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Abbott's Team Australia must include jobless young Muslims


Young Muslim

The Abbott Government shelved plans to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act because it feared alienating ethnic minorities. The prime minister declared: ‘I want the communities of our country to be our friend, not our critic. … I want to work with the communities of our country as “Team Australia”’.

He was keenly aware that alienation of minorities caused by the 18C changes would have been likely to contribute to an increase in the number of young Muslim males travelling to wars in the Middle East, and subsequently return to Australia radicalised and skilled to carry out terrorist attacks here. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had said that preventing Australian citizens from becoming involved in terrorist activities was one of Australia's highest national security priorities.

It would seem reasonable to assume that ‘Team Australia’ refers to a nation in which social inclusion is a priority for government policy. Such a term would indeed be meaningless if the government did not care about social inclusion. That’s why it’s so significant that the May Budget was one of the most divisive in the nation’s history.

One of the more extreme measures in the Budget was the proposed rules forcing young people to wait six months before getting unemployment benefits and require them to apply for 40 jobs per month. This divisiveness of this was amplified with Thursday’s release of statistics that show Australia’s unemployment rate is at its highest in 12 years.

How can the nation’s young unemployed feel part of Team Australia if they sense they are being punished by such a draconian regime? Surely they will feel excluded, sitting on the sideline with the chill wind running through their veins. 

Young Muslim males are well represented in the ranks Australia’s young unemployed, yet the government hopes they will identify with Team Australia and not be subject to the discontent that makes them open to the recruitment pitches of Muslim radicals.

It’s fine to protect young Muslim males from being excluded from mainstream Australia through vilification. But there’s little point to that if they feel excluded by a set of judgmental welfare rules. The government will be completely outflanked by their Muslim radical brothers in offering means towards self-validation.

It’s likely there’s a political imperative behind the government’s toughness against the young unemployed. Voters like to see governments crack down on ‘dole bludgers’ in the way that they want the boats stopped. So perhaps It’s something they feel they have to do to remain electable. 

However a group of church welfare organisations this week suggested a way out, which is to de-politicise welfare payments. They want the government to transfer the power to set welfare payments to an independent body that is motivated by fairness rather than electability. It is similar to the idea of an ‘Australian Entitlements Commission’ that Catholic Social Services Australia suggested in 2008 to set and review welfare payments.

Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has already dismissed this week’s suggestion, but in doing so he is ensuring the politics of division will dog his government’s wish to contain the threat of home grown terrorists who side with Muslim radicals and not Team Australia.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Muslim youth image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Tonh Abbott, Team Australia, islam, welfare, Muslims, unemployment



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Existing comments

Kevin Andrews is possibly the worst choice for his particular portfolio. He seems incredibly unempathetic. There are real problems with unemployed Muslim youths in parts of inner Sydney and Melbourne. The Government's rather heavy handed overkill approach to possible Muslim terrorism here is already proving counter-intuitive and counterproductive. You only had to read today's paper to see that. The word "inclusive" can be a cliche but I think we in Australia and the West are faced with the necessity of attempting to create the first genuinely functioning multi-religious society. Given what has sometimes happened in the UK and Europe this is a difficult one. It is also necessary that the long term unemployed and disadvantaged non-Muslims are not made to feel Muslims are being treated specially. That leads to the rise of organisations like the BNP. The PM may sound good but he and his Cabinet need to start scoring runs in dealing with the problems of poverty and alienation in this country. I fear they do not have the mettle.

Edward Fido | 08 August 2014  

Why should this country keep bowing down to one group in particular. This is Australia it is not in the middle east.

Judy Kennedy | 10 August 2014  

How on earth can welfare payments be separated from politics, when welfare payments are derived from the Taxpayers and taxpayers are the Government and politics. Australia is and will continue to be a secular country. I for one would never trust a Church or Synagogue or Mosque to distribute welfare payments fairly without giving preferences to their own followers first.

Kjell Liljegren | 10 August 2014  

I don't see this as advocating 'bowing down to one group in particular' - Mullins is simply calling attention to the fact that since the government is so concerned about radicalisation of young Muslim Australians, it needs to look more carefully at its social welfare policies. Eboo Patel is an American Muslim of Indian ethnicity who founded the InterFaith Youth Core (http://www.ifyc.org/the-interfaith-story). In his book "Acts of Faith" he reflects on how easy it would have been for any group who included him him when he was an alienated young person of the wrong colour and wrong ethnicity in the US to get him to do whatever they taught. He is very grateful that the group that befriended him was the Catholic Worker Movement, not a radical Islamic group. IFC now works to help young people from faith backgrounds to explore how their faiths can add meaning to their lives. We could do this, too. And I don't see Mullins suggesting that *churches* should distribute welfare payments, just that an independent group set the policy, not the government.

