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Rejecting the Cashless Welfare Card a Good Start for Labor; but further cultural change necessary

It is now approaching a decade since Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest was approached by then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to advise on the creation of a ‘cashless welfare card’. While Forrest intended for all income to be ‘quarantined’ for use only in approved areas (like groceries), the Indue card which has emerged in trials set a floor of 80% of income to be with-held, and available for ‘approved purposes’. Aimed largely at Indigenous peoples, and the welfare-dependent more broadly, the ‘Indue’ card follows after the failed ‘Basics card’ of 2007 – which attempted something similar as part of a government ‘Intervention’ into Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. The newer ‘Indue’ cashless welfare card applies to the welfare-dependent more generally in the communities in which it is being trialled. All those affected find themselves in the position of being restricted in what they can spend their money on, including on food and second hand goods. While a relatively small proportion are affected by gambling addiction or alcoholism, the ‘card’ is a source of humiliation and control over the welfare-dependent more generally. Indue, which includes Conservative Coalition party luminaries as shareholders, stands to make a packet from the humiliation and micro-management of the every-day life of already-disadvantaged Australians.

Instead of humiliating marginalised Australians government ought instead be seeking to empower them, perhaps including through the mechanism of a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). Arguments against a GMI include the suggestion it may displace some existing pensions (some of which are less threadbare than others). But if a ‘no disadvantage’ test were applied this need not be a problem. ‘Mutual obligation’ provisions have always been worrisome; as in practice they became a source of effective labour conscription. This might also increase competition for jobs at the ‘lower end’ of the labour market; and in the process reduce the bargaining power of those workers.

A good alternative could be the establishment of a ‘Social Bill of Rights’; which would include rights to nutrition, adequate and dignified shelter, power, comprehensive health care, communications-related empowerment (eg: internet access), transport, education and social inclusion. A ‘Guaranteed Minimum Income’ could then be deployed alongside pensions and other programs intended to make this vision reality.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries the unemployed were driven into ‘Poor Houses’ where they were exploited, humiliated and robbed of their dignity. There is a long history of ‘blaming the poor’ for their own disadvantage. Centuries later some of the same assumptions remain in play beneath the surface. Labor is arguing it will end the long Conservative experiment with the ‘cashless welfare card’. The Coalition has so far not mustered the political courage (or political capital) to implement the program more broadly. But as with ‘WorkChoices’; the old agendas continue to ‘fester’ behind the scenes. The debate needs to be brought into the glare of public scrutiny and buried decisively.

Labor’s opposition to the Indue card is welcome. But Labor needs a broader, stronger vision, including reform of welfare, minimum wages and labour market regulation, industrial rights, and embedded social human rights. Its retreat on the tax debate has regrettably narrowed its options. But a program for change could re-emerge through a determined reform of the social wage and welfare state; which branched in various directions – including a Universal Aged Care Insurance Scheme, as well as improvement of pensions, with rescission of punitive mechanisms. And a bold commitment to build a million new public housing units – as suggested by the Greens. Labor really ought to be coming up with these kind of ideas on its own initiative.

There is a minimum standard of living which must apply to all citizens. This idea of a ‘floor’ beneath which none are allowed to fall is reminiscent of the more progressive variations of the ‘Third Way’ which emerged in the 1990s. But to mobilise as broad a base as possible, and provide distributive justice for all a more robust Social Democratic or Democratic Socialist agenda than Blairism is necessary.

It seems Social Democratic Parties have been on the defensive and on the back foot for decades. And indeed they have been. For some the logic of retreat has been internalised. We need to re-establish a notion of what comprises ‘progress’. That means fairer distribution, industrial rights, social rights, and the re-establishment of a robust mixed economy to help make this vision reality. The Indue ‘cashless welfare card’ is the current ‘Conservative frontier’; where it attempts to reshape public ‘common sense’ on the further rescission of the welfare state, and the re-establishment of a ‘Poor House’ mentality; which ‘gives the whip hand’ to employers through poverty, compulsion and labour conscription.

Labor needs to go back to ‘first principles’ and work out the consequences of that. Which is that being a ‘broad church’, Labor needs to be united behind ‘baseline’ social democratic and democratic socialist values and agendas. Containing inequality and ending poverty ought be non-negotiable; as should the proposal that this must be pursued through industrial rights, labour market regulation, a mixed economy, progressive taxation system, expanded social wages and welfare state provisions, and intervention into the capitalist system (ultimately to end exploitation; but also to ameliorate the impact of its crises upon workers and the vulnerable in the meantime).

