There is a powerful economic and ethical argument that the Newstart Allowance, paid to the unemployed, should be increased.
It has not risen in real terms (that is, after accounting for inflation) for more than a quarter of a century.
Despite promising hundreds of billions of dollars in income and company tax cuts in recent days, neither the government nor the Labor Party has committed to increasing it from $39 a day, a level widely agreed – including by business groups, former Liberal Party prime minister John Howard and countless economists – to be insufficient to allow people to avoid poverty, let alone be able to properly present themselves for employment.
Every cent of any increase would help these people to contribute to the economy.
They would evidently have to spend it all on the daily costs of living, immediately stimulating overall demand; it would be an investment that would pay handsome dividends. This is not about ‘‘bleeding hearts’’ or a welfare state.
We should believe most of our lawmakers are motivated by fairness, equality of opportunity and reward for effort, the cornerstones of a healthy economy and society.
But the Coalition government’s election budget and the opposition’s response can reasonably be seen as primarily focused on seeking and keeping jobs for politicians, some of the most well-paid and privileged among us, rather than supporting some of our most vulnerable and needy in their struggle for jobs.
The greatest form of economic and social justice is employment, and the greatest source of work is the private sector; increasing the Newstart Allowance is ultimately a business -friendly policy, particularly when, as our politicians are arguing, there is room to spend public funds on stimulating employment and enterprise.
Our elected representatives, and those who would aspire to such an honour, are displaying a lack of connection to the very communities they are supposed to champion.
Instead, they are entering a bidding process that cynically appeals not to our finer motivations, but to a base hip-pocket calculation.
It is encouraging that talkback radio, letters pages and other forums, are replete with laments from mainstream Australians that this auction, which after all is financed by our taxes, is unjust.