Thursday, November 22, 2007

SPIN DOCTOR: It's welfare Jim, but not as we know it

Expect to hear about a "transition from a welfare state to an opportunity society" when John Howard fronts the cameras at the National Press Club today.

He has coined the phrase just recently and used it in his policy launch, in an address to the Institute of Public Affairs, and in a campaign interview with Laurie Oakes.

Googling by Labor suggests that another Prime Minister came up with the idea first.

Britain’s Tony Blair (a Labour man) three years used John Howard’s formulation saying he wanted to move the United Kingdom “from the traditional welfare state to an opportunity society that helps families with the daily problems they face”.

Both leaders seem to share the same idea of an “opportunity society”.

Despite what they say they don’t actually oppose welfare...

Figures released yesterday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that welfare spending by all levels of Australian government has ballooned 57 per cent in seven years to a record $90 billion.

That’s faster growth than the consumer price index, which climbed 22 per cent in seven years, and even faster than Australia’s soaring gross domestic product, which jumped 50 per cent.

It is all the odder when it is borne in mind that welfare payments normally shrink as an economy boomed. Fewer people need them.

And the Institute’s figures don’t include a number of the Howard Government’s newer welfare measures directed mainly to better-off Australians such as the $3 billion uncapped private health insurance rebate and billion tax holiday for superannuation payouts costed at $2.3 billion a year and set to grow.

The Prime Minister himself made it clear in his policy launch that he doesn’t object to his sort of welfare.

Right after saying that he wanted to move Australia from being a welfare state to an opportunity society he said: “The Coalition is committed to Australia remaining a great home-owning society, indeed one of the greatest in the world, where the dream of home ownership remains at the heart of the Australian experience and within reach of each successive generation. Today I announce new measures to assist Australians looking to get a foot in the door of their first home.”

John Howard’s vision of an opportunity society is about giving a leg up to people who are upwardly mobile.

When it comes to education he says the Coalition parties are “unashamedly the parties of parental school choice. The blossoming of low-fee independent schools in the last decade, which we have supported, has given many families for the first time real choice over the school to which they send their child”.

In health he supports “a tax break for private health insurance”.

It's welfare, for people who want to get ahead.