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Hope versus humiliation in the Federal Budget

John Falzon |  09 May 2017


It would be nice to believe, as the Treasurer wants us to, that better times are just around the corner. But while wages stagnate and company profits surge, inequality is now at its highest point since the 1950s.

Client exiting Centrelink officeThis is clearly not going to get any better any time soon. By 2019, the highest income earners will have received an effective tax cut of 1.5 per cent compared to all other taxpayers who will be paying an extra 0.5 per cent. But for the young people of Australia especially, Budget 2017 boosts inequality instead of building a better future.

Corporate tax cuts at the same time as penalty rate cuts and cuts to social services and social security to the tune of $15 billion since 2014 will not help young people into jobs. Neither will the imposition of behavioural sticks on the backs of the unemployed, which only serve to distract us from the existence of structural walls that keep them excluded.

Wealth does not trickle down, unless, of course, you have wealthy parents. Young people need housing security, not the threat of homelessness. While the government's restraint in not axing homelessness or social housing funding is going to be a source of relief for many, it is hardly the expansive vision for housing that is so desperately needed.

The fact that housing is on the government's radar is positive, as are some of the measures announced with regard to social and affordable housing, but we are yet to see an overarching plan that is going to address the housing crisis in prosperous Australia. Without significant changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, for example, housing will remain a speculative sport instead of a human right.

To those in the government who pretend that the solution to unemployment lies in putting the boot into the unemployed, let me state the bleeding obvious: There is only one job for every ten people looking for work or more work. One in three young people are unemployed or underemployed. We have a Newstart payment that has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994.

If you are young and studying you are looking down the barrel of fee increases and university funding cuts. If you are trying to survive in low-paid, casual work you can expect penalty rate cuts. And yet still the government makes an art-form out of cruelty to young unemployed people.

It can drag all of the weapons it likes from its dismal armoury but this will not create a single job or address the structural drivers of unemployment and underemployment. It can drug-test and impose demerits and force people to rely on charity or even turn to crime and it will still not have improved people's lives or strengthened the economy.


"These measures are another iteration of the government's ideological obsession with attacking and demonising people who are excluded from the labour market. Their crime is the crime of being poor."


These measures are not designed to address the very serious health problem of drug and alcohol addiction, which, of course, exists right across the community. Specialist services and supports in this area in fact need extra investment, rather than the cuts we have recently seen. To suggest that because you need access to income support you are somehow more likely to have an addiction or that punitive surveillance and stigmatisation might actually address this problem if you are living with an addiction, is not only inaccurate but deeply disrespectful and offensive. You don't build people up by putting them down. And you don't build a strong economy or a fair society by boosting inequality.

These measures are another iteration of the government's ideological obsession with attacking and demonising people who are excluded from the labour market. Their crime is the crime of being poor. By blaming them and scapegoating them, the government is merely justifying further cuts to social security and social expenditure on the one hand, and preparing the ground for the further lowering of wages and conditions in the labour market on the other.

We longed for a carefully considered vision in this budget but we were served a buffet of tactics. We yearned for hope, but young people, along with older people who have been pushed out, have been given yet another serve of deliberate humiliation. For those of us who stand in solidarity with the people who are targeted and degraded in this budget this is just one chapter in the long-haul struggle to build a more just and compassionate society.

And our struggle may be long, but it is beautiful. We believe with all our hearts that hope will win against humiliation and that deep respect between people will triumph over the mean-spirited abuse of power that accompanies the rise of inequality.


John FalzonDr John Falzon is Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council.



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Submitted comments

What psychoactive substance inspired the concept of drug testing for the most marginalised, downtrodden and most suffering sector of society. Let us not further stigmatise and humiliate a group that is already outcast. We need to open our arms and include all people. I remember Australia as a generous nation. How did we get so mean? Thanks John for bringing our country back to its core principles. You are definitely no flash in the pan as some have said. As always you provide comment of the highest quality.

Lawrie Beriya 10 May 2017

Thanks John. We need your fearless insights into the ways policy made for the wealthy affect other Australians.

tony 11 May 2017

Welfare demerit scheme is a poorly thought out concept. A lack of life skills is not improved by punishment. Poverty is not improved by deprivation. Addiction doesn't stop when welfare income ceases but merely provokes more desperate acts. This policy will inevitably lead to a rise in crime. What's the plan from there - bundle them up in ships and send them to work a remote colony?

AMT 11 May 2017

The profiling of suspected drug users is in fact just a profiling of poverty - the risk factors are generally similar. It is naked economic profiling.

Melanie 11 May 2017

Very nice article John, thanks . Much to ponder, especially the silly new ideological stuff around more burdens for the unemployed to have to carry. But we do in fact have a highly re-distibutive tax system, and company tax cuts and reducing Sunday loading is about stimulating investment and creating more jobs. Ultimately, we need a decent guaranteed age for everyone, without too many strings attached, but to get there we need to dismantle the Howard-era tax give-aways to the middle class and the entrenched sense of entitlement among Australia`a better off. better if. nd

Eugene 11 May 2017

John, hoping for a better deal from a party that unashamedly represents the rich and powerful, and which stands by the tenets of unfettered capitalism surprises with a man in your position and your St VdeP background. Are Catholic organisations too afraid to be labelled lefties to really criticise the wealthy and powerful?

Anthony Grimes 11 May 2017

John, thanks for your resounding voice that stands for those who struggle. I wish that more voices would join yours.

Alex Nelson 11 May 2017

Mr Harbourside Mansion doesn't know how the other half live and doesn't want to know. Don't expect a fair budget from the big end of town!

Grant Allen 11 May 2017

Lawrie Beriya you are right about John Falzon he certainly bares his soul.

Koba 11 May 2017

Thank you John. You are a most vocal and effective advocate for those most in need in our society.

Ern Azzopardi 11 May 2017

There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of balance in Dr Falzon’s article and the comments that follow from it. Each one is merely confirming the other’s biases. We can all appreciate the ideological view that we as a civilized society should care for the less fortunate, but it is also beholden on us as contributors to society to accept the consequences of our actions. One particular issue seized on in the article is that of drug testing for welfare recipients. There is nothing new about compulsory drug testing for certain employment sectors in society. A welfare recipient with a positive result for illicit substances could well view this as a moment to review their lives and make improvements. And to add a sense of balance to the views of your contributor AMT, who implies that this policy will result in a system of C18th penal transportation, I would suggest that Australia is a land of great opportunity and potential. There are parts of Australia (such as the Ord River) that are yet to be developed. A scheme to settle people seeking opportunity in undeveloped parts of Australia would offer them hope for the future. Thank you.

Austin Fortice 13 May 2017

Great Article. How is the Govt, attitude going to give hope to those seeking work? It is such a put-down.

Mary 14 May 2017

As a 20 year volunteer with SVDP, I take exception to John Falzon's habit of making an art form of putting the boot into any effort to improve help to the needy by trying to discover whether people really are needy. We have several work for the dole people working in our centre, and every one of them has benefited from the self-esteem that they have gained as a result.

Jenny O'Rourke 17 May 2017

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