Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The Howard government's social coalition is a cop-out on social services

By Wayne Swan - posted Friday, 15 June 2001

The Great Depression and successive world wars demonstrate why everyone has obligations that go beyond their own bottom lines. These experiences taught us that we live in a society, not an economy. But, while each of us – including businesses and unions – has social obligations, in the end it is Government that must take the lead in ensuring ours is a good society.

Australia has been fortunate that over most of its history most people have put their collective shoulders to the wheel. As a result we are a relatively peaceful nation, without the obvious tensions and disadvantage so evident in communities elsewhere in the world. However, our nation is becoming a more divided place. Those with means are now more inclined to protect their position to the detriment of the common good and our present Government has failed to show leadership, walking away from its obligations.

The current Federal Government, largely for political reasons, is fixated with the obligations owed by the unemployed to the tax-paying community. While they have talked about the obligations of business to the broader community, these have been cast very narrowly. This has enabled the Howard Government to use the rhetoric of a broad social coalition to mask its retreat from the funding and provision of core services.


Our expectations of the unemployed in terms of work search and self-betterment should be matched equally by the provision of opportunities to participate. However, the 1996 Budget saw the Howard Government abandon the unemployed and they have paid a high price. So, during a period of relatively strong economic growth, the number of long-term unemployed has remained stuck.

This is one reason why John Howard’s calls for a social coalition have failed to gain traction. People can see that Government is not playing its part.

The other reason is that people see that Government has different expectations of the social obligations of business than it has of the unemployed. The top end of town has had their tax burden reduced and the GST they wanted introduced. Now the Government is offering assistance to them to meet their social obligations.

In fact the annual amount allocated for tax concessions for wealthy donors combined with funding for ‘community-business partnerships’ exceeds the $75 million first year commitment to the unemployed and disabled for welfare reform.

It is also perverse that the Government can extend tax breaks for corporate giving, but refuse input credits on the GST for charities trying to pay the electricity bills of the poorest of the poor. Labor’s recent pledge to address the problem of charities paying tax on emergency relief included a costing – $45 million over three years – around one fifth of the cost of tax concessions contained in John Howard’s philanthropy initiatives.

No one wants to impede businesses from giving, but their sense of obligation should lead them to help even if there are no carrots available for doing so. But we should not expect them to enter a field that is being vacated by a Government unwilling to show leadership. Our core expectation of business should be that they conduct their enterprise in a socially responsible way.


When Labor launched its banking policy recently, we articulated what we thought the social obligations of the banks were. The message was simple: you have a part to play in protecting the most vulnerable - play it. While the message has sunk in for some, others are continuing to make life extremely tough for low-income earners.

Taking your social obligations seriously is very different to a bank or any other business contributing a small amount of money to an appeal, or funding a one-off project. This is valuable, but it is not a substitute for long term funding. In an environment where there is too little commitment to long-term initiatives, some one-off philanthropic projects may seem like public relations opportunities rather than contributions that build coherently on the efforts of Government and the community.

The nub of the problem with the Government’s social coalition is that it invites business to make a token contribution in the context of the Government contributing less than it should. We need business to consider the social needs of their customers, not try to fill the gap left by Government.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Wayne Swan MP is the Member for Lilley (Qld). He is Federal Labor Shadow Treasurer and author of Postcode.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Wayne Swan
Related Links
Department of Family and Community Services
Wayne Swan's homepage
Photo of Wayne Swan
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy