Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Moving to Oz? (VIII)

Or, "cutting dole would ease labour crisis"

In the previous post on the "Moving to Oz" series I made a first Australian connection to a phenomenon that has been reported in the US: higher unemployment levels could be enabling employers to raise job requirements (skills, experience), which slows down job growth and lowers wages. This phenomenon has been disingenuously interpreted as "skills shortages" or "unwillingness to work".

In this post I will comment on two related developments taking shape in Australia. Regular readers have seen one of them (the Newstart Allowance) mentioned here repeatedly. I intend to show it's connected to the "unwillingness to work" slander.

The other, however, is new.


The old news on Newstart (aka dole)

Today Peter Martin and Dan Harrison (Fairfax Media) report:
"Revealed: Dole Recipients Too Poor to Buy Food, Medication or Heating"
I'd recommend this piece to readers (right-click on the link abovee to open in a different tab). The chart is fully interactive and it shows the percentage of individuals in each category that need to go without an item. To put it graphically: the dole recipient's red-blood stain is larger than for any other group.

For some details: "one in 10 Australians on the dole are unable to obtain a substantial meal each day, one in eight are unable to buy prescribed medicines, and one in 20 cannot heat their homes".

What's alarming is that those results, however, correspond to research commissioned by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Produced in 2008, the report, unusually, apparently was never published neither by the Department, nor by its authors, "Peter Saunders and Melissa Wong from the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW".

And it was not considered in the review of social welfare, because the dole was intentionally excluded from its terms of reference. Why was it excluded? I leave that for you to guess.

The Martin/Harrison report comes after last week ANZ's CEO said,
"Welfare payments could be cut to encourage workers to move to labour-starved, booming mining states like WA as part of a radical rethink of how Australia overcomes its increasingly high-cost economy, ANZ chief executive Mike Smith said yesterday".
After shopping centre billionaire Frank Lowy and Rio Tinto's Tom Albanese, Smith was last year's highest remunerated CEO in Australia, with AUD10.86 million. (See here)

Smith's total compensation, expressed on a weekly basis, was approximately AUD209K. The Newstart Allowance is currently AUD245 a week.


The new news: News Ltd, the Dogooder Press

Bill Shorten (Employment minister) and Wayne Swan (Federal Treasurer), both Labor MPs and former trade unionists, have been approached in the previous days for comments on this. These were their reactions:

Shorten understands that it would "be difficult to live on AUD249 (sic)", because he's got a young family and finds it hard enough to make ends meet currently, on his AUD330K a year. (See video here)

At the other hand, Swan did not answer personally, but "a spokesman for Mr Swan said: 'The treasurer's record of protecting low income Australians speaks for itself,' pointing to pension increases and creating 800,000 jobs". (See here)

Clearly, the spokesman didn't think he needed to include the Newstart Allowance or the single parent allowances among the "pension increases".

But if Swan didn't want to talk about this, the subject did not go unnoticed. At 16:25 (EST) today (August 30), these were the results on the search "it's a hard dole life", on Google News:

Right click to enlarge

As can be seen in the screen capture above, the Murdoch press seems responsible for the vast majority of the items.

If I were a suspicious fellow, which I am not, I'd say the Murdoch press is taking advantage of Labor's obtuse, self destructive, neoliberalism, to further rubbish whatever little chance at a re-election the Gillard team may have, and that at no cost for the Coalition, whose chieftains unusually have kept under the radar.

Labor is rightly depicted as betraying the unemployed, and the Coalition is bound to bank on the backlash. And, to be honest, Labor deserves it. They are intent on being economic rationalists; like Mike Smith, for instance.

That's why they will reduce us to hunger and sickness and misery: we are like cattle who need to be prodded to enter the slaughterhouse. It reduces whatever little market power workers have against capitalists.

Or why they are intent on bringing in foreign workers, who are seen as merchandise, to be "imported" (believe it or not, overseas readers, the term is actually used by right and left wing indiscriminate immigration advocates, apparently oblivious of its implications). At best, they will further lower already falling wages; at worst, they offer an easy target for racists, a useful lighting rod against otherwise legitimate discontent (see previous post).

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Labor may or may not get Smith's vote, but they can forget about mine. And so that my intentions are clear: I will never, ever, vote for the Coalition or for any racist bigot. This is their democracy, not mine.

By the way, if you are unemployed or on low incomes, you must read the comment thread to this version of the Martin/Harrison report, to see what your fellow Australians think of you. Remember that when the pollies come to ask for your vote.

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So that I am not accused of being unfair, Health minister Tanya Plibersek (Labor) announced this afternoon that "the federal government will pour $4 billion into a dental package to provide millions of children and millions of adults on low incomes or in rural areas access to government-subsidised dental care". (See here)

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, always original in his pronouncements, accused the Gillard government of "spending like drunken sailors" or something equally clever.

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