Australian voters – caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

The Wednesday news and music blog post. The Prime Minister has now announced the federal election will be held on May 21, 2022. I think I will concentrate on the football that Saturday rather than the election given how depressing the political situation is. They should allow only a week for campaigning because 3 days in to the current 6-week campaign it is already deeply depressing and reinforces that Australian voters, particularly those of the progressive variety are caught – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – when it comes to federal elections. Both major parties are happy to over 550,000 Australians (and their dependants) deliberately forced by government policy to live in abject poverty. Many thought that the Australian Labor Party (the leader of which couldn’t even tell the media this week what the unemployment rate actually is) would probably honour their previous promises to review the unemployment benefit system and increase the payment as a result. Given that voices from the welfare lobby, the OECD, the business lobby (and yours truly) have consistently been calling on the federal government to end the enforced poverty. Overnight, the Labor Party demonstrated their credentials for re-election. No matter what else they say in the next several weeks, the fact that they have abandoned any intent to raise the unemployment benefit nor engage in any job creation disqualifies them from office. I hope they lose. But then I hope the other rotten conservative lot lose to. An impossible set of hopes. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Speaking of the devil we can then listen to ‘Old Devil Moon’ after all of that and calm down.

Perhaps, as this ad from the Australien government tells us, the choice is really between:

But then if you vote otherwise, you risk rewarding the – Neo-liberals on bikes … (July 11, 2012).

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea! I told you.

Anyway, yesterday (April 12, 2022), the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, the Harvard-educated or should I say mis-educated Andrew Leigh who thinks Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a joke, told an election forum sponsored by the Australian Council of Social Services, that the Labor Party would not seek to raise the unemployment benefit if it won office on May 21 nor would it honour its prior commitment to have an enquiry into the benefit system.

More Labor MPs have come out today confirming this view and citing ‘budget’ pressures to reduce debt.

The actual Shadow Treasurer has been raving on about ‘budget repair’ and the excessive federal debt for ages.

Such is the leadership of the so-called party of workers.

Their previous pledge at the last federal election to hold an enquiry if they won (they lost – again!) was just a gutless move to avoid having to commit to an increase in the benefit levels.

Now, they have even withdrawn that level of commitment.

Meanwhile, they continue to support the current conservative government’s policies to pass on tax cuts which will overwhelmingly benefit the high income earners.

Why does this matter?

Well, one would think that any prospective government would not support a deliberate policy that ensures a large group of citizens in the nation are forced to live in abject poverty.

That is adults and their children.

But how can a political group that aspires to represent the working class yet will not commit to eliminating mass unemployment nor will commit to ensuring those that are unemployed as a result of poorly designed fiscal policy can live above the poverty line?

Unelectable is the word.

Remember when the Labor Party was last in government and the then Families Minister defended the Government’s refusal to increase the unemployment benefit by claiming that she could live on the then $A35 per day unemployment payment.

And when that outrageous comment brought public censure, her office edited out that part of the interview from the official transcript (Source).

You can find rather detailed analysis of the Australian poverty line from the Melbourne Institute.

Their work on this issue dates back to the early 1970s when the Institute was known as the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (University of Melbourne) under the direction of the great economist Ronald Henderson who pioneered the development of poverty line estimate and conducted the famous Poverty Inquiry which released the first estimate for the December quarter 1973.

The following graph shows the evolution of the Single Unemployment Benefit and the Single Unemployed Poverty Line since 1973 until March-quarter 2022.

The facts are:

1. The single unemployment benefit stands at $45.91 per day which is well below any reasonable estimate of the poverty line in Australia (for singles at $A79.29 per day).

2. The single unemployment benefit is now $A233.69 per week below the poverty line.

3. For married couples, the unemployment benefit is currently at $83.61 per day, while the corresponding poverty line is set at $112.32 day.

4. Whether one is single or in a couple, once accommodation is paid for, there is not very much left of the unemployment benefit income. There is a massive shortage of social housing (greater than 450,000) because of the refusal of governments to invest as they chased fiscal surpluses.

