ONE of the many joys of tax time is receiving that jaw-dropping pie chart from the Australian Taxation Office documenting the disappearance of much of your hard-earned cash over the past financial year.
It is a relatively new design, presumably to give taxpayers a sense of value for money – or money foregone.
When you see that big chunk taken for health, it is hard to begrudge, unless you’d rather live in a country like the US where, for low-paid people, an unexpected illness can be a direct route to life on the street.
When it comes to welfare, however, the tax pie chart is quite literally off the charts.
Welfare now swallows up 86 per cent of the personal income tax paid by Australians each year at an eye-watering annual cost of $155 billion.
That figure is growing rapidly and will reach $190 billion within four years. Most of this is driven by the age pension which is not something any reasonable person would begrudge. But a vast amount is eaten up by the almost 800,000 Australians on unemployment benefits.
Many of these people fall into the emergency assistance category and deserve all the short-term help they can get as jobs vanish from the old economy.
But for many, unemployment is undeniably a lifestyle choice where, for reasons of drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, a rotten family upbringing where no-one has worked for generations, or plain old-fashioned laziness, the dole has gone from being a safety net, to a hammock.
The people who are most aggrieved by this are the hardworking Australians at the lower end of the income scale who bust their backsides in blue-collar jobs only to see that the derros down the street who make a racket at night and keep a car chassis on their lawn are pocketing almost as much in return for zero effort.
There is a solid left-wing argument to be made for clamping down on those who treat the welfare system as their own private ATM. It is a complete insult to low-paid workers to expect them to underwrite the chosen lifestyles of the indolent.
And it does no favours to those on the dole, by denying them the chance to enrich themselves through what for- mer Labor prime minister Julia Gillard memorably described as the dignity of work.
These days, the standing mantra among the various branches of the Australian Council of Social Service is that pretty much everyone who is on the dole is a pitiable victim of circumstance and that any attempt to establish their bona fides, question their capacity for effort, and gently nudge them off the couch is an assault on their human rights.
Predictably enough, this is the tenor of their critique of the cashless welfare card which has been trialled by the Federal Government over the past year at three locations – the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.
Under the scheme, participants receive just 20 per cent of their benefits into their bank accounts with the other 80 per cent placed on a debit card which cannot be used on alcohol, gambling or to withdraw cash.
Since the trial began, government research has shown the chief aim of the program has been met, with one-quarter of drinkers using the card reporting that they now consume less booze and about a third of gamblers kicking the habit.
The criticisms of the card from the welfare sector and the Greens have taken on a racial tone, as the three communities in the trial are obviously home to large indigenous populations with a well-documented problem with alcohol abuse.
WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert argues that she has evidence from the police that the crime rate has gone up in Kununurra since the trial began, saying there were 22 aggravated robberies locally from June 2012 to May 2015, and a big jump from June 2015 to June 2017 to 31 aggravated robberies.
Setting aside the fact that this second sample of robberies includes a full year when the card wasn’t operating, the senator’s criticisms strike me as white-flag thinking.
If we have a group who are so hardwired towards using welfare as a means to abuse alcohol that they will resort to crime when their behaviour is challenged, surrendering to their criminal intent seems a namby-pamby solution.
The best way to scotch any suggestion that these cashless cards are in any way racist is to apply them in communities where it’s the white folks who are paying for booze and pokies with other people’s money.
There are plenty of white Australians who put our indigenous mates to shame in the bludging stakes.
The test for inclusion on a smart card should not be based on where you live anyway.
It should kick in when you’ve been living on welfare for so long – with no demonstrable attempts to obtain work – that you are clearly not interested in trying to find any.
High taxes are the price you pay for living in a coherent society but the generosity shouldn’t extend unconditionally, especially when it is underwriting a toxic, listless existence for the kids who inhabit these families.