Finally, something to really rally against in Abbott’s Australia

First they came for the independent filmmakers. But I said nothing, because I was a ballerina …” —  Martin Niemoller (adapted)

Watching the reaction to the Abbott government’s first budget, one is tempted to coin the headline: “Right-wing government in right-wing budget shock!”. That’s particularly so when you see the reaction, largely scrolling down through Twitter, of the class of 1972, whose sense of horror seems to be unleavened by any notion of politics.

For many, it seems to be an event outside of politics, inexplicable, cruel and arbitrary. That is to be expected, I guess. The budget marks the first decisive break with nearly a half-century of economic social-democratic liberalism — a long period in which all federal governments cut with the grain of social progressivism, changing little that had been established before them.

Malcolm Fraser may have abolished Medibank, but he left free higher education and a broad welfare safety net in place. The Howard-Costello budgets of the 1990s may have taken a razor to the cash value of specific programs, but they essentially left a Scandinavian-lite framework in place (as I noted in 2001 in my Quarterly Essay on Howard, “The Opportunist”, just in case anyone wants to suggest post-hoc wisdom). Where Howard decisively broke with a social liberal tradition was in relation to refugees and indigenous people — “the others”, within and without. In that sense, the Howard government was more like a pre-Whitlam Labor government than anything else, “McKellite” in Mark Latham’s handy phrase — until the debacle of WorkChoices, which rather proves the point.

By the time Howard left office, an Australian could still rock up to a clinic and get free healthcare, go to university for a less-than-crushing debt rack-up, take paid vacations, stress leave, apply for arts grants, and stay on the dole and pull cones in perpetuity, save for filling in a dole diary, and having the occasional appointment with a clinical psychologist who was even less employable than you were. The classical liberals tore their hair out about this, and about the way in which Howard was getting credit/blame for being some sort of liberal ogre.

Well, now they have a government and a budget they can like a bit more. But not much. For the weird thing about this budget is that it seems punitive to no great purpose. Howard and Costello did a lot of their cutting in the background — either programs which were amorphous but vital (such as R&D) or hidden from most but vital (such as indigenous health), while leaving the front end alone. This budget appears to go out of its way to hurt and affront people, without using the money to make any significant dent in the debt. Its significant frontline savings features seem designed to shape politically engaged sub-classes where none existed before.

Take the Medicare co-payment for a start. Most of us already pay something upfront for a GP visit because we don’t go to a bulk biller — and less than 100% of that co-pay is refunded. Bulk billing was designed to keep universality of healthcare intact — so that even the wastrel who had put the dole check on the first at Randwick could get an examination if they felt a twinge that turned out to be cancer. That has a downside, of course. Much of the waste in the health system is “frequent flyers” — the old, lonely and depressed, who turn up twice a week, every week, and constitute around 30-50% of some GP lists. They are enabled by bulk billing — and the theory is that even a small upfront payment causes a significant downturn in that traffic.

But of course it also means that some people — the deserving and undeserving poor alike — will simply not be able to see a doctor when they need to. Seven dollars doesn’t sound much — but of course many people on benefits, especially those with families, simply have no money at all in the last few days of a benefit cheque fortnight. When no money is required, the doctor can still be visited. The difference between zero and $7 is more significant than the difference between $7 and $30-$40-$50 for those who most require the universality.

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96 Responses

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  1. What passion, Guy. Love it. It’s either political guts, demos and political graffiti or the Murdoch government shaft. Take your pick.

    by Karen on May 15, 2014 at 1:16 pm

  2. great article guy but you have overdone a bit by going on about people on the dole having cones, lots of people have cones including those working

    i cant understand why your so dirty on anybody who is on the dole

    they are a very small minority

    drop off them

    by cairns50 on May 15, 2014 at 1:26 pm

  3. in the name of the fair go” - long forgotten.

    And to shift from the punitive to the ideological, let’s not forget:

    [ARENA] is generating a 7.3 per cent return on investment, which is nearly four per cent above the standard government bond rate.”

