My Daily Advertiser column for today, 20 February 2018

by ray goodlass

It’s time – for a universal basic income

I’m spoilt for choice of topic this week, as many recent events are in need of commentary. Lack of space prevents detailed analysis of all bar one, so for the others I’ll confine my comments to brief remarks.

With regard to the Barnaby Joyce saga the one outstanding response for me is the overwhelming hypocrisy of the man. Having a consensual relationship while married to another woman is not the issue, for thousands have been there, but rather his massive, staggering hypocrisy when passing judgement on the LGBTIQ community. Mr Joyce also thought that preventing the risk of cervical cancer would encourage promiscuity in young women and so shouldn’t be supported. His gall beggars belief!

Another topic of note is that Mr Turnbull proudly announced that three ‘Closing the Gap’ categories were indeed closing, but glossed over those that were still miles apart for our First Nations’ young people. This is a cause for shame rather than celebration. Progress on only three?

Also last week came the revelation by the ABC that Qantas, BHP, Foxtel and Energy Australia are among hundreds of companies that haven’t paid corporate tax in Australia for the past decade. Mr Turnbull should forget about lowering the corporate tax rate and instead focus on closing the loopholes these companies exploit to avoid paying any tax at all!

However, in the number of words left in today’s column I’d like to focus on something that needs to be high up on the agenda of our social and political discourse, but sadly isn’t, and that is the concept of a universal basic income.

It has been advocated for some time by economists and social scientists. Politicians in some countries have actually put it into practice. In Australia it has floated in and out of our political arena for years, but until now has remained only an idea.

Essentially the notion of a universal basic income proposes that the government should pay everyone a regular payment to meet their basic needs, despite their income. It is proposed as a solution to inequality.

Here in Australia it was first seriously considered when the Whitlam government tasked Professor Ronald Henderson, the inaugural Director of the Melbourne Institute, to investigate all aspects of poverty affecting Australians, including race, education, health and law.

It’s report noted that “Poverty is not just a personal attribute: it arises out of the organisation of society.”

 

At the heart of the Henderson inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme, in which payments to pensioners (at a high rate) and payments to all other income units (at a lower rate) would be balanced by a proportional tax on all private income.

However, the Whitlam government was dismissed in 1975, six months after the final report. The new government of Malcolm Fraser hardly considered its recommendations.

Since then no government had paid any attention to the topic, but reflecting what is happening elsewhere, at least one Australian politician has put it firmly back on the agenda. Speaking at the National Press Club recently Senator Richard Di Natale said “Wages are flat, but corporate profits are booming. Inequality is out of control. Is there another way we can secure prosperity (for all)? We should not be afraid to follow those countries trialling a universal income.” Quite – it’s time to put an end to poverty.

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