Jenny Macklin, who is leading the racist Northern Territory intervention, has spread income management from its test run on Aborigines to some other communities: poor white people.
She is responsible for the removal from 1 January of 100,000 single parents - 90 per cent of whom are women - from the single or partnered parenting payment to Newstart.
According to the Australian Council of Social Service, this will result in loss in weekly income of $60 to $110 a week for single parents when their child turns eight. Previously, this kicked in when the youngest child turned 16.
Macklin argues this will encourage more people into the workforce. It won't. As the Labor Party's Penny Wong and Craig Emerson pointed out when prime minister John Howard tried something similar as part of his infamous ''welfare to work'' program, all it will do is increase their poverty and misery. It will, however, save the Labor government $728 million in four years, which is the real reason Labor is doing it. In 2005, the current Finance Minister, Penny Wong, condemned the Howard's proposed changes, saying there was no evidence that ''dumping a sole parent or her children or a person with a disability in this country onto the lower dole payment would help them get work.''
Exactly, Penny Wong, exactly.
On the morning of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's famous misogyny speech, she pushed $728 million in cuts to the single-parent payment through the caucus, affecting mainly poor single mums. This is systemic misogyny.
These Labor attacks on single parents were all about a budget surplus. This has little economic rationale but lots of political rationale for Labor as the servants of capital. Wayne Swan has quite rightly abandoned a budget surplus by 2013 as a key Labor commitment. Labor should abolish its attack on single parents, too.
The shunting of 100,000 single parents into deeper poverty prompted a journalist to ask Macklin on Wednesday if she could live on $245 a week. She replied: ''I could.'' This abandonment of single parents is about pushing them deeper into poverty. It might also put downward pressure on wages. A desperate single mum might take any below-award paying job just to survive. Prostitution might even be an option as the choice between food for the kids or not forces single parents to make grim decisions just to survive.
In Jenny Macklin land, $245 a week is enough to live on. As a Cabinet Minister Macklin is paid $6321 a week, almost 25 times a much as someone on the dole. Labor today is out of touch with ordinary working people and the millions of Australians living below the poverty line.
More than 2.2 million Australians, including almost 600,000 children, were living below the poverty line in 2010, according to an ACOSS report.
Further, the number of Australians in poverty has been increasing. Yet, there is more than enough wealth to abolish poverty almost overnight.
The policies of neoliberal Labor and Liberal governments in the past 30 years have been to shift more wealth to the rich and business. The share of national income going to labour is at its lowest and to capital its highest since records began.
Inequality in Australia has risen since the 1980s. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development findings for Australia in its Divided We Stand report said the share of national income of the richest 1 per cent rose from 4.8 per cent in 1980 to 8.8 per cent in 2008. The share of the richest 0.1 per cent trebled, from 1 per cent to 3 per cent. The report on global inequality found it had increased in the developed world and said that in Australia this was due to growing inequality of incomes and less progressive tax and transfer policies.
While the earnings gap between the top 10 per cent and bottom 10 per cent of workers widened by one fifth, the tax system ''offset'' only about half that increase. This is indicative of deeper tax changes since 1980 in Australia. Tax has become less progressive. So why not tax the rich? A Senate Committee in November, for example, found the Newstart allowance was inadequate but did not recommend an increase because it did not know where the money would come from.
Some Labor members of the Senate Committee looking into the adequacy of Newstart payments broke ranks and argued for an unspecified increase. ACOSS and other groups, have argued for a $50 a week increase. This would still see the payment below the poverty line, only less so. Business supports an increase in Newstart.
People on the dole are more than $100 a week below the poverty line. There are also the working poor - those whose families earn the minimum wage for example. On the ACOSS figures it is about $100 a week below what is needed to survive. Indeed, more than 400,000 Australians in full-time work were living below the 50 per cent poverty line, as were almost that many again in part-time work.
At a time when gender is much on the agenda of the babbling brook of Parliament, the real issue is that ''women (including female children) face a significantly higher risk of poverty than men.''
Is there a solution?
Taxing the rich and distributing some of the wealth we create for them to the 2.2 million below the poverty line or creating hundreds of thousands of well-paid including renewable energy jobs, or both, would address poverty.
The shift of wealth to the rich in the past few decades and increasing poverty has been in part because we workers haven't fought back. The time has come to tell the very, very well-paid Jenny Macklin and the ruling class she represents that the poverty she and the rest of the Gillard Labor government create through their deliberate policies has to end now. That can only come about through a massive societal and industrial campaign to put the poor and working class before the rich and business.
John Passant is a tutor in the School of Political Science and International Relations in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University.