Tony Abbott, in an audio recording of a speech he gave at assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar’s local Liberal Party branch meeting, bemoaned the “second-best, taxing and spending” budget that the government were forced to deliver in 2017 by the unruly senate1. He referred to the disastrous 2014 federal budget as the “gold standard in terms of budget repair and economic reform”. It is clear that Abbott’s understanding of his failure as Prime Minister is limited, and apart from blaming everyone else, as narcissist do, he also blamed the budget problems on spending while ignoring plummeting revenue. His justification for this was that not fixing the deficit was “intergenerational theft”, but his 2014 budget cuts targeted the young as well as the disadvantaged2. This budget attempted to cut university funding and raise fees and also to cut unemployment benefits; at the same time it did nothing about superannuation for the wealthy and did nothing regarding negative gearing, the trough in which most politicians have their snouts firmly buried2,3.
Sunday penalty rates were recently cut for people under the hospitality, fast food, retail and pharmacy awards, to bring them into line with those for Saturday (they would never raise them to bring them into line, would they?). In so doing some people covered by those awards will lose as much as $2,400 per annum4. Just as this kicked in, we heard that politicians and senior public servants will receive an increase of 2% in their pay packets. For Malcolm Turnbull, that means his annual salary will rise from $517,504 to $527,852 p.a., while your average mug parliamentarian will rise to over $203,000 p.a. Senior public servants get a pay rise also, with the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson now on $878,0005. Many lower level public servants have not had a pay increase for several years because of the protracted enterprise bargaining due to restrictions placed on them by the government.
In the UK last month, the Labour Party attempted to lift the pay freeze on poorly paid public sector workers. The vote in parliament was defeated along party lines with the Democratic Unionist Party voting with the Conservative Party. The Conservatives looked upon this as a win and gloated; laughing, smiling and gesturing at the Labour Party6. This is rather unsavoury when it is piled on top of wages either flat-lining or declining in inflation-adjusted terms. This also reeks of the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ approach.
In the US, Republicans are busily trying to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as passed by the House of Representatives so that Medicaid funding is cut, and subsidies are reduced for health insurance, such that some 23 million people would lose health insurance. At the same time taxes on high-income earners are repealed or delayed7. Not having health insurance in the US means that you may not receive preventative care, you are more likely to be hospitalised with a preventable illness, and you are more likely to die in hospital. If you survive, medical bills can be so crippling that they can be insurmountable for families, who because they earn above a certain amount cannot get access to government insurance programs such as Medicaid. Medical debts for severe illnesses or injuries can run into six figures8. While it is often stated that members of Congress have free health insurance, they don’t. However, the federal government does subsidise their premiums to the tune of over 70%. ‘I’m all right, Jack’ indeed.
Why there is a sense of entitlement exemplified by the phrase “I’m all right, Jack”, with a concomitant disregard for the rest of the population is unclear. It could be because the people who are attracted to the conservative side of politics are the sort of people who do not care about anybody beyond their little coterie of wealthy mates. It could be that these politicians have simply been bought off by big business, so that the latter can increase their profits and can keep donating to conservative political parties. It could be that a significant proportion of conservative are in the religious nutter class, and believe that the suffering of others (but never them) is good for others’ souls. While I expect that the most likely reason is that politicians have been bought, there is one thing I do know, and that is this self-serving approach to government will not be allowed to continue. Public anger is building and will continue to do so until politicians change and start governing for all the people, not just those with money. If they do not, such change will be forced upon them.