Note the divergence between the unemployment benefit and the poverty line began in the early 1980s, when the neoliberal mantra about fiscal surpluses really took hold in Australia.

The deviation started around 1981-82 when the Australian economy experienced a major recession (at that time, the worst since the Great Depression).

The then conservative government was under massive political pressure as the fiscal deficit rose via the automatic stabilisers and instead of meeting the challenge of recession by actively attempting to stimulate aggregate demand, they tried to claim that fiscal austerity was the way forward.

Undermining the generosity of the unemployment benefits was one manifestation of this mania. They lost office in 1983 and the newly installed Labor government set about providing some relief for unemployment benefit recipients. It still remained a fact that the single unemployment benefit was close to (just below) the poverty line.

The next major recession, worse than the 1982 downturn, occurred in 1991-92 under that same Labor government and their response to the cyclical downturn was poor. By then they were completely obsessed with achieving fiscal surpluses and failed to stimulate the economy quickly and sufficiently enough to prevent a major deterioration in the labour market.

But their response to the recession from the perspective of the unemployment benefit recipient was appalling. You can see from the graph and a major divergence between the single adult unemployment benefit and the estimated poverty line began during this recession and there’s been no resolution to that since.

Both sides of politics share the narrative that increasing the benefit payment would ‘cost billions’ and jeopardise fiscal surplus targets.

So if you are a voter in Australia, think about this on May 21, 2022.

Whatever else the Labor Party should promise – they should have prioritised lifting this group of citizens out of poverty.

According to the Global Wealth Report, Australia consistently is at or near the top of the global wealth rankings.

Yet at least 550,000 individuals and their dependants are forced by government policy to live in abject poverty.

There is something amiss.

Previous relevant blog posts

I have consistently written out the state of poverty that the government deliberately forces onto the unemployed – see these blog posts among others:

1. Why are we so mean to the unemployed? (September 23, 2009).

2. The plight of the unemployed – under growth and decay (November 16, 2010).

3. Our pathological meanness to the unemployed is just bad economics (February 15, 2012).

4. Fat cat bankster wants to make the unemployed even more desperate (August 23, 2012).

5. The indecent inconsistency of the neo-liberals (April 30, 2013).

6. Framing matters – the unemployed and the farmers (August 7, 2018).

7. ‘Progressive’ groups in Australia captured by neoliberal ideology (September 18, 2018).

8. The Australian Labor Party is still stuck in its neoliberal denial stage (December 18, 2018).

9. The adult unemployment benefit in Australia should be immediately increased by $A200 per week (August 1, 2019).

Music – Barney Kessel

This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.

Here is the classic Burton Lane song – Old Devil Moon – which was composed for a 1947 musical – Finian’s Rainbow.

Many people have covered this song both with lyrics and instrumentally.

In general, I am not attracted to movie songs (with major exceptions) but this treatment by the ace American guitar player – Barney Kessel

It was on his 1973 album – Just Friends – which is a live recording from a concert in Sweden on September 27, 1973.

Barney Kessel is accompanied by two premier Swedish jazz players on this album:

1. Pelle Hultén – drums.

2. Sture Nordin – double bass (died October 11, 2000).

There is some great chord playing, particularly his use of inversions and triads that make this album worth listening to.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Labor, traumatised from the 2019 election loss, has gone for the small target strategy. It fears being wedged by the coalition on many issues. Labor has outpolled the government for months now but the PM is a relentless campaigner who sounds prime ministerial but is in fact a “mudguard” ( shiny on top but full of excrement underneath. He knows he is on the ropes but he will try to pull off a “second miracle”.

    The coalition always claims it is the better economic manager and I suspect much of the electorate believes it. Labor has instead focused on health and aged care.

    Labor MAY understand MMT but be too afraid to articulate it for fear of “scaring the horses”. And if this is correct I don’t blame them, based on personal experience with family and friends. A few get it but most do not.

    Labor is still the least worse option though in my opinion and might yet surprise us if they win.

    I think Labor is the least worse option.

  2. No chance any major party will get my vote and that of many others I know. They’re as bad as each other. Ad even if one if marginally less bad, that’s not a good enough reason to vote for them. I understand why BIll finds this election campaign depressing!

  3. @Barri mundee re. “fear of scaring the horses”. What is the scare in increasing unemployment benefit to bring it up to the poverty line? Is it a surge in inflation, a fear of people quitting jobs, that 550,000 people + dependents would get something to enable them to join society while possibly being slightly less productive (but not destructive as with banksters and neo-liberal politicians), or the future generations will pay lie? All these scares are nonsensical without the need to fully get MMT. So sad that people are impoverished by gutless and dishonest politicians.

  4. Because geopolitics and foreign policy demands a one party nation state. No dissenters who will put a cog in the works is allowed anywhere near the place.

    It has happened everywhere on the planet. They’ve just removed Imran Khan from Pakistan in yet another coup because he wouldn’t follow US interests. So much for liberal democracy. It is Democracy at the end of a gun.

    Democracy is a sham.

    Yet, you have people who watch closely what these globalist governments do within their own borders and how they treat their own people. Who then actually believe they care about Ukrainians.

    That’s the level of stupidity we are dealing with here. People singing for Ukraine while their own countries are being torn apart by the very same people who are potty training them to hate Russia and China.

    I wouldn’t trust these Psychos to take my granny to the bingo or my bins out. Never mind one sentence they say about Ukraine. When they treat their own citizens and The country they were born in like vermin.

    The one party nation states were created in the West and the EU was created the way it was for what we are witnessing today – War. The mainstream economic paradigm has been created to support that War. Based on colonial asset stripping of real resources from which to extract rent. It is written in every EU treaty and every NATO chapter.

    What I love about the people who sing for Ukraine who think this war only started in February and are hypnotised by their TV sets. Is the screaming for democracy in Ukraine when they haven’t even got democracy in their own countries. Shout from their armchairs and comfy sofas and don’t even bother to get their arses off them , to fight for democracy in their own country.

    The same type of person who clearly struggle with Stockholm syndrome shout stay in the EU and we can change it from within = Deluded. Will never get off their armchair or comfy sofa to change the channel on their TV set to get an alternative point of view. Never mind fight for democracy in their own countries.

    No matter what chosen face is put in front of them by the leisure class and capital will continue to keep voting for the least worst option. Keep voting for wars that spread this undemocratic shit show around the World. Without even registering that if they can beat China and Russia without a thermal nuclear war then they’ll be coming for them next. That suddenly their political beliefs, the colour of your skin and religious beliefs will become very important to their economic survival.

    Hope and optimism is all that is left it You think this battle can be won in a class room. The majority of the public are braindead. Moulded like a piece of putty to believe any narrative put in front of them.

    They have just tried to cancel Russia cheered on by idiots and liberal fascism. Just wait until they cancel MMT when 101 media channels all say the same thing at the same time using inflation instead of a false flag in Bucha to do it.

    MMT’rs will suddenly understand what it feels like to be black, a minority, aboriginal, Chinese and Russian. Any group that has suffered at the hands of this psychopathic power these psychopaths hold.

  5. According to “Labor leader Anthony Albanese says increasing the rate of JobSeeker payments would be too damaging to the budget bottom line, defending a decision not to take the policy to the election.”

  6. In Portugal, we are seeing a funny move by the right-wing block, asking for the cancelation of the communist party (yes, we still have a communist party), for having doubts about the Zekensky/Biden/nato side of the Ucranian story.
    We all know that neither Russia or Putin have got anything to do with communism, but the drive to erase the communist party is too tempting.
    I can’t help but to remember the Odessa massacre in 2014, when 39 union leaders were burned alive by the ones that are now leaders on the Ucrainian army.
    That’s a way to cancel 39 people in a quick swoop.

