October 2, 2014
The Abbott Government's rhetoric is that they are absolutely determined to stop the trajectory that Labor left, which is debt going to $667 billion in 10 years, which is $25,000 for every man, woman and child. They won't give up on doing what is right to address the legacy that Labor left. We are paying a billion dollars a month every single month just to pay the interest on Labor's debt. Without change, that is ratcheting up to $3 billion a month.
The reality is not crushing debt and budget emergencies. Neoliberal philosophy holds that all welfare recipients are “bludgers” and all taxpayers are “battlers”. The Abbott Government's position is that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for another person’s livelihood, particularly if that livelihood comes from pensions or other transfer payments.
The welfare state is the problem, not its beneficiaries. For neo-liberalism it is unfair that cleaner, a plumber or a teacher is working over one month full-time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian. Hence the rhetoric of lifters and leaners. The war that the neo-liberals in the Abbott Goverment are waging is the destruction of the welfare state.
That war explains the paradox of neoliberalism wanting to limit government, but the upshot of their policies being a huge expansion in the power of the state. Shrinking the welfare state is proving politically impossible in Australia so neoliberals have turned instead to using the state to reshape social institutions on the model of the market - a task that cannot be carried out by a small state. An increase in state power has always been the inner logic of neoliberalism, because, in order to inject markets into every corner of social life (including health, education and the arts) a government needs to be highly invasive.
Using the welfare state to realise an ideal of social justice is, for neoliberals, an abuse of power: social justice is a vague and contested idea, and when governments try to realise it they compromise the rule of law and undermine individual freedom. The role of the state should be limited to safeguarding the free market and providing a minimum level of security against poverty. They opt for a minimal welfare state, which aims to prepare people for the labour market rather than promoting any idea of social justice.