Tony Abbott's 'Big Bang' welfare strategy
immediately raised my hackles, given the propensity for him to generate
ideas inimical to citizens in general and to unwilling recipients
of income support in particular.
There is no doubt that the welfare system needs an overhaul. Just
as there is no doubt that higher payments are necessary to support
those suffering under the inequities of neo-liberal policies. Despite
Tony's history, the idea of a 'maxi' welfare reform project does
have some merit since we currently have two income support policies:
one for pensioners, including age pensioners, and one for the labour
force or potential labour force.
That is, provided it helps the people in need of income support and is
not presented merely to save money, as Coalition policy usually
appears to demand.
A recent item announcing a National Summit on Government and Social
Renewal was reported in the QCOSS newsletter of 16 December 2002.
The summit will "consider plans (submitted by participants) which
break through barriers, harness diverse institutional capacities, unleash
social and financial capital and redraw the boundaries between government,
communities and business".
In this context, the time now appears to have arrived for serious consideration,
research and, hopefully, implementation of a different concept to
address the inequalities in our present system of welfare support.
One idea, variously called "guaranteed annual income" (GAI),
"basic income", "territorial dividend", "state
bonus", "demogrant", "citizen's wage" and
"universal benefit" presents itself as a viable alternative
to the present ad hoc and inefficient system.
In the past two decades this concept has gradually become the subject
of an unprecedented and fast-expanding public discussion, particularly in
Europe and parts of the Third World.
Some see it as a crucial remedy for many social ills including
unemployment and poverty. Others denounce it as a crazy, economically
flawed and ethically objectionable proposal.
In a background paper presented to the VIIIth International Congress
of the Basic
Income European Network (BIEN) in October 2000, Philippe van
Parijs defined basic income thus: "A basic income is an income
paid by a political community to all its members on an individual
basis, without means test or work requirement."
The concept of unconditional universal income support has not so far
achieved any real degree of political recognition, as this concept is
still relatively new to Australia despite one of the recommendations of
the First Main Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty in 1975
being for the adoption of a carefully targeted and means-tested proposal.
Allan McDonald of the Organisation
Advocating Support Income Studies (OASIS) has stated:
"The primary objective of the support income system is to provide a
more equitable distribution of income for all citizens without reducing or
weakening individual initiative and enterprise. Within the umbrella of
this primary objective there are a number of targets or objectives.
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