As we all attempt to move past shock and rage at this deeply unpopular budget, the biggest question seems to be ‘what can we do?’. What do we do about a government we democratically elected turning their back on every promise they made pre-election and undertaking savage cuts to our social services (among many other vital areas). As an arts worker, I’m livid about the cuts to arts funding. An industry that, aside from any other concern, is almost as central to our economy as mining. But, as I suspect Abbot’s government was relying on, there are other more pressing issues to be worrying about now. I’m most worried about the dismantling of universal health care. Or the completely unrealistic lack of a safety net for young people. Or the further erosion of our supposedly egalitarian higher education system. All over social media, in our newspapers and journals, in conversation, people are reaching for answers. Do we encourage and campaign for a double dissolution? Cheerlead for blocking supply? Keep marching for the next three years, knowing we’re being ignored or misrepresented in the media? Are we really so powerless that the answer is we have no recourse?
In many circles the discussion has moved beyond what pressure we can exert on elected officials and a government most of my peers seem to have no regard for, and on to what we as individuals can do. I’m already seeing suggestions in the models of crowd funding the dole, pay it forward doctors fees or guides for young people on how to access housing support or food banks when they are kicked out of home and have no access to support services. There is an urge to do something. To take real, meaningful action which will offer support to these vulnerable people we know will be hardest hit by the budget cuts. Many of us know we’re lucky, we have all the essentials covered and a bit more besides. So it’s natural that we want to do our bit.
But isn’t this exactly the crux of the problem? We already do. We already pay our taxes, the money which is supposed to be providing infrastructure and support to the services we need. Our money isn’t supposed to be spent exclusively on roads and armies, it’s supposed to be spent on hospitals, social services and schools. By telling young people which charities have food banks or where they might find a bed for the night when they have nowhere else to go, we’re only putting more pressure on already stretched charities and community service organisations who are also facing flow-on reduced funding thanks to cuts from the budget. By providing a crowd funded dole, or a pay it forward scheme for co-payments to the doctor, we’re giving this and future governments an excuse not to fund these things. We won’t pay less tax, we will just pay for the things we don’t want our money going to, like defense or tax cuts for high earners.
By paying for these services, we are taking the responsibility away from where it rightfully rests; government. We are allowing them to shirk their responsibility to all of us, allowing them to divert more of our taxes to propping up mining and other polluting industries who are given all the tax breaks and do none of this ‘heavy lifting‘ we hear so much about. We’re double-dipping into our own wallets in resignation to the fact that the truly wealthy are not willing to work with the rest of us to ensure opportunities, services and support are available to all, not just those who can pay. We’re essentially talking about recreating infrastructure that already exists. It’s called democratic government, whereby we all contribute to the common good and take part in choosing what that good is. Only it’s being dismantled in front of our eyes. There’s a role for “building it and they will come” – citizens getting together to do “be what they want to see in the world”, but surely we should do that in a way that supports bringing back the role of government, rather than further undermining it.
Talking about what we as individuals can do to assist those hardest hit by the budget is important, but it is also equally important not to let this government off the hook by failing to hold them to account for a budget which punishes our most vulnerable and rewards the rich few.
Image by Jerry Dohnal used under Creative Commons licence