May is the month of budgets and one word should be foremost on the lips of both federal and state treasurers: jobs.
While the importance of keeping a budget in surplus has been touted as a kind of sacred pledge by some politicians, keeping it should not be an argument for such fiscal timidity that whole sectors of the economy atrophy.
Australia’s relative resilience to the global financial turmoil that has hit countries like Greece, Ireland and Spain is in part due to its more conservative approach to debt but it cannot be overlooked that when the crunch came there was also the confidence in government to invest in major projects that created jobs and created an albeit-slow rippled effect of returning confidence in the private sector.
The value of large scale government investment in infrastructure projects whether it is in in education, transport or health when well managed thus not only has the lasting value of the project itself but the critical value in providing employment in tough times and the often immeasurable morale value of getting things moving again.
The increasing concern over unemployment has risen from a grim memory to a despairing clamour in some areas. Today’s new figures show Ballarat is not immune from these worrying numbers. It is is also of significant concern that those without employment make up a more significant proportion of regional communities than many metropolitan areas and these are the very places where job options are fewer and access to help often scarcer. It is easy to stereotype the unemployed and brand them “bludgers” but such glib name calling does nothing to help solve the problem.
The Australian Council of Social Services has highlighted that at $245 per week some unemployed are left with as little as $17 per day for all their living expenses. This is a figure that is right on the edge of desperation and a cause of despair. Both conditions could have shocking ramifications for society at large if left unchecked. It is worth considering that external circumstances, lack of skills and confidence rather than simple sloth are by far the greatest factors that lead most people into unemployment.
While active steps must be taken to alleviate this suffering, a longer-term solution must lie in employment and job creation. Black or red figures on a budget paper mean little compared to the dignity of work.