The response to Scott Morrison’s speech at the National Press Club this week was entirely predictable. So I was not surprised to see headlines like Stop the boats, Start the charm and Scott Morrison a beacon of hope and danger for PM, just pissed off.
These headlines frame Morrison’s speech within the leadership tensions of a beleaguered Coalition, and don’t reflect either the substance of what he said nor the content of the McClure report.
I shouldn’t be so surprised – the profound ignorance of the basic details of the social security portfolio is something governments take for granted. Why would you bother to get across the detail of one third of the total budget when you can wax lyrical about the colour of Morrison’s fucking tie. I mean, it only concerns poor people, and we don’t have to worry about them.
This means that the spin Morrison put on the figures was not picked up (welfare spending higher that health and eduction combined? – well, only if you ignore the states), and no questions were asked about Monday’s Four Corners. There was also no broader enquiries into the claims both he and McClure made. When there is no contest of the very premise (that welfare costs will ruin us all), it’s no wonder the gallery missed the point.
The social security budget can’t be seen in isolation, rather in the context of massive cuts to the existing community sector who have, for the past few decades, provide services through government grants. These services have done the government’s dirty work; cared for refugees and those on the dole. They have run refuges and social housing, food banks and given out electricity vouchers. If those services disappear, as they are, then further cuts to Newstart and the DSP will hit even harder.
The first question should have been about why the rate of Newstart was not being lifted. Kudos to Sabra Lane for asking it, but it was a disgrace to see Morrison slither out of this. Report after report has said that lifting the Newstart rate is urgent and fundamental in any welfare ‘reform’. Restrictions on the DSP now mean over 60% of people who apply are knocked back on to Newstart. That means they are living on $36 a day. A fucking day. And that is before rent. Changes to the taper rate also have to go – getting work should not mean losing so much payment that you don’t end up better off. This makes no sense.
The second should have been about the gutting of the community sector that is going on. Estimates this week has again been full of the myriad cuts to disability, homelessness and emergency relief groups. The very organisations that are feeding people on Newstart and keeping the lights on.
The third should have been about why, out of all the social services budget, the focus remains on cutting eligibility to the DSP. The DSP accounts for $16 billion, out of the $150 billion social security budget. The number of people receiving has been dropping, while the population is growing. Over half the people on the DSP have been on it more than 10 years.
And why on earth didn’t anyone ask what the point was in restricting access to the DSP to people who can work more than 8 hours a week? Because working 10 hours a week provides a sustainable income on which planet?
Instead, any questions about the rest of the social security budget or any revenue measures were immediately ruled out. Pension payments for millionaires can stay and of course we can’t talk about inheritance taxes. But punishing disabled people and people who can’t get a job? No worries!
As I’ve said before, the way to encourage people into work is to let them try, without penalty, to dip their toes into the world of work. For job network providers to actually help people, instead of pocketing bonuses. And for there to be a job to go to.
The problem is that most of the gallery have never met a poor person, or heard their story. Insulated in their inner city lifestyle, they don’t see the people that have been forced further and further away from work and services. They can swallow the spin of someone like Morrison because to them it is all just numbers and a few shiny charts.
The reality is that decades of government outsourcing of service delivery means that the very people that do see this poverty are themselves ripe for cuts. The community sector’s contract with the government is under severe stress and strain. With a new round of ‘reform’ planned, while cuts and short term contracts are rampant, who will be left to pick up the pieces?
On one hand, force more people on to Newstart, and at the same time slash the services that people go to for help. Gee, I can’t seen anything going wrong with that.
Those of you lucky enough to report on politics need to take a step back for a bit. Take some time to ignore the leadership crap and think about what you are writing and what you are ignoring.
There is no chance that the government is going to implement all of the McClure report. They didn’t last time, and they won’t this time. Instead, they will cherry pick the changes they want, like restricting eligibility for the DSP and no social security for people under 22, and ignore the rest.
This is not just an issue for the community sector or people on Newstart or the DSP. Everyone is just an accident, illness or job loss away from needing the social security system – better make sure some of it is left in case you need it.