A budget for the 19th century
Some media commentators have dubbed the federal budget a "do-nothing" budget and claimed there are "no nasties" in it. On the contrary, this budget is another giant stride down the government's path of destroying the widely held view that health care, education, work and welfare assistance are fundamental human rights.
The proposal to penalise those who do not take out private health insurance by the age of 30 is a thinly veiled threat that there may not be a functioning public health system when it is needed later. Without that threat, no one would buy expensive private health insurance.
The government is not yet game to propose what many conservative media commentators are calling for — the scrapping of Medicare — because it needs to get the GST through the Senate first. But the calls from business, the media and politicians to scrap Medicare will get louder.
The federal government is painting older people without private health insurance as a "drain" on society. After a lifetime of creating wealth for their employers and paying income tax, older people are now being pressured to pay again.
Similarly with education. The budget increases funding to private schools at the expense of public schools, despite only 30% of students attending private schools. The government is signalling that more parents will have to pay for private education in the future because public education will be drained of funds.
This approach also underlies the expansion of the work for the dole scheme. The scheme is premised on the idea that welfare is not a right but a privilege to be "earned". The government's goal is to drastically reduce the number of people entitled to welfare and limit the period for which it can be claimed. The burden of welfare provision is to be shifted to individual families, as was done when the government introduced the youth allowance.
To prepare the ground for privatising health care, education and welfare further, the government has launched an ideological campaign to destroy the popular view that these services should be funded through the tax system.
But the government's claim that it can't afford to continue these services is patently untrue. The budget is in surplus to the tune of $5.4 billion and the government is preparing to cut company tax to 30%.
Public health, education and welfare services resulted from political struggles by working people who rightly believed that these services are a basic human right. Their provision was agreed to grudgingly by the corporate rulers in order to maintain social peace.
The corporate rulers oppose a big public sector, even if it is mostly funded by taxes on workers, because business must also pay for some of it through taxes on profits. The big business owners and their politicians believe they can now reverse some of the gains the working class achieved this century.
By privatising public services, big companies and the rich will pay less tax while the rest of the population pays more tax via the GST.
Treasurer Peter Costello billed his budget as one for the new century. In reality it is a budget for a return to the time when there was no welfare system and no automatic right to health care or education.