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Tag Archives: Work for the dole

Tales from the Darkside: Charlie MUST Serf!

The oval shaped beads are really giving Charlie the shits. The clasp which holds the chain connecting the string is easy enough to remove on the round beads but for some reason the oval shaped beads resist the snip and unwind method and for the hundredth time, rather than coming away clean, the force of the twist has caused the bead to break.

Its also driven tiny slivers of metal into his thumb and forefinger, and at the end of the day he knows his fingers will be sore.

Charlie’s doing a Work for the Dole program supposedly preparing him to be ‘job ready’ in Warehousing and Logistics.

The reality is that he removes the connecting chain between stings of junk jewellery.

In other parts of the site about twenty other WfD ‘volunteers’ repackage items for charity work. Some sort clothing, while others work on repackaging goods for distribution to charity organizations.

Frustration and anger levels simmer just below the surface. No-one’s happy. “It’s just meaningless tasks,” he says.

“When we get here, we’re given different tasks each day. Some of us sort clothing and repackage, while others dismantle junk jewellery.

Everybody hates doing the jewellery.

“There aren’t enough pliers to go around and some of them won’t do the job without breaking or damaging the beads.

Charlie’s bead is thrown in a bin with the other broken beads, while the unbroken beads are collected and sorted into colour, size and shape by other WfD volunteers. The connecting chain is discarded.

At the end of the work period, the sorted beads are collected and tipped into a container, where the next day they will again be sorted into colour, size and shape.

“The game they play with the beads is what really gives everyone here the shits. There’s no point. It’s the same as digging holes and then filling them in. No one here is getting anything like training for work in a warehouse.

“There’s no safety equipment either. We’re all given a one-size-fits-all fluro vest and that’s it! We don’t get safety gloves to protect our hands from the metal on the junk jewellery either.

“If you forget your fluro vest, they make you go home and get it and then come back. They tell you that you have to make up for the time lost so you have to work extra hours.

He looks around at his fellow WfD’s and says that the kind of work people are doing here is the same kind of work that they give you in prison or a community service order. “It’s like Game of Thrones, the same as being a serf,” he shrugs.

There are several large notices posted around the site warning that the use of mobile phones is strictly forbidden and any infringement carries “penalties including reporting any breach of the rules to your Employment Service Provider.”

Charlie usually works on dismantling jewellery but has been assigned to repackaging on three separate occasions.

On the first occasion he repackaged a discount priced confectionary, the type found on sale at local markets or school fetes. The second item repacked was a brand of cosmetic products found in major retail chains.

“They got everybody together on these occasions. Nobody had to dismantle jewellery or resort beads, but they stepped up the pace of repackaging and they watched us like hawks,” he says.

On each occasion, Charlie and his fellow WfD’s were again warned that the use of mobile phones in the repackaging area was strictly forbidden and infringement of the rules carried ‘heavy penalties’.

Heavy penalties most certainly would apply, but not to Charlie. There are strict rules against the use of WfD labour to replace employees, and the AUWU has stated that it will pursue the allegations with the Department of Employment and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Charlie’s story is just one of many, and indicative of a system failing to deal with the victims of neo-liberal economic policies. Rather than address the problem of rising unemployment, the LNP are quietly continuing to push forward with their plans to privatize all welfare.

Multi-nationals such as Max Solutions and Mission Providence have had their eye on privatized welfare including medical insurance and pensions in Australia for over a decade, and on November 9 at the Long Term Unemployed Conference held in Melbourne, they’ll get their chance to advance their cause one step further.

Significantly, the price of attendance is $550 (concession rate) which puts the cost well out of reach for anyone on the dole.

Representatives from the government and private sector can rest safe in the knowledge that the fate of the great unwashed will be picked over without the distasteful requirement of having them in their presence.

The findings and outcomes of the conference are easy to predict;

‘The system is in need of reform administered by the private sector.’

As a spokesperson told Fairfax media in 2002; “Long-term, [Maximus’s future] is very much driven by the government direction in outsourcing. Ultimately, if Centrelink is privatised, Maximus would be very well-suited to help.”

Meanwhile, every week hundreds of complaints, comments and stories flood the inbox at the AUWU’s website.

