Government has a role to play in reducing inequality... a role it has largely abandoned over the last few decades, working on the assumption that it is 'not their job'.
There is a large body or research and academic writing that points to our growing inequality and the role it plays in stagnating economies, as well as leading to adverse social outcomes around health as well as Law and Order. If it isn't the government's job to support a thriving economy and to ensure the delivery of a good level of social services to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to flourish, then what is its job? And if it is the government's job, then why aren't they doing more to address inequality?
An excellent example of where the government has failed in addressing (or failing to address) need - as outlined by the Gonski recommendations. It is uncontested that higher levels and higher quality education generally lead to higher income and better health outcomes. By not implementing the Gonski reforms as recommended (not as conceived by Labor or the Coalition), we are ensuring poorer health outcomes for disadvantaged groups.
This is the essence of the last of this year's Boyer lectures - addressing issues of fairness and equity at every opportunity. Professor Marmot refers to the principle as 'make every contact count'.
In the fourth Boyer lecture Sir Michael suggests that we need government action as well as action by communities. He insists we should be seeking to create the conditions for individuals to take control over their lives with the aim of creating a more just society that enables social flourishing of all its members.
This touches on issues such as a fairer taxation system, the better funding and targeting of services, but also the refusal of people to look at a problem and say 'not my job'.
Professor Marmot's fourth lecture is well worth a listen and you'll find it here.
Accessible, affordable, quality childcare is a real issue at the moment. Working families all around the country are feeling the financial pressure of childcare costs and the government has responded by delaying their announced changes by 12 months.
It’s not good enough.
Families under significant pressures are expected to just hold tight for another year so the government can make the books look better for the election. But again it is not good social or economic policy.
The Greens know that affordable and quality childcare is important. It’s important for the economy as it takes pressure off disposable income, makes room for increases in discretionary spending, and so supports an array of jobs and businesses.
It’s an important part of ensuring healthy workforce participation rates for women. This is especially true for lower income earners, and this in turn will impact their superannuation and retirement savings. The government’s short term thinking will have longer term ramifications.
It’s important for kids and their education as it provides an opportunity to set them up for greater academic achievement. It is well established that the early years are an important phase of their learning. To make quality childcare unaffordable is a form of generational theft that this government sanctions.
In response the Australian Greens have announced a policy of ‘Universal Access’ childcare, with a guaranteed minimum of 24 hours of subsidised care offered to every Australian family each week.
The Greens policy creates a single, means tested payment model with access guaranteed for all Australian families. Whoever wins government will need to get their proposed childcare legislation through the Senate. The Greens would push for this policy to be implemented from the 1st of July 2017.
Families earning under $65,000 per year would have 85% of the cost of their care covered, with that amount tapering off until families who earn over $340,000 have 20% of their costs covered.
The Greens have also announced that they will create a $200 million ‘Reducing Waiting Lists Fund’, that centres could apply to access for either capital works, increasing staff or the expansion of specific programs to free up more places in high need areas.
Implementing the Greens’ policy of ‘Universal Access’ would add $370 million per year to the cost of the government’s proposed childcare overhaul. This would be funded through the Greens fully costed platform.
Again the Greens are offering a real point of difference. All the details on the policy are available here.
by Wendy Tubman
Across the world we are seeing increasing levels of inequality – between developed and under-developed economies, and within national boundaries. In Australia the gap between rich and poor has been rising for over 30 years, and that has accelerated in the last decade and a half as we have moved away from a progressive tax regime and the means-testing of government financial support.
But is this a problem? According to those on the Right it isn’t. Their arguments include: our duty is to reward success and ‘lifters’ rather than ‘leaners’; that wealth accruing to the rich ‘trickles down’ to the poor; that income inequality is healthy because it inspires lower income earners to work
The arguments may, at first hearing sound plausible, but do they really stack up?
It has long been accepted, following the Whitehall studies, that your position within a large organisation, and within society as a whole, has a significant impact on your life expectancy and other health outcomes. Those higher on ‘the ladder’ clearly experience much better outcomes. In 2010, the Marmot review in Britain found that people living in poorer areas die on average seven years sooner, but also spend more of their lives with disability – an average total difference of 17 years.
These health inequalities are not just limited to life expectancy but also include infant mortality, mental health, physical health and so on. This is not a localised effect, the results having been largely replicated in a study that looked across 50 countries. In their 2009 book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Wilkinson and Pickett found a clear relationship between income inequality and health and social outcomes. See below.
