Tuesday, November 6, 2012

welfare schmelfare

After the riots in the UK a year and a half ago, I made some comments about welfare dependence.

Simply put, in the UK there are families so far outside mainstream society that they are now entering the third generation living solely on welfare. Kids are growing up with no relatives – not even grandparents – who have any idea what it is like to have a job. There are no role models for the children, work wise, and the children are incapable of even visualising what it might be like to be employed. If it’s hard to imagine something it’s harder to work for it.

Around the western world there is now a reasonable perception that what was once a solution has become a problem. The Australian government is tackling ‘the problem’ by insisting single parents [mostly mums] must go onto Newstart [i.e. unemployment benefits which pay $bugger all] once the youngest child reaches 6 years of age. The ‘contract’ now required of dole recipients in such cases is that they undertake training which will ‘help’ them into the workforce.

Like many reforms introduced by Howard, this is one that has become tougher than ever now the ALP is in charge.

Unlike the UK where there is a high population density and more infrastructure such as public transport, the Australian groups most disadvantaged by this toughness are living in marginal suburbs where housing is cheapest. They are also faced with almost non-existent access to things such as transport. Compounding the problem in Victoria is the Vic State Government’s axing of 5 hundred million thousand TAFE courses.

Getting these single mums off welfare and into the workforce is a commendable goal, but seriously: It is a goal which offers its ‘beneficiaries’ little prospect of success in Australia at the moment.
That makes it far, far more difficult to justify than what is happening in the UK or in other OECD countries.

I’m not sure whether the loophole relating to the age of the youngest child – and EVERY law has loopholes and unintended consequences – has been closed off. The logical solution for single people caught up in this is to have another child.

What is being neglected in many reports about this issue is that not all single mums are root rats who’ve had sex with a succession of irresponsible men, presumably so they can be welfare bludgers.

[If Gillard mentions the virtues of working families one more time I just might be sick, thus adding to the long list of people waiting for a hospital bed for so called “elective’ surgery – Orwellian double speak if ever there was.]

Welfare is administered by the Federal Government. Education, public transport, urban planning and more are under the purview of State Governments and Local Councils [Local Councils in turn are State Government babies].

When our Constitution was adopted in 1901, planes and horseless carriages were fantasies or at best novelties. The road connecting WA to the rest of the major colonies was quite literally a camel track. There were no phones, skype, instant messaging etc, and the mail service was crappy even by today’s standards. It made sense that the colonies join together to deal with issues like defence, or facilitating trade between the states, and it made sense that state governments retain control of anything that would be better managed at a state level. States were justifiably jealous of their independence.

More than a hundred years later, we live in a world of instant communication, and reasonably easy travel over long distances. 
Australia is part of a world economy; no longer simply England’s farm.

Our economy is closer to and moving ever closer to a ‘free market’ system. To work, this requires the free movement of resources – labour, skills, money – across state boundaries. The same applies to laws and rules - we need uniform road rules, company laws, and more.
At the moment we have some uniformity, but only because States have, one by one, passed legislation committing to doing mostly the same thing as other states in some matters [not necessarily all the most important ones].

The TAFE system was developed partly to ensure that some skills and qualifications would be nationally recognised, and portable across state boundaries.

It’s still a dog’s breakfast, because there is an Australian Authority dealing with qualifications that are affected by State decisions relating to TAFEs. No wonder Gina is demanding we import thousands of ‘skilled’ labourers from overseas to work in her mines.


We are paying heavily for this Federation by Stealth. 
The constitution makes no specific reference to income tax, though a federal income tax is not expressly ruled out. In 1915, the first federal income tax was levied to pay for our involvement in WW I, while still collected by states as well. This situation lasted til WW II when the states stopped collecting income tax in 1942.
Income tax became a federal government thing.

The constitution reads like a document designed to minimise the size of the federal government. That centralisation has occurred at all seems to be a result of what was not expressly forbidden rather than what was expressly encouraged.
Sections 94 and 96 seem to give the federal government carte blanche to distribute any money/surplus in whatever way it sees fit. There are other provisions which underscore this e.g. if there is a conflict between a federal and state law, the federal law will prevail.

In 1929 – i.e. at the height of the great depression – a referendum to give the federal government enormous powers with respect to state debts was successful.

The timing of this is interesting. I believe the Constitution only gave the commonwealth so much power over state spending because nobody saw how much revenue the commonwealth would end up collecting.

Education is an example of just one area where there is not only needless and expensive duplication of responsibilities – having both Federal and state ministers for education leaves us with a Federal government and a bunch of states that are all working against each other.

If we want to give single parents a chance to train themselves out of welfare dependence, a little coordination of effort would go a long way. It is morally reprehensible that this education requirement is being foisted upon single parents – and their dependents – when no one cares a damn about how they are supposed to get a skill that would make them employable. None of this will stop yet another generation of lower income kids being robbed of hope or a sense of belonging.
We marginalise large chunks of our population at our own peril.

Health is another area where a multiplicity of ministers is hurting taxpayers. A country of enormous size but with a small population can hardly warrant or justify all the extra expense.

Where more than one party is responsible for a task, no one seems to be accountable.

Because these portfolios are shared between federal and state governments, the Senate is unable to properly fulfil its task of protecting state interests. Trying to make some federal provisions sensible would be a bit like shovelling smoke.


The multiplicity of ministers is unjustifiable and more harmful than giving sole power to either one mob or the other. In the long run, though, I think it is essential that some powers such as education be transferred to the federal government, but only because Australia no longer functions as a collection of separate economies.

Anyway, the ALP is proving repeatedly that it doesn’t give a toss about people who would love to be part of Gillard’s revered hard working class but need a hand up. She doesn’t give a toss at all.

No one will convince me any politician gives a toss until they start talking about the modal [most common] level of income instead of or at least as well as the “average”.


  1. While I don't think I am too badly paid, I have never reached the average income figure. No one would ever purposely design the system we have ended up with, but it is nice for politicians to have duplicated departments for buck passing. There is some serious meanness in present day social security policies. Look at the words social security and think about them.

  2. 'Mean' is not just a statistical term for average! And Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings [AWOTE] is, conveniently, a measure of earnings.

    I agree no one would have purposely designed such a system. Unfortunately, it seems governments are happy to exploit its deficiencies rather than try to overcome them.

  3. It's so complicated and I often think welfare is more for the wealthy than the poor. To my mind, education is the answer. Not training. I think we should require welfare recipients to gain a college degree and pay for it all. Perhaps a degree does not find one a job, but the skills learned in college such as tenacity, critical thinking, and hard work should teach most people how to care for one's self and children.

    1. That would be a good antidote, Rubye. I suspect welfare is about not having to engage with people at all.

  4. Good point! Thank you for posting this!