The Politics    Friday, May 1, 2015

The end of the Age of Entitlement, again

By Sean Kelly

The government moves on childcare subsidies

A long time ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the land, Joe Hockey announced the end of the Age of Entitlement.

Somewhere between then and now, the message, and the policy approach, got lost. The government was hammered for cutting family benefits to lower-income families while leaving the benefits for higher-income families (super tax breaks, other tax loopholes) largely untouched. The Age of Entitlement was only over for some, it seemed – those who were least likely to vote for the government anyway.

Since that disastrous first budget, the government has abandoned the treasurer’s rhetoric entirely, instead talking loudly about the beige-wallpaper dullness of the approaching budget. Nobody should worry about their entitlements, the government has seemed to be saying, especially those families who suffered such an awful scare last time around. 

But today something interesting happened.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that subsidies for parents who pay for childcare would be changed. But not all subsidies, and not for all parents.

Right now, a parent who is not working can collect a fairly small amount of Child Care Benefit. But, as David Crowe explains, if a parent does a single hour of volunteer work, paid work, or training in a week, then suddenly they can claim the Child Care Rebate, which gives back $74 out of a $100 fee for a period of 12 hours childcare. Crowe writes: “The parent could be paying $26 for hours of bliss.”

At present the Child Care Rebate is not means-tested. Anyone can get this cash, no matter their income. This is what Morrison plans to change.

The aim is of course partly to save money. But there is a coherent policy argument lying beneath the shift, which is that the childcare subsidies are intended as an incentive for parents to join (or stay in) the workforce, not as a welfare payment to which everybody has an automatic right.

Now, it’s possible to have a reasonable argument about the rights of stay-at-home parents and whether they should have access to the same payments as those who choose (or have) to work. Parenting is difficult. All parents need breaks sometimes. And single parents desperately need breaks sometimes.

But I think the government should get some credit for several reasons. First, for doing something it’s long been promising to do by beginning to wind back middle-class welfare. Second, for being willing to take on a difficult change that will create losers. Third, for ensuring that some of those losers will be those who can afford to lose a little, including some rusted-on Liberal voters – in other words, avoiding the mistake of the last budget, which unfairly hit the most vulnerable for cynical reasons of political convenience.

In what may be bad news for republicans, the name George rocketed up the Australian baby name rankings for 2014, from 75th to 43rd. In what may be bad news for monarchists, William fell from first to second, replaced by Oliver.

Yesterday I wrote partly about cuts to indigenous funding. Here are indigenous elders warning about the consequences of funding cuts.

The Indonesian ambassador has extended his “sympathies” to the families of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The prime minister welcomed those comments. Bill Shorten said “I think the words are cold comfort, actually, to the families – well intentioned, no doubt, but too little, too late.” The Greens called on the PM to consider expelling the ambassador.

The Sydney Morning Herald has this (long) explainer on the government’s climate-change policy. And a Victorian Liberal MP has called for an end to the political stalemate over the Renewable Energy Target.

The same paper has a detailed report on the internal politics of gay marriage in the ALP. Graham Richardson takes aim at Tanya Plibersek’s plan to bind Labor MPs on a gay marriage vote.

The mayor of Albury has apologised unreservedly for these comments: “I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you.”

Jacqui Lambie says too much was spent on the Anzac centenary.

Canberra shutdown? Perhaps not quite, but a huge industrial action in the public service is looming over wage disputes. 

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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