The Socialist Alliance estimated in 2010 that its key policies for social justice and environmental sustainability would cost a minimum of $81-140 billion a year. Any budget devised by a party focused on putting people and the planet before profits would look significantly different to the “safe” yet largely austere budget the federal Labor government released last week.
Making Australia a liveable, humane and socially just society would require serious boosts in spending, in particular, on welfare, the healthcare system, fully funded public education and immediately rolling out renewable energy.
But Australia could easily afford it.
Initiatives such as lifting all the main welfare payments above the poverty line would cost $18-20 billion a year, Green Left Weekly journalist Dick Nichols said in 2010.
SA’s welfare policy holds that a socially useful and empowering welfare system would not force people via “welfare to work” and “mutual obligation” schemes into meaningless training or alienating work. Rather, those presently on welfare should be paid above the poverty line, and educated and trained for meaningful work.
SA’s policy of ensuring comprehensive primary health care is available to everyone, that pharmaceutical medicines are available where needed, and that everyone has access to the same dental care and insurance through an extended Medicare scheme would also cost billions.
Similarly, restoring public education at all levels, creating a universal, free, quality secular system open to all those who want it would take a radical shift in Australia’s expenditure. The $9.4 billion Gonski reforms for schools would be only the beginning.
The financial cost of ensuring Australia halts its carbon emissions, stops all fossil fuel industries and take steps to begin to mitigate the rising dangers of a changing climate should be seen as no object. But as a starter, Beyond Zero Emission’s proposed plan to transition to a 100% renewable energy, zero-carbon economy would cost $37 billion a year for 10 years.
The important transition to high-speed rail, as part of a broader public transport expansion, could cost between $11 billion and $34 billion, based on European projects.
Socialists are often called utopian and unrealistic when they propose such huge initiatives. But the resources are there to construct a socially just, environmentally sustainable, truly democratic society in Australia.
Raising just one of the main welfare payments, the Newstart allowance, by just $50 a week would cost $1.8 billion a year. This could easily be paid for by abandoning the aggressive and exorbitant expense of Australia’s defence force budget. One submarine costs about $6 billion over its lifetime — more than three times the cost of raising Newstart. The government plans to buy 12 of them.
How to pay for a universally free and accessible dental and healthcare system? There is already billions to be saved by ending direct and indirect government subsidies for the private health system. Simply cutting the private health fund tax rebate would free $2.5 billion for public hospital investment.
More importantly, a socially just and community-controlled health system would focus on prevention of ill health, mental health, and free counselling and psychiatric services. A system focused on prevention and patient wellbeing would reduce the costs of treating chronic conditions, minimise palliative care and create high health indicators and a more efficient system — and yes, save billions.
Further resources could be created with an adequate mining super-profits tax, restoring the company tax rate to 49%, and cutting wasteful spending to areas like big business subsidies and handouts to private schools and health insurers.
Ending many of Australia’s most unjust policies — the billions wasted on overseas occupations and locking up refugees for example — would also provide the means to fund a genuine socialist budget.