    .. and the NBN was designed to recoup its costs.

    Roads! indeed.

    by Coaltopia on May 15, 2014 at 1:35 pm

  4. cairns50
    because every sane person knows there are a lot of people dole surfing. i dont blame them given whats on offer, but if we just pretend theyre all out of work slurry miners, it becomes ridiculous. working people resent dole surfers. so they should. all the more reason to oppose simple cut offs - like the 6 month rule - as arbitrary and hating on the working poor.

    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 1:36 pm

  5. What will suffer most are arts and other related degrees…”

    Won’t this be counteracted at least to some extent by humanities degrees being generally cheaper to deliver, and presumably fees being free(r) to reflect this?

    by Mark Duffett on May 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  6. I suspect in the thrust to be punitive some policies won’t even achieve the promised savings. Case in point, the 6 month waiting period for the dole will discourage those on the dole (or nearly qualified) from taking work.
    Our labour market is increasingly “flexible”, characterissed by temporary contract work (low skilled like fruit picking and high skilled) and even permanent full time work comes with a try before you buy probation period. The opportunity cost of accepting potentially temporary work has now increased many fold, it’s a big disincentive where there shouldn’t be any.

    by kletch on May 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

  7. no mark, arts degrees are still cheaper than their actual cost - as set by govt limits. whole point of norton-kemp is to abolish those limits. want to learn about foucault? fine. but it will coat as much as a law degree (or more!) yr call.

    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 1:55 pm

  8. Looking at the front pages yesterday, it seemed clear that the non-Fairfax press are pitching the budget as proof of the government’s strength of will. The protests against the cuts will only feed into this narrative as the inevitable whines of cultural elites and bludgers. So what has happened with class solidarity? Why aren’t any of the press taking the side of ‘battlers’ against a regressive budget?

    I somehow think that the hysteria about asylum seekers is really about outsourcing our awareness of inequality from something within Australia to relations with our teeming neighbours. As the privileged ones in our region, we as a nation have to anxiously hold the line against the tide of resentment from outside. If we start thinking in terms of solidarity, we raise fears that our resource riches might have to be shared more broadly.

    As much as anything, the budget aimed at isolating Australia from our neighbours. More guns, fighter jets and border police. Less foreign aid, international broadcasting and action on climate change. This xenophobia helps keep progressive thinking in check.

    When I go along to the town hall meetings prophesised by Rundle, I hope there will be talk of Australia’s role as a regional neighbour, along with injustice at home. That seems the key to unlocking a new kind of politics.

    by Moving to Paraguay on May 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm

  9. Yes, this budget is an example of real class warfare, as Hockey’s throw-away lines illustrate only too well. So all of us that care about Australia being (or, more accurately, becoming) the land of the fair-go are waiting to hear the call to arms. But where’s the leader who can guide us to victory?

    by Liz Connor on May 15, 2014 at 2:09 pm

  10. I meant cheaper (than other degrees) to deliver i.e. relative terms, but nevertheless, point taken.

    Naturally everyone should want to learn about Foucault, being of course the chap behind arguably the most elegant geophysical experiment ever devised.

    by Mark Duffett on May 15, 2014 at 2:09 pm

  11. mark

    no i dont think everyone should want to learn about foucault - or neitziche (sp?) marx schopenhauer goethe fuck its all gemans diderot thats better shakespeare dante etc etc

    but i think those who do shoudnt have to pay the same rate as an electrical engineer/software designer/etc etc….for the greater good

    and thats the argument…


    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

  12. Medical research = opportunistic way of delivering to Abbott’s sponsors, like Amgen.

    by Sir Pajama Pudding of Lake Disappointment on May 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

  13. Maybe that funded research can be used to fix all the ailments missed because people couldn’t afford to go to the doctor?