ESP ‘clients’ have their benefits cancelled through no fault of their own, the new Kapo’s demand that the client always be on time for an appointment – notification of which may or may not have been issued – or be breached for being 5 minutes late and then kept waiting 40 minutes while their case officer lets them cool their heels to show them who’s boss…

The bullying and demonisation goes on. The MSM does its bit through a Current Affair; “Australia’s Welfare suburbs – are they unlucky or just lazy?” The usual idiotic prejudices are wheeled out and the mayor of Liverpool tells the audience that; “I left school at Year 10 and I’ve got a Certificate IV in Small Business! Ya gotta stay positive”, he beams.

Ironically, he also puts his finger on the heart of the problem admitting that while there’s been a steady increase in people are moving to Liverpool, “The big problem is that the work’s just not here.”

But . . . exactly!

Charlie must Serf for his hamburger Momma!

 

Multiple Ministers Scoring ‘Own Goals’

own goal Over the past week or so we have witnessed examples of possibly the most mistake prone bunch of ministerial amateurs we have seen in the past 60 years. Each in their own way would qualify as a contender for the title, “Own Goal of the Year” award, should such a title ever become a reality.

Joe Hockey is claiming that Australia’s gold plated credit rating will be at risk if parliament fails to approve a path back to surplus. Joe is starting to sound desperate but I’m not sure if it has more to do with sharpening his leadership aspirations than his concern for the health of the Australian economy.

His comments to New Zealanders that our economy is in good shape are in stark contrast to what he has been telling us. His suggestion that our credit rating is at risk is simply laughable.

But now he is fighting off allegations that he was deliberately hiding budget papers prepared by Treasury that show low income earners to be bearing the brunt of the budget cuts. Did he not realise that we would see through that in a flash? One own goal.

abetz Then, there is the Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, who announced a revised work for the dole scheme requiring unemployed people to apply for 40 jobs a month if they want to receive benefits. That is spectacular in its absurdity. Professor Jeff Borland from Melbourne University says, “The international evidence is overwhelming. It’s hard to believe that the government couldn’t understand that this isn’t the best way to improve people’s employability.”

Professor Boland conducted an empirical study of the Howard government’s work for the dole scheme and concluded that such schemes are unlikely to help people looking for work. That’s hardly surprising. I could apply for 40 jobs in one week if I put my mind to it. Just how many replies I would receive is another matter. Just how many interviews I could attend if given the opportunity is questionable. Just how I would do all this while trying to fit in 25 hours of work for the dole is to question my capacity to replicate Superman. Abetz has even upset the business community. Collectively, they have voiced their concern that companies will be overwhelmed by job applications that could amount to 32 million a month. Pity the bulk of them couldn’t find their way to the office of the minister. I can’t believe Abetz didn’t see that one coming. Two own goals.

andrews Now, we know that Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, wants to scrap the 90 minute rule that is used to determine how long is too long for someone to travel to work each day. Now, he is attempting to influence those couples in de facto relationships to get married for their own protection. Why the sudden concern now, or are his comments that de facto couples are more likely to separate, masking nothing more than Catholic Church teaching? His call is unlikely to result in any sudden rush to the altar though. His $200 coupons for marriage guidance have attracted just 1400 applicants from a budget of 100,000. Three own goals.

brandis Attorney General, George Brandis and Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull are at odds over piracy laws. Brandis says that internet service providers were not ”innocent bystanders” and should contribute to the costs of an anti-piracy crackdown.
Malcolm says that rights holders concerned about copyrightturnbull infringement should sue those who illegally download material. One would have thought that such senior government ministers would have consulted one another before releasing statements that contradict each other. Neither seems to understand the internet very well. Four own goals.

hunt Last week, Environment minister, Greg Hunt approved the multibillion dollar Carmichael Coal Mine development by Indian company Adani, which threatens the Great Barrier Reef. Hunt has incurred the wrath of Greenpeace which now plans to mount a campaign targeting any Australian bank that might be inclined to provide finance for the project. Putting aside Adani’s woeful environmental track record, Kate O Callaghan’s expose on the potential damage to the Great Barrier Reef and the dubious economic benefits to Australians spells out, all too clearly, that this decision will haunt Hunt for the foreseeable future. Five own goals.

abbott But the “Own goal of the Week” must surely go to Tony Abbott for his ‘Leadership Call’ on the shelving of plans to alter Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It’s another broken promise and has even drawn criticism from trusted friends (Bolt, et al.). It has also caused great distress among Liberal party members who have flocked to their beloved Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), threatening to quit the party. Wow! Six own goals.

