The Null Device

The welfare state, Howard-style

Family values masquerading as social justice: The conservative government of Australia extends its social-engineering-through-taxation scheme, with a plan to punitively tax non-breeders and use the proceeds to pay people to have children ("be fruitful and multiply", as the Good Book (which was written back in the days when the world was underpopulated) says). The amount of tax Australians pay is becoming increasingly dependent on their divergence from John Howard's model of Judaeo-Christian family values. It's chequebook paternalism, folks.

There are 13 comments on "The welfare state, Howard-style":

Posted by: kstop Thu Dec 12 15:08:43 2002

As described it would seem to cover single mothers, the turkey-baster sorority, in fact pretty much everyone. Hardly Judeo-Christian. Seems pretty fair to me.

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Posted by: acb Thu Dec 12 15:16:41 2002

There was talk recently of some tax/benefit scheme to encourage traditional marriage as well. Not sure at which level of the government though.

Anyway, my objection of the scheme is that it punishes those who choose not to have children, whilst encouraging overpopulation. (What do we need all these new Australians for anyway? Taking up space to prove that we can't take any more refugees?)

Posted by: kstop Thu Dec 12 17:17:24 2002

How does it encourage people to have children if they know that a) they're going to be making minimum wage for the first 3 months and b) they're going to be spending 10s if not hundreds of thousands of dollars raising said children?

Also, how is it punishing those who don't have children? Coz their taxes will be spent on social welfare that they won't be benefiting from? I don't drive, should I be able to claim back the portion of my taxes that go to road maintenance? I'm not in a wheelchair, should I be able to exempt myself from paying tax money that's spent on disabled access to public facilities?

And do these kind of measures actually result in people having more children? Surely there's a chance that knowing that they can both work and safely have children would encourage women to pursue careers rather than getting trapped in a breeder mentality.

Posted by: Hobbes http:// Fri Dec 13 00:11:38 2002

I have to say, this sounds like a great program -- it helps women (and couples) to balance having a family and a career. I doubt it is going to really increase the number of children, and remember that working mothers are likely to have fewer kids than ones that don't have a career.

Also, this will probably help out small buisinesses (5-20 employees) that frequently can't afford to give paid maternity leave, since one person represents such a high fraction of their employees.

As for overpopulation, China has overpopulation. Australia does not. It seems much more important to insure that parents have the help they need to raise their children as best they can, rather than to avoid at all costs encouraging people to have kids.

Like all tax funded programs, the goal is to make a better society for everybody, even those who don't benefit directly.

Posted by: acb Fri Dec 13 01:49:18 2002

If Australia needs to increase its population and tax base, what's wrong with letting in more migrants? There is an ample supply of them. And should people who choose not to have children be punitively taxed for their choice?

And the thing that bugs me is the factor of rewarding behaviour that falls in line with Howard's "relaxed and comfortable" Australia. It seems that a lot of the government's actions (from depoliticising the ABC and reducing it to lifestyle programmes to tax incentives for marriage and reproduction) are aimed at incentivising conformity and conservatism, guiding Australia towards some idealised image of Menzies-era Hills-hoist suburbia.

Posted by: jb Fri Dec 13 05:13:06 2002

Sure it looks inherently conservative and everything, but the feminisation of poverty is the root cause of a lot of problems in Aust at the moment, and any efforts to deal with it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Posted by: mark Fri Dec 13 08:57:36 2002

Andrew: don't knock the Hills hoist! Otherwise, I agree with you.

JB: what doyou mean, "the feminisation of poverty"?

Posted by: jb Fri Dec 13 13:04:01 2002

Sorry, had about 15 seconds to write a comment before, but wanted to slip the phrase in somewhere:

Firstly, there is a lot on the www about this. But, basically, it means that women are hit harder than men by whatever circumstances create poverty. In Australia, women, both as single parents and after separation in general, experience poverty much more than men and find it much harder to recover from poverty quickly.

The point being that stable families which try not to separate are the strongest protection against poverty and the problems that come with it. I really can't say if the plan that Andrew's talking about is going to increase family stability (quite possibly not), but mouthing off about "conservative social engineering" is missing the point entirely: even if it is John Howard perpetuating his own biases, it could well be of great benefit to society.

Posted by: acb Fri Dec 13 14:42:53 2002

It's true that bad solutions are sometimes better than no solutions, but they often have negative side-effects.

The way to combat the feminisation of poverty is through equal opportunity and a culture of sexual parity, not through reinforcing traditional mores.

When a society is in transition between a traditional past and an unknown future, there are two ways the pains of the transition can be ameliorated: by seeking new solutions, or by going back to the old ways. By reinforcing the 1950s-style nuclear family and marginalising those who opt out of breeding, Howard is choosing plan B.

Posted by: gjw Fri Dec 13 22:23:44 2002

Not too sound Malthusian, but Australia will be getting close to it's maximum supportable population within the next half-century. Per capita, people in China survive with a minute amount of resources (land, water, food, fossil fuels) compared to the average Australian. We are mostly desert, and what _isn't_ desert is already overstressed arable land, which will only be reduced in size as we expand our 1/4 acre block suburban sprawl. I give us an _absolute_ maximum population of 30 million. Only ignorant neo-conservatives who fail to grasp that technology can't solve EVERY problem, that population increase will NECESSARILY mean a decline in quality of life (which doesn't concern me too much to be honest), and that resources are FINITE would claim Australia has no overpopulation problem.

Posted by: gjw Fri Dec 13 22:25:15 2002

...that said, it think Australia would be better served by accepting more migrants, than by "bribing to breed"; bringing in people who are desperate to work hard and be self-suficient, compared to the skyrocketing costs to parents and the public of raising children.

Posted by: acb Sat Dec 14 03:06:51 2002

The decline in quality of life does concern me. I think the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement ( were onto something when they said "may we live long and die out".

Posted by: acb Sat Dec 14 03:19:34 2002

Also, if they had maternity leave paid for by employers, that would have been more acceptable. But no; the sanctity of profits is as much of a plank of Liberal Party ideology as the sanctity of the nuclear family, which leaves the inexhaustible pockets of the good old taxpayer (you know, the one who's working longer hours for less pay for the corporations whose profits are sacred and untouchable). So instead, us non-breeders will be paying more tax to reward those who've gotten with the program (and encourage those who haven't to do so).

The gist of it is: Live your life in a way that Big Daddy Howard approves of, and things will be so much easier. Because if you keep resisting, we can make things difficult for you.