The installation of Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader seems to have coincided with a fully-fledged embrace of mean-spirited, Thatcher-era conservatism by the Federal Coalition. There is something about Abbott’s mien that makes him come across as being even more pungent and even more belligerent than John Howard ever was during his years as Prime Minister. Undoubtedly there are many cold-hearted bastards and life-worn misanthropes out there who find this aspect of Abbott attractive, but he is running the risk of pushing his patrician barrow roughshod over one or two too many needy people.
There were rumblings in the media today about the Coalition’s (of course, unfinalised, “non-core”) plans to enhance restrictions on access to welfare; most specifically to force welfare recipients to take a job if it is up to two hours away from their home, up from ninety minutes. Apart from the fact that this “announcement” adds another couple of “will he, won’t he” proposals to the basket of such proposals that the Abbott Opposition has floated into the public arena in recent months, it is an idiotic dog whistle of an idea. It would only serve to increase the stress on Australia’s dilapidated social contract with the disadvantaged, whilst saving little, and disenfranchising many.
The reality of welfare is that there will always be cheats; there will always be people who try to rort the system, and there will always be some who get away with it. Although we can certainly work at discouraging and minimising such behaviour, to a certain extent, there will always be a price that society collectively must bear – if indeed we are to have a fair, reasonable, and well-ordered welfare system for people who really do need the services and support of government in times of need.
In the not too distant past, when I was unemployed for some time, the bureaucratic inanities associated with receiving welfare payments on an ongoing basis made the whole prospect too daunting and too laborious to pursue. If I as a qualified professional find the prospect too painful, lord only knows how many Australians who can’t find work feel about Centrelink and the process for obtaining welfare. For all the so-called nameless, faceless “bludgers” out there that the Coalition so loves to charge after, there are thousands of other fair-minded people left high and dry by a system that discourages engagement, discourages people from seeking meaningful work germane to their talents, and encourages isolation, despair and frustration.
Is forcing people to travel two hours each way for a job one may not even be suited for sensible, particularly given that the costs of such travel would reduce the wages on offer below the minimum wage in many instances? Tony Abbott spent a few days in the outback a few months back; maybe its time he spent a few days on the mean streets of Sydney or Melbourne or amongst the back blocks of the outer suburbs, to understand how complicated and deep set the personal and social problems some people have are.
Sometimes screwing people over and around is not the best way to get them to do the right thing.