What a mesmerising collection of mixed messages that these utterly rattled and hopelessly confused people are sending out to the good folks in voter land; all of them, it would appear, determined to lead the charge to electoral disaster. I guess we can only hope that they will be spectacularly successful in achieving that.

The Problem of Unemployment in Australia

Julie Farthing has worked in the employment industry for four decades. She more than anyone has the experience to safely predict that the government’s policies aimed at getting unemployed people into the workforce will be nothing but complete failures.

Pulling a dead rabbit out of an old hat: this is how I describe the ludicrous response by the Abbott Government to the ‘problem’ of unemployment.

We have been hearing a lot about their plans for extending ‘Work for the Dole’ placements and increased activity testing (requiring Newstart recipients to search for 20 or so jobs per fortnight). It is clear that they have no idea as to how to really tackle the issues; they have no new ideas – both, and both have been found to have limited success in getting people back to work. Neither of these schemes will actually provide jobs, and with a government hell-bent on destroying our industry, you have to wonder at their logic. (Oh wait, they’re Liberal, they don’t need logic).

I’m waiting for them to tell us exactly how many jobs the new mine will create – not for Australians – for 457 visa holders.

Certainly, it seems that every Australian of working age and beyond has an opinion on the unemployment ‘problem’. I can say, with experience in the employment industry that spans four decades, that most Australians, if given the chance to work and earn a decent wage, would happily take it. Some wouldn’t, of course, and will do anything they can to ‘play the system’. It has been so since time began, and nothing the current government will do will have any effect on this group (which is really quite small, believe me). These are the ‘alternate lifestylers’, the ‘opters-out’ – good luck to them; they are probably doing better than the average Joe these days. I would challenge any government to create a shift in the mentality of those who actually avoid conventional work at all costs, and Abbott and his cronies are not focusing on this group either, so let’s not dwell on them.

Let’s look instead at the vast majority of people who would like to work, if they could; who have tried in the past, and maybe, if they are not yet too disillusioned, are still trying. This includes manufacturing industry workers who have no industry left, and whose skills are not really in demand in any industry. It includes young people who can’t get a start because the basic jobs have all been replaced by technology. It also includes the 18-12 year olds who are under-employed, who can’t get a proper job in retail or hospitality because they employ 15-year olds who are cheaper, then turf them out before their 18th birthday without much to look forward to. It includes people with disabilities, and women with children, who bear the brunt of workplace discrimination. It includes people in their 50s and 60s who were sold the idea that their hard-earned superannuation would see them through their retirement years. It is the people living in the regional areas who have exhausted all the local employers and have tried relocating but are constantly told, ‘We can’t even find jobs for our local workers, so don’t bother coming.’ It includes small business folk and sole operators who are fighting increased competition from all the other people who have given up on ever getting a job and decided to go it alone.

Aside from the ridiculous image conjured up by the idea of hundreds of jobless cold calling and having doors shut in their face by companies that clearly would advertise if they need someone. What Misters Abbott, Abetz, Andrews and Hockey cannot fathom, sitting on their fat wallets, is that jobs are bloody scarce out there – more scarce than they have been since the Great Depression. Or, if they know this, they are not telling us. My guess is that they have no ideas how to fix this problem but everything comes down to saving money, so their only plan is to make it so hard for people on Newstart and other benefits to comply that they will simply cut their allowance. From the sad stories I have already heard and read, I know that this will lead to increases in the number of suicides and the crime rate will skyrocket. I doubt they will care.

Baby boomer protection

Why is the Abbott government offering $10,000 to employ people who are over 50? We grew up in a time of free education and high employment so presumably these people already have some work experience which puts them in front of young job applicants. Very few over 50s would have young dependent children. Most would have accumulated some possessions over the years. They are also a lot closer to the end of their working life.

Whilst I can understand the despair of unemployment in middle-age, that $10,000, rather than being an inducement paid to an employer, could pay 40 Newstart recipients for a week.

The idea that young people are choosing unemployment because they are lazy is ridiculous. This may be true for a very small minority but there are already rules in place to deal with people who are abusing the system.

Policies such as work for the dole, ”earn or learn” and intensive job-seeking ignore social disadvantage. It assumes a level playing field, whereby all unemployed people can obtain work if they are incentivised to do so.

Anglicare have released a study into what works to get disadvantaged job-seekers into employment.