  7. Derek,

    “…instead of a false flag in Bucha…”

    So you believe that all the witness testimonies, the drone videos, satellite images etc. are CIA/Ukrainian fabrications?

  8. It’s so depressing to hear the alternative prime minister of the nation talking about FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY when discussing his parties decision to leave the unemployment benefit at its current level for another year, knowing that recipients of the dole can afford either food, or rent, but not both.

    On that miserable payment the recipient is supposed to feed and home themselves, as well as appropriately dress themselves and pay for transport to interviews with prospective employers. And the theory is that if you pay the unemployed too much, then no one will want to work.

    In his campaign launch the opposition leader claimed that he understands the working class because he was brought up in public housing by his single mother. If the alternative prime minister really can remember that life, he should be ashamed of himself for condemning the current unemployed to penury, in the interests of FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY.
    The opposition party he leads supported the next round of tax cuts that I read yesterday will cost $184 billion over the next decade. Was the decision to support those tax cuts fiscally responsible?

    The other week after this opposition leader attended the festival of greed and cosied up to the business elites of the nation, I thought the alternative prime minister was a class traitor, this announcement removes all doubt.

  9. Paulo R,

    “I can’t help but to remember the Odessa massacre in 2014, when 39 union leaders were burned alive by the ones that are now leaders on the Ucrainian army.”

    Can you remember the millions of Ukrainians that were starved to death by Stalin during the time of the Holodomor?

  10. Friends here, does this make any sense?

    There are 3 sorts of “democracies”.
    1] Real democracies where in the people rule and this is shown because in these nations the wants/needs of the bottom 50 to 70% of the citizens are what happens.
    2] Democracies in name only where there are elections but the rulers ignore the wants/needs of the bottom 50 to 70& of the citizens. These include the US, UK, Aust., and most EU nations.
    3] Sham democracies in which there are elections, but opposition parties are banned or their leaders are murdered on the streets. These include Russia and many S. Am. nations

    Of course, there are nations that don’t have elections but they are not a sort of democracy.

  11. @Steve_American Hi. I think a useful way to look at democracy is to ignore its use as a label eg Democratic Republic of … and it’s use as a hurrah word ie claims for and mentions of it because it’s a good thing (no matter what the actuality), but rather think of it as an ideal. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address definition is a useful starter: Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
    Implementation is the difficult bit. The ideal (by the people) would be participatory democracy, but this is extremely difficult – getting people to actively participate, sufficiently educated to reasonably join a decision-making process and socially minded enough. So we fall back on Representative Democracy, which for any number of reasons is flawed compared to Democracy (the ideal). The flaws shouldn’t surprise given that citizen participation, even in its limited extent, was largely granted by elites as a way of staving off revolution and devised to not threaten their power structures – capitalism, lobbying power, media control, safe candidates for office, a still deferential class structure (in the UK). And how to balance wants and needs, a very useful distinction – should some people be deprived of mansions and environmentally and socially destructive lifestyles until the ‘democracy’ meets rather more basic needs for all people? You and I and maybe Lincoln might see a government of a wealthy country that leaves a significant number of the people below an accepted poverty line as hardly deserving to be called a democracy, but plenty of others would sadly disagree.

  12. @Carol Wilcox Thanks for youtube clip. We really could do with that Green leader up here. I was looking at the UK Green Party’s website just the other day and they do seem to be for some obviously necessary reforms such as a LVT if we are ever to get our society tilted in the right direction. Couldn’t see any mention of the barmy idea of a UBI but I assume they haven’t dropped that yet. Difficult to see any brightness in a future where Starmer could actually win the next election purely on the basis of being marginally less loathsome than the Cons. Where Australia goes we seem to follow these days.

  13. Thanks for your post. Deliberately making a section of your population, often the young, unemployed, is wrong. It is cruel. What sort of a future can our young people look forward to if they do not have secure work. Your post is a sanity check.

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