THE CALL by Keating government figure Gary Johns to make unemployment benefits conditional on compulsory contraception is an incendiary articulation of resentment toward rampant, profligate welfare by those who work; it points to a growing divide between those who pay tax and those who don’t, and intersects with questions of paternalism and the “right” of some people to have what they want without the attendant responsibility for it.
In what could be a sign of things to come, former Keating government minister Gary Johns has published an opinion piece in The Australian today that baldly declares that anyone solely reliant on unemployment benefits should have the payment of those benefits made conditional on compulsory contraception. We will come back to that pronouncement shortly.
And I say it could be a sign of things to come because the present government — elected to clean up the excesses of six years’ Labor government that encouraged an explosion of the welfare mentality and the culture of entitlement, as much as to clean up Labor’s debt and deficit disaster — has patently failed to date on both these counts.
Even taking into account its difficulties in the Senate, the burden of the Abbott government’s deficit-busting initiatives appears disproportionately targeted at its traditional constituencies of families on middle incomes and the aged, and I believe one of the (many) reasons for the government’s poor opinion numbers stems from frustration that Australia’s ballooning welfare handout regime seems quarantined from any serious attempt to rein it in: lest the vested interests get offended, or the vocal lobbies of bleeding hearts, finger-shakers and outrage pedlars really begin to strut their stuff.
I think Johns has made a fundamental strategic mistake in his article by highlighting case studies involving Aboriginal people, alcoholics and drug addicts; those cases may indeed support his argument, and they may in fact constitute instances in which — depending on your views — the parents in question probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the world based upon their personal circumstances.
But setting these considerations aside, is there anything in Johns’ position that is all that unreasonable?
As ever, it comes down to a conflict between differing systems of values, and whilst I am not unsympathetic to the position he has enunciated I can certainly see both sides of the argument. In fact, I think Johns has touched on issues far deeper than merely whether or not dole recipients should be on compulsory contraception.
I have a big problem — a big problem — with the kind of paternalistic, Orwellian, nanny-state drivel that forces government-determined behaviours on entire populations; here in Australia we live in (supposedly) a free country: and the heavy hand of Big Brother, most usually associated with the Left and its penchant for legislating against freedoms of thought and expression, is an implement with which I have no truck.
By the same token, however, I have a big problem — a very big problem — with the explosion of a handout/entitlement mentality in Australia predicated on the obscene myth that “government” will support virtually everything and anything; with 40% of all government outlays now tied up in one form of handout or another and a similar percentage of the adult population in this country now entirely dependent on these handouts as their sole or primary means of subsistence, Australia is in danger of becoming a two-tier society: a large minority that does nothing, propped up by a dwindling and resentful majority increasingly taxed to the hilt to support the largesse doled out to them.
Or — and this is becoming a familiar, if impotent, story — with the country simply plunged into an uncontrollable spiral of debt to finance the welfare binge that at some point will reap cataclysmic social and economic consequences.
Yet all the while, the welfare class burgeons, spreading an insidious disease of indolence and apathy, as it galvanises into an increasingly untreatable tumour on the national interest and welded to the political Left as its guarantor.
Is this really the kind of country we want to see in Australia?
The problem, to which Johns alludes, speaks to those addicted to the welfare/handout/entitlement culture on the one hand, and will arouse the outraged and indignantly righteous fury of the finger-shaking bleeding heart industry that this column holds (and has always held) in great contempt. Expect to hear a lot of seething rhetoric about cruelty, heartlessness, and the desire to plunge the “less fortunate” into abject poverty, ruin, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the condemnation to early death.
One of the ironies is that all those entrenched minions of welfare dependency have an entire orchestrated movement of finger-shakers to defend them at all: organisations, movements and whole industries solely devoted to the defence of the “right” of those who extract a living from the taxpayer to continue to be able to do so, and which themselves are partly or entirely dependent on the government to even engage in this advocacy by virtue of handouts, grants, and other funding available to those who want to make noise and lord their “values” over the silent majority that bankrolls them.
On the other hand are those in work and in business whose taxes fund the citadel of welfare whose walls continue to expand, seemingly unchecked.
These people are not organised; they do not have whole industries to advocate for them; they are, by and large, reasonable and decent people who do not find gratification in the needless suffering of others.
But in legislating and enforcing notions like generosity and charity, much of the goodwill associated with them is obliterated, as the creeping hand of the tax office slithering ever deeper into pay packets removes both the discretion to “give something” of one’s free volition and, equally and importantly, exactly what the money taken is expended on.
