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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Andrews Labor Win in Victoria means Challenges and Opportunities for Change

above:   Daniel Andrews' convincing win for Victorian State Labor provides a window for change: hopefully a opportunity that he will make the most of

Tristan Ewins

Daniel Andrews is set to take office for Labor in Victoria with a resounding electoral endorsement.

But one crucial issue was neglected by everyone during the campaign. 

Arguably no state government in the country has secured the revenue necessary to sustain government provision of public infrastructure in everything from transport to public housing and education over the long term.

Interestingly, former Conservative Victorian Premier Denis Napthine himself had argued at one point for a higher GST.   This could deliver the necessary funds to the states generally. Though the measure would have hit low income groups hardest, and hence would have been unfair. 

Meanwhile so-called ‘Public Private Partnerships’ (and ‘full-blown’ privatisation as well) also inevitably involve regressive user-pays mechanisms; and arguably are less efficient means of finance.  ‘The Age’-columnist Ken Davidson has long made this argument to the chagrin of Labor and Liberal state governments alike.    This makes the cause of progressive tax reform all the more pressing.

Progressive tax reform is necessary to provide for working families who increasingly cannot afford a roof over their heads; or who endure insufficient transport infrastructure; or who may be the targets of future unfair  ‘user-pays’ mechanisms via toll-roads and the like.  We need to sustain more public spending, not less – to provide the roads, public transport, schools and public housing necessary to ensure no-one ‘gets left behind’; to gently deflate the housing bubble; and so services and infrastructure are funded sustainably and fairly.  Again: That MUST mean increasing progressively sourced revenue Federally and ‘locking in’ the provision of necessary funds on to the States.  The states desperately need certainty on this point.

During the Victorian State election campaign both sides committed to ‘no new taxes’.  Immediately, therefore, apparently Andrews ‘hands appear to be tied’ on the revenue front.  Although perhaps  the way may still be open to increase existing taxes.   The dilemma is achieving this progressively.  

But none of this is to say Andrews Labor cannot agitate loudly and clearly – along with the Weatherill South Australian State Labor Government – on a  ‘new front’: refuting Abbott’s Ideological commitment to a ‘small government’.

Incidentally the ‘small government mentality’ – with all its consequences – appears to be prevalent at a Federal Labor level as well.  A long-time member of the Victorian Socialist Left, it would be well for Andrews to publicly adopt the cause of proportionately increased, fairly structured and progressive social expenditure.

In the meantime Andrews Labor is committed to suite of policies including support for social and public housing – with regulations aimed at ensuring affordability for the aged and the disabled.  As well there is Andrews Labor’s commitment to removing dangerous level crossings;  and delivering enhanced fire services and reduced ambulance waiting times.  There is also Labor’s popular commitment to restoring funding for TAFE campuses; and establishing jobs, education and training as a ‘top priority’.  Finally the public voted for Labor on a platform of cancelling the expensive Public Private Partnership on ‘East-West Link’.

But limited Victorian State revenues remains the bugbear that may come back to haunt the new government.   Over the short-term Labor can afford to spend; and indeed needs to spend in order to deliver the Victorian jobs recovery it has promised.  But for this to be sustained over the long term something has to change federally.   And arguably failure to build crucial infrastructure would mean ‘bottlenecks’ which over the long term do much more damage to the economy than increased public debt.  Abbott must take responsibility, here, rather than follow through his political blackmail of withdrawing federal funds.

These arguments need to be addressed by Federal Labor also if Shorten is to deliver the full NDIS, as well as Gonski, and other potentially popular initiatives.  That should include a National Aged Care Insurance Scheme;  as well as Medicare dental, physio and optical; and for much more public and social housing to ‘gently deflate’ the housing bubble.  Also crucial are funds and programs ‘close the gap’ on life-expectancy,  and provide life opportunities for the mentally ill.  And finally we have to reiterate that federal tax reform is crucial if efficient public investment in state infrastructure (roads, public transport, schools, energy, public housing) is to be sustained over the long term.

