So Joe Hockey has delivered his first budget, no surprises; it was shit. It was pronounced that the age of entitlement is over and in its wake, an age of opportunity will emerge. A fistful of PR-approved catchphrases, designed to give ammunition to people who desperately want to believe that the government is doing 'the right thing'.
The budget is chocked full of cruel and anti-social ideology masquerading as policy. We are told there's a budget emergency, with painful and severe cuts being to only way to avoid some vague disaster. The 'highlights' of the budget were new spending initiatives funded over the next six (or so) years in order to sell the public on a budget hiding larger departmental cuts. If the reduction of expenditures in health and education aren't shocking enough, the treasurer saw fit to include some 'token' cuts to social welfare. These cuts directly target recipients of income support; some of the most financially and socially disadvantaged people living in our communities.
Cuts to social welfare make up a small proportion of the money being slashed from the budget bottom line. The money spent on income support is distributed broadly across Australia; even if you are not a recipient, you will unavoidably handle money which came from income support. The effects of reducing, or removing someone's primary source of income is devastating to both the individual and their community. It is also devastating to the economic sectors providing living essentials such as food, housing, utilities and other essential needs. Paradoxically, welfare recipients are some of the most effective recyclers of government expenditure.
So it got me thinking... The opposition are afforded the opportunity to reply to the budget... and I'm finding myself opposed to to this budget... so where is my budget reply? Senators and Members of Parliament were elected to serve this exact purpose, they are my point of contact for getting my opinions around the chamber.
So how do I contact my political representatives and give them a piece of your mind? There are many routes you can take: Mail, fax, telephone and email are the most common routes. There are more direct means of talking to politicians via. social media, such as twitter, facebook and attending private functions (if you have money to burn). However if value for time and money is your thing, you can't go wrong with mail.
I do not expect everyone to have the time or means to spend hours coming up with the 'big ideas' for a budget. You certainly do not have an army of public servants to fill out the fine details, unlike our Budget Commander in Chief Mr. hockey. So I thought I'd offer some information and advice to make the best use of your 'political capital'.
If you are unsure where to start, Bernard Keane has written his own guide on writing to ministers. I seriously recommend it! http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/12/16/dont-waste-your-time-waste-theirs-a-guide-to-writing-to-ministers/
To summarise: mailing campaigns where you mail a 'form letter' get tossed without a second thought. For the rest of the letters they receive, they will try and find a pre-written message that addresses the concerns raised, and no additional work is performed. To get them working for your vote, you need to ask questions and raise concerns from a number of different areas. The more obscure and left field, the more work bureaucrats have to go in order to answer it. Asking “why are you cutting welfare”, will get you a reply of 'sharing the pain'. Asking “what happens to a person on the work for the dole program who initiates a fair work Australia claim or files a police report against staff and service providers”, will get you something far more detailed. And finally: your MP's have a greater responsibility to answer your asinine questions; they will kick questions up and down the government hierarchy in order to satisfy your curiosity.
How do you find a representatives mailing address?
The Parliament of Australia has a section on its website where you can browse and search for contact details. There are options to search by state, party and role (Member/Senator). You can also download mailing labels to the offices of every representative (as a ready-to-print word document). As far as I'm aware, letters sent to these addresses require standard postage stamps. Concession holders might be entitled to some free stamps, their site has the details.
Madam Speaker – Remember to use proper titles and salutations.
On the same website you will find a page outlining how to properly address each parliamentary role. So if you ever find yourself needing help with your sirs, madams, senators and ministers, refer to the table. In general, when you write a letter to a representative, be polite. With the way things get skimmed over, tossed and ignored, saying please and thank you can be enough to instil a sense of empathy in troglodytes to perform their electoral duties.
The following are letters that I will be sending to my senators and local members. You are welcome to use the following letters and I will update this section as needed. Feel free to offer suggestions, changes or any other improvements to this post. You may use the whole letter, part of it, or as inspiration for your own letters. As I previously mentioned, you will get better results by diverse set of questions and concerns. So get creative!
