You’re an atheist. Would you want to give all your private details - bank accounts, date of birth, job applications, positions held, educational status, assets (if any), marital status, number of children, number of dependents and any other personal data to the Salvation Army? You’re a committed Buddhist. Would you choose to reveal your personal information to the Catholic Church? You’re a Methodist. Would you want the Anglicans to know all your private business?
No? Then make sure you hang on to your job and don’t become unemployed. Put up with whatever conditions your employer imposes or, like every other Australian dependent upon CentreLink because out of work, you’ll be hooked up to a church agency and obliged to disclose everything.
Despite privacy laws and section 116 of the Australian Constitution purportedly enshrining the principle that there shall be religious freedom and no state religion in this country, the current federal government has created a church-state monopoly.
The unemployed are no longer allowed to maintain their privacy or demand constitutional coverage. They are at the mercy (sic) of the Salvos, Anglicare, Mission Australia, Centrecare and all those other profit-making arms of the Christian (sic) churches in Australia.
When CES - the Commonwealth Employment Service - was abolished, the Howard Government tendered out unemployment business to the private sector. No prizes for guessing: the churches, keen for income and profits as, it appears, is standard form, came in at a rush. Contracts at high prices were secured between government and these bodies for provision of unemployment “services” to the jobless.
Now, instead of disclosing private information to a government body (CES) as was so in the past, all unemployed persons are obliged to give their details to the service provider to which they are allotted. And where are they allotted? To church-run, church-backed and church-controlled employment agencies.
The unemployed cannot cry: “I want my religious freedom”; or “I want to deal with a secular organisation”; or “I am prepared to disclose my private details to a government employment organisation, but not to a church or the private sector”. Nor is there any point in quoting section 116 of the Constitution (unless you have funds to run a constitutional challenge, which for the unemployed is unlikely). Nor is much to be gained from objecting to church bodies getting one’s information to make a profit out of effectively selling it to prospective employers: this is all, after all, all done for a fee. These bodies are profit-making, every unemployed person they place a statistic earning funds for these job providers.
If you object, you’ll be off the books and disentitled to receive unemployment benefit. You’re over a barrel: give up the information to retain the chance of receiving CentreLink benefits, however meagre, or decline to disclose your details, and starve.
Taking the non-disclosure option while not wanting to starve means entering the church circuit by another door, in any event - the church-run soup kitchen, the church-run charity dispensing clothing and (sometimes) vouchers. You’re back in the religious loop. No escape for the poor or unemployed.
And what about when you actually get a job? What happens to your records then? With CES, at least unemployed people had the assurance of knowing they had given their information to government, which probably had the information anyway. Those out of work had the assurance of knowing that government had responsibilities under privacy legislation along with general responsibilities towards the citizenry.
Privacy legislation now applies to the private sector. However, how many of these job providers know this, and honour it? Even honouring it, what do they do with the information anyway?
Do you want your private details to be held in perpetuity, or at least for years, by a religious organisation if you have no religion? Do you want your personal information to be held by a religious organisation that is not your own, if you are a religious adherent?
Constantly assailed by anti-Muslim rhetoric, we live in a world where religion is becoming more, rather than less, intrusive. In the past, the idea that hundreds of thousands of Australians, even millions, should be obliged by law to give up their private information to religious organisations would have been seen as unacceptable. In the past, the notion that, not only should they disclose their details but the law requires them to go in daily or weekly attendance to a church body with which they have no religious affiliation would have been regarded as anathema.
Today, no one turns a hair. Other than the unemployed, that is - when they suddenly learn that their lives are no longer their own and that religion has invaded their privacy. And even after they have a job, they do not escape. Their records are no longer secular. They have entered the world of religious capture. And all in the name of “job search”.
She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.