It is also regrettable that Andrews Labor  has provided for its promise on level-crossings through privatisation of the Port of Melbourne.  Definitely it was smart politics; and the role of ‘smart politics’ in the Andrews Labor victory should not be understated.  But arguably inferior cost structures (including profit margins) will now flow on to the broader economy over the long term.  This is a ‘once-off’ shot to public revenue that once implemented cannot be reversed.  There is a comparison, here, with Abbott’s privatisation of Medibank Private.  Although that policy will have specific ramifications: creating a near-private monopoly in private health insurance, with the market-dominance of the newly-private player working against the interests of consumers.  Also
hundreds of millions will be lost to the public in revenue every year.  

Finally, Andrews Labor has the opportunity to pursue other progressive reforms; not least of all developing a progressive agenda on secondary curriculum that takes on the Conservative education orthodoxy championed by the likes of Liberal stalwart Kevin Donnelly.   As against Donnelly’s professed narrow emphasis on numeracy and basic literacy there is a place in secondary curricula for the imparting of critical thinking and textual deconstruction.  That applies the English, the Social Science  and Humanities as well.  Education should not merely apply to ‘labour market requirements’, but also must promote the demands of active and critical citizenship, as well as political literacy, and cultural literacy, participation and inclusion.  Curricula should  aim to develop ‘well-rounded human beings’.  

There is no need for bias in such a curriculum, however.  The Liberal Party itself is struggling to survive organisationally as the young increasingly abandon political activism. Rather a ‘critical/active’ curriculum could promote an appreciation of interests and ideologies which was inclusive and balanced.  As against Donnelly’s fears, it need not preach moral and cultural relativism.   Such reform could be ‘streamlined’ through English, History, a new ‘Political Economy’ subject, and should attract support from all who are serious about of robust democracy. 

Under Joan Kirner curriculum reform was a top priority.  So too should it be under the Andrews Victorian Labor Government.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For an Equal and Democratic Australia - A Program for the ALP

Leave a comment with your name underneath this post AND most importantly Join our Facebook Group to register your support before National Conference 2015!  PLS Read On!

IMPORTANTLY:  'LIKE' our page at Facebook also to Register your Support:

Dear Friends and Comrades;

For too long the ALP has failed to find sufficient inspiration on the ‘big picture’ social welfare, democratic and nation-building reforms it needs to implement in government as a genuine movement of democratic socialism and social democracy. 

Please find below a ‘minimum program’ I have developed in tandem with other ALP members in  the hope of influencing debate leading up to the July ALP National Conference.  

Included are proposals on tax and welfare reform, social insurance, environmental reform, a ‘democratic mixed economy’ and much, much more.  Not every proposal could be included because of reasons of space.

This ‘Minimum Program’ will be published at the 'For an Equal and Democratic Australia' Facebook-page as well; and there you should also comment and leave your name in support of it.  (see web address above)

Please also propose motions in support of this program at your local branch, or your ALP student club.  Or you may belong to a ‘third party organisation’ (eg: a welfare organisation, charity, student union or other advocacy group).  Motions of support from these organisations are also welcome!  If you successfully pass a motion in favour of this document please leave a comment to that effect at the ALP Socialist Left Forum Page – this URL particular: (not posted yet)

With enough support and wide enough distribution we may influence debate on the ALP National Platform – to be decided upon in 2015.

If you are a delegate we would especially be interested – pls let us know.

But we will keep on campaigning after that also: to continue to build momentum for a genuinely progressive Federal Labor Government for 2016 and onwards.

Again: if you support the goals of this ‘minimum program’ please respond to this paper by ‘liking’ it at our Facebook group – and that support will be noted for purposes of our campaign.