The cashless welfare card needs to be defeated and exposed for the punitive mentality it embodies. But we need a progressive movement which is willing to ‘go onto the front foot as well’. A movement which has an idea what ‘progress’ entails, and which rejects a logic of endless retreat; ameliorated only by the ascendance of ‘social liberal’ agendas as applied to gender, sexuality, and so on. And in the context of the marginalisation of social conservatism, and its replacement by an ideology of neo-liberal cosmopolitanism.

A ‘change of direction’ involves accepting class struggle as a progressive phenomenon ; an ‘engine of social progress’. Only when that logic becomes entrenched does progress become undeniable. And while Hawke’s vision of “Reconciliation” appealed to many; bosses soon became tired of ‘co-determination’ with unions once they had extracted crucial concessions. And once organised labour lost its bargaining position.

‘Reformists’ and Revolutionaries were once agreed on the progressive nature of class struggle. Within Labor factions and amongst others we need, also, to combine behind such a shared notion. Bringing together Labor members behind the idea of a progressive class struggle is crucial; an idea that we are all broadly in the same fight. Reinforced by daily experience everywhere from Party branches to unions, and from student politics to the social movements. There is a fight for the heart and soul of the ALP, and the heart and soul of Australia. There is no place for a punitive cashless welfare card in a progressive Australia. May solidarity in the name of renewed class struggle relegate it to history.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

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20 comments

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  1. BB

    “Labor’s opposition to the Indue card is welcome. But Labor needs a broader, stronger vision, including reform of welfare, minimum wages and labour market regulation, industrial rights, and embedded social human rights.” IT’S TIME
    It’s not a question of stopping Indue being implemented further. The criminal bullshit cashless card must be 100% eradicated.
    Morrison, & his L/NP gang of thugs, with other corporate crooks like Fortescue etc. etc., must be help accountable for theft.

  2. RomeoCharlie29

    Good article, great link BB, the cashless welfare card is primarily another way of transferring taxpayer funds to LNP mates. Just another reason to ensure the Morrison band of scum are shown the door at the election. It should be simple, put the LNP candidate last on your ballot paper.

  3. Andrew J. Smith

    Interesting, one would assume this policy is a direct lift from the USA and the intellectual ecosystem round the GOP and think tanks?

    Yet still to this today even many Labor voters and former or existing union members fall for the old eugenics or radical right libertarian based trope, presented by media and word of mouth, daily; other day a former ABC journalists and NSW Lib MLA suggested similar in the AFR about welfare types…..

    That is those on struggle street, and their supposedly ingrained -ve attitudes to employment and personal finance e.g. ‘immigrants’ (inc. as ‘workers’) and their ‘population’ impair local employees’ income, conditions, employment opportunities etc. (and the rest inc. environment, infrastructure, schools, property prices, health system etc.); not supported by credible research evidence anywhere and is simply a ‘factoid’ masquerading as a ‘truism’ to ‘divide the workers’.

    Frustrating, as then people and voters are encouraged to be ‘quiet Australians’, withdraw from civil society or community, ignore the fact that we have award wages, conditions etc. with support of unions, that are simply not regulated nor policed well for compliance; backgrounded by nobbling of social security benefits round working age (while pensions are a no go area due to the above median age voters’ electoral influence).

    Makes it ‘too easy’ for the top people, corporates, regulators and LNP to avoid their civic responsibilities and good social supports including income…. but that’s the whole idea or tactic; too easy.

  4. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Tristan.

    The more information and the more sensible argument we have on this issue, the better. I do have a little niggle about your piece, though – the Socialist-Leftish language did put me off.

  5. GL

    If anything can be corrupted, rorted, and used to keep the peasants under their thumbs then the LNP will be there to make it so.

  6. Tristan Ewins

    Hi Kate ; the question is “what is class struggle”? And “is it a progressive or regressive social force?” The answer is that things get better when people stand up for their rights. And when people become conscious of their interests.

  7. Kate Ahearne

    Tristan,

    I’m not arguing the toss with the meat of your article. I hope I made that clear. (Although, if we were in a real, rather than a ‘virtual’ conversation, over a cup of tea or a glash of shoshalist chardonnay, there are things that I would have questions about.)

    It’s the language that puts me off. When I see or hear stuff like ‘class struggle’ and ‘neo-liberal-cosmopolitanism’, my eyes roll – they do it automatically. What does ‘neo-liberal-cosmopolitanism’ even mean? For me, language like this has a tired old ring to it. It brands the person who is using it, locates them on the political/ideological spectrum, and I find myself looking under the bed to see if there are any Reds there.

    In other words, unless you’re talking to the ‘converted’, you run the risk of alienating readers like myself who are not similarly located on the political/ideological spectrum, but who might otherwise be interested in, or even swayed by, the arguments you make.

  8. Stephengb

    Thanks Tristan, your articles are always worth the read.

