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PAWAN LUTHRA on how the Indian community will relate to Gillard in the current climate

It seems that one billion dollars is the new one hundred million. In numbers, a 100 million is 10% of the magic billion figure, but the way the billion figure is bandied about by the current politicians in Australia, it does seem like loose change.

The centre of the world, or at least of Australia, in the first week of March has been Western Sydney. With PM Gillard camped out in the wild west, attention has been turned to what is on offer by the Labor government in Australia as the unofficial campaign for the September 2013 election kicks off. Dumbing it down to a price differential is easy, in terms of what Labor has to offer compared to what the Coalition will offer, or take away. In business, the competition seems to be in the hands of the dumbest player when all that exists is a price differential, and decisions are made on pricing rather than quality. This obviously has become the grand play in the political stakes where rather than policy, it is a loose throw of a few billion here, or a few billion there. The entry fee to stay at the Lodge now can be counted in billions.

The Gillard government seems to be particularly keen to splash a few billion around. Only this week (and at the time of writing this, it is Wednesday), $1.2 billion has been allocated to salary increases in the aged care sector; Western Sydney has been promised $1 billion for a new road project (subject to conditions); last week Prime Minister Gillard unveiled a $1.1 billion school reading blitz and the week before she made a pitch to blue-collar workers, unveiling details of the Government’s new $1 billion jobs package. All of this, together with promises in the past, have even the Business Council of Australia worried, due to the $49 billion black hole of unfunded new spending commitments. And this is before funding has been decided for what seem to be two of Labor’s re-election platforms, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the Gonski Education reforms, which are both slated to cost about $10 billion dollars a year.

Where the danger lies in these promised expenses for the rapidly increasing Indian Australian community, is the impact this spending – which has not been balanced by income – will have over the longer term. This can mean increased taxes on the aspirational and hard-working Indian community, or government enforced austerity measures in the future to pay off public debt.

More concerning is the Gillard government’s demonising of foreign workers. Playing to its base of the unions (and the funding received from them), the Labor Party, true to its DNA is keen to allow for greater contraction of the labour market, so as to squeeze demand and increase wages. While that can happen, what is shameful to watch is the lack of respect shown to the hard work of these workers who contribute to the economy by paying their share of tax.

457 visa holders are not supported by government-funded Medicare and also pay school fees for their children in public schools. They often take up jobs which create greater flow-on opportunities for the wider community. It is a shame that the Gillard government has failed to recognise contributions by these workers.

The Indian Australian community, which has grown strongly in the past few years with migrants starting in the 457 visa categories before becoming full time residents, has a right to feel insulted by the Gillard government’s dog-whistling. If there are loop holes in the system, the government needs to fix them: they have the mandate to do so, but not by belittling the contribution of those who work hard in their new jobs down under.