Looking at all these indicators separately, the effect of income inequality is quite stark. (Note, a score of zero means no correlation, and a score of 1 or -1 means a perfect positive or perfect negative correlation.)
So we can see that income inequality has a significant impact on increased teenage births, higher imprisonment levels, mental illness, reduced levels of social trust and higher levels of obesity. There is also a notable effect on increased rates of homicide, reduced educational performance, and increased infant mortality.
Recent studies have investigated whether or not income inequality causes health and social problems, independent of other factors, and some rigorous studies have provided evidence of a relationship. Kondo, et al (2009) estimated that about 1.5 million deaths (9.6 per cent of total adult mortality in the 15–60 age group) could be averted in 30 OECD countries by reducing income equality below current levels.
Another study suggested that the loss of life from income inequality in the US in 1990 was the equivalent of the combined loss of life due to lung cancer, diabetes, motor-vehicle accidents, HIV-related causes, suicide and homicide.
As an indication of where Australia sits in relation to the rest of the world, see the chart below.
We're being outperformed by both Spain and Italy who both have much bigger domestic financial headwinds than us.
Significantly, the most (over) used argument by the Right –that income inequality may have positive effects on economic growth by providing incentives to work – while it may sound good at an LNP conference, in an IPA position paper, during budget speeches (that launch an election campaign), or during a doorstop interview, the evidence to support this is weak.
The relevant research unambiguously points towards positive and important society-wide outcomes being achieved through reducing the rich-poor divide. Even from a purely economic perspective, the very thorough work of Thomas Piketty has demonstrated that significant income inequality damages economic growth – the one strategy the government is relying on to return the economy to surplus.
Given that inequality is a major problem for us all, both economically and socially, this suggests that a return to more means-testing of government financial support programs, and a return to a more progressive taxation regime and a crack down on tax minimization by the wealthy, is needed .
If the government were serious about fiscal repair they would commit to the funding guidelines in Gonski, they would properly fund health, they would address the excesses of superannuation and cut back aggressively on negative gearing concessions, they would build a proper and effective social safety net, and they would make big business pay the appropriate amount of tax.
Whether or not the government is representing the interests of all Australians, present and future, will be partly revealed on budget night
by Wendy Tubman
Greens leader Richard DeNatale recently spoke at the National Press club. It was forward looking with a vision for the future... something neither of the major parties is doing. Watch his speech below.
Life is complex – socially as well as biologically.
The current, devastating, coral bleaching event Is primarily the result of ongoing warm seawater associated with the climate change happening around us. But climate change also increases the acidity of the ocean, another problem for the coral.
Then again, stresses like nutrient-rich run-off and coastal development, also decrease the extent to which the coral is able to cope with the warm water And the bleaching isn't just an issue for the coral itself but for everything that depends on it.
These dependents are not only fish and other sea creatures which depend on the coral reefs for food and protection, but also many groups of people, including commercial and recreational fishers and those who sell and consume fish, fishing rods and boats; the tens of thousands working in reef-related tourism; those who travel to the reef and experience transformative joy at seeing its beauty, and those who fly them there; those who research the coral looking for things with medical benefits; and those who live on the coast and depend (whether they know it or not) on the coral reef to protect the coastline from cyclones and tsunamis.
To make matters even more complex, the impacts of climate change stretch further than to the reefs around the world and the issues linked to that.
It is estimated that, as a result of the adverse effects of climate change, 400,000 people die every year
The Climate and Health Alliance in their latest report has described climate change as both the “defining health issue” and the “greatest global health threat” of the 21st century.
Worsening levels of health impose financial burdens on individuals, the community and the economy. For example, there are limited funds for health care and, as more funds need to be allocated to dealing with the direct fallout from climate change, less can be spent on the most efficient form of health care: preventative health.
Reduced health has productivity outcomes – from reduced output at work, to chronic illness and work absences, and on to early death, which means skill sets are lost forever.
Poor health also leads to poorer educational outcomes – for children as well as adults.
Lower levels of education not only mean reduced productivity, less innovation, and a reduction in high value work, it also leads to poorer health choices, which in turn mean poorer health outcomes.
As you can see, environmental outcomes affect economic outcomes, they affect health outcomes, which affect educational outcomes, which in turn affect economic and health outcomes. And as we live in the global village, this all has an effect on foreign affairs, and immigration.
Everything is co-dependent and interconnected. What this should mean is that policy frameworks are likewise interconnected. As we develop educational policy, we must have an eye to economic policy and health policy; as we develop health policy we should be mindful of how this might affect or be affected by environmental policy, education policy, economic policy, foreign policy. Etc, etc.
