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Doctrine in the House

By Tony Percy - posted Monday, 15 November 1999

Tony Abbott, the Federal Minister for Employment Services, has come under fire for suggesting that welfare reform will reduce unemployment. Given the success of the 1996 reforms in the United States, he has every reason to be confident.

Abbott claims that some unemployed persons, certainly not all, regard welfare as a vocation. Nothing outrageous in that claim. It’s what a lot of people know to be the case. There are plenty of genuinely unemployed people and others who have learnt to work the system.

What is silly, however, is for church groups and welfare bodies to accuse him of a lack of compassion. He is using common sense and, I suspect, is relying on an important teaching in Catholic social doctrine. The principle of subsidiarity.


Take for instance this statement by the world’s Catholic bishops in 1965: "Care must be taken to prevent people falling into a kind of passivity vis-à-vis society, or of a refusal to do their fair share."

Again, Pope John Paul II noted in 1991: "That by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies."

The Pope is referring to this principle of subsidiarity. That is, a community of higher order should not interfere in the internal life of community of a lower order, depriving it of its functions.

To be honest, the proliferation of Australia’s public agencies has contributed substantially to outrageous tax rates. The PM might be proud that his tax reforms will mean that 80 percent of Australian will soon be subject to a top rate of 30 per cent, bit that’s 30 cents in every dollar you earn!

Let’s stop and think. For every $100 you earn, you lose $30. That’s not counting the GST and other "little" indirect taxes!

Do we seriously believe that people are going to be motivated by that sort of haemorrhaging? Is it possible to build a dynamic economy and expect to have robust, stable families with that sort of social theft?


In fact, in 1954-55, to get into the top tax rate, you needed to earn 19 times the average weekly wage. Today, you need earn only 1.2 time the AWW!

Enough is enough. Governments must cut revenue, cut expenditure and allow people to exercise their personal responsibility.

In addition to welfare reform, we need to scrap payroll tax as Senator Meg Lees has intimated and thoroughly reform capital gains tax. Economic incentive, invention and enterprise are the other "keys" to unlocking the unemployment problem.

Abbott has plenty of common sense and compassion. Subsidiarity is an important moral social principle. Let’s hope the debate gathers momentum – for the unemployed’s sake!

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This is article was first published in the Australian Financial Review on Monday, 12th July, 1999.

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About the Author

Father Tony Percy is the Parish Priest of Goulburn, NSW. He has a Doctorate in Theology (STD) from the John Paul II Institute, Washington, DC.

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