    Remember the manifestation of Howard’s “cost-cutting” to “dental health programs”?

    by klewso on May 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  14. What’s weird about this move is that it is not presented as a belt-tightening, no-free-lunch type move, but as something that will power a new health research fund. Why? Why deny someone basic healthcare to fund research into increasingly rarer cancers, autoimmune diseases, etc? Why fund ways to extend life by three months for X hundred people, if delayed detection means a shorter life for X thousand people? The fund itself is not nailed down as a specific commitment over time — so is it a way of introducing savings that can be later produced as “over-delivering”?”

    Not to belittle our medical researchers, who do a fine job, but look at the beneficiaries of that research. Most medical research is done in conjunction with commercial partners, either in the actual research phase (clinical trials) or in the commercialisation phase. When governments fund applied science, which is what most medicine and IT is, they are effectively helping to subsidize the R&D activities of major corporations. That’s not a bad thing - the research institutions benefit, and eventually consumers and businesses benefit from the flow on effects. But in the case of the kind of medical research that’s being cited as the point of this fund, the beneficiaries will likely be Big Pharma.

    Want to look at how much Big Pharma gave to the coalition at the last election?

    I’m not arguing that medical research is a bad thing. I’m just saying that it’s pretty easy to see why this fund was created. It’s not mystifying at all.

    by rachel612 on May 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm

  15. I hope the state governments can find some addtional cash for Police and Prisons.

    I can well imagine some 29 year olds with zero cash for 5 months will be less than fussy on how to get enough to eat.

    by Keith Kube on May 15, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  16. Oh Guy, Guy, thank you for continuing to care enough to write articles like this one. ..
    Jen Dillon

    by Jennifer Dillon on May 15, 2014 at 2:33 pm

  17. Great article, Guy! You have nailed the failures at the heart of this government and this budget. Cheers, Gary.

    by garydj on May 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

  18. Good to see that you’re up and at them and all that jazz. However, as one of those “depressed” “frequent flyers”, I’d disagree with your description of mental health visits as “waste”. Not sure what you’re trying to say with that, maybe I missed a more subtle point. You are quite right as regards people going off to Casualty because of the cost of the doctor’s. The other side of the frequent flyers, as you alluded, will also be those who continue to fail to go and get medical attention before it’s too late. Does this government give a tuppeny fuck about that? Of course not.

    by Roberto Tedesco on May 15, 2014 at 2:36 pm

  19. I think this is the Abbott “Banging-your-head-against-a- brick-wall Budget”?
    Just think how good it will feel when he stops banging ours in two years time - it will feel so good we should all vote for him again?

    by klewso on May 15, 2014 at 2:38 pm

  20. Labor…”more Stockholm syndrome than a Myer Music Bowl Mamma Mia gala” I like it. I keep thinking any opposition should be able to make mincemeat out of this budget….but then Shorten comes on with all the fire and conviction of a slightly miffed lawn bowls club president. Funny cos he’s not that old. I agree, Labor needs to work out what its for, give most of its ‘intellectuals’ supporting cutting of the tax base to similar levels the opposition does, and also love the GST with a barely concealed passion.

    by Bo Gainsbourg on May 15, 2014 at 2:51 pm

  21. Whilst the Howard government lacked the courage / ideological fervor / stupidity to take to public health and education like this government, they did prepare the ground by pulling the middle class away from public and in to private services through the massive transfer of public wealth to private health insurance and private schools. There is no way Abbott / Hockey / Pyne et al. could have acted in such an extreme manner without that work being in place.

    by Ian Lewis on May 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

  22. lawn bowls club president is good.

    i had in mind ‘armidale road antiques shop dealer with a cold, half an hour before early sunday closing’

    but in effect they could be the same person.

    not that old? Shorten is 186. He was on tha same ship as Henry Parkes.

