Lee Strike

We can’t cut our way out of this crisis

Treasurer Frydenberg says this is the biggest budget deficit since WW2 and is urging Australians to prepare for dark times ahead. But cuts are a political choice, not an economic necessity. The government can and must keep supporting people through this crisis, not punish people for being unemployed.

The message for Josh Frydenberg to young people today is clear: the government is not interested in supporting us through this pandemic or setting us up for a stable future. They are only interested in preparing us for Austerity and pain.

There is more than one way to recover from this crisis. But judging by the cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper announced earlier this week, the government is choosing to make life harder for ordinary people by cutting income support and services. This isn’t the only option, and definitely isn’t the best one.

Before coronavirus, we were already in the midst of three massive crises: an unemployment crisis, a housing crisis and the climate crisis. These crises disproportionately impact young people and this mini-budget does nothing to address any of them.

The Youth unemployment rate is up at 16.4%. Cutting JobSeeker won’t create more jobs – so why is the government doing it? Because they’re being pressured to by the business lobby.

The reason big business wants to cut Jobseeker is simple: it’s easier to force people into underpaid, insecure and dangerous jobs when they are living with the constant threat of poverty. The only group who benefit from keeping unemployed people in poverty is big business.

Business groups are also using this moment to push for changes to industrial relations laws that will make jobs less secure, drive wages down and make it harder for workers to collectively bargain. This is the opposite of what we need to get out of this crisis. The high rates of workplace transmission of Covid in Victoria show us exactly why workers need to feel secure in their job and have access to sick leave to stop the spread of this virus. Cloaked in the language of “flexibility” businesses are simply trying to use this moment of high unemployment to extract even more profit from us.

With the Covid Recovery Commission stacked with representatives of the fossil fuel industry it should come as no surprise that the fossil fuel industry is leaning in to the evil villain trope and using this crisis to push for more subsidies and less regulation to expand fossil fuel extraction, in particular gas.

After a devastating summer of bushfires, the push to open up gas reserves is callous as well as scientifically and morally indefensible. Time is not on our side with the climate crisis. We can’t afford any expansion of the fossil fuel industry, and using the pandemic to expand the economic and political power of the industry would be a devastating blow to the climate.

Young people will not accept an economic recovery that pushes us into further insecurity and danger. The Government could deliver real reform that improves the lives of millions of people, but they’re choosing not to.

One way to do this is with a Job and Income Guarantee. This is exactly what it sounds like: the government guaranteeing a job to everyone who wants one and a liveable income to everyone else.

With so many people out of work and with our communities in desperate need of investment in public services, a job guarantee could be the linchpin of our recovery plans. Together we have the skills, resources and time to build a society that works for all of us. But instead of working for each other to solve the problems we face, we are forced to compete with each other for underpaid jobs just to survive. A job and income guarantee would change that.

There is no shortage of work to do. A job guarantee could revitalise our communities by adding capacity to public services, it could end homelessness by building new public housing and it could solve the climate crisis by transforming our communities with sustainable infrastructure.

You can be sure that big business will fight tooth and nail to oppose it. Up until now big business has been able to decide what work has value based on the profit it makes for them, not for the value that it contributes to our society. They have had the power to decide what conditions workers have to put up with, making work less secure and pushing wages down. A job guarantee will force businesses to compete with the employment standards of a well-paid, secure public job that anyone can access. Finally, ordinary people will get to decide what work is best for our communities without bending to the will of the big business.

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg would like us to believe supporting big business is the only way out of this crisis. But you can’t be on the side of big business and the side of young people and our communities at the same time. There are other ways out of this crisis, and young people are gearing up to fight for them.

Lee Strike is National Co-Director of Tomorrow Movement, a movement of young people fighting for good jobs, great public services and a safe climate for all.

Lee Strike

Get movement updates and get involved.

We are building a movement to end the influence of big business on our politics and win a tomorrow with good jobs, great public services and a safe climate for all of us.

We can't do it without you.