Monday, 25 April 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: can the Turnbull Government afford to aggravate aged pensioners in an election year budget?

Meme found on Twitter*

With less than a month to the release of the 2016-17 federal budget papers the Guvmin Gazette begins to use the tired old ploy of pointing a finger at the working poor, unemployed, single parents, aged and disability pensioners.

Using the journalist’s own calculation of the number of persons “wholly dependent” on Centrelink and Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs cash transfers reveals an unimpressive 27.8% of the 16,405,465 citizens the Australian Electoral Commission calculated were eligible to vote on 31 December 2015 and, even if one reworks the journalists numbers based on citizens who had actually registered to vote by the end of December, the percentage only rises to a still unimpressive 29.2%.

Because there is no clickbait story in those percentages, the final percentage figure is boosted by adding numbers allegedly representing both public sector employees and low paid private sector workers. This enabled the newspaper to erroneously headline the article as One in two voters is fully reliant on public welfare.

Excerpts from that article in The Australian on 16 April 2016:

Nearly half of voters in the looming federal election will rely ­entirely on government payments for their incomes, confront­ing Scott Morrison with a demographic and political powder keg as he frames a May 3 budget ­relying on spending restraint to rein in the deficit.

Analysis by The Weekend Australian has revealed that more than 44 per cent of voters, almost 6.4 million people, are ­either public sector employees (1.89 million) or wholly dependent on federal government pensions, allowances and parenting payments (4.48 million). The figure grows further when private sector workers who receive more in welfare than they pay in tax are added.

The Coalition holds seven of the 10 most welfare-dependent seats in the nation while Labor holds three……

The figures have emerged as Patrick McClure, whose review of the welfare system for the Abbott government called for drastic simplification of 75 federal payments and supplements, said about three quarters of his review had still not yet been taken up.

The extent of reliance on ­government payments for voters’ incomes has emerged as the ­Coalition and Labor are locked in a political battle over the Treasurer’s insistence that the government will rely on spending restraint and expanding the economy rather than lifting the overall tax burden to cut the deficit.

Ratings agency Moody’s raised the stakes ahead of the budget, ­declaring this week that the failure of the political system to ­deliver genuine spending restraint suggested the government had to consider tax increases to close the deficit gap. Mr Morrison stood firm yesterday, maintaining his position that “the government is not looking to increase the tax burden on the economy’’…..

The Nationals appear to be the most vulnerable to a crackdown on welfare and government spending.

The Weekend Australian’s analysis of social security by federal electorate shows the junior Coalition partner holds half of the 10 most welfare-dependent seats (which even excludes family tax benefit payments, which can be held concurrently with other payments). The 10 seats have between 40,000 and 50,000 wholly welfare dependent voters out of a total electorate of about 105,000 voters. Another three are held by Labor and two by the Liberals.

Those relying on government payments in Nationals seats tend to receive age and disability pensions while Labor seats are disproportionately home to family tax benefit recipients. Liberal seats tend to have a higher proportion of holders of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (a benefit for older Australians not eligible for the Age Pension). The unemployed (receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance (Other) recipients) are relatively evenly spread.....

What the article also doesn’t say is that average social assistance in cash transfers is much wider than the categories stated and government money received by individuals with their own incorporated business income comes in at est. $73 per week per person, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

On the NSW Far North Coast the largest single group of persons eligible to vote and receiving federal government cash transfers in June 2015 were aged pensioners.

Broken down by federal electorate** the numbers are:

Cowper (Nationals seat) – 23,261 persons
Page (Nationals seat) – 22,512 persons
Richmond (Labor seat) – 21,238 persons
TOTAL – 67,011 persons.

Australia-wide the total number of aged pensioners as of June 2015 was 2,486,195 individuals  of which an estimated 646,000 are currently receiving a part-pension.

All of these people have relatives and a significant number would be full or part-time carers of their older family member.

The Australian is right in one respect – that’s a demographic and political powder keg facing both the Prime Minister and Treasurer in an election year.

However, backgrounding the Murdoch media with ideology-based statistical spin is not going to impress voters after that particular strategy was worked to death during the Abbott leadership years.


* It is possible (based on the American experience) that around 5% of Australian online users 65 years of age and over use Twitter.

** In the NSW Northern Rivers region aged pensioners (potentially eligible to vote in June 2015) by local government area (LGA):

Ballina LGA – 6,636 persons
Byron LGA  – 3,059 persons
Clarence Valley LGA – 9,341 persons (9,304 of these individuals living in Grafton City & region, Maclean, Yamba and Iluka)
Kyogle LGA  – 1,357 persons
Lismore LGA – 5,389 persons
Richmond Valley LGA – 3,778 persons
Tweed LGA – 16,229 persons
TOTAL – 40,400 persons.

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