Shock-therapy for welfare addiction

The Coalition’s welfare reforms are styled to decisively break reliance on government handouts, and will push families to rethink the shape of their own interdependency.

Despite all the hollering we’ll hear from the left of politics in the weeks ahead – especially over this budget’s dramatic health and education spending reductions  – the budget papers nonetheless have a thread of redistributive justice running through them.

Thinkers on the right who suspect Prime Minister Abbott of being more influenced by a Catholic social conscience than any liberal or conservative agenda will see plenty of ‘take from the rich and give to the poor’.

There is also implicit support for the family unit as the basic building block of society.

First the Robin Hood bits.

The obvious hit on the rich is the three-year slug of 2 percentage points on the top marginal tax rate for incomes above $180,000. That will raise $3.1 billion over forward estimates.

In addition to that, the Family Tax Benefit Part B payments, which were at the heart of Peter Costello’s ‘middle-class welfare’ family payments system, are to be tightened up considerably.

The ‘upper-middle-class welfare’ bit will vanish, and leave the benefit available only to households where the primary earner earns less than $100,000 (from July 2015), and it will apply only to households with a child under six years of age (rather than eight years as at present).

That preserves the original intention of the scheme -- to reward Aussies for staying home and breeding -- but only if they are of modest income and basically with pre-school-age kids. That’s family-friendly, Robin Hood-style.

A line can be drawn from these reforms to some of the welfare reforms targeting young Australians. In essence, unemployed youth who may previously have drawn the dole may not do so well, and may have to fall back more on the resources of their families (wow - that’s going to be popular with Mum and Dad).

From the start of 2015, “new job seekers up to 30 years of age applying for Newstart or Youth Allowance (Other) will participate in job search and employment services activities which are funded by the government for up to six months before receiving the payment”.

The budget states: “...all young Australians who can work should be earning, learning or participating in Work for the Dole”.

Or sleeping on Mum and Dad’s couch all day?

Like so much else in this budget, this is shock-therapy for the nation’s view of itself – the disintegrating family unit may be forced to reintegrate, if there is no prospect of money flowing to the young unemployed.

To say that is politically problematic is an understatement. Tax the rich, give to the poor, and tell the young to find somebody else to look after them, because the state won’t.

The limited extent to which Australians went down the welfare-state path in the past several decades was nonetheless a process of addiction to the ‘age of entitlement’.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey intend to break that addiction, with plenty of people forced to go cold-turkey.