Oh. Budget night. I can imagine no annual pageant more unifying to the Australian people. I can imagine no testament truer to our open democracy. I can imagine no moment that captures the collective dream of a great, inclusive nation.
Today, in fact, I can imagine nothing better at all. This is certainly not because budget night is of use to us, the many who provide the revenues that make budget night, and all other acts of government spending, possible. This is because budget night, which looks now more than ever like a gang of elites stuffing themselves at a fine buffet funded by us low-to-middle-income instant-noodle slurping nobodies, deadens the imagination. Today, I can’t imagine anything better.
Imagination can lead only to hope. Hope can lead only to the idea of a future in which policies, like this one which extends the time a refugee must wait for a little help, do not exist. Just as there is no true economic purpose in making the school chaplaincy program permanent, one whose funding was found unconstitutional by the High Court, a quarter of a billion dollars, there is no true economic purpose in diminishing the chances of employment for a refugee. The purpose, in each of these cases, appears to me to be moral.
A child raised with no faith, little faith or a faith that does not match that of the chaplain may feel estranged, confused, even belittled, upon their first attempt to seek emotional help
It is a moral and not a budgetary decision in a nation with no official religion—one whose last Census saw “No Religion” emerge as the clear winner—to entrust the psychological care of kids to those who have completed (a) a one-year course and (b) reading some sort of holy book. The book is usually the New Testament—a 2011 study found Christians are colossally over-represented in the program at 96.5% . Even a document on the Parliament of Australia website suggests that this faith may be in the majority.
It is a moral and not a budgetary decision by a government to withhold job-seeking assistance to refugees, and welfare benefits to migrants.
It doesn’t take a team of sociologists working with a bar-graph the size of my suburb to tell us that both these “budgetary” decisions may produce negative social outcomes. A child raised with no faith, little faith or a faith that does not match that of the chaplain may feel estranged, confused, even belittled, upon their first attempt to seek emotional help. A refugee torn from their home then transported to an unfamiliar institution may feel isolated, despondent, even belittled, upon their first attempt to seek out a living wage.
It doesn’t take a team of economists working with a calculator the size of my fridge to tell us that both these “budgetary” decisions may produce negative economic outcomes. Kids with small problems that are not addressed grow to be adults with paralysingly poor mental health. Refugees and migrants segregated for months from labour and welfare come to face chronic unemployment.
The attempt to revive the importance of the Christian faith is a moral decision. The attempt to restate the unimportance of the migrant or the refugee is also a moral decision. But, we do not elect our representatives to take care of our morals. We elect them to perform the work of government, most of which is collecting revenue fairly and distributing it wisely.
Our economy may be showing signs of growth, but wealth inequality is truly on the rise
But, the budget is a document often derived from morals. These morals will sometimes be those of swinging voters in marginal seats—maybe “tough on migrants” and “jobs for Christians, not those bloody refugees” work in your electorate.
The Treasurer’s may himself be a moraliser. His belief that economic growth is always good doesn’t seem very economic. Our economy may be showing signs of growth, but wealth inequality is truly on the rise. Income is stagnant for most, and underemployment is a grave concern not only for the young generation it afflicts, but for businesses who can’t get their hands on money young people just don’t have.
You can bounce up and down about GDP predictions all you want and scream “growth” until you turn as blue as your suit. You can keep claiming growth is a moral virtue and that the numbers tell an upbeat story.
Or, you could use your imagination to hear the word “growth” like we do. It sounds like we’re worth ten bucks. It sounds like we’re as welcome to all this growth as is a refugee is to an honest day’s labour.
Tomorrow, imagine something better.