You get the picture... interconnectedness.
But does government policy take this into account? When the health minister announces policy changes (like the $7 co-payment) do they mention the impact this will have on workplace productivity, educational outcomes, or economic outcomes (outside of the direct savings they believe this change will drive).
They don't. Not just because they don't know (the modeling is never that robust) but because it hasn't been a consideration in the policy development process. Instead, policy has been developed by adhering to particular philosophies – like 'living within our means'; 'small government'; 'only doing for people what they can't do themselves'.
You hear the philosophies repeated again and again... which is symptomatic of the problem with the major parties.
The budget will be delivered soon. It will outline where the spending priorities lie. It will present all the expected benefits of addressing those priorities. But will it be a coherent statement that highlights the interconnectedness of our everyday lives?
It may, but the signs aren't good.
Ewen Jones appeared on Q&A on Monday. Ewen can be relied upon to repeat the governments talking points, push their key themes, and, at the same time, say as little as possible. On Monday Ewen was asked about youth unemployment and the future for North Queensland.
You can watch his answer by clicking on the video below
Basically... mining, coal, coal fired power, poles and wires, dams... if you build them the jobs will come (including for youth), and the country towns will thrive.
Very narrow. Possibly it represents where the government's thinking is. But don't take my word for it. Decide for yourself when the budget is released
by Wendy Tubman
Sometimes a series of events don't really require any commentary... all you need to do is to draw the key events together so that their meaning becomes clearer than if the events are looked at in isolation.
The Safe Schools debate (if you can call it that) has been very emotive so perhaps the best place to start is with some very funny commentary on the changes to the program as agreed to by Simon Birmingham and Malcolm Turnbull .
It is worth examining the events that shaped the Coalition's attitude to the Safe Schools program and the irresistible drive for seemingly urgent and significant change.Those events are outlined below in what approximates the order in which they occurred.
In November last year the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) slammed the Safe Schools Program.
In early February Cory Bernardi labels the program a 'gay manual' and calls its supporters 'hetero-phobic'
On the 10th of February the ACL continues its attacks on the program.
In mid February, Family First Senator Bob Day echoes Bernardi's calls for defunding of the program, calling it 'Gay Lifestyle promotion' rather than an anti-bullying program.
In late February George Christiansen likens the program to Paedophilic grooming.
Turnbull orders a review of the program after concerted right wing pressure.
On February 29th Lyle Shelton, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, appears on ABC's Q&A further pressing the case to shut down the Safe Schools Program
Turnbull faces another backbench revolt, this time over the results of the review he had authorised into the program. George Christiansen hands Turnbull a petition signed by more than half of the government's backbenchers asking that the program be suspended until a full parliamentary inquiry in conducted.
Tony Abbott is a signatory to Christiansen's petition despite having launched it.
Turnbull defends letting the debate on Safe Schools run so long and acts as an apologist for some very unsavoury remarks by attacking the opposition for their criticisms of the tone of the debate.
The government makes significant changes to the Safe Schools program which please far right conservative George Christensen who welcomes the 'gutting' of the program.
Protests against the changes are currently being organised.
70,000 signatures are collected by Senator Simms from The Greens in support of the Safe Schools program. Cory Bernardi's petition to defund the program collected only 9500 signatures.
Writer Daniel Swain sums up the actions of Christensen and Bernardi beautifully in this article and opens the article powerfully with:
The Safe Schools debate in Parliament takes us back to the playground. Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and their supporters claim to be motivated by belief in traditional gender roles and family choice.
Cory Bernardi underlines the point being made by Daniel Swain with an aggressive and dismissive email to a concerned parent.
You can make you own mind up about the reasons behind Malcolm Turnbull's decisions and actions, and who the key influencers were... the ACL, government back benchers, particular Senators or MPs. You can also make up your own mind as to whether Bernardi and Christiansen (as apparent intolerant bullies) would benefit from participating in the program.
At the end of the day it probably doesn't matter too much... Christiansen and Bernardi are unlikely to ever change, and the decision to alter the program has been made and likely tucked away out of sight until after the election.
What it is worth being clear about is... what the Safe Schools program is actually about and what are its merits and weaknesses. You can also decide that for your self by reading the program... in my opinion it is well structured, easy to read and its intent seems very clear.
What is less clear is what the all fuss has been about. We could ask George and Cory to explain but I'd say most of us feel we've heard more than enough from them
by Mark Enders
The Townsville Greens will publish blogs considered to be of merit. The opinions expressed are those of the Author.