In his budget speech, Joe Hockey said we all have to make a contribution. But when the contribution demanded from people destroys their lives, that's too high a price to pay. He said we need to stop thinking of self-interest and start thinking of the national interest. But it's not selfish to want to survive (and even prosper). And far from being in the national interest, these cuts will create a very bleak future for Australia.
As every Australian school-child learns, European colonization of this country started with the transportation of convicts. At least some of those convicts were sent here for stealing because they had no other means of survival. The question I always ask myself when I look back at that history is would I steal in order to feed my family? The answer unequivocally is yes. It was purely a hypothetical question as I knew that would not happen in Australia. We had the safety nets in place to ensure it didn't. Well we used to. The latest budget has taken those safety nets away.
Joe Hockey has announced that people under 30 will have to be unemployed for six months before receiving Newstart. Six months without money is a very long time. That's six months without being able to pay for rent, phone, internet, electricity, bus fares, petrol, food, clothes or even tampons. In six months, you can be thrown out of your home - in fact, you probably will be thrown out of your home if you can't pay rent. In six months, In six months, you can become severely depressed and suicidal - compounded by the fact you can't afford to go to a doctor and seek medical attention. In six months, your entire outlook can change, you can lose all hope and get stuck in a mindset that never goes away. Six months without money is enough to ruin a life.
So what are these people meant to do for this six months? Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's answer would be to find a job. But finding a job is actually a lot harder with no money. Imagine looking for a job when you can't afford a newspaper or the internet to apply for jobs (and yes, I know job seeker centres and the library offer free access to newspapers and internet, but these can also be hard to get to for some people without money for a bus.) Imagine looking for a job when you don't have a phone, address or easy access to your email for potential employers to contact you. Imagine applying for jobs when you have no car and/or no ability to afford petrol or bus fares (which not only affects your ability to get to job interviews, but your ability to get to a job once you find one). Imagine going to job interviews when you have no money for clothes, shoes, haircuts, razors to shave if you're a man or make-up (which is almost a necessity in some jobs) if you're a female. Imagine applying for jobs when your confidence is low and your depression is high (and it would take a very optimistic person for this not to occur after having no money for so long).
So if getting a job is made harder for them, what actually happens to these people. And what happens to Australia? As already alluded to, crime rates will probably go up. If people need to steak to eat, they will steal. The threat of jail will also not be as much of a deterrent to those with no roof over their head and no food on the table. Depression is likely to rise and this may very well lead to more suicides, as people cannot afford the treatment they need. There is likely to be more people suffering from health conditions that are made worse than they should be because people couldn't afford to seek early medical intervention. Charities are likely to be swamped by people - and may need to turn a lot of people away because they just don't have the resources to cope with the sudden influx. People are also more likely to be forced into exploitative working conditions - or make bad choices about employment and financial resources. Debt will probably rise, leaving some people in a situation that, even if they do get a job, they're still barely surviving because their debt repayments are so high.
This does not sound like a prosperous country to me. It sounds very depressing. And I don't see how any of it is in the national interest.
I've focused mainly on young people who will lose Newstart, because theirs is the most desperate case. But the cuts to family tax benefit and changes to medical expenses will leave a lot of other people without enough money to live on. What exactly is Joe Hockey proposing they contribute? Their food, their rent, their electricity or their medical expenses. Which one of those essentials would he contribute himself to the national interest?
It's pointless to talk about a healthy economy without asking what a healthy economy is for. By itself, it's just numbers on the page. But it is important to have a healthy economy if it serves the best interests of the society. When a healthy economy helps to build a prosperous, generous and inclusive society, then that is a good thing. But when we marginalise people and make people suffer to get that healthy economy, then something is wrong.
The cuts announced in the budget may attack our deficit. But they also attack people - vulnerable people, in particular. It will attack - and maybe even cost - people's lives. Is lowering the deficit really worth the price of our soul?