We’re ‘entitled’ to be outraged, Mr Hockey

Last night Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey came out swinging on ABC1’s Lateline program. His topic of choice? Australia’s alleged culture of ‘universal entitlement’, and how we had to stop expecting the government to pay for everything.

Of course, by ‘entitlement’, he was referring to Australia’s welfare and benefits systems, often referred to as Social Security. It was a shambles. A shemozzle. It had to be fixed. Look at the US, he cried. Look at the UK. Their debts are huge, and we’re in danger of going the same way! It’s time for decisive action, and Hockey’s our man for it, apparently. We need to cut this runaway welfare spending while we still can, or we’ll end up like the US. He actually managed to convey the impression that the reason Europe and the US were plunged into the Global Financial Crisis was the fault of welfare spending, rather than under-regulation, irresponsibility and sheer criminal activity from banks and regulators alike.

But the real target of this plan isn’t the government, of course. It’s the most vulnerable people in our society – the chronically ill, the young single parents, the old and the unemployed. Hockey’s plan is aimed squarely at the very people most in need, and he’s not ashamed of it. In fact, he seems proud of it – and utterly contemptuous of the people he proposes to further disenfranchise and disadvantage.

The clue is in how he talked about the issue. He repeatedly used the word ‘entitlements’.

From the World English Dictionary:

entitle (vb)

1. to give (a person) the right to do or have something; qualify; allow
2. to give a name or title to
3. to confer a title of rank or honour upon

Seems pretty straightforward, right? If someone is ‘entitled’ to something, they have the right to receive it. An ‘entitlement’, therefore, is what said person should receive.

But this is a word that’s taken on a very nasty meaning in recent years. We hear people described as having ‘a sense of entitlement’, that they believe they can demand special treatment. In other words, that the world – or in this case, the government – owes them a living.

And that’s the sense in which Hockey is using the word. He could have talked about ‘benefits’, ‘pensions’, ‘government allowances’ – any one of a dozen synonyms. He chose to use the word ‘entitlements’, to invoke the implicit idea that those who receive such benefits don’t deserve them. And lest anyone think it was an innocent choice, we have Hockey’s own statement that there is ‘a lot of spending by government which many voters see as their entitlement’.

In essence, this is no different from the way the Liberals under former Prime Minister John Howard repeatedly targeted those receiving government benefits. They helped whip up the outrage that led to A Current Affair’s notorious ‘Paxton Controversy‘, in which the program vilified and defamed a family caught in a cycle of dependence on government assistance. They positively encouraged the view that anyone – anyone – who was on unemployment benefits was simply a ‘dole bludger’, who would rather sit and home and watch TV than do an honest day’s work. They insinuated that those receiving disability pensions were faking their illnesses, and that a woman on a single-parent pension just ‘didn’t want to work’. They introduced ‘Work for the Dole’, which can best be described as demeaning make-work that looked suspiciously like it was designed to get as much as possible for as little as possible, with the added benefit of humiliating the people forced into it.

At the same time they introduced non means-tested ‘Baby Bonus’ and private health insurance rebates, handing out significant sums of money to those in the top tax brackets. They didn’t even bother to establish any but the most rudimentary criteria for eligibility: all that anyone needed to qualify was a birth certificate or a receipt from an insurance provider. This was certainly welcome relief for those who fell into that ever-widening crater between needing government support just to go to the doctor’s and those who could pick and choose their private hospital and get that elective surgery whenever they wished.

The Coalition thought it was ‘fair’ to provide those same benefits to those who demonstrably didn’t need any help from the government whatsoever. They cut taxes and put in place rebates that ensured Australia’s highest income earners were better off than ever. While they were doing all this, they made it harder and harder for those in genuine need to even gain a Health Care Card to enable them to get medical treatment – let alone help them get out from under spiralling debts, manage their chronic illnesses or stay home with a baby because was no possible way to afford child care.