There are some changes from the earlier version so you may like to read through first

As supporters of this Program we endorse the incorporation of the following into the ALP Platform for 2015:

a)      ALP Core Mission: We believe that part of the ALP’s core mission in government is to promote a progressive accumulation of reforms  - for the purpose of improving fairness, democracy and equity; promotion of a robust civil society characterised by informed and active citizenship and civil rights and liberties (speech, association, assembly; continued universal and equal suffrage; and basic industrial liberties);  And preservation of the natural environment upon which human survival itself depends


b)      Supporting Human Rights: We support the ‘core mission’ of pursuing  ‘political’, ‘social’ and ‘economic’ citizenship;  That includes the defence of civil and democratic rights and liberties; the provision of social wage and welfare rights; and finally the pursuit of a ‘democratic mixed economy’ via a plurality of strategies –


c)      A Democratic Mixed Economy: We support variety of strategies for a ‘democratic mixed economy’ -  including a mixture of public and co-operative ownership and control  (including but not necessarily limited to public ownership of critical infrastructure and natural public monopolies), as well as mutualism, co-determination and other related strategies; and also crucially including ‘democratic collective capital formation ‘(that is democratically administered funds such as superannuation, public pension funds, wage earners or citizens’ funds etc)   nb: ‘collective capital formation’ was a term used by Swedish social democrats) ,


d)     Expansion of social expenditure: We are committed to seeing an incoming ALP Federal Government implement a progressive expansion of social investment and expenditure – incorporating the social wage, social welfare state, collective consumption and social insurance; and state-funded public infrastructure


e)      Expansion of Social Expenditure Detail:  Specifically we aspire for the ALP to increase sustained social expenditure in the realm of 2.5 per cent of GDP – or by approximately $40 billion in today’s terms (as of 2014)  – upon taking government, and more throughout the following terms. (plus even more still if the Australian economy is in danger of recession and stimulus is necessary; ) More specifically, we aspire to achieve a Federal tax to GDP ratio of 30% over several consecutive terms of Labor government, with a corresponding increase of social expenditure in diverse fields listed elsewhere in this statement.  (ie: see article ‘g’) We understand the ALP cannot provide real progress regarding social expenditure on a variety of fronts  without such measures.   On social welfare, we reject ‘giving with one hand’ for the needy only to ‘take away with the other’.


f)       Specific Revenue Measures: To fund these new commitments we support the following:


·         very significant strategic and equitable rescission of superannuation concessions

·         expansion of the Medicare Levy,

·         restoration of a robust Mining Super Profits Tax

·         the establishment of a progressively structured Aged Care Levy.  

·         progressively-structured tax reform elsewhere

Additional measures might include crack-downs on corporate tax avoidance, taxes on ‘super profits’ in areas like the banking sector, and a reduction in the rate of dividend imputation.. A Federal Land Tax should be considered but might infringe upon the revenue options for the States. We also ask the Party to consider a moderate increase in Company Tax and actions to ‘end the race to the bottom’ in corporate taxation which is leading to greater and greater ‘corporate welfare’ globally. Other taxation measures will be decided upon by any incoming Labor government – but the ‘bottom line’ is that the total measures implemented must provide for the aforementioned increases in social expenditure, and  very significantly add to rather than detract from the progressive nature of the overall tax and spending mix. 


g)      Specific social expenditure/infrastructure measures we support for implementation in the first term of an incoming Federal Labor Government include: 


·         Disability Insurance,


·         a progressively-funded National Aged Care Insurance Scheme providing a broad range of high quality aged care services for all those aged 65 and over with the need – and without forcing disadvantaged and working class families to sell or take equity against the family home to achieve the highest quality care; 


·         Robust and progressively applied increases in state school funding; including improvements in funding formulae as proposed in Gonski;  


·         provision of comprehensive Medicare Dental – with a wide array of dental services provided at minimal cost and promptly for pensioners and low income groups;


·         Completion of the National Broadband Network – publicly owned and with Fibre to the Home technology; as well as other public-funded and owned infrastructure in areas such as transport, communications, water and energy;


·         full implementation of ‘GP Super Clinics’;


·         greater public support and funding for pure and applied scientific research via the CSIRO.


