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The many failures of our wild welfare regime

  • 23 October 2017


Every day, the Kafkaesque nightmare that is Australia's welfare system takes another wild turn.

It's hard to succinctly describe the many cruel failures of policy that have taken root when meanwhile the job market is calcifying. Around the country, workforces are becoming increasingly casualised, and underemployment is at a record high at 8.7 per cent (ABS). A recent report from Anglicare Australia found that five jobseekers are competing for each available entry-level position.

And yet the government's welfare strategy is becoming even more punitive. The cashless welfare card which quarantines 80 per cent of a Newstart recipient's income and cannot be used to purchase alcohol or to gamble has recently been announced for Bundaberg. Human Services Minister Alan Tudge says it's an incentive to help people find work.

Like many regional centres, Bundaberg has higher unemployment and fewer job opportunities than its urban counterparts. But no one has been able to explain how restricting the sale of alcohol to unemployed young people will get them into jobs that don't exist.

While I was there writing a Saturday Paper story, I spoke to people struggling to get even physically taxing, short-term work like fruit picking (an industry notorious for extreme exploitation). They were not welfare dependent but desperate to get off it.

During an interview for ABC Wide Bay radio, in response to criticism around the decision to expand the program into Bundaberg, federal MP for the area, Keith Pitt, did acknowledge the complexity of unemployment, and cited incoming infrastructure funding for the area. But he always brought the focus back to people's failure to be employed, to be good parents, to spend their money correctly. How else could the introduction of the cashless welfare card be justified?

An earlier incarnation of the Indue cashless welfare card, the even more restrictive Basics Card, was rolled out in Aboriginal communities by the Howard government in 2007 as part of the oppressive NT Intervention. A study showed it had no positive impacts on people's behaviour, and even made people more dependent on welfare. Many reported that it made their lives worse.


"It's as if the belief that unemployment is caused by people playing video games and smoking weed makes us feel inoculated from the reality that the forces that get and keep us in a job are largely out of our hands."


But there's much political capital to be gained for such dehumanising measures from voters who could never imagine that they