With the massive amount of people relying on Centrelink to get through the pandemic, perhaps this is the wake-up call our government needs, writes Peter Wicks.
IT'S HARD TO FIND a silver lining in a global pandemic, but if there is something positive to come out of COVID-19 in Australia it may just be our attitude towards welfare recipients.
With the aid of Right-wing shock jocks, columnists, commentators and all those countless trolls on social media, welfare recipients have been painted as bludgers, stoners, drunks and the principal drain on society. With successive conservative governments incapable of putting a lid on the rising cost of living, this has made the job of the haters easy. After all, nobody doing it tough likes to see someone else getting a free ride.
But let’s face it, the so-called free ride on welfare is hardly a ride down Easy Street. Far from it on $40 a day. More like a trip down Skid Row.
Leading the charge on the hate campaign has always been News Corp and, of course, the Coalition. The irony with News Corp is in the matter of bludgers and drains on society, News Corp leads the pack. They pay virtually nothing in tax and take huge government handouts to prop up their failing Foxtel network, all the while demonising the public broadcaster.
I wonder how many of those standing in lines stretching around blocks outside Centrelink offices the last couple of weeks are readers of News Corp papers, listeners of Macquarie Radio, or Coalition voters. I won’t include Sky News viewers in that group because the handful of people watching Sky is so microscopic it is like singling out the number of residents in Cooladdi when discussing Australia’s population.
What with schemes like Work For The Dole, the Indue Cashless Welfare Card and pushes for a cut-off of welfare after a set amount of time, the Coalition have not painted themselves as friends of those doing it tough.
Perhaps the Coalition might like those thousands of people queued up around the block outside Centrelink to piss into plastic cups while they wait so they can test it for drugs. No? I thought not.
I wonder if the public will remember all the rhetoric about Australia’s “lifters and leaners” after this crisis. Or maybe Morrison's comments about “unfunded empathy”. I’d like to think that the media will remind them, but that seems highly unlikely.
The Coalition has always liked to paint Labor as the friend of the welfare recipient. I wonder if that is still a part of their ongoing talking points or strategies.
By the same token, I wonder if it is still an image Labor will be actively trying to talk down with the usual sit-on-the-fence talk about a fair go for everybody.
For that matter, I wonder if the Greens regret not putting up a bill or motion in the House of Representatives about raising welfare payments. Instead, they repeatedly did so in the Senate, where bills of a financial nature are not allowed due to our constitution, just so they could wedge Labor when they were forced to vote them down because of the procedural rules.
With this many people now looking at being on welfare, Centrelink may prove to be the missing link between what we have now and a progressive government.
If this crisis is showing us anything it is that we are all just one step away from the welfare queue.
Two weeks ago, the Centrelink website had to deal with hundreds, maybe thousands of queries in a day. Now we are measuring Centrelink site traffic in the millions. Jobs we thought safe yesterday are likely just a memory tomorrow.
I’d like to think that maybe now we can have a sensible discussion about welfare in this country. Maybe we can use this as an excuse to lift some people up above the poverty line.
One thing we can be sure of is those on Newstart won’t be putting the money aside to save for a new yacht. They will be spending each every and cent. Every cent will be going back into the economy and working towards people coming off welfare.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week stated:
“Every day someone is in a job for just another day is worth fighting for.”
It’s a shame he didn’t think that when he was part of a government that axed thousands of jobs from the same Centrelink that he is now scrambling to raise to a halfway decent standard.
Next Federal Election, after the COVID-19 crisis is over and we are trying to clean up the debris in which our economy has been left, I hope it won’t be the welfare recipients bearing the brunt yet again.
I hope Coalition members remember how many of their voters ended up on welfare and offer more than empty thoughts and prayers. I also hope Labor toughen up and show a bit of spine for our most vulnerable and I certainly hope the Greens stop using welfare recipients as a political tool to try and use to wedge Labor for a few cheap points and a meme or two.
Maybe I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy, but if we can’t have a sensible discussion about welfare in Australia after this crisis then when can we?
That’s a rhetorical question, I actually fear the answer.
Peter Wicks is a former Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow him on Twitter @MadWixxy.
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