As of yesterday about one-million hard-working Australians discovered that Kevin Rudd’s campaign promise to stand up for “working families” came with an invisible asterisk.
The asterisk denotes - “promise does not include all working families”.
Especially those families who work a little bit too hard, who pay a higher rate of tax because they hold more senior jobs, work longer hours, have taken risks starting businesses, employing other people, and have got themselves into a position where with their super, their private health care, their choice of hospitals and schools, they are constantly taking pressure off the public system.
They’re the new bludgers. The welfare-dependent middle-class layabouts who put Shane and Bindi Paxton to shame, the pampered yuppies who apparently must now be weaned off the public purse.
It’s the ugliest part of this budget - the divisive sell-job by Rudd and Swan around the theme of middle-class welfare in the lead-up to the Budget’s release, and the actual and immediate effect of the cuts contained therein.
They have not used the term themselves, but their Robin Hood posturing has been aimed at whipping up a haves-and-have-nots demarcation across our nation.
For more than a decade Labor held John Howard responsible for dividing the nation but with one budget they’ve done it themselves along tax, superannuation, childcare, private health and Medicare lines.
And despite all Mr Rudds claims of inclusiveness ahead of his victory, he showed yesterday that self-starters who work that little bit harder to get ahead will ultimately be punished.
It’s worth recalling Wayne Swan’s rhetoric ahead of last years budget. The Daily Telegraph dubbed the Treasurer Sydney Swan because he had recognised that Sydney families with kids and a mortgage needed a combined income of about 150k a year to be comfortable, and deliberately shielded them from budgetary attack.
It was a much more aspirationist budget than yesterday’s class war rubbish, which starts tapering tax breaks downwards from around $72,000 a year, winds back on private health insurance assistance from $75,000, and bars families from any access to childcare support through family tax benefit B when their combined income hits $150, 000, and shreds anyone who tries to top up their superannuation.
None of these people are dying of starvation, and nor will they under the changes announced yesterday. But it runs contrary to the principle which has guided Australian governments for the past 25-odd years which is that hard-working, affluent people should be encouraged to take the pressure off public hospitals, to take the pressure off the pension by planning their own super.
Or that they should enjoy in some of the family-based benefits such as modest childcare assistance which less affluent families receive at a greater rate.
Instead of being rewarded, modestly, they are now being punished, significantly, for their enterprise and initiative.
It will be politically interesting to see how many members of Australias middle-class intelligentsia respond to being enlisted by their one-time idol, the man who destroyed John Howard, to start digging Labor out of its deficit hole. They probably won’t mind paying, as much as they mind the derision and vilification on the way through as middle-class welfare bludgers.
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