[Name and Return Address]
Dear [Labor] Senator,
I'm writing to you in regards to the 2014 budget, and how it will affect the operation of government departments and services. It has left me questioning how the government will continue to effectively operate and deliver services to the residents of N.S.W.
The Treasurer, Joe Hockey remarked in his budget speech, “as Australians, we must not leave our children worse off". I find this outlook unreconcilable given: the deep cuts to both health and education expenditure, allowing tertiary to set flexible fees, and severely reducing the income support provided to families and young adults.
There are an overwhelming number of changes being proposed by the government. This has left me unable to comprehend if my representatives generally support all, most, some or few of the changes outlined in the budget. It would help me to understand and appreciate your political views if you were able to provide a response to the following questions.
What do you make of the changes to social welfare and income support? Are there any changes that you will support? Young people are encouraged to complete a 12-year education, however education is not compulsory after seventeen years of age. What are your feelings on the appropriate age for a person to be eligible for Newstart Allowance? Do you support the broader adoption of 'work for the dole' (or similar) programs, and should these obligations vary due to age or any other circumstance? Should job-seekers who perform work under these programs be paid the minimum wage and receive the same entitlements/protections as regular workers?
Does the federal government have a responsibility to fund state health services? Is it appropriate to request co-payments for consultations and pathology? Do you believe a co-payment system would be subjected to further fee increases or indexation to the CPI? How will this budget affect the day-to-day operations of health services in this state?
Does the federal government have a responsibility to also fund state education services? Do you enthusiastically support the implementation of the Gonski reforms, and agree with the notion that disadvantaged schools require additional funding to improve outcomes? Is it essential that a budget allocates funding for these reforms? How will this budget affect the day-to-day operations of education services in this state?
Funding for the school laptop program has not been renewed, and had lacked funding to develop any specialised educational software, resources and textbooks. The lack of curriculum specific software and resources meant that the technology was being under-utilised. Do you or your party have any policies that are designed to modernise the tools and resources available for teachers and students? In particular, providing students with access to laptops and digital resources? It is baffling that funding to improve 'teaching infrastructure' is not pursued as vigorously as funding to improve school building infrastructure.
Do you support any of the changes made to the tertiary education system; to both institutions and students? Is it appropriate to offer HECS-HELP style loans with interest rates in line with commercial, long-term loans? If university fees are to be set by individual institutions, what safeguards are in place to prevent the financial exploitation of a captive market? Is it possible for a student to be informed of the total cost of a degree before undertaking study?
Are there any meaningful or practical distinctions between medical and non-medical (scientific) research? Is there any justification for a government to prioritise medical research over research in other fields? Will you advocate that the CSIRO is spared from funding cuts? And do you think an obligation or need exists for the government to invest in fundamental (pure) research?
What is your position on offering financial incentives for states to sell/privatise assets? What are the benefits in your view, to privatising government assets and services? Are there any federal assets that you would consider privatising? How does a policy of privatising of profitable assets (such as Medicare Private), effect the long-term financial position of the government?
Does the budget redirect funding for any public transport projects in NSW? Are there any facts or figures that compare the effectiveness of the per-dollar investment made to roads verses public transport? In your opinion, is the expenditure towards transport infrastructure being spent cost-effectively; are there any examples of projects you consider over/under funded?
Does it make financial sense to increase or broaden the GST; would you consider any changes to the GST? Are there any other taxes or sources of revenue that the state government can rely on to replace federal funding? Are there any particular parts of the budget you would like to see 'rolled-back'?
And finally, how do you intend to vote on any of the proposed budget legislation? Are you willing to compromise on most of it, or will you intend to block supply?
I personally request that Labor senators vote to block supply and encourage the government to call a double-dissolution election. This budget goes against many of the pre-election promises made by the Liberal National Party. If the government wishes to introduce such a radical and inhumane budget, they ought to get the approval from the public at a double-dissolution election.
I would like to thank you for your consideration of these matters, and I look forward to reading your reply. Yours faithfully, [Name]