Hockey’s war on entitlements


“They are barely bigger than a toilet cubicle.
 Yet these depressingly cramped spaces serve as a kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom, pantry and everything in between for their cooped-up inhabitants.
Those unfortunate enough to live in these urban slums range from the elderly and unemployed to low-income families and singletons.
Their location? Hong Kong. One of the richest cities in the world.”

Simon Tomlinson, The Daily Mail, 22 February 2013

In London last year the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered a speech titled, ‘The end of the age of entitlement’, in which he praised the economic model of Hong Kong, stating “the sense of government entitlement …is low” and “although there is still poverty, the family unit is very much intact and social welfare is largely unknown.”

The reality is of course very different to Mr Hockey’s ideal; demonstrating it is unlikely that he met many of the 1.2 million Hong Kong residents who live in poverty.

According to CNN many are living in coffin homes’; tiny tenements in which living spaces are no bigger than a twin-sized bed. Simon Tomlinson’s Daily Mail article quoted above was accompanied by birds-eye images of these ‘apartments’, which were taken by the Hong Kong-based Society for Community Organisation in a bid to document the plight of the city’s most underprivileged people.

Oxfam says one in six poor families in Hong Kong is caught in a hunger trap having to scavenge for food with 72 per cent of poor children eating leftover foods.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review published on 17 January this year Mr Hockey confirmed that reducing entitlements “will be a theme for me and it sits very comfortably within the Coalition’s theme. That is commitment to live within our means.”

While few would disagree that living within ones means is a sensible aspiration, it seems incongruous for Mr Hockey not to mention the ‘age of entitlement’ that was constructed for middle-high income earners under the previous Howard government of which he was a part.

Taxpayers now contribute $30 billion per year to the so-called ‘self-funded’ retirement of those with super yet the political debate more typically focuses on the ‘unaffordability’ of the age pension or unemployment benefits. And while millions of Australians think they benefit from this largesse, the fact is 30 per cent of the benefits go to the wealthiest 10 per cent.

Surely if we are going to wage war on entitlement we should start with those who have the most, not those who have the least?

* The ABC reported this morning that United Nations Human Rights monitors have raised serious concerns about the Gillard government’s cuts to single parent payments, warning that the cuts could be contrary to Australia’s international human rights obligations. Read more here.

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