And Joe Hockey, mouthpiece for the Coalition, wants to do it all again. When pressed on why the Liberals said they’d repeal the means test for the private health insurance rebate, he dodged the question. When asked about the Baby Bonus, likewise. Oh, and they re-affirmed their commitment to establishing a Paid Parental Leave scheme that guaranteed full income replacement for all Australians regardless of income (despite the ever-widening gap between the Coalition’s spending promises and available Budget funds). If those schemes are quarantined from Hockey’s guillotine, all that’s left are the benefits for those who depend on government help just to get through the day.

Hockey read us a lecture on how this might be brutal, but it was ‘financially sustainable’. He exhorted to look to ‘Asia’ as a role model and embrace ‘filial piety’ – in other words, expecting help from the government was a sign that we were failing in our responsibilities to our relatives. We were children raised by ‘bad parents’, he insisted, who had instilled in us a sense that the government would look after us.

Here’s a news flash, Mr Hockey – it is the government’s job to look after us. We elect the government to build our roads, manage our borders, represent us to the world, regulate the systems on which we depend, protect us from (to coin a phrase) ‘enemies foreign and domestic). We also elect our government to help look out for those in our society who are not able to help themselves – the destitute, the chronically ill, the disadvantaged. We expect that our government will be there for us when a flood or cyclone devastates our town and tears away the infrastructure built with our money.

We pay taxes and levies to provide the government with revenue to do these things. Income tax, fuel tax, sales tax, company tax, levies of various kinds, and of course the GST – there is not one person in this country who is exempt from taxes. Despite what’s often said by those who subscribe to the ‘dole bludger’ rhetoric, an unemployed person pays taxes every time they fill up their car or do their shopping. To suggest otherwise is a poisonous untruth, and that unemployed person has the right to expect their government will assist them if they need it.

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this morning, ‘If Australians think they’re entitled to Medicare, aged pensions … they’re right’.

And as for your idea that we should look at Asia, Mr Hockey – just which part did you have in mind? Let’s look at a few countries, just on the issue of public health care.

Let’s start with China’s Communist-Capitalist hybrid, where an adult leaves his family and lives in a faraway city just to find enough work to lift them (barely) out of subsistence? Where huge construction projects reap billions for a few companies, but then stand empty for years because no one can afford to move into the apartment complexes? Where the young nouveau-riche spend millions on collecting sports cars while the elderly in the provinces go without medical treatment and die from diseases that simple nutrition can prevent?

But China is also in the process of overhauling their health care system to provide near-universal health care, for the cost of about 10 yuan per person after provincial and national government contributions. Their public health infrastructure lags sadly behind, and if someone has the misfortune to need to visit a clinic in the country, they’re only covered for 60% of their bill – but reform is in progress.

So which part of China should we emulate? The universal health care, or the massive class divide that exists as a result of China’s race to outrun the US?

How about India? That’s a booming economy – and it eclipses the millions who live in abject poverty. It has a maternal and neonatal death rate that is simply appalling. For every person with a good job and health care, there are thousands dying in rural areas because its public health spending is less than 2% of its Gross Domestic Product.

Or how about South Korea, which has a well-developed public health system subsidising development of hospital and medical services, and financial assistance for most of its population to cover medical bills and social disadvantage?

Which one of those, Mr Hockey?

Our health care and welfare systems have real problems – in some areas, they’re utterly broken. Nonetheless, we still enjoy a higher life expectancy than most developed economies. Our maternal and neonatal death rates are lower than most developed countries. We don’t have raging epidemics of measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis and a whole host of diseases preventable by vaccination. We’re lucky. We have some incredible medical personnel, and we are in a position to take advantage of the latest research.

We also have public money – our money – allocated to public health care. Our vaccinations are subsidised, if not actually free. Our poor have access to subsidised medicines and aids. Our chronically ill and disabled are not thrown out into the street and left to beg for scraps.

