My son is 19. He is fit and healthy and we are lucky. He’s on a gap year and he’s working. Getting up at 4am and arriving home in the dark, he’s exhausted but earning great money and he’s on a union site, so he’s safe. He’s having a go, he’s getting a go and he’s paying taxes. But he didn’t get this gig through a job network provider. He got his start through a teammate at a sports club.
This is how Australia operates. All the good jobs I have ever had… I didn’t find them in the paper.
People who run small businesses often employ people they already know — someone they can trust. Job offers can be a quick chat after a game or before training. You can tell a lot about somebody by the way they show up on time and the way they respect their teammates and coaches. If you are a “team player”, you have a head start in our community.
But if you’re living on the pittance we call “Newstart” you are behind the eight-ball. Suddenly you find you don’t have the extra cash to pay the rego fees at the netball and footy club. You don’t have the expendable income to drop in for a beer after the match or a coffee on a Sunday catch-up.
Suddenly you’re being quietly excluded from valuable social networks. You don’t bump into those tradies looking for an “extra pair of hands” or café owners looking for a reliable front of house. If you’re cut from the fabric of society for more than a few years it can be near to impossible to find a way back into the fold.
The current PM understands this, but he doesn’t seem to care.
Scott Morrison’s question time proclamation that he would not engage in “unfunded empathy” was a shocking revelation ripped straight from the pages of the Prosperity Gospel, the Christian belief that suggests faith leads to financial reward.
This appears to be the foundation for Morrison’s economic narrative: if you’ve got more, you get to keep more. His government is handing out $5 billion a year in franking credit cash rebates to people who don’t even pay tax. Their new taxation system provides someone earning $200,000 a year a tax cut of around $10,000 per annum by 2024, but if you’re on Newstart you will get a drug test.
This doesn’t fit the identikit of Jesus that I learned in Sunday school and, economically, it makes no sense.
There are many different reasons that stop people from finding employment, but nobody on Newstart is putting their money in the Cayman Islands. Unemployed people do not buy stocks and shares; they pay bills and skip meals. Any cash in is going straight back out and into the Australian economy. So why are we punishing the poor?
In modern Australia the national unemployment level hovers around 5%. Casualisation and underemployment are not considered in this raw figure. In my hometown it’s not uncommon for people to have two or three jobs to survive. Many more are “looking for more hours”.
In the northern Geelong suburbs of Norlane and Corio, unemployment is topping out at 21%. This figure is not budging, and these people are not “bludging”. Rather, this is the evidence of the exit of the manufacturing industry. If you live on Newstart in the shadow of a dormant Ford motor plant, life is not as simple as packing up the family to go fruit-picking for the winter.
We have to find new ways to include people and place value on a healthy community over an economic surplus. After 25 years of no increase in the unemployment benefits, it is time to consider the lived realities of being under- and unemployed.
My son pays his taxes just like the rest of us, and if his job falls through he should be able to access Newstart with no sense of shame.
Whatever happened to “Team Australia”?
Do you agree Newstart puts people at an impossible disadvantage? Write in to [email protected] with your own thoughts or story.