Michael Burrill’s no fan of Twiggy’s new welfare scheme – if the government really wants to reduce the instances of alcohol and drug abuse, the policy ought to address its underlying causes.
Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, mining billionaire, philanthropist and self-designated expert on indigenous affairs.
While I’m sure many would take his pledge to give away half of his fortune to charity at face value, as a noble act, I remain ambivalent. Of course, I’m not suggesting I’d prefer he didn’t do it, but the reality is it still leaves him with billions of dollars in a magical world where rainy days never threaten to drown him and in which he’ll never be at risk of a canned soup and cold winter retirement. Furthermore, the industry in which he has accrued those billions is mining, one that only compounds human suffering in the long run through its environmental impacts. Which rather conveniently leads to my next point – as far I can tell, the only and rather tenuous claims to any authority on indigenous issues Forrest possesses are his various quests to tear open ancestral lands for mines.
Despite this, the government decided Twiggy was exactly the person they needed to head their review into indigenous unemployment. One of the most high profile recommendations in the resulting “Creating Parity” report was the implementation of a cashless “healthy welfare” card for all welfare recipients, except those on the age and veterans’ pensions. The idea is that the card will “block the issue of cash and the purchase of alcohol, gambling and illicit services, and gift cards at the point of sale”. Though advocacy groups and opposition parties have questioned the effectiveness of the scheme and it’s treatment of those on welfare, with Greens senator Rachel Siewert labelling it a “patronising and paternalistic policy decision,” the government looks set to push ahead with trials in some disadvantaged communities, albeit with a small amount of withdrawable cash available (something which Forrest opposes) for “the kids’ tuck shop or purchasing a ticket on the bus.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel Siewert. The scheme not only seems to be based on the discriminatory idea that a majority of, if not all welfare recipients are drug or booze addled disasters incapable of looking after themselves, but also the facile and frankly outdated notion that addiction and other similar dysfunctions occur in a vacuum; purely due to flawed character, rather than as result of mental illness, distress or alienation (things that surprise, surprise, may make it difficult for people to hold down jobs). Any policy truly interested in “reducing the harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol and drug abuse,” as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, Alan Tudge, described the aim of the “healthy welfare card”, must address these underlying causes.
Therefore, in reality, the scheme is nothing but a continuation of the unhelpful thinking that demonises people for accessing something that is supposed to make up the bedrock of this country’s social contract. It seeks to sate the public hunger for ever-increasing pounds of welfare recipient flesh, an appetite made ravenous by sections of media and politics constantly invoking the much despised “dole bludger”, a mythical creature somehow living a life of extravagant luxury on less than 40 bucks a day. Some may argue that whatever the individual circumstances, taxpayers’ money shouldn’t go towards non-essential items, but denying someone the right to spend money to which they are legally entitled on a relaxing tipple or dare I say, a joint, after a hard week of being part of one of the most derided groups in society, seems to display the kind of mean-spirited mentality that can push people into or exacerbate a downward spiral of despair and substance abuse in the first place
Even if we put ideology aside and speak practically, I can’t see it working. Though I don’t know much about the drug world myself (despite whatever past and indeed, future articles of mine may suggest), people more in the know inform me that many drug dealers are more than happy to exchange product for commodities instead of cash. Similarly, it seems fairly obvious people could exchange goods and services purchased with the card for money to be spent on alcohol or gambling. In fact, I bet right now as Twiggy and his mates in government superciliously extoll the virtues of the “healthy welfare card”, drug dealers all over the country, in anticipation of their community possibly being picked for the trial, are writing shopping lists with “ZIP LOCK BAGS (DO NOT FORGET!)” at the bottom…