.)

Now, across education, healthcare, social welfare, all the significant areas of our lives, as individuals and as a society, we get the message that the Abbott Government is comfortable with punishing anyone who they believe makes ‘bad decisions’ in life. And again, little or no attention is being paid to the reality of the lives of people who are not like the policy makers.

Unemployed young people, for example, have obviously made bad decisions in their lives. All they need is extra motivation in the form of a big stick to force them off that sofa and away from the computer screen into work. Their situation is down to them. There are no structural or systemic impediments, just a lack of will. If you want a job badly enough you’ll find one (any job, no matter where, no matter what). The effects of inter-generational poverty and social exclusion (if such conditions exist at all) should be easily shrugged off if you have enough motivation. No attention here to the realities of life for so many Australians living in such dire poverty that they have to make choices about when to eat the one meal of the day. No understanding of the systemic barriers that people living in poverty on the edges of our society face every day. No understanding of the sacrifices made every day by parents who are low income earners and desperately wanting to support the education of their children.

People with disabilities too, apparently just need the extra motivation of impending poverty (worse than what they might already be suffering) to find work. We clearly have no more need of a Disability Discrimination Commissioner in this country, either. It’s far more important to have a Human Rights Commissioner charged with upholding the right of people to be bigots.

This is neoliberal economics in action. This budget is driven by an unfailing commitment to an economic system that is damaging people and the planet. Individualism, competition, materialism and consumerism, and a firm belief in the supposed wonders of trickle-down wealth: these are some of the damaging values and principles of neoliberalism which lie underneath the policies costed in this budget. There’s no talk of a budget for a vital, healthy and inclusive society, only talk of a budget for a healthy economy and a budget on track to a surplus.

I lost count of how many times the Treasurer referred to ‘individuals’ during his post-Budget interview with Sarah Ferguson. It’s all about us as single units. There’s no conversation about what we need to do together, as community, to uphold those who struggle; no conversation about what is necessary in society to ensure that every person can reach their potential; and despite the rhetoric of every person needing to do ‘their fair share’, no acknowledgement that genuine equity, genuine fairness and genuine decency do not mean that everyone is treated the same. Although to be fair to the Treasurer, not everyone is treated the same by this budget. As we now know from post-budget modelling from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), those who can least afford it will bear a heavier share of the burden for ‘fixing’ the federal budget. And people like me, well… I’ll have as much choice about how I live my good life as I ever had.

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