The vacuousness of this year’s budget is matched only by the viciousness of the inequality it entrenches. The much trumpeted projected budget surplus, such as it is, is built on the backs of people who are left out and often made to feel that they are left over, surplus to the economy: people on low pay or no pay, young people, sole parents, people experiencing homelessness, people living with a disability.
These are the people who bear the brunt of inequality and once again they are told that there is not enough money in the tin to meet their needs, while the largesse is reserved for the already wealthy. One is reminded of Martin Luther King’s observation of the USA: ‘This country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.’
The urgent need to lift Newstart, currently at $40 a day, so that people locked out of a job no longer need to wage a daily battle for survival from below the poverty line, has become a point of rare consensus for everyone from the ACTU to the Business Council of Australia; from ACOSS to Deloitte. The failure to increase this payment remains a deep wound in the nation’s soul. Instead of healing this wound the government has rubbed salt in it, even going so far as to exclude unemployed workers from its pathetic one-off energy payment, only to belatedly include them the day after, a payment in any case so low, at $1.45 a week, that it won’t even buy a hot apple pie from McDonalds, let alone keep the heating on at home.