Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett would feel right at home in Washington among pork barreling conservative Republican congressmen and women. That is, he appears to see nothing inconsistent with, on the one hand, attacking welfare recipients and urging government to stop spending so much money on them, while on the other having your paw out for taxpayers’ dollars to fund a project of dubious worth.

Mr Kennett re-entered the political fray yesterday by flogging one of the right’s horses — the welfare system. He told a local government talkfest that too many Australians — 40 percent he says — are getting some form of welfare.

“The trend line is getting to the stage where more and more people are receiving rather than contributing. We have slowly been allowing ourselves to destroy the independence that every male and female should have, and the acceptance of personal responsibility,” Mr Kennett apparently told the meeting.

Of course, Mr Kennett added, he doesn’t mind welfare going where it is genuinely needed.

One assumes Mr Kennett thinks that the football club of which he is President, Hawthorn, is one of those cases of genuine need. Mr Kennett buttered up former Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon over a game of golf or two a couple of years ago to squeeze $15 million out of him so that Tasmanians could have the name of their state emblazoned on the Hawthorn jumper, and for the Hawks to play a few games each year in Launceston.

No doubt Mr Kennett thinks that this $15 million is better spent on his football club, rather than on those lazy low income earners and welfare bludgers who sleep rough every night, or have to wait three years for important medical assistance.

But Mr Kennett is not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to conservative hypocrisy on the issue of where government puts its money. In Washington, it is generally right wing Republicans who are as keen as mustard to slash welfare and demonise the disadvantaged, while ensuring at the same time that their mates in business get every bit of pork they lobby for and a bit more for good measure.

In fact, according to lobby group Citizens against Government Waste, which each year produces a record of congressional pork barreling called the “Pig Book”, the leading pork barrel exponents who between them have appropriated over $US30 million for their business friends and support groups back in their home states, are Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran and his fellow party member Robert Bennett from Utah.

Naturally, both Senator Cochran and Senator Bennett voted for the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act which the Bush Administration used to slash $US 40 billion from welfare spending.

Jeff Kennett would no doubt understand their logic, even if the rest of us can’t.

Peter Fray

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