The paper, prepared by the Australian Centre for Community Services Research at Flinders University, says job-seekers’ individual aspirations need to be identified, as well as their life circumstances. It reports success with broader capacity-building around work, including depression management, communication, fitness, relationships, cooking, budgeting and computing skills.

People out of work for the long term need individual skills and capability development to help them find and sustain a job, rather than simply being matched to job vacancies.

“Beyond Supply and Demand is a research paper on our network’s evidence of what works for people excluded from the workforce. Its findings are that we are most effective when we recognise the person – and their goals and ambitions – at the centre of exclusion and acknowledge their circumstances, and the barriers and challenges they face. It’s what we call a “life first” rather than “work first” approach.

Anglicare services around the country tell us that a one-size-fits-all-approach to getting people into the workforce simply doesn’t work. Our most effective programs use a case management model, which provide services based on individual needs, build strong links with local employers and other support services, and provide post-employment support, such as job coaching, mentoring, peer support, personal development and career guidance.

Most Australians have hopes and preferences for their future, and many have important attachments to their families and local communities. People out of work are no different. They want a ‘normal’ life too; a job and their own home. And it is our job to see they get the chance.

Beyond Supply and Demand addresses issues at the heart of the McClure Welfare Review, how to shift the focus of working age welfare to getting more people into work. There is a lot of comment in the media suggesting people don’t try hard enough. Our evidence is that real jobs and individual support makes the difference.”

I was on the management committee for a homeless youth refuge. We provided medium term accommodation for 15 to 24 year olds. These kids usually did not have family homes they could return to. Many of them lacked basic life skills and that was a large part of our program with them. We worked on a rewards based system. Residents were not compelled to complete tasks but were rewarded when they did with things like mobile phone credit or a dinner out with a person of their choice. We helped them with applications for courses and jobs. We had partnership agreements with employers and community housing groups and would provide outreach support when our residents moved out. It was very rare for us to have to ask someone to leave because they were not pulling their weight in the house though we did have to refer a couple who were violent.

What is to happen to these kids if benefits are withdrawn for six months of the year? The refuge cannot run on the small government grant it receives alone.

It is at the start of someone’s life when they need the most help and support. It isn’t just work experience that young people lack, they also lack life experience and it can be very daunting trying to enter the adult workforce with no assistance. Continual rejection takes its toll on the sturdiest of egos let alone on vulnerable youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

How are they to apply for 40 jobs per month or travel around to interviews if they have no income? Where do they live? What do they eat? What do they wear? How do they get anywhere? How do they stay healthy?

Suggesting that they should head off to Tasmania for the fruit picking season is so trite. Firstly you are asking them to move away from any family, friend, or community support they may have. It also does nothing for addressing meaningful employment that would see people sustain a job.

I also note that our Prime Minister was not willing to move to where his employment is, a decision that is costing us tens of millions of dollars which could have supported many Newstart recipients for a long time.

Our youth are our future and abandoning them when they need our help the most is cruelty. This government is fixated on punitive measures for our most vulnerable while working hand over fist to exonerate corporate malfeasance with amnesties for offshore tax cheats, changes to financial protection laws, and “safe harbours” protecting corporate directors from personal liability.

One must wonder at the priorities of these middle-aged white men who have reaped the benefits of the baby boomers era and who are now hell-bent on denying those same opportunities to our children.

When is a job not a job?

Image by news.com.au

Image by news.com.au

Have you heard the joke about Abbott’s Green Army?

Answer: They’ll be working for half the minimum wage, but to make up for that they’ll be exempt from Commonwealth workplace laws, including the Work Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

Relax! It only applies to people who are betwee the ages of 17-24. It’s not like the Abbott government expects older people to be part of this government initiative. It’s just a way of showing everyone that the Age of Enlightment is over.

And it hasn’t come in yet. When it comes to politics, governments often float an idea and when the opponents campaign against it, they bring in a less objectionable form of the idea, and while this doesn’t mean that everybody’s happy, it does take the wind out of the sails of the protests. “No, we were never intending to include human babies in our live meat export – that was just hysterical nonsense from the loony left – we’re only going to remove restrictions on live animal exports and ban graphic film of animal slaughter, because only a truly sick individual would want to see animals being slaughtered.” Mind you, in the Abbott government’s case, quite a few of their decisions have been worse than the ones they’ve floated. For example, there was the idea that ministers would be prevented from speaking their mind by Abbott’s office, but, in fact, Christopher Pyne was allowed to share his thoughts.

