Federal Politics


Never-ending welfare story a blight on all

Could you imagine Paul Keating or Malcolm Fraser making the following the core of their new year speech (take a deep breath and wade through to the end of the three paragraphs, please):

''Thousands of new mums are now benefiting from paid parental leave every year, and from New Year's Day dads will get two weeks of paid leave just for them, so they can spend more time with their new baby too.

''We are also investing more money than ever before in helping families with their childcare costs and because the costs keep coming when children go to school, in 2013, for the first time, families will get the new Schoolkids Bonus.

''A typical family is $720 a year better off than under the old system.

''This on top of $4000 in extra payments for teenagers.''

That was Julia Gillard in her new year speech this week.


To be fair, John Howard started the rot - ramping up direct payments from the government to people who on any reasonable standard have the wherewithal to look after their families themselves. Provided, of course, they do not feel entitled to the instant gratification of the latest electronic gizmos for themselves and their children and a McMansion with at least one bedroom and bathroom for every two occupants, a car for every adult, designer clothing and the rest of the unnecessary and expensive dictates of the advertising industry.

Labor has had no choice but to keep it up.

''Oh, a nice cheque from the government. What a good government. I must vote for its re-election.''

It is almost like drug addiction - for both the dealer handing out the cheques and the addicts receiving it. It is bad for both, and once started very difficult to get off. Demand for government handouts is almost limitless. Withdrawal pain for both supplier and recipient is intense.

Gillard's words were those of a kitchen-knife television advertisement in their detail of price and quantity. She even said words to the effect of ''and there's more''.

Governments seem terrified of any reform of middle-class or business welfare. Their terror is accentuated by the classic media question: ''Can you guarantee that no one will be worse off?''

This is usually followed by media stories finding someone who would be badly affected by the policy and beating up the story as if it were commonplace - thus distorting the true picture, even if the individual story might be true.

No wonder we have democratic paralysis.

Nonetheless, that an Australian Prime Minister cites handouts - and middle-class handouts at that - as a point of pride in her Australia Day address should be alarming.

Worse, it suggests that grasping two other big-ticket reform items seems hopeless: tax and industrial relations.

Raising and widening the GST so inefficient taxes can be removed is off the agenda. Someone, somewhere might be worse off. Allowing employers and employees to make sensible arrangements that suit their workplaces is out of the question because you could not guarantee that some individual might be worse off - presuming they are employed at all, of course.

Removing business welfare is now impossible because industry groups seems totally geared to the selfish pursuit of their own sector irrespective of the national good.

Governments seem paralysed against acting for the overall good just in case a few individual whingers make a meal out of the policy change in front of the TV cameras.

There was a time, of course, when the middle class was self-reliant and would be insulted by the proposition of a government handout because it would imply they could not look after their families themselves. They would be too proud to take it. That's the difference.

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The ACT's no-plastic-to-landfill policy looks like collapsing under the weight of bountiful thick bags.

The aim was to cut the amount of plastic going into landfill. Fine aim. So all thin plastic carry bags were banned.

In theory, everyone would shop with reusable cloth bags. But a little more than a year after the ban, at virtually every supermarket you find ''reusable'' thicker plastic bags which are allowed under the regulations.

No doubt most of the ''reusuable'' thick plastic bags get only one use. The upshot is more plastic going into landfill.

The road to the supermarket is littered with good intentions. I am sure the intentions would have more effectively converted to action by a 10c fee on every bag.

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There was an unspoken message this Christmas-New Year to those waiting in traffic banked up to Nelligen from the Pacific Highway roundabout at Batemans Bay. And also to other motorists on the NSW north coast who waited for hours in traffic on the same highway.

It will get worse for the simple reason that the federal government, which controls immigration, seems determined to continue to allow high numbers of people to come to Australia without any reference to the capacity of the states to provide for the infrastructure to service the higher population.

Very simply, the states need to spend 2 per cent of the total value of the infrastructure every year just to maintain it - the average piece of public infrastructure lasts about 50 years. If you add 2 per cent of population every year you have to double your infrastructure effort. No state is doing it, or can do it. The feds have set them an impossible task.

The stress on the infrastructure at Batemans Bay this holiday season is just a portent for everywhere all the time in Australia on present population projections.

Happy New Year.