·         A review of existing job network services; considering the possibility of re-consolidation of a single provider in the public sector; And regardless of this ensuring an emphasis on a more compassionate, patient and understanding approach to case management; especially considering the special needs of the long term unemployed, the under-employed, disability pensioners, those with differing skill types and levels; and for  older job-seekers, 


h)      Welfare Reform: We are committed to the ALP increasing welfare payments in real terms across the board upon re-taking government through more generous welfare formulae.  We reject the ‘blame the victim’ and ‘blame the vulnerable’ mentality apparently promoted by the Abbott government. 


i)        Retirement Age: We are committed to maintaining a retirement age of 65 instead of raising it to 67 or 70 as proposed by Abbott and previous Labor Governments.  Indeed we are also open to the possibility of reducing the retirement age below 65 into the future.  Specifically we support reducing the retirement age for those who have suffered physical debilitation as a consequence of demanding work. (eg: manual labourers)


j)        More Welfare Reform: Again in the sphere of welfare in particular:  we support an incoming ALP Federal Government  providing substantial positive incentives and support for pensioners – including disability and aged pensioners – to ‘return to work’ via community programs (eg: in aged care, helping provide company and care for the vulnerable – unless professionally deemed psychologically unsuited to such work)  But we do not support ‘negative incentives’ or labour conscription of any kind for these people.  We understand that many such people – for instance the disabled – require flexibility which existing labour markets do not provide.   Again: we support ‘positive incentives’ and ‘flexible work’ without loss of pensions.


k)      Industrial/labour rights: We support a legislated real increase in the minimum wage as well as pattern bargaining rights for unions.  And we support effective subsidies for some of the most exploited and underpaid workers (including in child care, cleaning, aged care and elsewhere)– whether through direct subsidies, tax concessions, enhanced social wage provision and other effective measures  We also support the industrial rights and liberties of workers; including a right to withdraw labour ‘in good faith’ (including political strike action), and including a right to secondary boycott when ‘in good faith’ in solidarity with ‘industrially weak’ workers


l)      Economic Democracy: We support the extension of democracy on the economic front, and for that purpose will support a stronger role for producers and consumers co-operatives in the Australian economy on both a large and a small scale.  Specifically we support very significant but initially-capped aid to co-operatives via cheap credit, tax concessions and free advice/economic counselling - with co-operative enterprise supported in a variety of spheres, including  credit unions, insurance, child care and aged care, manufacturing; as well as co-operative small and medium businesses. (for example in hospitality) 


m)    Curricula for ‘active/critical citizenship’: We are committed to reform of school curricula for the purposes of promoting ‘active and  critical citizenship’.  Without bias, the point of such reform would be to impart balanced and inclusive understandings of political values, movements and ideas, and social interests. We believe active and informed citizenship means a stronger pluralist democracy.


n)      On Higher Education:


·         We support restoration and expansion of tertiary education funding; including for universities and the TAFE sector; with an expansion of tertiary education placements on the basis of an understanding of education as a modern social right, and not an exclusive privilege. 


·         We also support the humanities and social sciences for the sake of effective pluralism in the Australian public sphere.  And we support provision for tertiary academics’ participation as ‘public intellectuals’ and not only on the basis of the bulk of published academic works.