    Having retired and started to read a lot of Facebook posts, responses and comments, I have come to the conclusion that few today have a clue as to what a mixed economy is, they have no experience sixties, which was the best time for both the working man, and capitalism.

    We had almost gotten to that sweat spot where there was an equality of opportunity and that the poor were not being left behind.

    I was born just after WWII, and was fortunate enough to come if age in the mid sixties, for me this was how I expected it to continue untill the greed of the OPEC nations created the stagflation of the 70s and opened the door to the Neoliberal era that began in the late 70s.

    45 years later we find ourselves heading back to the inequality of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time that saw the birth of unionism and the trend toward equality.

    Have we regressed enough

  9. Tristan Ewins

    Kate ; Whether you’re a socialist or not class struggle is just a fact under capitalism ; workers get screwed and they fight for their rights ; as for neo-liberal cosmopolitanism ; it’s not a strictly Marxist expression ; it just refers to the fact that we are becoming more liberal and accepting of diversity of various kinds (as well as facing a globalised world) at the same time as we internalise right-wing dogma on small government, privatisation, far reaching deregulation (including of the labour market) and so on. There was a time when figures in the ALP Right identified as democratic socialists, though not communists. Whitlam was one. I’d like to see that happen again as the product of constructive engagement.

  10. Tristan Ewins

    Thanks Stephen ; I grew up on the 70s and 80s and saw the worst of the privatisation and regressive tax restructure. I suspect that you’re right that the 60s were around the high water market for labour market regulation and the mixed economy.

  11. GL

    Scotty from Marketing will be trying to work out someway to keep pensioners on side (at least until the LNP gets back into power that is) because of the fear of a major voting backlash if he keeps pushes ahead with the idea of placing all benefit receivers on the card before the election is called.

    After they get back in, well…

  12. BB

    A grand idea is to push negative propaganda the L/NP do indeed plan to put all pensioners on the cashless card asap.
    Play the L/NP at their own nasty games BEFORE the election, that is to obfuscate, create uncertainty, to lie, bullshit, etc etc.
    Create fear and loathing for the L/NP by all pensioners, let’s create a major voting backlash BEFORE the Federal election.

    Make special mention to ALL Aged Pensioners they will now also be targeted by the L/NP, which is the truth anyway.
    Even those Aged Pensioners who are self-funded will have any government pension vastly reduced and/or taken away.

    Make pensioners feel like shit, make them fearful for their independence, so they shiver with fear. Most are already fearful.

    So to anyone who knows a pensioner, IT’S TIME to lie to them, create uncertainty, tell them Morrison and the L/NP are going to take away their independence, put them on a welfare card, not allow them to spend their money as they want. No pokies, no booze, no holidays, no op shops, no bloody nothing, except to fill in forms to ask permission to have some cash to buy Christmas presents!!!

    Then tell them that Labor will ban the cashless card. Labor is their only hope of keeping their cash, dignity and independence.

    Yep that’s what I will now do, lie through my teeth just like the L/NP and drive a big fat wedge right up Morrison’s cacky arse.

  13. leefe

    BB: It isn’t really a lie. If the LNP thought they could get away with it without alienating too many voters, they would do it in a flash. The probability of a major backlash at the polling booth is the only thing stopping them.

  14. BB

    Aye leefe,

    Quite correct, not a lie, I did write so…
    ……… Aged Pensioners they will now also be targeted by the L/NP, which is the truth anyway.

    AND I think what is also stopping the crooks in the L/NP is they know not all Aged Pensioners are ignorant sheepole living in ‘backwater’ peripheries of QLD, SA & WA, etc., are hardly what the L/NP class as “fringes of society”, but are mainstream intelligent aware older folk who will for sure mount class actions, and also flood the human services centres with endless exit forms till the whole human services system has a massive stroke… Lawyers will have a field day.
    https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/cashless-debit-card/how-apply-exit

    And of course the backlash at the ballot box…

    The Aged Pension is not welfare, not charity, the ‘officials’ who are attempting to reframe the narrative as such are full of shit.
    Aged Pensioners would also be able to accuse, threaten the government with defamation of their characters, theft of their right to independence, and a myriad list of other actionable court actions, in fact the government wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, as their present reasons for the card because of abuse of drugs, etc, blah blah blah, has already been shown up to be completely false, fabricated to suit the L/NP narrative.

    Then there is the ongoing actions now of the fact the card was only ever going to be a short trail, using volunteers from some settlements, which was abused from the start with a host of folk being forced onto it against their will, the trail then being expanded way beyond the initial brief, turned into a never ending trial, being introduced into other areas, and the cost of the trial being given to private firms, privatised, the cost over $12,000 to administer the card for one person per year, when that payment could be used for funding of the pension and/or welfare check instead.. all amounts to criminal behaviour by the L/NP.