    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

  23. We know what Labor’s for - it’s what too many of the urger inhabitants of that wooden horse, they’ve made it, are for, that worries me.

    by klewso on May 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

  24. Beautiful.

    The only bit that didn’t really ring true was the final paras.. “They [the greens] need to start big public meetings in every capital city — town hall meetings, thousands-strong…”

    Actually i think those days are over. The next movement will be online - I thought it would be the pirates but they don’t quite seem to have it yet. Watch this space. Nobody goes to town halls any more.

    by aswann on May 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

  25. The purpose of the Medicare co-payment is to force doctors out of bulk billing, as a first step in dismantling Medicare. The savings themselves - under $200 million per annum - are hardly worth the grief. As to this medical research fund, that’s a furphy. It was designed to be used as a hostage when the Senate tries to block the Medicare changes. I can just see the screaming headlines on the News Corp tabloids - “Labor blocks money for kids with cancer”.

    by Steve777 on May 15, 2014 at 3:07 pm

  26. aswann

    disagree. if you hold it, they will come.
    yes maybe start smaller, fill a smaller hall.
    but people will come out, if leaders call them out.
    that’s what leadership is.

    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 3:08 pm

  27. Personally, I suspect that their newly touted medical research fund, will probably be implemented with as much enthusiasm as their alleged ‘direct action’ plan.
    In regards to the attack on the young unemployed, to me it seems the sort of divorced from the world madness, that made the administration of George W Bush, such a disaster for both America and the world. That is, it is a measure that their economics textbooks reckon will save money, but in the real world it will probably end up being far more expensive. As in, save some money in the short term by cutting welfare, but end up spending far more money in the future on police, prisons and security agencies. I mean, what do these geniuses think is going to happen, when young, testosterone charged men lose their casual or entry level job? Do they think they are going to say, “Oh well, I can’t pay the rent anymore, my job search is going nowhere, but that’s okay, I’ll just sleep in the park for the next six months, and if I do that, I’ll be doing my bit in the grand goal of building a stronger Australia”?

    by Electric Lardyland on May 15, 2014 at 3:14 pm

  28. Well, at least the Victorian Trades Hall has called a general meeting of all union members for next Tuesday. That is a hall worth filling. Plus the “March in May” rallies coming up around the country on the weekend — not an organising space, true, but significant if they draw huge numbers again. See you there!!!

    by Fleur on May 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm

  29. How depressing. You’ve pretty well nailed them all, Guy. Labor, Greens, LibNats. While they work through their respective existential crises, let’s get the Town Hall thing happening.

    Spot on, Jennifer Dillon. Thanks, Guy.

    by Dez Paul on May 15, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  30. I think it is time that someone spoke up here and mentioned all the great things about this
    budget instead of complaining. So here I go.

    ” “

    by Stuart Coyle on May 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

  31. Your best line was the one about Stockholm Syndrome in the ALP. An entire generation that came up in the 80s (and the media who reported on them) bought the idea of endless ‘reform’ toward some idealised classless capitalism (propped up by the accumulation of ever greater amounts of debt). Many of them fell in love with Keating and never got over it. Now he spends his time talking up rotten casino developments.

    What’s striking with the rabble now running the country is they are behaving as if the rules haven’t changed, that the GFC and the resulting huge adjustment (still going on) in the rest of the developed world never happened.

    It’s a fantasy. As you say, the generation of right wingers who fought culture wars with the left on campus in the late 70s and early 80s (have finally got a hold on power and they’re running around pushing all the buttons saying ‘what does this do?’

    They are clueless boofheads whose only instinct is to kick the heads of the people they hated at university. Their reading on economics stops at drool-sodden copies of Thatcher’s auto-biography. Now they’re all sitting in Canberra cheerfully pulling the wings off flies, expecting the population to sit there and take it.

    The only person making any sense is Clive Palmer and that’s because he at least has an instinct (however dishonest his intentions) for what ordinary folk think of the circus in Canberra.

    by Mr Denmore on May 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

  32. I’d like to point out that we measure unemployment by the number of people receiving unemployment benefits.
    Throw 50% of the yoof on the dole off it, and yoof unemployment will drop by 50%. Joe and Tony will say “see, it worked!”. Of course the participation rate will plunge but only wonks pay attention to that.

