Today, an article resurfaced that illustrated Scott Morrison’s plan to send the unemployed out to pick fruit on farms under threat. In returning to their go-to victim, it’s fair to assume that their “fair go” platform is for those who don’t actually need it.
To prove that nothing is original, and apathy is immortal, yet another Coalition government has decided to punish the unemployed. Today, an article resurfaced one that stated that the Morrison government will institute a plan to relocate jobseekers to go and pick fruit. The language of the piece is staggering. “Dole bludgers who refuse to take jobs at farms will have their Centrelink payments slashed as part of a national push to help Aussie farmers prepare for the upcoming harvest season,” Jack Houghton wrote in The West Australian.
Within the article, Morrison said that “Our government has heard from farmers … about how tough it is now to find workers, particularly at the height of harvest season for some crops…we want to highlight exactly where the jobs are and make sure jobseekers know where to be looking. While we’re tackling the labour shortage this also ensures jobseekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities.”
Strangely, this issue (and the original article) was raised in October, with farmers at the time excoriating Morrison’s plan. Under the proposal, the unemployed would be shepherded out of their homes and their communities to perform agrarian labour under the threat of having their benefits cut. Whether this plan is dead, or not, is largely irrelevant, as it points to a larger pattern. Clearly, the Coalition loves a deterrent, one formed on the assumption that those who are unemployed are wilfilly unemployed.
“35% of the Federal Budget,” said Joe Hockey back in 2014, claiming we spent more on welfare than “on any other single policy area including health, education or defence”. It actually turned out to be 19.5%, which made us the 25th out of 30 OCED nations. A 2018 measure by the same institution our welfare spending shrank from 23.5% in 2015 to 17.8% of our GDP. At the time, Hockey’s assertion was that we were closer to Sweden in our welfare spending, but in reality, we were closer to Mexico.
In 2014, the Coalition instituted stricter welfare conditions that saw Newstart applicants saddled with a six-month waiting period. At the time, The Guardian revealed that “failure to attend Centrelink appointments and mandatory jobseeker activities will see prospective welfare recipients punished with a further two-month delay to their payments. This measure will disproportionately punish jobseekers in remote areas with limited access to services”. In February of that year, the ABS noted that there were 140,000 jobs for 700,000 applicants. Despite this, Hockey explained the measures as “an incentive..and if they have to move to get a job, that’s just the way it is”. In the words of the then Federal Minister of Employment Eric Abetz in the same year, the unemployed should just “try harder”.
While it’s certainly true in the interim years that that figure has reached Hockey’s mark, it’s best to mention that the lion’s share of welfare spending is on the aged, and the unemployed actually take up a tiny slither of welfare expenditure.
Peter Crawford of the Australian National University, in addressing the 2017 budget, one that also was motivated by the “welfare spending is killing us” mantra, wrote that “for some time, the largest single component of federal government spending has been social security and welfare. In the last federal budget it made up an estimated 35.2% of total expenses and this was projected to rise to 37.5% by 2019-20. Given this, it’s not surprising that it’s also has been a prominent target for expenditure cuts. However, if you look at past budgets, the proposed cuts in social security programs are disproportionate to the amount the government spends. For example, in the first budget of the Abbott Government in 2014-15, out of total projected expenditure cuts of A$29.4 billion between 2014–15 and 2017–18, A$15.4 billion, or 52%, would have come from programs of the Department of Social Services.”
Crawford, in mapping the data, shows the incremental changes in the number of the unemployed that need taxpayer support, from 10.9% of our welfare budget in 2015, to a projected 11.8% in 2020. In the below graph, the light blue depicts the unemployed, compared to how the rest of our welfare budget is spent.
If you note the further point that the last increase of individual welfare payments hasn’t moved since 1994, the issue becomes clear. It’s less about placing the unemployment in work, it’s a matter of the unimaginative returning to victimise the same group of people they have for the last decade. As Crawford notes, “the future ageing of the population will put pressure on social spending and the NDIS will need to be paid for, but these are largely predictable and not the result of a welfare blow-out.”
Scott Morrison famously started his government with a riddle, stating that “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go, and what that means is part of the promise that we all keep as Australians is that we make a contribution and don’t seek to take one.”
Shipping them out to wherever in order to score points from your dim base ain’t it, chief. Fixing the economy, is. After all, more jobs, less unemployed.
Have a real go, Scott.