Politics

The Government Is Fucking Over Young People Like Never Before, And We Should Be Angrier

They're slashing penalty rates and the HECS threshold on the same day.

young people HECS cuts

Yesterday, the Government locked down the support it needed to pass another part of its wildly unfair tax plan: young people earning just $45,000 will now have to start paying back their HECS debt from Sunday. Previously, repayments started once a person started earning $56,000 or more.

Also on Sunday, people working in fast food, retail and hospitality will begin earning less when their penalty rates are slashed even further. Those cuts are just the second stage of the controversial cuts introduced by the Fair Work Commission in 2017 — weekend penalty rates will continue to drop until 2020.

Combined, those changes mean that in four days’ time, many young people will be forced to work a lot harder to take a lot less home. Meanwhile, the government has just passed tax cuts for high income earners, and it’s trying to pass similar tax cuts for big business. In short, the government’s fucking over young people so it can hand over money to the rich, and we should be angrier about it.

The Way This Government Is Treating Young People Is A Fucking Joke

It’s hard to overstate what a catastrophe this government’s policies are for many young people. On many fronts, the kind of financial pressures we’re facing are unprecedented. It beggars belief that the government can pretend everything is fine.

Consider this: for young people in hospitality, retail, and a whole host of other jobs, penalty rates are lower than they’ve been in a long time. Rents in most Australian cities, meanwhile, have never been higher — in April, an Anglicare Australia report found that there are zero affordable properties for a person on Newstart or Youth Allowance, and very few that are affordable for someone on minimum wage.

Plus, there’s the mounting evidence that universities are churning out more graduates than there are jobs. See the Productivity Commission report from last year that pointed out that only 70 percent of graduates are employed in full time work, and nearly one third of those are working in jobs that don’t actually require their degree. The fact that a graduate is earning $45,000 doesn’t necessarily mean their degree has landed them in a nice graduate job where they’ll be able to use their university education to steadily progress over time; it could very easily just mean a graduate is taking every overtime shift they can grab at their multiple part time cafe jobs because they need the money to survive.

Because let’s face it, $45,000 is not a lot of money when you actually consider the cost of living right now. $45,000 works out at around $730 a week after tax. In Sydney — a place a lot of young people have to live not by choice but because it’s where the jobs are — a room in a share house is going to cost you at least $200 a week, and realistically that climbs closer to $300 in many cases. Add to that transport, bills, and groceries, as well as all those other small costs that add up — the cost of medication, the costs when things break or go wrong. Pretty quickly, just the very essential costs of survival add up.

That’s before you’ve even considered costs that seem “optional”, like the costs associated with exercise, or being able to even very occasionally do something nice for yourself, or the cost of actually starting some savings. Because, y’know, people on low incomes still deserve a life — especially when they can’t reasonably expect to just wait for a big pay rise in a year, or two, or five.

Pauline Hanson said in the Senate yesterday that she could justify voting for the government’s changes to HECS because for a person earning $45,000 the payment will amount to around $8 a week — her exact words were “I challenge anyone to say that $8 a week will be a hardship for someone who is on a taxable income of $45,000 a year. I’m sure they could go without a couple of coffees a week to pay back their obligation to the Australian taxpayer”.

I’m happy to take that challenge, Pauline, and say that yeah, $8 a week certainly can be a challenge for many people on $45,000. If that $8 is the difference between getting to have a few coffees to get you through a long week at a job you’re suddenly getting paid less to do, it matters. If that $8 every week is the little bit you’re able to set aside to actually start a savings account, it matters.

More importantly, quibbling over whether people on $45,000 can or cannot afford to pay $8 a week sidesteps the fact that they shouldn’t have to: the reason we let people defer their university debt in the first place is to give them a chance to find their feet. A government that can afford to slash taxes for high income earners should be able to afford to help young people do more than simply scrape by. In fact, that should be the priority.

The Government Is So Deeply Out Of Touch With What These Cuts Means For Ordinary People

To a young person, it’s abundantly clear how much these cuts hurt. But it’s little wonder the government doesn’t see it the same way, because politicians right now have become so deeply out of touch with what it’s actually like to be a young person in Australia.

Think about it: federal parliamentarians earn a base salary of close to $200,000. Many of them earn more than that for things like chairing committees, or being Prime Minister — Malcolm Turnbull earns $500,000. On top of that, there’s parliamentary entitlements, generous allowances for work-related travel, accommodation and communication.

For many of our federal MPs, it’s been a long time since they’ve had to deal with everyday expenses in the same way that a young person does. Of course $8 a week looks like nothing when you’re earning hundreds of thousands. Of course $45,000 sounds like a lot when you’re thinking of it as disposable income.

What’s more, many of the Government MPs who cooked up the new HECS changes never paid for their university education at all, because it used to be free. Malcolm Turnbull, for instance, did not have to pay for his five year Arts/Law degree. He never even experienced what it was like to have tens of thousands of dollars of HECS debt to pay off, let alone being asked to start paying that back before he’d found his feet.

This Budget Takes From The Poor And Gives To The Rich, And We Should Be Angrier

It’s pretty reasonable to be angry about all this — in fact, as young people, we should probably be angrier. The fact that the government is simultaneously delivering tax cuts to high income earners, while cutting penalty rates and the HECS threshold, means they’re basically taking money from young, working people and giving it to old, rich ones.

That’s a pretty difficult thing to justify doing. It flies in the face of values this country supposedly supports, like a “fair go”. It’s the kind of thing a government should be scared to propose lest they get voted out, and yet this government is openly and loudly making it the centre of its policy platform.

The Labor Party have made it clear they oppose many of the changes, promising to repeal things like company tax cuts and penalty rate cuts if they’re elected. If they follow through, that will take us back more or less to where we started. We can and should be asking more of our politicians, though — both Government and Opposition. The bar for how they’re treating young people is the lowest it’s been in a long time. It’s time it rose.