Today brings the sixth and final bunch of Imagining Australia ideas:Â focusing on inequality and social policy.
While Australia has long prided itself as a fair, just, and egalitarian nation, the reality is that our social fabric is not what it used to be. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing and the tapestry of identities that binds us together as a people is fraying at the edges.
Australia is losing touch with those very values that originally gave meaning to the country. We assert that the Australian ideals of egalitarianism, mateship, and the fair go should not now be discarded as the quaint characteristics of a distant era. We present proposals that we believe will assist in rejuvenating the Australian social fabric.
In the first section, we address the issue of equality, and recommend approaches to three major topics, namely, poverty and inequality; unemployment; and Indigenous social disadvantage.
– We emphasise the importance of conceptually distinguishing between poverty and inequality, and argue that inequality actually matters-despite the recent trend to claim otherwise.
– To reduce unemployment, we propose introducing an earned income tax credit to make work more attractive at the margin, and to be funded by rolling the GST forward.
– We propose a suite of policies to improve Indigenous social policy, including additional targeted health funding; giving Indigenous communities the power to tax alcohol; rewriting private prison contracts to focus on rehabilitation of Indigenous offenders; and providing market-based job training programs in entrepreneurship and innovation.
We also advocate a number of measures to improve opportunities for social mobility.
– We suggest reforms to the Australian education system, including improving teacher quality by boosting performance-based incentives; raising the school leaving age to seventeen; and recasting government funding to private schools.
– With respect to geographical pockets of poverty, we recommend trialling housing vouchers to assess whether moving from a high-poverty neighbourhood to a more affluent neighbourhood improves the lives of poor families.
– We also advocate reforms to guarantee the opportunities of older Australians, including introducing a default employee superannuation contribution.
To strengthen our communities, we suggest several policy proposals to assist in rebuilding declining stocks of social capital, and to further encourage communities to help address social problems.
– We propose making schools-especially primary schools-community focal points for civic engagement and to enhance the quality of interaction among community members.
– To increase volunteerism, we suggest a scheme called AustraliaCorps, which gives young Australians the chance to serve in disadvantaged communities in return for education credits.
– We also advocate reintroducing an inheritance tax, carefully designed to encourage increased philanthropic giving to community activities.
Finally, we propose a reformed role for government in the area of social policy with an emphasis on administrative efficiency.
– We advocate real tax reform by removing four types of middle-class welfare-negative gearing, the First Home Owner Grant, the Baby Bonus, and the present rebate on private health insurance-and in return reducing the marginal income tax rate.
– We also suggest an increased attention to policy evaluation and experimentation, so that new policies might be implemented more frequently, and ineffective policies discontinued.