Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
parliament house.gif
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
South Australian Links
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Costello's welfare-to-work reform brief « Previous | |Next »
April 1, 2005

I see from the media that Peter Costello, the Federal Treasurer, addressed the Australian and Melbourne Institute's Sustaining Prosperity conference last night. Presumably the speech is a keynote address as Costello is being interpreted as speaking for the whole Government.

Costello has always struck me as contributing to public debate in terms of acting as a barrister with a brief from the government. Often the arguments to support the brief are shonky, highly repetitive when in Parliament, and often circular and bowbeating when part of an interview in the media. Truth is subordinated to persuasion whilst persuasion is subordinated to aggressive dissembling. This comes as no suprise since Costello treats the public arena (agora) as if it were a court room where the high profile barrister reigns supreme.

The fracas over the GST is a recent example of aggressive dissembling. Costello has been arguing around the traps that the states have breached the 1999 InterGovernmental Agreement with respect to stamp duty and he is going to bring them to order. All that agreement calls for is a review of the need to retain stamp duty by the ministerial council in 2005. The states then must agree to the removal. There has been no review and the states haven't agreed.

So what's Costello's brief? To deflect attention from his poor economic management that has allowed the economic machine to splutter and miss? What we really have with Costello's GST performance is his well-honed forensic skills being used in a stage-managed set piece political stunt. Watching the performance I'm reminded of Johnnie Cochrane, OJ Simpson's lawyer, when I watch Costello's performances: if you can't stand on the facts then you stand on the table.

So we have a political spectacle. But for what purpose? The styel is too grand for it to be just a counter to the negative judgements in the financial pages:---that he is not doing enough as an economic manager.

What happens when the brief is Costello's own? Do things pick up? The the content on the non-economic stuff is often thin. A good example is his understanding of social capital in terms of recycling the Judeo-Christian tradition. This showed the poverty of Australian conservatism.

To give credit where credit is due, Costello's big contribution as Federal Treasurer is his work on the policy implications of the issues thrown up by an aging population. The barrister then quickly tied this to the Treasury's neo-liberal brief for ongoing budget surpluses.

So we come to welfare-to-work reform.

As I understand it Treasury's neo-liberal brief for the welfare-to work-reform is that our tax and welfare systems had to deliver incentives to work by ensuring the low skilled can enter the employment market below the minimium wage. Am I wrong on this? Is this the way industrial relations reform and work-to-welfare reform overlap?

We can judge this by looking at what Costello said at the Sustaining Prosperity conference. In his speech he linked the issue of welfare reform to the long-term shortage of skilled labour, and argued the broader case for reform.

He said that it was no longer acceptable to have a system where a group of people on welfare who were capable of work were not required to try:

We need to create an income support system that focuses on workforce participation first; a system where work requirements are appropriately set, so that people are required to search for work where they are capable of work. Work can bring so much for people compared to a life on welfare – greater social contact, higher self esteem, another avenue to contribute to society and higher income. It is our duty to ensure that these benefits are realised for as many Australians as possible.

The Treasurer then mentioned those on single-parenting payments:
A system that has no work requirement--not even a part-time work requirement--for a parent of school age children is a very generous one and an inappropriate one in a country with possible labour shortages and the long term ageing of the population.

What is not said is that those moving from welfare to work (those on disability support and single parent payments) need, and should, be reskilled so they can obtain employment in the rapidly changing economy.

Now the Treasurer's speech explictly addresses the issue of needing to reskill to obtain work in the Australian economy. He says that:
.... education and training is becoming increasingly important to sustaining employment. The rapid pace of technological and structural change means that people often need to up-skill to perform more sophisticated roles required in their current job, or to re-skill to enable them to change occupations or industries where their employment becomes vulnerable. Furthermore, while overall employment growth has been strong, the threshold level of skills required to access the labour market is rising as many low skilled jobs are disappearing from the Australian economy.

We can infer from the silence abouting link this theme to those on welfare means that these Australians can, and will, take up the low skilled jobs that are disappearing from the Australian economy.

And as there is no mention of helping out with child care, it is assumed that the Costello's social capital talk from last year reappears.

Tis a Treasury brief that Costello is defending.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)