Far from fostering selfish individualism in our society, the Federal Government has balanced economic reforms with care for the vulnerable, the Prime Minister argued in an Australian op-ed yesterday, in an unusual rebuttal of recent attacks from Labor leader Kevin Rudd.

Rudd has riposted that the Prime Minister doesn’t like scrutiny.

Crikey believes he doesn’t care for economic reforms or the vulnerable. His spin lacks substance. He’s a poor pundit and a worse PM.

“Of course I believe in a strong, dynamic market economy,” he wrote. “I believe in it because it is a foundation of a good and decent society. I also believe in ongoing economic reform.”

Yet John Howard isn’t delivering any of these things.

“In a speech to ACOSS as Opposition Leader in October 1995, I committed the Coalition to a fair society in government and we’ve kept faith with that commitment,” the PM wrote.

That was over a decade ago. Since then Australia has been steadily become less fair – less fair not because of income, but because of a rising inequality of wealth.
We’re becoming less fair thanks to the way the government handles housing. If you’ve paid off your house over the Howard years, you’re probably laughing. If you haven’t, if you’ve just got your foot on the housing ladder or if you’re a renter, then you’re starting the race of life with a pretty nasty handicap.

We’re becoming less fair thanks to the hotchpotch of policies the Howard Government has implemented to pander to its political pets.

There are first home buyer’s grants for millionaires. There are the family tax rorts. The Government spends more on private schools than it spends on universities. Wealthy renters can get Commonwealth Rent Assistance if they have children but a single renter on Austudy or one with a low paid casual job isn’t eligible. You can get 30% off the cost of your dental cover – if you can afford it – but if you’re poor you’re stuck with woeful Commonwealth care.

John Howard’s government is all about churn. He takes money from taxpayers and gives it to his bureaucrats. They push it this way and that, diminishing it all the while.

It’s a story of transfers all round. Some goes to the worse off, but it mainly ends up in the pockets of middle class and wealthier Australians. Much of it should never be taken in the first place.

John Howard is scared of tax reform. Instead, he bribes taxpayers with their own money. That’s bad social policy. It’s bad economics, too.

It’s also bad for our polity – for the relationship between governments and the governed. It reduces us to clients of the state.

Here’s hoping the Emersons, Tanners and Swans of the world will have something better to offer next year.