The myth that “government” picks up the tab for well over a hundred billion dollars in welfare payments each year is exactly that — a myth — and it is underpinned by those who earn an income that is taxed more and more heavily to pay for it.
Rather than finding representation in a systemised industry of vested interests and guilt merchants, these people expected the Abbott government to be their voice; a conservative government whose rhetoric about ending the “age of entitlement” was expected to see a much heavier emphasis on personal responsibility, alongside a culture of opportunity in Australian society that rewarded — rather than penalised — enterprise, success, and the fruits of good, old-fashioned hard work.
And far from representing any explicit or enthusiastic endorsement of the ALP and the
Communist Party Greens, I think a very big component of the election-winning numbers these odious entities now enjoy in reputable opinion polling is comprised of Coalition voters disgusted by the unwillingness and/or inability of the government to lay so much as a glove on the entrenched welfare culture it was elected, in part, to begin to roll back.
And this brings us neatly back to Gary Johns, and his explosive call today for unemployment benefits to be made conditional on compulsory contraception.
I’m not going to bog down in details over whether the woman should take the pill or get an IUD, or whether the male should wear condoms or get “the snip” — either way, Johns’ intent is obvious without diverting down tangential routes whose only purpose in this kind of discussion is to change the focus from welfare onto (I would guess, with a glance at the outrage industry) sexism, misogyny, and “wimmin’s rights.”
For the same reasons, I’m not going to dwell on the intricacies of enforcement, the efficacy of contraceptive measures, or similar practical impediments: these, too, are obvious, and we don’t need the finger-shakers to point them out.
But I will make some allusion to what I know will inevitably be the comeback of these guilt pedlars — the regime of so-called middle class welfare introduced by the Howard government in the form of baby bonuses, family tax benefits and first home buyers’ grants — and simply observe that whilst these were all aimed at stimulating and maintaining more productive forms of economic activity, they were also the thin edge of the wedge, and probably should never have been introduced.
They have also, as it turns out, provided those who would addle ever greater numbers of lazy and greedy people with the insidious scourge of profligate welfare with something of a hook of legitimacy on which to hang their claims that flinging good money after bad on addicting people to the public teat is somehow justified.
The point — and I think we are going to see a lot more of this — is that welfare expenditure in Australia apparently knows no bounds, and the scope for its expansion is apparently limitless in the eyes of those whose livelihoods depend on its continuity, acceptability, and indeed its proliferation.
I’m not talking about the recipients themselves, and certainly not those who really need it: rather, the objectionable lobby industry that itself would not exist without the incentive-destroying presence of an expanding welfare regime in Australia, and whose efforts detract rather than add anything meaningful to the nature and character of Australian society.
I want to be explicitly clear about one point, and have been consistently both for the duration of this column and for decades beforehand: no genuinely destitute person, or anyone in legitimate need, should ever be denied some kind of assistance at the public expense; a reasonable and moderate social safety net is entirely consistent with the reasonable governance and conduct of a civilised and advanced, modern, first world country like Australia, and should always be maintained.
The problem is that there are too many noisy advocates — with their snouts in the trough to boot — finding too many new varieties of “genuine” need, advancing arguments that lower acceptable thresholds of what is “reasonable” or “moderate,” and identifying too many new groups of people who can “benefit” from the largesse that is harvested from people who work hard only to see an increasing share of the rewards of their efforts taken and given to those who refuse to lift a finger for themselves.
The vast majority of people claiming welfare in this country may well have the legitimate need to do so; the fact remains that a sizeable contingent simply refuse to get off their backsides and work.
The last thing the country should be burdened with is the cost of supporting lifestyle choices like having children.
It is about time the practitioners of public discourse in Australia — particularly those on the Right — stopped messing around with the vested interest lobby, trying to appease and mollify the stinking carcass it represents around the country’s neck by studiously avoiding saying and doing anything that might offend and/or antagonise it, and began to get serious about attempts to rein the whole mess of indolence money back in, and to get Australia’s regime of welfare expenditure back onto a more realistic and sustainable footing.
Johns may have offended many with his piece in The Australian today, although I hasten to note those most outraged will indisputably be those with the most to lose.
But unless something more plausible than the Abbott government has managed or attempted to date is done, and the spiralling culture of welfare dependency in Australia permanently curbed, far more of this kind of sentiment will follow — with the risk that much of it will be far less nuanced, or based in reason, as what Johns has said today.
There are deep problems in Australian society, and its apparent addiction to a handout mentality is one of them.
Just as problematic is what, and how, to do anything about it.