Keeping the Faith

My Two Cents Worth on the 2014 Federal Budget: Entitlement & Opportunity

“The age of entitlement is over. It has to be replaced, not with an age of austerity, but with an age of opportunity.”  Treasurer Joe Hockey in his budget address on Tuesday night.

“Yes!” I wanted to bellow from my lounge-chair arena, like some footy head on a Friday night.  At the risk of opening a can of worms here, I will say that it’s been real interesting listening to the roar of dissent from different corners of the community.

It was going to happen. No budget satisfies everyone. And we all have our bugbears, our causes and our unique circumstances.

Those key words again… Entitlement. Austerity. Opportunity.

If we would believe Hockey’s bold words, handouts are kaput, not to be replaced with any kind of severe governance but rather to uphold opportunity as the individual and corporate way forward.

Sounds good.

But cutting Australia’s aid budget by a whopping $7.6 billion over five years sure makes me uncomfortable. That means that cuts to aid (1.2 per cent of Federal Government expenditure) will provide 20 per cent of budget savings. International aid foundations have rightly queried if this is a case of the government “balancing the books on the backs of the world’s poor”.

Then there’s raising the retirement age to 70 (not ‘til 2035, granted), ending Family Tax Benefit Part B once a family’s youngest child turns six and that controversial $7 Medicare co-contribution fee.

It does seem that families, the elderly, the young, the poor and the sick are copping a fair slug in this budget.

But as Hockey said, “We must always remember that when one person receives an entitlement from the government it comes out of the pocket of another Australian.”

You know what I thought amidst the budget hoo-ha of who should get what slice of the taxpayer pie?

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

It’s a major cop-out to expect our government to fix all the ailments of the Australian community with a budget cure-all. And even if it could – and did – it would be to the detriment of humanity, that concept of extending a helping hand when we see our fellow man in need.

We need to take some personal responsibility here.

Call me simplistic but I always thought that charity began at home. That is, enlarging the opportunities of others (and, inadvertently, ourselves) comes about when we dig into our own wallets and selflessly proffer a buck or two to make a difference in the life of another.

Rather than a culture that says one person is entitled to a payout and another taxed for it, imagine one that freely gave its resources as the need dictated.

It has happened.

In Acts there is a description of a community of believers who “were one in heart and mind.”

“No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had… and God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34)

It hardly sounds possible!  Imagine – contributing from whatever your pool of resources because you believe that it belongs to God and not you.

However the budget affects us, there’s a greater issue with a tight-fisted culture that doesn’t take personal responsibility for the poor and vulnerable among us.  Yes, we should advocate for families, the elderly, the young, the poor and the sick – but we mustn’t forget to match such compulsion from the warmth of our own homes.

To teach our children that, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” will have more of an impact on the Australian culture than any budget tabled in parliament.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday May 19, 2014.

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5 Comments

  1. I view cutting the foreign aid budget as one of the better measures in the budget. Aid from a foreign government is like welfare, when what is needed is relationship and charity.

    There is a distinct difference.

    In charity, an individual person makes a sacrifice for another. This establishes a distinct relationship that is resistant to abuse and functions to develop grace in both the giver and recipient.

    In welfare, an individuals needs are met through an amorphous, boundless, soulless intermediary which gathers its resource without permission or grant from those who produce. This establishes a relationship that invites abuse and dependancy, developing entitlement in the recipient and bitterness in those who are taken from.

    That it occurs internationally does not make any difference; I’ve seen it from the other end.

    That foreign aid is cut is good. Those who care about the worlds poor now have to choose to make that sacrifice themselves, rather than abdicate that responsibility to the government. In doing so, both they and those who receive that aid benefit.

    • Mmm – interesting perspective. And I agree – as long as there are enough people who do genuinely care for the world’s poor to make those significant sacrifices of their own resources. Sadly, I’m not sure there are.

      • I assume there aren’t, though I wish it were otherwise. There still remains no valid mandate from a Christian perspective for taking from people more than they are willing to freely give, simply because another has less.
        We must not circumvent the issue of an insufficiency of generosity by force, only by exhortation.

    • Cindy says

      After working in poverty-stricken countries for many years in development, I couldn’t agree more with intuitivereason’s comments on foreign aid. Aid money poured into these countries without accountability is harmful and does not help the poor. The money is channeled through corrupt governments and has done nothing but entrench these governments more firmly in power at the expense of the poor. I have not heard any Christian voice speak out about the gross misuse of our aid money. Is this not a moral issue? I am concerned that Australians are missing a BIG point here. The government is strengthening accountability. Only in today’s Sydney Morning Herald we read: “Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has delivered a stinging assessment of PNG’s progress on key development goals such as maternal health and infant mortality despite decades of Australian aid … As a case in point, Ms Bishop said that on the cusp of its 40th anniversary of independence from Australia, PNG had gone backwards on many measures, despite receiving billions in aid money over the decades. In a speech on Monday to an audience that included PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and several of his ministers, Ms Bishop foreshadowed radical changes to the way Australian aid would be delivered to countries such as PNG.” I applaud Julie Bishop for having the courage to confront this issue head on and I think that we should look at the complete package of what is being proposed in regard to the foreign aid budget for a more rounded response.

  2. John Wigg says

    Christ’s call to cheerful giving in His name is, as you rightly point out, the very antithesis of the philosophy behind our consumer society.

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