So, what’s the logic behind the Green Army being paid less than the minimum wage? (Mm, not sure if that’s an oxymoron. I mean, if they’re working, and that’s what they’re being paid then doesn’t that mean that we have a new “minimum wage”?)

If you look at it from the point of view that it’s a legitimate job, and part of the election manifesto of of Coaltion, then what’s the justification for not treating it in the same way that you’d treat any other election promise? They didn’t, for example, ask the Committee of Audit to work for less than the minimum wage. Why, also, the exemptions from the Work Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act? Surely, if it’s something you see as important then surely you’d resource it and pay for it like any other infrastructure project. And, what’s the plan if they can’t find 15,000 people willing to work for such workhouse-like wages?

On the other hand, if you look at it as part of a “work-for-the-dole” scheme, it makes the Direct Action promise of the Green Army to combat climate change seem just a bit half-hearted. If someone suggested that we use a similar scheme to improve healthcare or protect our borders, we’d be told that we need professionals for such an important job. Climate action, on the other hand, just grab a few long-term unemployed to bung in a few trees and pick up rubbish. There! We’ve kept out promise AND reduced youth unemployment for those who “really want to work”!

Yes, I’m sure that we’ll have some hard hitting report about the laziness and lack of initiative of our young:

“He said he wasn’t coming back because he got sunburnt and he was concerned about skin cancer. I suggested that he buy himself some sunscreen, but he said it wasn’t worth it on what he was paid, but I notice that he still found himself enough to buy a cup of coffee before coming to work.”

A cynic might suggest that this is part of a plan to drive down all wages – that this will make young people more inclined to accept other jobs for slighter higher money. But do that at a time of rising unemployment when employers hold the whip hand anyway? And why would a government concerned with the Budget bottom line want to do that? After all, the more we’re paid, the more taxes we pay. (A bit simplistic, but why should I let the Liberals have all the fun when it comes to reducing economics to slogans?)

At no point do I remember the Liberals telling us that their Direct Action, their Green Army was just a “work-for-the-dole” scheme named by a PR consultant. I do have their “Real Solutions” booklet, and while it does talk about creating higher wages and getting young people back into the workforce – admittedly, not in the same into the same paragraph – there’s no suggestion that the Green Army is something that relies on having a pool of young unemployed to draw on.

Mr Hunt found it “bizarre that anybody would oppose, at this time, a youth training program that helps the environment and increases, significantly, the youths’ wages.” This, of course, is only if that youth is unemployed or working part-time. Still, I thought Mr Hunt was Minister for the Environment and Inaction, not the Minister for Employment.

In a similar vein, will we see schemes where the Minister for Education, rather than being concerned about the quality of teaching, praises schemes where young unemployed people get the chance to improve their skills by being put in charge of classes. Or the Health Minister? Or the Science Minister…

Oh, yeah, that’s right! I forgot.

“The Beadles” – a sensational new group featuring Joe Bumble, Tony Fagan, Scott Sykes and Malcolm the “Artful Dodger”

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

“Around the time of Oliver’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main workhouse. Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel.” Wikipedia

From time to time, it’s suggested that the school curriculum is too left wing and that we should go back to the “classics”. John Howard was particularly concerned that we no longer studied Dickens. So for your consideration, I offer this excerpt from “Oliver Twist”.

For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception. He was brought up by hand. The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities. The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled in “the house” who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist, the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need. The workhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not. Upon this the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be “farmed,” or, in other words, that he should be despatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny per small head per week. Sevenpence-halfpenny’s worth per week is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a very accurate perception of what was good for herself. So, she appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally provided for them. Thereby finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself a very great experimental philosopher.
Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he got his own horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.

Of course, Oliver Twist fails to realise that the Age of Entitlement is over.

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

Not only is Oliver failing to understand that he’s not entitled to more, he fails to see that he’s not entitled to any. If he wants food, what’s he doing in the orphanage? Personal responsibility and all that…

But some of Dickens is far from appropriate for today’s youth. Take the old idea of the workhouse, which. of course, is very much an outdated one. For those of you whose history is rusty, the workhouses were where those unable to support themselves were forced to go for accomodation and support. Life in the workhouse was meant to be harsh in order to deter all but the most destitute from using it. It was rather like a work-for-the-dole scheme except that – in the those days of entitlement – they actually provided you with a roof over your head. We don’t want today’s unemployed expecting luxuries like that.