·         Furthermore we support progressive reform of the HECS system: reversing any fee deregulation, and with real increases in the repayment threshold; and forgiveness of debts of those who have  a good reason for not being able to benefit from the prior education. (eg: because of disability)


·         Gender equality: Finally, here, we support equal participation, and on-average equal achievement - between men and women in higher education, and greater participation and opportunity for those from disadvantaged and working class families.


o)      Treaty: We are committed to beginning formal dialogue with representatives from the entire range of indigenous peoples with the aim of negotiating a Treaty.  We support an incoming ALP government initiating such a process in its first term.


p)      Environment: We are committed to increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources so as to achieve a real reduction of emissions even as the economy and population grow.  Specifically we aspire to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2000 levels by 2025.  To this end we support large scale public investment in renewables, as well as generous subsidies for lower income households to acquire micro-renewable energy systems; and incentives for landlords to invest in micro-renewable energy. In further environmental reforms we are committed to sustainable land use and water management, achieving ‘world’s best practice’ in food production.


q)      Humanitarian Migration: We support a very significant expansion of Australia’s humanitarian migrant intake – increased very significantly in real and proportionate terms on top of what was proposed by the outgoing Rudd Labor government.  Additionally, we want for an ALP government to pursue diplomatic channels to encourage other prosperous countries in the region to also increase their humanitarian intake very significantly.  For asylum seekers we support humane onshore community-based processing.


r)       ABC and SBS:  We support continued funding of the ABC and SBS – and the pursuit of ‘participatory media’ principles and strategies through these channels.  We support a role for the ABC and SBS in pursuing an ‘authentic’ public sphere, and an inclusive pluralism. (with the exception of not providing a platform for the far right)  And we support representative ‘popular’ participation on the ABC and SBS boards of management.

s)   Public and Social Housing: We support very substantial investment in high quality public housing (facilitated through tied Federal grants to the States), and also social housing where it is more cost-effective - to increase supply, and hence also affordability.  (combined with the necessary public investment in local infrastructure in emerging suburbs)   Re-iterating from item ‘g’ –that means expansion of ( largely ‘non-clustered’) public housing stock to at least 10% of total  stock over several terms of Labor Government


t)       Local Government:We support a gradual re-working of the funding of local government – to ensure local government is funded in an increasingly progressive way, and is less dependent on ‘rates’ and ‘levies’ which do not take sufficient (or any) account of ‘capacity to pay’.  In that context we also support additional Federal funding for poorer municipalities to improve their capacity to invest in local infrastructure and services.


u)       Internal Reform: We support internal democratic reform of the ALP; including a direct role for union members in supporting particular policies and platform items; as well as direct election for ALP National Conference delegates; actual adherence to State and National Platforms; and a ‘mixed model’ for election of the Party Leader which may include rank and file, Parliamentary Labor and trade union components. In the same spirit we demand that both major factions (Left and Right) – and the Party more broadly - equally share the work of achieving the Affirmative Action goal of 40% women preselected for winnable seats.


v)      Public Sphere: We also support the establishment of a ‘progressive public sphere’ in this country, including ALP related forums, and policy and ideas conferences and publications which are inclusive, authentic, progressive, and which accommodate difficult debates.


w)      Strategic industry policy: We support an active industry policy aimed at the maintenance of ‘strategic industries’ with ‘strategic capacities’ in Australia; including through automotive production, shipping-construction and also defence industries.  (but not for export to aggressor nations) Said industries can also involve high wage, high skill labour. And there are a variety of potential models, including joint multi-stakeholder co-operative-state ventures – involving workers, regions and government.


x)     Multilateral Disarmament and Peace: At the same time we support a policy of realistic multilateral disarmament with the aim of freeing resources for purposes which meaningfully improve peoples’ material; quality of life 


y)      On Health Care:  In addition to the aforementioned implementation of comprehensive Medicare Dental and GP Super Clinics we also support the following:


·         Also increase investment in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to extend its coverage

·         Improve the rate of Bulk Billing

·         Tighten means tests for ‘Lifetime Health Cover’ in order to pay for the removal of penalties for low income individuals (including pensioners) who let their policies lapse;

·         Also extend Medicare to cover physio, optometry (including glasses or contact lenses), speech therapy, podiatry, psychology; provision of hearing aids where necessary; and also cosmetic surgery for those in extreme need (for instance as a consequence of physical injury)