    PS Guy why are you so cruel to Blorb Snitten?

    by Nevil Kingston-Brown on May 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm

  33. So young people can get an expensive degree and saddle themselves with decades of debt, or try their chances in the job market chasing the ever decreasing number of jobs that don’t require post-school qualifications. If they lose their jobs they’re on their own for 6 months unless their parents are able and willing to support them.

    Oh, and the Government’s backers have signalled that they want to wind back the minimum wage, which will exert a downwards gravitational pull on all wages and salaries below management level.

    A low-paid, insecure workforce, crushed by debt who face ruin if they lose their jobs. Maybe the LNP-Murdoch-IPA Coalition see that as a good way to create a docile, compliant workforce. Maybe a bit of extra spending on police and prisons for those who try to break out.

    by Steve777 on May 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm

  34. On teh twitter, a Mr Troy Bramston writes:

    Hard as a ballerina!’ Does anyone, anywhere, ever understand what Guy Rundle is going on about? Always phoning in impenetrable verbiage.

    Well, Troy, many former Labor, now Green voters, would have recognised it as a reference to arts funding, where ballerinas got $1 million (for extra accom), while other arts were slashed by 50%. You may not have noticed it, but the voters in Melbourne did. You know Melbourne, Troy - it’s the seat whose member you had to deal with in 2010 to stay in power. Thanks for your service. You are the Greens secret weapon.

    by Guy Rundle on May 15, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  35. If the ALP and Greens have enough sense they will block supply and try and get us back to the polls for a cross between 1975 (for kicking out incumbents) and 1943 (for the ALP result).

    by Tom the first and best on May 15, 2014 at 3:52 pm

  36. As someone who has spent many enjoyable hours immersed in the depths of Donnie Darko, while indulging in very few cones in recent years, I just hope that the inevitable remake of said movie involves the aircraft engine landing smack on Tony’s bedroom in the Lodge, and Joe waking up in the middle of the night with a naked white rabbit molesting him to the tune of “Best Day Of My Life”.

    by Brian Williams on May 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

  37. @Mr Denmore - precisely so, Clive will do what is best for Clive. It may just be in everyone else’s interests as well however.

    by Chris Hartwell on May 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

  38. Whilst the “collective left” articulates its’ case against this appalling Budget, is Christopher Pyne the first MP to call the Opposition Leader a c**t in the House of Reps?

    by beachcomber on May 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

  39. We know at least why the higher education changes are the way they are — the aim is to wither the humanities.”

    Actually, they are reducing the govt contribution for engineering and science more than the humanities. If unis want to maintain their current income for engineering, they’ll have to charge students 55% more than they do now. For humanities the govt is actually giving the unis more. Infrastructure PM? Go figure.

    by Jack Stepney on May 15, 2014 at 4:07 pm

  40. Anecdotal denigration ill behoves Grundle “the old, lonely and depressed,who turn up twice a week, every week, and constitute around 30-50% of some GP lists. sounds like the excrement through letterboxes & welfare queens. Any, y’know, akshal evidence of 30-50% of some GP lists?
    Sloppy in Questions today mooted that the co-payment might lead to a cure for cancer so that’s all right then…

    by AR on May 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

  41. Hi interesting article. I agree with AR- I’m not sure where you got the stats on 30 per cent of GP visits, I think that is actually just wrong. But I’d be keen to see some evidence if it’s not? Please link if possible.

    by amy c on May 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

  42. Please don’t imply that Pyne is representative of Adelaide. I could say he’d fit in well in various suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne or even the shires of England, but in fact I think he is uniquely, non-city specific, mincingly, un-Australianly obnoxious.

    by Mikail Hopkinsovic on May 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm

  43. Another masterful Rundle piece.

    Gillard’s ‘poodle’ description sat perfectly on C Pyne but it’s been topped by this summation -
    ‘Pyne is … I dunno, TBH. Forget it, mac, it’s Adelaide.’

    Respect, Guy, respect.

    by zut alors on May 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm

  44. Here’s my Dad, on Mincing Pyne:
    “Pyne Upper fourth form milk monitor has had a dummy spat. Must have missed his Freddo at morning playtime.”

