In her terrific book Dirt Cheap, the late Elisabeth Wynhausen decided to take leave from her journalism job and try life as a low-wage worker. In one job, Wynhausen moved to a country town and worked packing eggs. She earned near minimum wage in a job that started at 6am, left her body aching at the end of the day, and where the smell from the nearby chook sheds was constant. Three weeks in, the manager, a millionaire several times over, came to tell the workers they were losing their jobs.
I thought of Wynhausen's story again last night as I looked at the budget papers.
For the billionaires: a mining tax cut and a parental leave scheme that gives most to those who have most. For the battlers: cuts to the pension, cuts to family support, and a punitive regime for young jobseekers.
After a generation of rising inequality, the Abbott government has delivered a budget that will widen the gap. In an environment when the three richest people in Australia have more wealth than the bottom one million, the government is cutting foreign aid and student support to make room for tax breaks to multi-millionaire superannuants and multinational firms.
Budgets are about priorities. This is a budget that has plenty of goodies for cigar-chomping plutocrats, but not much for a minimum wage worker at an egg factory, who will be forced to work till 70 before getting the pension. For Canberrans, it will be particularly brutal, with many of the 16,500 public service job cuts sure to fall on the nation's capital. These include people like the unemployed constituent who contacted me yesterday, fearful that if her husband lost his job too, they wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage.
What Joe Hockey didn't tell people last year was that his own decisions had doubled the deficit. What he didn't tell people last night was that he couldn't even manage to halve it again. He's left Australia with a whole lot of broken eggs, but no omelette in sight.