What not to do

I don’t know what annoys me most about the Federal government – the rushed, ill-considered policies; the abject lack of imagination; or the corrupted, partisan economic and social policies that advantage cronies, mates and donors.

The $60B they ‘found’ the other week remains unspent, despite all sensible commentators urging them to spend. In the meantime, they’ve announced that childcare subsidies will be ending in a month, just like that (and, contrary to their promise, the JobKeeper provision will be ended for the industry also). It’s an expensive policy and it can’t go on forever, but it seems to be premature ending it while we still haven’t returned to work and the economy is tanking. Extend it a few months, then consider how components of the policy can be maintained, or funded differently, on a permanent basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that making childcare more affordable (if not free) has economic and social benefits. It’s a policy dictated by circumstances, but why not take the good from it and convert it into new policy? It doesn’t have to cost as much, and surely there are other – more creative – options to sustain it? This decision epitomises the government’s determination to ‘snap back’, even though the crisis continues and it’s hardly feasible. The world has changed, and we must adapt to what it is rather than hopefully return to what it was.

Last week a new stimulus package was announced. The HomeBuilder policy aims to stimulate a building boom by offering subsidies. The theory is fine, but the conditions are nonsensical, and the targeting fundamentally wrong. This is an example of a very poorly considered policy decision, combined with the everpresent motivation of currying favour with its constituency.

Basically, if you earn under $125K, but plan a renovation of your home with a quoted value of more than $150K, then you qualify to have $25K of your bill paid for by the taxpayer. It also applies to new home building, but only if the value exceeds $750K. Now, for a start, how many will actually qualify for this? It makes for an impressive-sounding announcement, but the number of people in this very narrow qualifying niche will be fuck-all.

It’s pretty immoral, too. Very clearly, this is targeted at people who can afford a $150K renovation at a time when there are homeless people on the street when unemployment is sky-rocketing, and there are actually people in the bushfire ravaged areas of Australia who are in dire need of a replacement home. Sure, let’s get construction happening, but why not target areas of real social need?

The political angle backfired regardless. It’s been widely and reasonably panned. And the political aspects are so transparent that it’s been treated with disdain even by those who might qualify. What the government needs to understand is that people aren’t as greedy and selfish as they hope them to be. In actual fact, there’s a strong social conscience in the aspirational classes, who are often progressives. I had conversations over the weekend with people wealthy enough to consider this, but who are just as disgusted by it as I am.

There’ll be more announcements to come, and it’s interesting to think about what they may be. The RBS wants JobKeeper extended beyond September, but I sense the government won’t do that. Then there are inevitable decisions to be made over JobSeeker which are bound to be controversial. It doubled when we went into lockdown, but the government – I’m sure – intends to return it to its pre-COVID-19, below-the-poverty-line rate. This would be immoral and stupid but neatly fits the government’s MO.

Stay tuned.

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