    And I conscientiously object to the $5 part of my $7 co-payment going to medical research using animals.

    by puddleduck on May 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  45. Here’s a question for everyone: if you had the choice between a degree from, say, Harvard versus one from the University of Wooloomooloo for the same or even less cost, which one would you choose?

    Because that’s the other tidal wave that’s about to sweep over the tertiary eduction sector. More and more will be offered on-line from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. The American universities are already preparing for this as they look to deliver an increasingly greater percentage of their curriculum via the internet. They are poised to do to Australian universities what Amazon did to Australian bookshops.

    And in this environment, Phony Joe and To-rag want our universities to increase their fees?

    It didn’t have to be this way. A proper NBN would have enabled our service providers (including our universities) to be leading the charge and delivering beyond our borders into the global market. Yet another opportunity lost by our myopic, moronic so-called ‘leaders’.

    by Graeski on May 15, 2014 at 5:01 pm

  46. MrD - “The only person making any sense is Clive Palmer” and that is the most terrifying aspect of all.
    Blil Shorterm is so clearly already compiling his CV for the inevitable day that he is rolled, for someone with more sense, ability, integrity & energy.. like one of the Tellytubbies perhaps.

    by AR on May 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

  47. They never said you couldn’t pay for doctor visits or useless, unproductive study if that’s your bag. Set up a charity and donate as much as you please, lefties.

    by Patriot on May 15, 2014 at 5:20 pm

  48. What’s weird about this move is that it is not presented as a belt-tightening, no-free-lunch type move, but as something that will power a new health research fund. Why? Why deny someone basic healthcare to fund research into increasingly rarer cancers, autoimmune diseases, etc? Why fund ways to extend life by three months for X hundred people, if delayed detection means a shorter life for X thousand people?

    The answer would seem to be that this measure is an obvious demonstration that this divisive, vindictive budget is about “those in our favour” and “the rest”. In the Abbott government’s “mind”, denying many, many thousands access to essential (and often preventative) health care in order to fund the sort of “research” whose products (if there are any) only the wealthy could afford is entirely reasonable. “Let the Proles suffer” seems to be the way of the future.

    by fractious on May 15, 2014 at 5:23 pm

  49. Bong on in 2014. But seriously -

    It seems to me the biggest impediment at the moment is the Labor party itself. It cant be fixed, therefore, the best thing that could happen right now is for it to fall apart. Things would be crook for a while with the coalition having the field to themselves but it would not take long for some serious alternatives to assert themselves. Even now various minor parties, a lot of them just nuisances to be sure, are at least getting the voting public’s attention, and it would be interesting at least to see how “the Left” (which these days seems to be everyone who’s moral compass is not that of a dalek) asserts itself and in what ways. It might just be the kick up the arse the nation needs.

    On a minor note - as someone who shamelessly bludged on the dole for at least a decade I can tell you that 1 - it’s not all sucking cones, a lot of us involved ourselves in a lot of political and community activism, and 2 - as a working tax-payer right now I have no issue at all with people who do somehow manage to get through every hoop laid before them just to pay the rent. Remember the lay about the bum on the rods and the bum on the plush.

    by Andrew McIntosh on May 15, 2014 at 5:25 pm

  50. EL @ 27 3:14pm
    “I mean, what do these geniuses think is going to happen, when young, testosterone charged men lose their casual or entry level job?”

    The more I think about it, the closer I get to the conclusion that the real division revealed in this nasty, vicious payback budget is not the “haves” vs the “have nots” but between those who have the right sort of connections vs the rest. The unemployed (young, old, male, female, regardless of aptitude or attitude or qualification) fit in the “everyone else” bin, and so don’t matter to the Tories. In fact, save for some occasional “statistics” that show production is up and unemployment is at an historic low, none of the Untermenschen will ever rate a mention (and we have always been at war with Oceania).

    by fractious on May 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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