Hope versus humiliation in the Federal Budget

John Falzon 

It would be nice to believe, as the Treasurer wants us to, that better times are just around the corner. But while wages stagnate and company profits surge, inequality is now at its highest point since the 1950s.

This is clearly not going to get any better any time soon. By 2019, the highest income earners will have received an effective tax cut of 1.5 per cent compared to all other taxpayers who will be paying an extra 0.5 per cent. But for the young people of Australia especially, Budget 2017 boosts inequality instead of building a better future.

Corporate tax cuts at the same time as penalty rate cuts and cuts to social services and social security to the tune of $15 billion since 2014 will not help young people into jobs. Neither will the imposition of behavioural sticks on the backs of the unemployed, which only serve to distract us from the existence of structural walls that keep them excluded.

Wealth does not trickle down, unless, of course, you have wealthy parents. Young people need housing security, not the threat of homelessness. While the government's restraint in not axing homelessness or social housing funding is going to be a source of relief for many, it is hardly the expansive vision for housing that is so desperately needed.

The fact that housing is on the government's radar is positive, as are some of the measures announced with regard to social and affordable housing, but we are yet to see an overarching plan that is going to address the housing crisis in prosperous Australia. Without significant changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts, for example, housing will remain a speculative sport instead of a human right.

To those in the government who pretend that the solution to unemployment lies in putting the boot into the unemployed, let me state the bleeding obvious: There is only one job for every ten people looking for work or more work. One in three young people are unemployed or underemployed. We have a Newstart payment that has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994.

If you are young and studying you are looking down the barrel of fee increases and university funding cuts. If you are trying to survive in low-paid, casual work you can expect penalty rate cuts. And yet still the government makes an art-form out of cruelty to young unemployed people.

It can drag all of the weapons it likes from its dismal armoury but this will not create a single job or address the structural drivers of unemployment and underemployment. It can drug-test and impose demerits and force people to rely on charity or even turn to crime and it will still not have improved people's lives or strengthened the economy.

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