However, many of Dickens’ tales will be ok with a rewrite. For example, in “A Christmas Carol” when Scrooge is shown the scene at Bob Crachet’s table by Christmas Future and notices that there’s a place missing, well, obviously, he’ll understand that with the abolition of penalty rates, there’ll be no problem in asking Bob to work on Christmas Day.

Of course, not all the concepts from Dickens’ time have no potential application today. For example, the “Bastardy Clause” in the Poor Law effectively made children the responsibility of the mother until they were sixteen. If she were unable to support them, she would have to enter the workhouse. Perhaps, we could apply this principal now – but only in relation to single mothers, of course – and raise the age to thirty, thus removing a large number of people from the dole.

Yep, with so much I’m sure that we can find a place for Dickens in the curriculum. I think I’ll leave the last word to John Howard who said in 2006

“…we also understand that there’s high-quality literature and there’s rubbish.”

Unfortunately, nobody has since asked him if he considered the Liberal “Our Plan. Real Solutions for All Australians” high-quality literature, or whether it’s part of the latter category. Or, indeed, whether he considers the coming publication: “Zombiechoices – dead, buried and cremated, but still it rises!” one of the classic works of fiction this century.

“We will decide what rights you have, and the circumstances under which you have them.”

Image courtesy of the couriermail.com.au

Image courtesy of the couriermail.com.au

Treasurer Joe Hockey has bluntly warned Australians that the days of governments saving businesses and jobs had passed, telling them, ”the age of entitlement is over, and the age of personal responsibility has begun”.

Mark Kenny “The Courier”, 4th February, 2014

So I guess, he’s also talking about this:

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce billed taxpayers more than $4600 for ”official business” travel to attend rugby league games, including the 2012 State of Origin. The revelations come as the Abbott government hinted it will tighten rules on politicians’ entitlements.

Mr Joyce, who was given free tickets to watch the 2012 State of Origin and NRL finals in corporate boxes, claimed flights to Sydney, Comcars and overnight ”travel allowance”, costing taxpayers $4615. His spokeswoman told Fairfax Media that attending the matches was legitimate ”official business”.

The Sydney Morning Herald November 6, 2013

But what exactly does Hockey mean by the “age of entitlement”? In the lead-up to the election, he used to refer to what he called “middle class welfare”. And, of course, those people on the dole need to forget any ideas of entitlement.

So, basically the Government’s subtext seems to be: We don’t owe you anything – get over it!

And in the debates about company bail-outs, middle-class welfare and work-for-the-dole schemes that message might be lost. Yes, we’ve been told over and over again how the Liberals believe in “small government” but like so many words that are used we often overlook their actual meaning. Does small government mean reducing the number of MPs or reducing their staff and entitlements? Of course not, just the number of public servants, because public servants are just a burden. You want to speak to a public servant? The Age of Entitlement is over! I mean, trying ringing Centrelink, they don’t even answer the phone, so who’s going to notice that there are less?

But let’s just remind ourselves of what words mean because, as I said before, when we hear them over and over they can lose their meaning.

Entitlement: the fact of having a right to something

Oxford Dictionary

So, is Joe Hockey saying that the age of having a right to something is over?

Ok, maybe I’m just being tricky with language by pointing out the actual definition of what he’s saying. Maybe we shouldn’t presume that Hockey means what he’s saying. After all, that’d be rather unusual for a Minister in the Abbott government. (Although one of their backbenchers, Sharman Stone was rather forthright.)

But it’s also the concept of corporate and middle-class welfare that probably needs to be questioned. Again, consulting the dictionary:

Welfare

  1. the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.
  2. statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need.

When we talk about middle-class welfare, then we’re clearly either using the first definition, or we’re using an oxymoron. As I don’t think that many in or out of government wish to eliminate or reduce the health, happiness and fortunes of the middle class, let’s presume that it’s the second defintion of welfare that we’re talking about. Therefore, if it’s the provision of the basic needs of people, then it can’t be given to those who have already provided these for themselves.

So, if we assume when people talk about middle-class welfare that they’re not talking about “welfare” at all, the use of the phrase suddenly becomes loaded. It implies that these people should not be receiving whatever handout, money, subsidy, tax relief being discussed, because it’s not welfare. We’re already being encouraged to think of it as government largesse and extravagant.

Economics is all about making decisions, of course, and all governments have a right to decide how money is spent. However, providing “welfare” is not the only role for a government in deciding who receives what.

