Bill Shorten’s comments regarding unemployment in Australia on Insiderson 21 October is an attempt to have his cake and eat it. On an income of $330,000 a year Mr. Shorten can afford that yet has previously stated that he finds it difficult to make ends meet on that income. Poor Bill, I didn’t realise that life at that elite level was such a financial struggle. What poor Bill does not realise is that many on Newstart Allowance cannot remember the last time they enjoyed a piece of cake. You’re a piece of work Mr. Shorten.
Judith Sloan, an economist firmly situated in the conservative-libertarian tradition, has powerfully argued for an increase to the Newstart allowance. Ms. Sloan is an Honorary Professorial Fellow and highly respected economist. She is exactly the type of economist that Kevin Rudd sought to demonise in his series of essays about the evils of neo-liberalism. As she notes in her article many people across the socio-economic spectrum recognise that the Newstart allowance is woefully inadequate and rather than encouraging people by “tough love” to seek employment it is condemning ever increasing numbers of Australians to a life of poverty from which there will be no escape. The ALP stared into the abyss of neo-liberal economics and was consumed by it.
The Newstart allowance has not even kept pace with the CPI index. Even worse for many people on Newstart allowance the CPI index is a very poor indicator of the decline in the real value of the Newstart allowance. This is because:
The rental assistance afforded to Newstart recipients is capped at $150.00. Over the past years it has become nearly impossible to find share accommodation at $150.00 per week.
Petrol prices have risen substantially in recent years, making driving the car a luxury for many on Newstart allowance.
Food prices have substantially risen and will continue to rise over the coming years.
Other cost of living pressures, especially electricity costs, are also sharply increasing.
These are all essential expenses and these ever increasing costs are driving many Newstart recipients into a dead end of poverty that will increase the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide: all three being inter-related.
So what of this tough love strategy to encourage those on Newstart Allowance to seek employment? If this strategy is so effective why is that in spite of a low unemployment rate the numbers of long-term Newstart Allowance recipients continues to grow year by year? Does the government seriously believe that by ostracising the less fortunate it will some how motivate them to go out and find work? As the Judith Sloan notes in her article, the current government policy sends this message to Newstart recipients: you are not as deserving as those on other allowances, you are at fault, you should simply find a job.
It is not at all clear that these messages are the best way to motivate and encourage the unemployed to gain employment.
The strategies outlined in the Coalition document are tired and facile, without merit or power or originality. Historically this country has been blessed with some brilliant and compassionate politicians. Where have they all gone? We are still a lucky country which is a miracle given the intellectual and moral mediocrity of our current politicians.
John Hasenkam is currently registered with the Disability Job Network. He has been shuffled from the job network to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, back to the job network, back to the CRS, and now to the DJN.