Can we do more? Yes, we can, and we should. We shouldn’t be talking about cutting that kind of spending, Mr Hockey – we should be increasing it.

Remember, Mr Hockey? It’s our money. We hand it to the government in trust that our needs will be properly met. If your party isn’t prepared to do that, then why on earth do you think we should give it to you? It will be no comfort to us to have your fabled ‘large Budget surplus’ when our most vulnerable are suffering – and you still maintain that there’s something wrong with them expecting you to help.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

25 Responses to We’re ‘entitled’ to be outraged, Mr Hockey

  1. online scams explained…

    […]We’re ‘entitled’ to be outraged, Mr Hockey « The Conscience Vote[…]…

  2. lilacsigil says:

    People who really need help? “Entitlement!” People who are doing well getting extra? “Helping families!”

    My parents, for example, were astonished to find that, since they earn under $80,000/year combined and are over 65, they were eligible for a Commonwealth Seniors’ Card, “entitling” them to get their prescriptions at a base rate of $5.80 instead of $34.90. The rest is made up by the government. It was a straightforward application. Meanwhile, working in pharmacy, I see genuinely poor people who can’t wade through the bureaucracy or can’t afford the $40 of petrol (there’s a bus but only once a week) to Centrelink and back to get help, unable to afford their full-price prescriptions. Should low-income seniors get the discount? Of course. But earning nearly $80,000/year is not poor, especially as the Prescription Safety Net will help for those getting a lot of medication.

  3. […] We're 'entitled' to be outraged, Mr Hockey « The Conscience Vote […]

  4. […] more: We're 'entitled' to be outraged, Mr Hockey « The Conscience Vote […]

  5. Heath Graham says:

    Oh it’s good when you get a rage on. 😀

  6. I must admit Loe Hockey has done something no other member of the Opposition has been able to do till now. My normal reaction is a set of raised eyebrows and a stunned disbelief at the inanities which burst forth from My Abbott’s crew.

    Last night was different. I was moved to some foul-mouthed invective! Hockey is proposing a return to the bad old days I learned about while doing genealogy. Back to the times when widows had to remarry, or become “housekeepers” because there was no safety net. Back when men were executed for stealing food for their families because there was no work and no safety net!

    Luckily I was able to put my hockey-angst into a limerick. This saved several doors and windows from destruction!

  7. Sherryl says:

    It absolutely enrages me when fat-cat (literally in this case) politicians make people on pensions the problem with everything. It’s such a TodayTonight/Current Affair attitude – us and them, and don’t let’s be “them” – let’s blame “them” for everything.
    They have absolutely no idea what it’s like to try and live on a pension (unemployment payments are a scandal, they are so low). I think every single pollie should be made to live on the pension, preferably Newstart (which is a start only on the road to no real support whatsoever), for a minimum of two weeks.

    • Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is doing just that at the moment – trying to live on Newstart, to support the Greens’ push for a $50 rise in that allowance. She worked out that, after rent, she’d probably have around $17 a day to pay for everything else.

      People like Hockey dispute these figures, but they never take into account that people on these benefits learn to rob Peter to pay Paul, max out their credit cards and (if they’re lucky) lean heavily on their friends. And, of course, those pointing the ‘dole bludger’ finger certainly don’t want to face the fact that people on these benefits often live in crowded, run-down homes, regularly have their amenities cut off and skimp on food, clothes and medical care in order to care for their children or just keep a roof over their heads.

      I’ve occasionally thought about forcing politicians to live on a stipend that covers their basic needs. Their flash outfits could be rented, they could live in the equivalent of Housing Commission accommodation while in Canberra, have the use of a work car only for official business, and no lifelong pension. Then we might see some people in the jobs who actually want to work for the benefit of everyone.

      • Pip says:

        I read recently that Abbott is gifted his suits by his tailor!

      • jane says:

        During the Fraser years a loud mouth Liars politician who built the bandwagon Sloppy spruiks from, famously fog horned to all and sundry that he could live generously on the dole and save plenty at the same time.