When the government announced that it wouldn’t be supporting Holden or SPC-Ardmona, they were making a decision that has consequences. I’m quite prepared to have a discussion about whether it’s the right or wrong thing, but a decision like that can’t be defended with a glib, “the age of entitlement is over”. (With this government, I suspect that the age of reason is also over).

Similarly, just because a person is not on skid row is no reason to argue that they shouldn’t receive any assistance from the government for anything ever. We all pay taxes in some form or other – even if only the GST on what we purchase – and we have a right to expect something back. An entitlement, if you like. And as I said, who gets what and when they get it, is something that needs to be decided by government. Will the money be spent on a non-means tested baby bonus, or would the money be better used building another freeway or supporting the opera? Different people will have different priorities and will see some things as a waste. Whatever, people are entitled to expect that the government will be giving something back in return for our taxes. It’s a large part of what election campaigns are about. You know, that time when politicians sympathise about the cost of living pressures for working families.

Don’t expect anything from us is Joe’s message. Personal responsibility, he says. You’re not ‘entitled’ – unless we say that you are! And that includes what information we think that you should know and the broadband speed at which you know it.

And, by the way, if you’re earning less than $80,000, you’re paid too much!

Work Is Not Just a Four Letter Word!

As a professional actor on the dole once told me that she couldn’t use an audition as proof of looking for work – it had to be an actual job interview.

Now, I have a lot of trouble in working out the distinction between trying out for work in one’s normal line of work and trying out for a job in an area where one isn’t likely to be employed. It could be argued, I suppose, that she was unlikely to be successful in the audition, but then, she was unlikely to be successful in most of the job interviews given that she had very little experience in anything other than acting.

But that’s the way we look at things. If you’re unemployed, you should be suffering.

I spent some time unemployed, in between some casual work as a teacher. And writing. I was reasonably content at the time. The casual work meant that I earned enough. The unemployment payments were handy when I didn’t get work.

“Someone like you should be working!” I was told. (And this is a true story, I’m not making it up to prove some point!)

Why, I wanted to know, when I’d be taking a job from someone who desperately wants it.

“Why should my taxes support you?” they retorted.

Mm, given I’d actually paid some tax as well received unemployment benefits, I reckoned that I was about even, but in order to compare, I asked them: “How much tax did you pay last year?”

Well, it seemed that the business they were a partner in hadn’t actually done that well. and they weren’t all that sure how much tax they’d paid, and anyway that wasn’t the point. The point was that I WASN’T WORKING and I SHOULD BE.

Now, I considered both the teaching and the writing to be work. But something like writing, well, if you’re not being paid, it’s not work. I thought about suggesting that as the business hadn’t made a profit (on paper anyway) that therefore they hadn’t done any work either.

But that’s not how some people perceive work. If you’re doing a potential money making activity that you don’t enjoy, that’s work even if you don’t enjoy it. On the other hand, if you enjoy what you’re doing, it has to make money before anybody will concede that it’s actually work too.

To oversimplify for a moment, both the Left and Right view having unemployment as unfair. The Left feel that it’s unfair that the unemployed don’t have the same opportunities as the employed. The Right feel that it’s unfair that we support them when they’re not making “a contribution”.

But that was the thing that my period of unemployment taught me. The sort of people who are able to use their time wisely are the ones who are often less likely to be unemployed. And if people discover someone who is using their time to pursue their interests and seems quite content not to have a job, it’s a cause for outrage.

Yes, I’m generalising and – as I’m fond of saying – generalisations are always wrong. But I think that we need to start as a society to look at unemployment as part of an economic choice. When governments decide to reduce tariffs, remove subsidies and slash services, unemployment will result. The idea that somehow this crept up, or caught us unaware is ludicrous. The real question is how we manage the situation.

If we take the Holden situation as an example, there is a managed transition for the workers from the jobs that are disappearing to something else. (At least, in theory.) But when we lowered tariffs opened our borders, and embraced technology, we didn’t seem to regard rising unemployment as the direct result of those policies. It was like an unexpected rainstorm, who could blame us for not having an umbrella ready?

As we move back to a ‘work for the dole’ scheme, some will argue that people have an obligation to give something back in order for our support. Others will argue that work is “good for them”. However, I think it’s about time we actually started looking at the unemployed, not as a group, not as the other, but as individuals who have different capabilities and needs. Rather than making decisions for them and about them, perhaps, we could even ask them for some ideas on what should be done.

