Stone the Crows! The Minister for Social Services has decided to review the “unsustainable” growth in the welfare system.[i] This amounts to him pinning a sign reading “kick me” to his political bottom, which is what Labor duly did, with Jenny Macklin saying OECD figures show we are spending 8.6 per cent of GDP on welfare, a full per cent less than the gradgrinding United States! “The Coalition is trying to scare Australians into accepting a savage round of cuts,” she said. [ii]

All this, despite Mr Andrews quarantining the greatest source of growing welfare spending, the aged pension.[iii] By 2047, 25 per cent of Australians will be 65 and over – up from 13 per cent now.[iv] Already the cost of the pension is outstripping GDP growth, less due to growth in numbers than the generosity of benefits.[v] And while there are ample arguments about forcing the old to draw on the capital tied up in their homes, rather than rely exclusively on the state, you do not hear them from politicians. Funny that.

So, if the aged are off-limits, Kevin Andrews will have to save money where he can, making his second idea not so much appropriate as unavoidable. Last week, the minister proposed handing out $200 vouchers for people who are thinking about marrying to spend on counselling.[vi]

Andrews is a long-time advocate of the personal benefits of people getting, and staying, married.[vii] He has long believed both state and community are obliged to assist:

If we cannot preserve and support the institutions of community in which relationships are developed and nurtured, then we are not merely placing at risk the welfare of many people, particularly the young and the elderly, we are weakening the very foundations of democracy itself. Of all political systems, democracy most depends upon the competence and character of its citizens. A liberal democracy presupposes civic virtue to a higher degree than any other form of government.[viii]

Of course, Andrews’ voucher idea inevitably incurred the ire of the Fairfax cool-kids: “This government’s obsession with largely heteronormative relationship models continues apace with the announcement of the relationship vouchers, despite the fact that both relationships and parenting have evolved beyond a mid-century notion of ‘happy families’ ” one wrote.[ix]

Quite. Those heterenorms are such a pain. And, working on the principle that we all get to choose the hand-basket in which we are hell-bound the Crows are always uncomfortable with servants of the state dishing out advice.

But, if this scheme reduces the number of people who should not marry and have children, at least with each other, and increases couples with kids who stick together, it will do the taxpayer a service. About the only way to cut welfare spending is to reduce the need for it.

There are too many old voters to take on, ditto disability supported pensioners. Certainly, Andrews talks about reforming the DSP but it is hard to imagine any government being game to upset a big swag of these 820,000 voters.[x] As for the poor benighted souls subsisting on unemployment benefit, there isn’t much to cut from the $250 weekly payment the single, childless, jobless receive.[xi]

The Crows also doubt any minister will build on the last government’s lead which moved jobless single parents onto unemployment when their children turn eight. Especially when Labor has reneged on that policy as “too hard”.[xii] (Only a cynic would suggest this would make it easier to attack the government on welfare reform).

Which all makes a case for counselling to reduce the welfare bill, however minor an impact it will make. The extent of family failure is enormous. Some 22 per cent of kids live in one parent households.[xiii] The cost to their parents is considerable. The Commonwealth’s Child Support Program is expected to oversee $3.2bn in transfers between the parents of 1.2 million children.[xiv] The single parent payment will also cost Canberra $4.5bn this financial year.[xv]

Counselling will not make much of a dent in welfare spending but at least it will be relatively painless. In the end the easiest welfare savings are those that stop people from starting on welfare.



Speeches written cases made. Call the Crows.



[i] Fleur Anderson and Marianna Papadakis “One in five on welfare as Coalition pledges review,” Australian Financial Review, January 21

[ii] Dan Harrison, “Coalition fears on welfare spending not justified says Labor,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 25

[iii] Ben Packham, “Age pension quarantined from welfare review: Kevin Andrews,” The Australian, January 21

[iv] Department of Social Services, Pension Review Report, October 24 2013 @ recovered on January 25

[v] John Daley, “Budget pressures on Australian governments,” Grattan Institute, April 2013, 19 @ recovered on January 25

[vi] Jonathan Swan, “Government relationship vouchers to start in July,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 23

[vii] Kevin Andrews, Maybe “I do”: Modern marriage and the pursuit (Conor Court, 2012)

[viii] Kevin Andrews, “Developing a national family policy,” Family Matters, 54 (Spring/Summer) 1999 47-51 @ recovered on January 25

[ix] Clem Bastow, “Dear minister, no one wants ‘relationship voucher’ ” Daily Life January 23 @ recovered on January 25

[x] Patricia Karvelas, “Welfare must be reined in says Kevin Andrews,” The Australian, January 21

[xi] Department of Human Services, “Newstart allowance,” @ recovered on January 25

[xii] Marianna Papadakis and Joanna Heath, “Shorten regrets Labor’s sole-parents decision,” Australian Financial Review, January 22

[xiii] Australian Institute of Family Studies, “Australian families with children and adolescents,” December 19 2013 @ recovered on January 25

[xiv] Budget Portfolio Statements 2013-14. 1.10 Human Services Portfolio, 34 @ recovered on January 25

[xv] Anne Davies, “Kevin Andrews’ welfare review aims to cut cost of pensions,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 25