Morrison’s irony: The welfare state opposing welfare
Illustration credit: Bethan Jayne

When the Liberal Party, led by Scott Morrison, won the “unwinnable” Federal Election in 2019, eyes rolled as a ‘Donald Trump wannabe’ became the leader of Australia. Of the legal age to vote for less than a month,  I was astounded. How could a leader with no climate policy, ignorant of Indigenous issues, welfare and hell-bent on the idea that increasing women’s rights would come at the expense of others, actually win? It is safe to say that in the eyes of a modern, young, Australian woman, history was repeating itself in a less than ideal manner.

The COVID-19 pandemic would be Morrison’s greatest test to date. When he insisted he would attend the Cronulla Sharks rugby match, after warning millions of other Australians to avoid large gatherings, his loss of power seemed imminent. However, in a time of global crisis and economic collapse, one response is needed: welfare. 

In the light of these recent events, this has become clear: it was critical the Liberal Party was in power to implement these payments. After all, the Liberal Party, traditionally the strongest opponent to increasing welfare, was the party doing just that. Labor could not possibly oppose. Increasing welfare is a regular promise in Labor’s election campaigns. Therefore, only through a Liberal government could welfare have been increased, unopposed. 

Historically, the Liberal Party has been against increasing welfare payments. In 2019 Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie criticised the Coalition’s insistence on mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients. Lambie warned that the policy was not really about helping people recover from substance abuse. Instead it was an attempt to have fewer people on welfare payments. The Liberal Party has consistently attacked Labor’s welfare plans, labelling their pitch to increase childcare support as a “socialist experiment” in the lead up to the 2019 election.

This begs the question, if the Australian Labor Party had been in power when Coronavirus began its march across the globe, would substantial increases to welfare payments have been tolerated by the Liberal Opposition? The answer is simple. No.  

Paradoxically, under Morrison’s Liberal, anti-welfare government, payments have increased exponentially. Teenagers who only work a few hours a week are receiving $1500 Job Keeper payments each fortnight. I am earning over $600 a fortnight, thanks to the Coronavirus Supplement, by simply sitting in my room and watching Netflix. This is a sizeable pay rise considering, while at university, I was hoping to work fewer than ten hours a week.  

The Job Keeper payments alone are set to cost Australians $70 billion. This does not take into account the $750 given to every Australian receiving Centrelink payments and the fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement. There is no doubt these measures are essential, so as to keep Australians afloat in this time of economic recession. 

Within weeks of the policy implementation, almost half of the payments received had been spent by unemployed Australians. Mainly on food, clothing and housing. Basic human rights. However, it would be ridiculous to assume that Morrison’s Liberal Party would have willingly supported such measures if they were in the Opposition.

If it was the Labor Party who implemented these changes, bipartisan support would have been likely impossible. The Liberal Party would have had to question ballooning welfare payments on basic principle. The Labor Party would have been criticized that Australia was shifting towards a welfare state, where people are being rewarded for doing very little. Labor would have been ridiculed that the measures are unsustainable. 

It is the fact that the Labor Party was not elected on that fateful day in 2019 that saved us. It seems impossible that a racist, sexist, money-driven government saved us, but in this case it is true.  If the Labor Party was elected it would be an entirely different story, of bitter politics toying with people’s lives in order to uphold ideological principles. 

We are yet to emerge from the crisis and see what the long-term consequences of these measures will be, and how long the Liberal Party will keep them in place. A rising second wave of cases, particularly in Victoria, indicates that the extension of the payments may be critical.  Withdrawing all payments at the same time, on the set date of September 30th would be disastrous economically. How far the Liberal Party is willing to compromise its basic principles in order to combat this virus is still uncertain. 

One thing is very clear – if these welfare measures had been implemented by the Labor Government, they could not have been implemented with the same success. In a global pandemic speed is of the essence, and speed requires bipartisan support. Morrison’s policies were implemented quickly, and thus far relatively successfully. This is due to one factor: the political party who opposes increasing welfare payments is the one implementing them.