Abbott’s Army

green-army

Photo: retroarmy.com

I always thought I was pretty good at maths but this Green Army thing has got me beat.

“This is a $300 million policy over the forward estimates period and we believe that the $300 million over the forward estimates period will get us at least 1,500 Green Army teams to operate around Australia,” Abbott said.

The Coalition plans to have 250 teams of 10 people ready to start work by next July.

Each team will be comprised of nine trainees – paid a training wage of around $400 a week – and one coordinator on an annual salary of more than $60,000.

The maximum fortnightly dole payment is about $500 for singles and $450 each for couples, so to boost them to $800 a fortnight will cost at least $300 a fortnight extra. That means each team will cost somewhere between $130,200 (300x26x9+60,000) and $146,900 (350x26x9+65,000) a year.

The 1500 teams, that Tony assures us we will have eventually, will cost almost $200 million a year on top of their dole payments and that’s without any equipment, trees, transport or administrative costs.

In its MYEFO budget update, the Coalition said it had earmarked $300 million for the first three years of the Green Army scheme, with a further $222.1 million in 2017‑18 and $289.2 million in 2018‑19 – $811.3 million in total – the cost of which will be partially offset by a reduction in income support payments in the Social Services portfolio.

How do you reduce income support payments whilst paying them a higher training wage and with unemployment predicted to rise?

Needless to say, the government has asked for help in making this work, so here are my ideas.

Each green soldier was costing you an extra $150 a week. Give them $100 and you will save $50 a week per soldier – 50x15000x52=$39 million a year saved.

The 1500 supervisors on “over $60,000 pa” are going to cost you about $100 million a year. Did anyone do that sum? If you don’t have an army you won’t need supervisors or equipment.

Instead of spending all that money on your green army

  • increase the Newstart allowance
  • provide affordable housing or rental assistance.
  • subsidise childcare on a means tested basis
  • provide affordable reliable public transport
  • provide assistance in writing resumes and interview technique
  • establish a government employment service
  • commit to needs-based funding for education
  • provide means-tested scholarships for university
  • reopen the trades training centres

You might be surprised how many of these people will be able to find jobs if they don’t have to live on the streets or worry about how they can possibly afford to buy food let alone school uniforms or a computer. Surely providing shelter, education, hope and some dignity will be far more productive than pressganging young people into slavery planting trees because you are too stubborn to have a carbon price.

What’s In A Name? That Which We Call Work For The Dole May Be Another Way To Say “Work Is Freedom”!

Arbeit macht frei

Now let’s just say that I’m asked what to do about unemployment by a Labor government.

“Well,” I suggest, “why not create a number of part-time jobs, and give preference to the long-term unemployed. They could be things like building walkways, maintaining gardens or helping out in organisations that are stretched. These jobs may help the long-term unemployed develop skills and give them a sense of confidence. At the very least at least we have better gardens.”

Brilliant, says the Labor government, let’s do that!

Of course, you can image how this shocking waste of money will be condemned by Joe “let’s have no limit on debt” Hockey, and Tony “open for business” Abbott. I mean, unless the jobs are real – created by the market, then there’s no point to them. When they’re in power they won’t have these artificial job creation schemes. They’ll have a work for the dole scheme where people build walkways, maintain gardens or help out in organisations that are stretched

Essentially, there’s no difference between what I’m proposing and work for the dole. Except that in my scenario, the people getting the jobs would be “winners”, whereas under work for the dole, you’re being told that you have to work because you’re a “loser” who needs to give something back.

This is far more complicated than I can deal with in one blog. This is about economics, morality, labelling and a range of other things. If I inherit $23 million, nobody will care if I do nothing. If I inherit nothing, and don’t have any job prospects, I need to work for my benefits in the interest of “fairness”. Not because the economy needs me. And not because Australia doesn’t have its own inheritance which it could use to support me on the pittance that is the dole.

Of course, with work for the dole, there’ll be no saying that I’ve worked out a way I can contribute. You don’t need to have a bureaucratic system – remember, Tony, how much you hate red tape. But there’ll be no saying: I’m happy to go to a school and hear kids read, or I’m happy to help out farmers who can’t afford help.

It’s about telling you that if you’re on the dole, we suspect that you’re just bludging. We own you. Because we’re your boss. And, after all, work is freedom.

Now, where have I heard that before.

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