Federal government welfare cuts will push an extra 330,000 Australians into poverty in the new year, bringing the total number of people impoverished since September to 1.16 million, according to one of Australia’s top economic policy analysts.
Ben Phillips, who works at the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods, called the cuts “a bit stingy”. In a letter to the editor published in Melbourne’s Age, Vince from Glenroy painted a more vivid picture—likening the government’s phased withdrawal of the coronavirus supplement to a medieval torture rack, which pulled on the sufferer’s joints excruciatingly slowly, snapping each of his ligaments with a loud pop before dislocating his limbs altogether.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an additional $100 cut to the supplement. This comes on top of the $300 slashed in September. The tapered down $150 payment—which has been extended until March 2021—reduces the income of a JobSeeker recipient to an unlivable $715 a fortnight.
The Coalition’s impatience to abandon Australia’s poorest in the middle of a crisis is repulsive. According to Phillips, the January reduction will dramatically elevate the poverty rate “well above” pre-pandemic levels. In March, the level of poverty will likely jump again.
Earlier modelling by the Australia Institute, a think tank, estimated that the coronavirus supplement lifted 425,000 people out of poverty when it was rolled out earlier in the year. A series of wage subsidies and welfare supplements kept approximately 2.2 million people afloat throughout the first few months of the crisis. The number of people living in poverty dropped by one-third.
While the programs may have appeared altruistic, the aim was not to reduce inequality, but to stabilise the economy for business. Now that the government is confident that it has achieved that goal, it is happy to throw people back into poverty.
Yet the government intervention annuls decades of excuses for keeping unemployment payments at poverty levels. It shows that the money can be found—it’s just a question of priorities.
It’s an absolute disgrace that sections of the working class will again be consigned to poverty and humiliation, while the wealth we produce lines the pockets of politicians and business executives. Rather than capitulating to the coalition’s cruel and unusual punishment, we must fight for permanent increases in welfare, a living wage for all, paid for by higher wealth taxes. We need a society that puts people before profit.
Hundreds of Victorian Socialists volunteers have been staffing early voting polling booths since 14 November, building on the more than 150,000 doors knocked across the north and west of Melbourne during the state election campaign. They are bringing a new style of campaigning to the state election, and have found a constituency of voters fed up with the prevailing pro-corporate, mainstream politics.
The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirm that real wages are falling at the fastest rate since the Great Depression, possibly even the 1890s, both period of massive unemployment.
Victorian Socialists—recognised by Beat magazine as “the most left-wing option Victorians have this election”, and by PEDESTRIAN.TV as “Fierce door knockers and grassroots campaigners”—is making a mammoth effort to push against the grain of history in the state election. The party has a chance of getting Jerome Small elected to the upper house in Northern Metro and Liz Walsh in Western Metro. If successful, it will be only the third time a socialist independent of the ALP has been elected to any Australian parliament.
“The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be”, Marxist geographer David Harvey writes in his book Rebel Cities. “What kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of life we desire, what aesthetic values we hold”.
There was once a little pub in Carlton called the Corkman. Built in 1854, it was one of the oldest buildings in the suburb. It wasn’t particularly charming—mission brown had been slopped all over it in the 1970s—and it didn’t have a particularly worthwhile social function, mostly used as a watering hole by Melbourne University law students.
Socialist Alternative is the largest revolutionary group in Australia since the 1920s. We are the only socialist group with a national presence and an expanding membership. Founded by a few dozen people based overwhelmingly in Melbourne in the mid-1990s, the organisation has grown to nearly 500 activists spread across the country. While this is nowhere near what we ultimately need, it’s an important achievement in a context where the broader left has disintegrated.