DAVID PEN­BERTHY

Sunday Tasmanian - - News -

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.

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