Treasurer Joe Hockey made another impassioned speech last week to justify his government’s savage cuts to welfare and social services.
His key message was that the “average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher” in this country must work more than one month a year to pay for someone on welfare. This, says Mr Hockey, is simply unfair.
This assertion has gone unchecked by the mainstream media. How did Mr Hockey come up with this figure of one month’s work for the average working Australian?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the full-time adult average weekly total earnings is $1498 per week. After tax and the Medicare levy, this leaves $1150 per week. On an annual basis this means that each person works 2.8 months across the year just to pay tax to the government.
At roughly $146 billion for 2014-2015, Australia’s welfare bill accounts for around 35% of total government revenue. However income taxes are only 69.6% of total government revenue.
By applying these adjustments to the 2.8 months of work, it is clear that the amount of work required for somebody on average weekly earnings to pay for the welfare component is only 0.68 months per year (3 weeks). Somebody earning more than $200,000 per year will work around 4 weeks per year to pay for social services.
Mr Hockey’s claim that the average working person is required to work one month per year just to pay for other’s welfare is simply wrong.
More than blatant inaccuracy, it is disgraceful that Mr Hockey would steer the national conversation in this way. When did it become acceptable in Australia to consider helping another person as burden – not an obligation, or indeed, even a privilege?
If anything, Mr Hockey’s example highlights the uneven burden of taxation in this country. Somebody earning $200,000 earns 2.5 times more than the average weekly income, but is only required to work 0.47 times more days to cover their welfare obligations.
The starting point for the conversation must be the minimum standard we will accept for our most vulnerable of citizens; not the amount of work that the highest income earners are prepared to share.
Mr Hockey’s language is a sign of the desperation that encircles his budget, as well as the poisonous individualist ‘tea party’ ideology that is taking root in Australian political culture under this government.
These values are not Australian values. Let us not think for a single moment that they are.