Words by David Williams
Art by Zoe Elektra
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Lot’s Wife or the MSA.
It is undeniable that students are being hit hard by the cost of living crisis. The cost of rent, groceries, power bills. You name it, the price has risen considerably over the last year or so. The hardest hit are the poorest and most vulnerable, those on welfare or disability payments, working class and migrant communities, single parents, the list goes on. It is little wonder that a record breaking number of people are making calls to support services, like Lifeline, citing the difficulty making ends meet as being a driving factor for their declining mental health1.
Yet for the world’s wealthiest, business has never been better, with no shortage of companies posting record profits out of making basic services inaccessible. Governments around the world, who have argued for decades that there isn’t enough to go around, are simultaneously telling us to tighten our belts2,3, whilst they wave through tax breaks for the filthy rich and increase funding for the cops4,5,6 and the army7. We have to sacrifice our quality of life for the sake of the economy or national interest.
This has been best expressed by the recent announcement that the Australian government will be spending up to $368 billion on a handful of nuclear submarines, as part of the AUKUS pact. What is the purpose of these submarines? To better maintain Australia’s domination of the Asia pacific, oppressing the people of the pacific islands, and of course to better wage war against China, as the drums of war beat ever louder8.
Ignoring that many of these sorts of projects regularly far exceed their initial budgets, and the operational costs of these subs throughout their lifetime, $368,000,000,000.00 is a fairly difficult number to wrap your head around. So exactly how much is $368 billion?
It is well above the $106 billion that is estimated to be spent on health this year. Yet people are struggling to afford the cost of visiting a GP or to access life saving medical treatments, such as abortion. This is even worse for those on visas, especially international students, who have little to no access to medicare. Essential services like the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) remain woefully underfunded9, only last year news outlets such as the AFR exclaimed in horror that the NDIS budget would “blow out” to $50 billion in a few years time10. But none of these outlets are complaining about this +$30 billion expense yearly that provides nothing to ordinary people.
Alternatively, with $30 billion a year, for ten years, as is planned, we could double the average salary of each of the 450,000 registered nurses and midwives in Australia. That’s $170,000 a year, but instead health care workers across the country are effectively getting a pay cut with below inflation pay rises, they are overworked and told that there isn’t enough to hire more staff.
Or we could address the housing crisis, a source of a great deal of stress for a lot of people, students being no exception. 368 billion dollars could house every one of the nearly 150,000 households that were on the waiting list for public housing in 2019. We could even buy each of them a median priced house in Sydney ($1.2 million in Sept last year, ABS), hardly a cheap place to buy, but we’d still have nearly $200 billion left over. With which we could expand public housing to renters and students, allowing people to live without the fear of getting thrown out of their own home by profiteering landlords.
So many people are forced to live in poverty by our welfare system. Many students are all too familiar with the abysmal rates we get from Centrelink, which could barely cover rent even before the rising cost of living. According to the Australian Council of Social Services, the poverty line is at $489 a week for a single adult. But many students will be on Youth Allowance, most likely capping out at $337 a week if they live away from home. Using an overestimate of the number of people on Youth Allowance and Jobseeker is about 2 million, closer to 1.8 based on 2021 numbers. With the amount spent on the submarines, we could close that gap for at least 17 years, likely more considering the bulk of those people are on the higher jobseeker rate.
In education, public schools in Australia receive on average only 91%11,12 of their required funding, overwhelmingly impacting poor and working class areas. Whilst the government is putting $319 billion into schools between 2019 and 202913, that’s $31.9 billion a year. Some quick math means that we could fulfill required funding at around an extra $3.1 billion a year14, but let’s be generous and up it to a total of $40 billion a year instead. That will still leave us with about $260 billion, from the amount being spent on submarines, more than enough for real wage rises for the teachers that are taking pay cuts across the country, most often handed down to them by state Labor parties15,16. Whilst on the topic of education, we could wipe out all existing HECs debt and still have nearly $300 billion to spare. This would effectively make university free for many people, and would go a decent way in addressing the gender pay gap, as recent studies have shown that, unsurprisingly, HECS fees disproportionately hit those studying for qualifications in low paying industries, traditionally dominated by women, such as teaching and nursing.
And this is all just considering the single instance of the purchase of submarines, there is in fact far more cash out there when we consider the profits and wealth of the super rich, like the Forrests, Rineharts, Palmers and Packers. These fortunes will only grow with the introduction of the stage 3 tax cuts, whilst vital public services are left to atrophy from their lack of funding.
There are so many ways that the almost $400 billion dollars could be spent on bettering the lives of working people and students. It is possible to seriously address the rising cost of living, as basic necessities become increasingly unaffordable, leading to a great deal more hardship for those that are already in difficult situations. For decades, we have been told that there is never enough to go around. But as we can see there is always money for warmongering, to better carve up the world for the rich and powerful.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, we gain nothing from barbaric wars against other ordinary people around the world, in fact, as this example shows, it comes at our expense. We only need to look to the incredible strikes and protests happening in France for a guide of how to fight austerity. The Macron government is increasing that retirement age, from 62 to 64, to squeeze more out of French workers. Note that thanks to the Rudd Labor government, Australian workers can retire at the age of 6717. The response from the French working class has been to shut down business as usual, refusing to work, over a million protesting across the country. Power workers have shut down power to businesses, whilst providing power for free to poor communities. Students have barricaded their schools and joined the protests, rightfully acknowledging that this is an attack on them as well. The resistance has made Macron’s attack impossible for politicians and bosses to support. This is exactly the type of movement we need to organize, we need to build campaigns to challenge the warmongers in government and put the resources that we create into addressing the real issues that impact us.
- Take Current Funding (Fc), Required Funding (Fr), And percentage of required funding (%)
Fc/Fr=% rearranged gives: Fc/% = Fr
If percentage of required funding is 91.4%
Current Funding is $31.9B
31.9/0.914 ≅ 35
Funding gap: Fr-Fc = 35-31.9 = 3.1