Sadie OGrady

Welfare System: Who would bother rorting for a piddly $375?

Image: AAP/Tracey Nearmy

New reforms for the welfare system seem to target the marginalised of our society yet again, as the LNP, via Kevin Andrews, continues to perpetuate vilification of the unemployed and those receiving the DSP.

What is always so confronting when these kind of reforms come to the forefront is the dehumanisation of those affected and the perpetuation of the “us” and “them” cycle, which causes further division between the “haves” and “have-nots”.

Okay, so I did have a friend in the 90’s who would hang his limbs languidly, cover his face with his Hutchens-esque hair and mumble incoherently to receive a disability pension. But long gone are the days of the counter cheque and a stop at the pub bottle shop to cash in said cheque. And this friend still relies on the kindness of others 20 years later as he couch surfs and accepts handouts. No-one in their right mind would give him a job as he still turns his t-shirts inside out to increase their lifespan.

Is he entitled to a benefit?

By most mainstream opinions he would be considered to be a scammer of the DSP, yet mental illness is quite debilitating, wouldn’t you say? It is disabling to be unable to function in dominant western paradigms when you don’t believe in them, when you can see right through them for the “othering” that these policies maintain. Considering the stigmas still surrounding disability still prevalent in our society, it also poses the question of why would anyone want to label themselves as disabled if they are not?

I have worked as an educator within inclusive education in “Special” and mainstream schools, and believe me, there are still horribly misinformed people out there who fear or condemn those with disabilities to the too-hard basket. As “freaks” or lesser beings in some way. And I’m not just talking about fellow students. There are also the supposedly “educated” teachers with hours and hours of professional development training on “How to Be Inclusive” who alienate and dismiss those with different needs from their classrooms for lack of differentiating curriculums. Schools are a microcosm of the macrocosm that is our society. I would speculate that there are very few who “rort” the system by defining themselves as “disabled” for $375 a week. There are a multitude of hoops you have to jump through for that label and that kind of cash doesn’t even pay the rent or living expenses.

I guess that’s why my friend is still “couch guy”.

On a recent visit to Centrelink, (I had to apply for the Single Parenting Payment, judge away readers, that’s another story) I was astonished by the aesthetic and technological changes. I haven’t been in there since the DSS days when I was a starving musician.

Upon entering the double doors, “customers” are greeted with headset wearing officers, iPad’s in tow, tapping in particulars and directing you to spaces partitioned by see-through glass screens with large lime-coloured print of words like “Community”. Intrusive televisions remind you of your obligations, advertise the latest “Centrelink App” in assured robotic voice-overs and encourage you in Orwellian fashion to inform the department of any changes to your life.

Is it just me or am I missing something here?

Those who are unfortunate enough to have to go in and embarrassingly beg for a payment (which takes 13 weeks) surely don’t have the means to pay for iPhone mobile connections, do they? Or internet connections? Or phone bills even?

I would be flat out purchasing a box of lonely lady to drown myself in.

And this is what brings me to the dehumanising aspect of it all. The faceless numbers that politicians and media like to bandy about while they convince the rest of society that Newstart recipients and Single parents and DSP scammers are a living succubus on their hard-earned tax dollars. This rhetoric urges the common man to resent their brothers and sisters for needing assistance. I implore those who “have” to really think about their situations. Most of us are a job/divorce/mortgage repayment away from being a “have not”, sleeping in a car under a bridge in your capital city. Just read Rabbi Mendel Kastel’s piece on TBS and hear it from someone who constantly witnesses such.

Yes, I agree, the welfare system needs reform. Absolutely. However, demonising the recipients of welfare payments is just another way to keep us scrutinising and judging each other instead of the policy makers – divide and conquer, if you will.

Centrelink needs reform because even with all this technology, when I finally get to the counter, after waiting for two hours with a four-year-old in tow the woman says, “Fill out this, this, this and this” handing me copious reams of paper forms.

In 20 years, not much has changed, except, luckily, that help is still there when you need it – for now at least – something for which I am very grateful and happily raise a glass of lonely lady to…

welfare system

Illustration: Mat Johnson

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  1. Mrs Wright said:

    The welfare system was designed to be a “safety net ” not a lifestyle choice. Yes we have a social responsibility to help those truly in need however there is a culture of learned helplessness where individuals, and at times generations of individuals have learned to use this system to great advantage. Unfortunately these people are able to “rort” much more than $375 per week and live quite comfortably when you consider access to rent assistance, access to organisations that pay for utilities such as phone bills, electricity etc etc etc. it is only those truly in need that are living on a pittance as they don’t have the resources and there wherewithal to be able to rort the system.

  2. Jim said:

    Sharon, Can you give even one reliable reference to justify the ‘huge’ rorting claim? And by the way I think you mean proportion. (You are obviously not a huge proponent [sic] of Centrelink benefits.)

  3. NancyLawless said:

    To be fair Clifford, I don’t think Sadie intended this to be a cultural comparative piece. Poverty and starvation in one country doesn’t excuse stigmatization and inequity in an other.

  4. Rainer the cabbie said:


    Obviously you never gave the problem of drug addiction or alkohol dependency much thought. For the affected to get a drink or hit is far more important than food or shelter.
    Be grateful they are begging in the streets instead of climbing through your windows in order to survive.

    The same can be said for the so called welfare bludgers. With a dysfunctional upbringing and a moral framework of a street dog I’d rather supply them with a few bucks than have them wait in a dark ally for you and me.

    To then throw people of need, like Sadie or people of real disability into the same basket is even more offending.

    Life is a lot more complex than you read in the Tele or the way it’s lived in gated suburbia.

  5. Sharon said:

    But homeless people often do waste the money on drugs or booze. Instead of being offended by the truth why don’t we try a different way to help them

  6. Clifford said:

    What utter rubbish. Of course welfare is needed for those in need. That said Sadie, try be a Cambodian. If you don’t work, you starve. ‘Western paradigms’ are all very well for 1st year sociology majors, but all your article does is stink of white 1st world privilege .

  7. Rainer the cabbie said:


    The perception of people rorting the system comes from the fact that the general population lost the ability to relate to others in need.

    It’s a bit like giving a buck to a homeless person sitting on the footpath in the city.
    Most people walk by not donating with the attitude that the recipient will only spend it on drugs or booze, before buying themselves a $4.50 coffee.

    Try to get out more Sharon, this society is full of people that can’t function like you and me, to put them into a “bludger” box is not only ignorant but also very wrong.

  8. Sharon said:

    You are over simplifying the problem Sadie. A huge proponent of centrelink benefits are in fact rorting the system and that has been proven over and over

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