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Rudd's random acts of political kindness

  • 15 December 2008
As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ends 2008 and his first year on a high, it seems he's every bit the trickster his predecessor John Howard was. We're heading into one of the worst recessions in living memory, yet the government leapt to a six month high in last week's Newspoll. Rudd's rating as preferred prime minister has also risen three points to 66 per cent. It's no coincidence that the polls were taken as many Australians received $1000 cash bonuses in their bank accounts from the Federal Government's $8 billion economic stimulus package. This is part of a succession of quick fix solutions to problems of great magnitude, attempted by both the Howard and Rudd governments. The $8 billion was designed to protect jobs and businesses, by stimulating spending. It was also intended to make up for the inadequacy of entitlements and pensions paid to the needy. It's more likely an expensive exercise in wishful thinking that won't make up for the lack of social welfare policy foresight. Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Executive Director Frank Quinlan said last week that the current system is 'full of anomalies born of random payments and bonuses that arise out of political whim and historic accidents rather than good social policy'. He was launching a CSSA position paper that calls for the establishment of an independent Entitlements Commission that would set and review pensions and other income support payments on an annual basis. The paper shows that Indigenous Australians, unemployed people, sole parents, people with disabilities, and older Australians who rent privately, are regularly unable to pay for items like utility bills and prescription medicines. Random lump sum payments will do little to help those without an adequate regular income to meet recurring living expenses such as rent, food and utilities. The government would correctly say that they were not meant for this purpose. However the allocation of such funds should be overseen by a body that is not subject to sudden or short-term political machinations. The CSSA paper says that even though governments have acknowledged that income support payments should be sufficient to support an adequate standard of living, there is no defined standard of adequacy. If the payments regime is not structured to address such a standard, it will be subject to short-term and other more easily perceived and measured needs, and political opportunism. Michael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.