·         Improvement of and substantial new investment in mental health services to ‘close the gap’ regarding the life expectancy of those with mental illness; as well as to improve productivity and quality of life


z)      A Comprehensive Bill of Modern Human Rights: Finally: We support a comprehensive ‘Bill of Rights’ in this country, supporting liberal and civic rights of suffrage, speech, assembly, association, faith, conscience. As well we support ‘social rights’ including education and health, a guaranteed minimum income; housing; access to communications and information technology; access to transport; access to fulfilling employment with a remission of exploitation;  social inclusion including opportunity for recreation and participatory citizenship; respect and human dignity.

ADDENDUM:  Further resources on top of what has been considered here might be accessed via reform of superannuation concessions as well - perhaps in the vicinity of $20 billion or more out of a pool of over $45 billion.. (taken from wealthy superannuants enjoying unfair tax breaks)  But with over 400 people already supporting the original document it is too late to include this addendum as part of the official 'For an Equal and Democratic Australia' statement. Nonetheless the primary author urges policy makers and ALP National Conference delegates to take this ADDENDUM into consideration - as an aspiration ON TOP OF the existing call for progressive tax reform to enable a pool of $40 billion for social investment.

Furthermore the prime author of this document (Tristan Ewins) has also decided to support a significant increase in all welfare payments in addition to an increase in the minimum wage.  This along with other proposals here must be committed to at National Conference. Poverty is a serious problem for the welfare-dependent and the working poor.  Specifically I am now supporting an increase in welfare/minimum wage by a minimum $35/week - on top of existing indexation arrangements.  And also changing the indexation arrangements for all pensions (including Sole Parents, student allowance, NewStart) - to match the Aged Pension and Disability Support Pension indexation provisions)  This is modest enough not to break the Budget (assuming the tax reforms considered here), but significant enough to make a big difference in alleviating the extremes of poverty. (both for the welfare-dependent and the working poor)   Though further income tax and other reform might also be necessary to impart the appropriate rise in disposable income and living standards for the working poor...  Improving the social wage as considered here could also make a very big difference.   (Again, though - it needs to be noted that this specific proposal was developed after the original document; Hence not all people who elected to support the broader document at our Facebook page did so with this specific proposal in mind)


Friday, June 13, 2014

Joe Hockey shows how “Class Warfare against the Vulnerable” is done

Joe Hockey is promoting a 'Social Civil War' - pitting even low wage workers as well as the well off and the middle class against the welfare-dependent.   In response to this regressive campaign, Labor cannot accept the Liberals' 'terms of debate' but must propose its own policy agenda for just and socially fair Australia.

nb:  Sincere Apologies to 'The Australia Institute' - a progressive think-tank which I accidentally confused with the right-wing 'Sydney Institute'.  The typo is now fixed.

Tristan Ewins

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey has been “on the attack” recently; targeting Australians who for whatever reason have been welfare-dependent, or have benefited from welfare during their lives.  Specifically, Hockey asserted that one in ten Australians were welfare-dependent in some way, with a total welfare bill of $146 billion a year in a $1.6 Trillion economy. 

Apparently, this is meant to produce a ‘shock and horror’ effect amongst an electorate which is considered to be ‘narrowly self-interested’, without any sense of social solidarity, or of the gains to be had through such reciprocal solidarity and also the various forms of collective consumption.

Interestingly, though, Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews himself has observed that cash payments in Australia comprise around 7 per cent of GDP, compared with approximately 19 per cent in France; and approximately 14 per cent in Sweden!  Though in Denmark, for instance, there is a much more substantial social wage, with social expenditure at approximately 31 per cent of GDP compared with approximately 19 per cent in Australia.  (also approximately 33 per cent in France,  and approximately 29 per cent in Sweden)

More particularly Hockey has alluded to those dependent of Youth Allowance,  Newstart, the Aged or Service Pension, and the Disability Support Pension.   Apparently in an attempt to stir up division and resentment, Hockey argued that “the average Australian”, whether “a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher” works over a month every year to provide for the nation’s welfare bill. (Herald-Sun, June 12th, 2014, p3)   This ‘political play’ to narrow financial self-interest ignores the benefits of reciprocal social solidarity via welfare.

Meanwhile in a speech to the right-wing Sydney Institute Hockey launched into a tirade against those he describes as “leaners” as opposed to “lifters”.   For Hockey it is claims that the wealthy must ‘pay their fair share’ that comprise ‘class warfare’; and not the Federal Government’s attacks on welfare, as well as their assaults on Medicare and rights and conditions for labour.  Rather than ‘social solidarity’ Hockey proclaims ‘individual responsibility’. (ie:  ‘sink or swim’)   

In an infuriating furphy, Hockey promoted his personal interpretation of “equal opportunity” as opposed to the ‘straw-man’ of “equality of outcomes”.    On this basis he also attempted to defend the Federal Government’s Higher Education ‘reforms’ – which could see deregulated fees reach well over $100,00, and which will see a reduction in the repayment threshold for student loans, and also an increase in the rate of interest paid on those outstanding loans.  (‘The Age’, June 13th, 2014, p `8)  This will affect women in particular - whose working lives are often interrupted.

In the same vein, there will be those with significant university debts who for various reasons (eg: disability) may not be able to continue their pursuit of a career in law, medicine etc.  These peoples' debts - already very high - could easily spiral totally out of control.  

The element of ‘risk’ here means that many young students from disadvantaged backgrounds will not dare to take on a university debt.  Those that do also may be distracted from gaining their most from study because of the necessity for part-time work.  And ‘equality of opportunity’ in this context is a lie: because those students tend to be concentrated in lower socio-economic zones, with relatively under-resourced schools.   (they may also lack the support of parents who have enjoyed a tertiary education)

In response to Hockey one of the most important of his assertions to deal with is that ‘straw-man’ argument of ‘Equality of Outcome OR Equality of Opportunity’.    Instead of this false dichotomy it is much better to frame the issue as a matter of Fairness.  Pretty much no-one – even on the far Left – want full ‘equality of outcomes’.   Rather there is support for redistribution via the social wage, welfare state, social wage, and forms of social insurance for the sake of distributive justice. (as opposed to full equality)  ‘Equality opportunity’ is part of the picture; but so too are ‘fair outcomes’.

Here, ‘distributive justice’ assumes that the outcomes gained in the labour market through ‘supply and demand’ of skills – and ‘consumers’ capacity to pay’ are not necessarily just.   For cleaners, as well as hospitality, child care, and aged care workers – people whose work deserves respect –there is an argument for intervention and redistribution as the means of achieving fairness.   (not absolute equality)   Those measures of redistribution – through the social wage, tax-transfer system,  welfare state, labour market regulation - do not have to put the remuneration of a cleaner ‘on par’ with a surgeon, for instance.  But all workers who face disadvantage and injustice in the labour market deserve fair outcomes; and those means of intervention are effective means of providing those fairer outcomes.

Arguably Joe Hockey is is attempting to ‘divide and rule’ the nation.  An element of divison is inevitable – perhaps even desirable – in a democracy.  The point of democracy after all is ‘to set oppositions free’ and resolve them through democratic processes. 

But Hockey is inciting resentment against the vulnerable – no matter what he has said to the contrary.   This is qualitatively different than attempts to tax the wealthy – which Australia’s Conservatives try and dismiss with hypocritical howls of ‘class warfare’.