    The whole deal is so crooked it goes way beyond being a scam, a con, to being outright fraud on the Australian tax payer and the welfare system, and Fortescue and Morrison are up to their eyeballs in the deceit… And they know it..

    The card is going to explode one day in the L/NP’s faces, it’s going to eventually bite them severely on the arse.
    Twiggy Forrest is going to regret being the main orchestrator of the inception of the card. No doubt he’ll shift the blame.
    Fortescue will one day have to repay the millions, that has been scammed, conned from the Australian tax payer.

  15. Fred

    BB, if you wish to incite a voter backlash, how about reminding those in the “Aged Care”, “Disability Sector”, “1A”, etc. and other supposed priority categories how well they were NOT prioritized in Feb/March and even now are not all double vaccinated (conscientious objectors excepted) let alone have had booster shots. The treatment of the aged care sector by dishonorable senator Colbeck is on par with the welfare card. Those on welfare in aged care must be really partying (not).

  16. BB

    Aye Fred, by whatever means, indeed remind all those of the double standards. all will help to get rid of the Nasty Lying Party.
    I doubt anybody on a basic aged pension has ever been able to afford to have a party, let alone a real holiday somewhere nice.
    The aged pension is a meagre amount, that barely coverts the cost of living, and for those renting leaves no funds in reserve.

    Yep, remind folks of all the bullshit, the rorting, the lies and theft by the L/NP.

  17. Tristan Ewins

    if you have to pay rent on a pension then you’re living on the most meagre shoestring.

  18. BB

    Indeed Tristan, a very meagre worn out shoestring… There are many Aged Pensioners renting..
    Whilst some get some rent assistance, it’s just a token amount. A more few peanuts.

    And many who own their own home, but have no savings, are having to borrow against that home to afford to live.
    That’s the only way to have a little extra for the odd treat and xmas presents, etc etc..
    Otherwise life just becomes an existence, waiting to die… End up in a heartless old age home and fed shit by criminals.
    And when they die, their families are left with little to no inheritance..
    A lifetime stolen through the austerity policies of this heartless RW L/NP rabble that reckons it’s a government for the people..

    So much of our society do not seem to realise, or care, how disgracefully Senior Citizens are treated, just wait till old age if you haven’t been able to acquire a super, or other savings, to be blunt, you’re fucked. You’re headed for the human scrap heap.

    And just to make sure old folk have to suffer even longer, suicide for the desperate and assisted dying are illegal.

  19. Max Gross

    “Exploited, humiliated and robbed of their dignity.” That is the LNP attitude to us plebs in a nut shell.

  20. Arnd

    Kate,

    For me, language like this has a tired old ring to it. It brands the person who is using it, locates them on the political/ideological spectrum …

    In other words, unless you’re talking to the ‘converted’, you run the risk of alienating readers like myself who are not similarly located on the political/ideological spectrum, but who might otherwise be interested in, or even swayed by, the arguments you make.

    All areas of human endeavour and pursuit develop their own vernacular and specialist terminology. Carpenters speak of beams, and carefully distinguish rafters from purlins, and purlins from underpurlins, and look up different span tables for ceiling joists and floor joists. A diesel mechanic talking about a “governor” isn’t expressing a political view. Statisticians carefully distinguish between “mean” and “median”.

    So why should politics – political philosophy, political economy, jurisprudence – be any different?

    You’ve got to call a spade a spade, not “one of those thingumajigs for, you know ,,, – like, digging holes.” In fact, that’s the kind of bland politicians’ speech that can mean anything to anyone, and that I abhor!

    I say that it is eminently sensible to distinguish “cosmopolitanism” from any form of “provincial parochialism” and related manifestations of nationalism, nativism, racism, and jingoism.

    “Neo-liberals”, whether parochial or cosmopolitan, are those adherents of “classical liberalism” who claim to seek to re-establish the classical liberalism of Adam Smith, John Locke and David Ricardo:

    Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism that advocates free market, civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on limited government, economic freedom, political freedom, and cultural liberalism. It was developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanization and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America.

    (Wikipedia)

    From the Wikipedia page on neo-liberalism:

    In policymaking, neoliberalism often refers to what was part of a paradigm shift that followed the alleged failure of the Keynesian consensus in economics to address the stagflation of the 1970s …

    The salient point these neo-liberal reactionaries most assidiously fail to recognise, is that circumstances, challenges and attitudes now are vastly different from those in the early 29th century.

    In other words: they steadfastly refuse to learn the lessons history is trying to teach them – and us.

    And that’s a bad thing!

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