Judy Redman | 11 August 2014  

Many young Muslims claim that they don't want to be 'included' in this society.

john frawley | 11 August 2014  

such a vexed question ... single mothers have long, long been subjected to horrendous welfare requirements whilst trying to raise their Aussie kids towards are safe and humane future. As a single mum I saw the tide turn (for the worse) in Australia from the early 90s. It was and is cruel ... even more so now. How many people know what it's like to try to put breakfast on the table for our families? We might be a country where people want to "get ahead" ... how about insisting that we also "get a heart"! Meanness reigns ...

mary tehan | 11 August 2014  

So young Muslims in Australia are being driven into terrorism by Abbott's employment policies. Being forced to look for employment inclines some people to consider beheading children as an attractive alternative. How could we have thought otherwise? Forget the offensive religious profiling: haven't the vast bulk of the long-term unemployed in Australia's history exhibited similar behaviour?

HH | 11 August 2014  

'It would seem reasonable to assume that ‘Team Australia’ refers to a nation in which social inclusion is a priority for government policy'? Hardly; for Abbott 'Team Australia' means everyone buckling down and doing exactly what the head coach tells them to do, without questioning anything.

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2014  

To solve the problem of radicalized Muslim youths returning to Australia as trained terrorists just don't let them back in. Let them live over there with their compatriots.

David | 11 August 2014  

If there is a need for special requirements to pay Muslims welfare above Australians to avoid them becoming fundamentalist terrorists then we must look closely at allowing any more Muslims into the country.

Riley A Tyson | 11 August 2014  

Waleed Aly points out that s18C does not apply to Muslims, being a religion, not a race. So Tony Abbott's 'concession' is meaningless. But I agree with you about the consequences of social exclusion and economic marginalisation. Anyone doubting whether Muslim Australians want to belong did not see the excellent SBS series, Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl. It was very disturbing to see how disenfranchised so many felt living in the city and country of their birth. Australian society needs to be much more inclusive to ensure all people have a stake in the country and feel valued. This budget achieves exactly the opposite effect. It is very concerning. Such a narrow (neoliberal) ideological approach is blind to even the short term impacts let alone the longer term societal (and financial) costs. Friedrich Hayek and his ardent followers have much to answer for.

Kate J | 11 August 2014  

'If there is a need for special requirements to pay Muslims welfare above Australians'? Where did you get the idea that that was being proposed, Riley?

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2014  

'Let them live over there with their compatriots'. We are talking about people who are born her and have Australian citizenship, David. We are their compatriots.

Ginger Meggs | 11 August 2014  

The Abbott government's policy not to pay young unemployed people any benefits for the first 6 months that they are out of work will have negative effects on all young unemployed people, even those whose families can afford to give them generous allowances. It's just that one of the more obvious side effects is to exacerbate a problem that the government keeps telling us it wants to minimise. :-)

Judy Redman | 12 August 2014  

It is interesting to see the impact of this draconian policy on local communities, especially thosethey have embraced multi faith communities. It is economic policy used to disguise racism, it is potentially the death knell for racial harmony and will see significant rise in criminal activity. There is no doubt that this will only serve to radicialise disaffected young people, further margianise indigenous and disabled young people and deepen the poverty traps that many rural communities are already in!! This from a government led by people who profess a faith and belief in social justice. So sad to see our country in the centenary of the outbreak of the war that shaped us revert to a class war that will see such destruction!!

Stephen Woodland | 16 August 2014  

The first sentence of the second paragraph of this piece is, I hope, an indirect quote. Otherwise it's begging the question and rather dodgy logic.. If the former, no surprises from Abbott's twisted thought processes and prejudices.

Ross | 18 August 2014  

Dear Mr Mullins, while the figures suggest that many Muslims are unemployed, they do not take into account the very large number of Muslims - especially men - who work cash in hand and do not declare their income. While this practice is not limited to the Islamic community, it is completely misleading to cast as hopeless people who are buying luxury cars, while still collecting unemployment benefits.

John | 21 August 2014  

What is the difference between an unemployed Moslem and and an unemployed Hindu or Christian in Australia? Are we not all Australians, or is now the reality of "multiculturalism" coming home to roost? For ever we hear of the X community in Australia, the Y community in Australia, all of which proclaims the original nationality of people who are now actually Australian citizens. With the mania of political correctness abroad in Australia, I see a disaster waiting to happen.

Laurie May | 20 October 2014  

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