More specifically, Hockey’s approach comprises a ‘bold gambit’.  Low-income workers themselves are to be ‘played off against’ the welfare dependent. Rather than raising minimum wages and conditions, or improving the social wage – they are urged to express resentment against the vulnerable.  The ‘endgame’ is a US-style class system.  The very wealthy are to be ‘untouchable’ and largely untaxed lest we be bombarded with cries of ‘class warfare’.   Taxes are to be ‘simpler’ and ‘flatter’ – that is, more unfair. The middle class are to provide ‘the base of stability’ for Conservative political forces: their lifestyles supported by the exploitation of the working poor. And the working poor – indeed, the ‘underclass’ - are to be ‘disciplined’ by fear of homelessness and destitution – with the erosion of the ‘social safety net’. 

Crime will also likely escalate as a consequence of desperate inequality; but this insight is to be ignored for the sake of a warped, and ultimately immoral, notion of ‘meritocracy’.  How this ‘meritocracy’ is meant to work without real equality of opportunity (especially education); while there is ‘hyper-exploitation’ of the working poor; and amidst ‘windfall’ inheritances in the most privileged families - is not really considered by today’s Conservative Ideologues.  It is ‘an inconvenient truth’.

In Hockey’s ‘grand statement’ to the ‘Sydney Institute’ those designated as ‘leaners’ are to be reviled.  There are Aged Pensioners. (who have largely paid taxes their whole working lives)  And yet no mention of self-funded retirees – whose liquid assets alone can range well over a $1 million – but who receive enormous superannuation tax concessions.  The total bill of those concessions will soon cost the nation over  $40 billion a year. As Richard Denniss of the Australia Institute observes:   "the top 5 per cent of income earners get a third of the benefit, and the bottom 20 per cent get literally nothing."

Then there are the disabled. Underlying resentment against Disability Support Pensions is the notion, for instance, that ‘mental illness’ is not to be seen in the same way as ‘extreme physical disability’.  We’re talking about people with anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder...   Something Andrew Robb could probably advise the Parliamentary Liberal Party about: and yet from a cursory web-search he does not appear to have done so. 

Often the ability of these disability pensioners to work is intermittent at best.    And the underlying assumption that they are to be looked upon suspiciously – as ‘rorters’.   Hence ‘Disabilitywatch’ has noted moves by the Federal Government to ‘tighten up’ assessment for eligibility, including ‘work for the pension’ for those deemed able to work at least 8 hours a week.  (now to be reduced from 15 hours a week)   But arguably if a person is living in poverty due to disability, and may be capable (intermittently) of some work, then perhaps their payments could be complemented fairly in return for voluntary community work, without the threat of losing that pension altogether.  Instead we are getting another dose of labour conscription – this time for some of the most vulnerable of all.

In conclusion: a movement is building against Hockey’s ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ Budget.  In Melbourne the day before this article was written the ‘Bust the Budget’ rally amassed around 20,000 attendees – perhaps more.  The ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign against John Howard’s aggressively in egalitarian ‘Work Choices’ labour market legislation attracted the support of millions.  Today the same is possible if we stand collectively against Hockey’s cynical ploy to ‘divide and rule’ the country.

Yet Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten is ‘treading lightly’ around Joe Hockey’s appeal to divide the nation – a ‘nation at war with itself’; a war of so-called ‘lifters’ against so-called ‘leaners’. So far he refuses to reject this characterisation of Australian society outright.

But Labor cannot accept a political discourse which is propagated on the Liberals’ terms.  Labor needs to respond to Hockey with its own powerful narrative:  of a society based on mutual and reciprocal social solidarity.  This means promoting social security and social justice through a range of measures including labour market regulation, welfare, a progressive tax mix, the social wage, and various forms of ‘collective consumption’.  Not a society of ‘absolute equality of outcomes’ – but a FAIR and JUST society!
In a practical sense that must mean a decisive break on the part of Labor with the mindset of ‘small government’.  Labor must ‘go on the policy offensive’: advocating both old and new policies.  That includes Gonski and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  But it must also include National Aged Care Insurance and Comprehensive Medicare Dental, amongst range of other policies.   The way is open for a progressive counter-offensive mobilising millions.  Labor, the unions, the welfare sector, and all progressive social movements - must seize the initiative.