        A group of young people on the dole living in a share house allowed the clown to have a room to conduct his experiment and expose these caviar eating, Bollinger swilling dole bludgers for the wasters they were. The experiment was to last a month.

        So with much fanfare, he moved in to the share house. In less than a week he slunk out; he’d blown the entire fortnight’s dole in about three days!

        I’ve never had any time for the Liars Party and that incident reconfirmed and cemented my opinion.

        You’re absolutely right that politicians should be forced to have a taste of life on the dole or as a single parent. Not just for a week, at least a month.

        See if they can run a car, get adequate medical attention, get dental work done (bwahahaha), a decent hair cut, clothes for job interviews, decent phones, access to jobs that aren’t a joke just to keep government cash rolling into Little Johnnie’s job centres AND pay the rent and utilities and feed and clothe their families on the dole!

        The first cabs off the rank should be Sloppy and Liealot. They should be supervised to make sure they’re not slithering off to augment the enormous dole payment, followed by politicians of all stripes.

        And no selling their daughters to pimps to make ends meet even though that should be fine by Sloppy.

        After all that’s what the poor in Asia have to do. And I guess he could take the youngest out of school or kindy and have them sort through the rubbish at the local tip to augment the dole.

        I think that would guarantee an increase in unemployment benefits and a return to government run job centres.

        I take my hat off to Rachel Siewart, she is a very decent person.

  8. Measured, potent and powerful. Thanks for posting this wonderful reply to Mr. Hockey. Reminds me of the wonderful book, The Myth of Privilege by Steve Mickler..know it?

    • Thank you very much! I’ve heard good things about the book, but haven’t managed to track down a copy yet. I take it you recommend it?

      The bizarre thing about privilege is that so often, those who have it believe that they are most oppressed. It’s such a peculiar mindset.

  9. tqft says:

    Bet he won’t propose means testing private schools or businesses.

    • The Coalition are well-known – almost infamous – for claiming that any reduction in private school funding in favour of government schools is ‘unfair’, and a restriction of ‘free choice’.

      They’ve come out tonight and said they don’t have a welfare hit list, but nonetheless Abbott’s still backing up Hockey’s initial remarks.

  10. Forth says:

    My first thought on hearing this particular spray from him was “Those are the words of someone with a six figure income.” It’s the point of view of someone for whom private health insurance is an incremental expense that doesn’t much impact on their discretional income…certainly far less of a drain than the loan to pay for the Porsche SUV in the driveway. I bet he’s thoroughly bemused by the reaction we’re all having.

    • It’s the view of someone who doesn’t pay for their private health insurance – it comes with the car, and the travel allowances, the massive superannuation and the lifelong pension.

  11. Seamus Duffy says:

    Is it true that Hoe Jockey is donating his Post-stapled stomach to a third world village as a goat Byre… If The government wasn’t in such disarray he could look forward to spending a long time in the wilderness holding hands with Lugs Bunny…

  12. Josepheen Frankland says:

    Here! Here! From a worker glad to pay taxes for welfare and social justice.

    • This is what I find, over and over again – people who are hit hardest by taxes are often the most willing to hand over their money. I’m not sure why that is – perhaps it’s a function of community that doesn’t reach into the higher income areas.

      • Sherryl says:

        When it comes to donating and giving to those who have less, Australia’s rich are some of the stingiest in the world.

  13. Gwen says:

    Beautiful Maz. A disgraceful statement from one so privileged…..another white middle/upper class guy telling the world how it is ‘in his eyes’ .

    • Thank you. I will say one thing for Hockey, though – he’s consistently been the only Coalition politician to call out his own party on some of their more outrageous behaviour (for example, denying a pair to Craig Thomson so that he could be there for the birth of his child). That makes his statements last night even more baffling – which is the ‘real’ Hockey?

Leave a Reply to Seamus Duffy Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: