Elections always result in a bidding war between political parties to attract votes by granting gifts or concessions. Bidding wars are not confined to elections however they are the greatest manifestation and deny the community its responsibilities at the expense of the public purse.
Governments cannot take back these freebies and each of these taxpayer-funded gifts further encourages a sense of entitlement among the population. This overlooks the cost of these services and their contribution to limiting real help to those who need it.
Hospital emergency departments should charge a fee, not to recoup some of the expensive overheads but to remind patients there is a cost. This might encourage people to seek other assistance for frivolous complaints, freeing up services for more serious cases.
Subsidies abound. For having numerous children (never mind population pressures) or childcare (so you can go back to work). So do concessions: pharmaceuticals, transport, rates and rents, for example, and particularly for the elderly, justified because they have paid taxes all of their life (but why should we expect a refund?). Often there is no or inadequate means-testing in granting these benefits. The issue is not that there is a test, deficient as it may be, but that such concessions exist at all.
What is ignored in government largesse is someone has to pay and it is usually those who are perceived to be able to do so, overlooking the effort and sacrifice they might have made to achieve financial comfort. Why should those who spend income in other ways than providing for old age expect to receive the charity of the State?
Further, if those who pay are so charged they will seek ways to minimise these payments and the reduced return to government either will create a bigger deficit or deprive those who do need help from receiving it in proper quantity because others are benefiting who should do without.
The most damning example of misplaced government philanthropy however is in the fields of art and sport.
The arts does not enjoy the populist appeal of sport and thus is funded with care. Nevertheless if people want culture they should pay more for it or do without. Cutting cloth to suit purse would curb extravagances.
Leaving aside profitable ACT land deals (still raising unanswered questions), ongoing financial aid to football codes already backed by poker machine-supported clubs or healthy payments to build and upgrade other sporting venues raise issues of genuine public benefit and indulging minorities. Any claim Canberra benefits by incoming tourist profits from such investment should be backed by publicly released audited accounts, otherwise governments should not have a role at this level and should concentrate upon amateur junior activities, if at all.
We have drifted so far from a sense of personal responsibility it will be a brave government which acknowledges the problem. It will be an even braver administration which attempts to address the community expectations of dependency seemingly now part of our DNA.