Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making a Mockery of Single Mothers

If you've read my last post, you would know I touched on the fact that the government is in the process of transitioning 84,000 single parents (mostly mothers) from the parenting payment to the diminutive Newstart Allowance.

This equates to a drop in benefits of about $100 a week, with the aim of saving the government $728 million over the next four years.

The cut was perhaps part of the government's mad dash to try and make for a Budget surplus - a dismal failure, as the mining sector has taken a hit, thus the government coffers are running dry regardless.

Which has various welfare groups and unions asking why the government is still taking the steps to make these sorts of cuts.

Even Bob Katter, the hard-talking, hard-fighting country Queensland MP has criticised cutting the parenting payment.

It's easy enough to label single mothers as failures - for many of them, the choice is either to stay in an abusive relationship and expose children to domestic violence, or literally make a run for it.

And it does happen.

Yes, it's true that some take advantage of the system and have multiple children to multiple fathers, with the government stepping in as the role of daddy, but welfare is all or nothing - we can't discriminate against everyone because of a few.

Protests are being organised to coincide with the resumption of parliament, and it will be a thorn in the side of the Gillard government if more dire real world stories of struggling single mothers come to light in the media.

Speaking of the media however, they are already looking for different angles on the story.

Most recently it has been that single mothers are signing up to brothels, or signing up to strip clubs.

This quickly paints all single mothers as hookers and strippers and blatantly plays into stereotypes.

It might give attention to their plight, but only because the story has a quirky angle.

And never before has the media paid so much attention to Newstart (dole) recipients, who are usually the butt of ridicule, disdain, hatred, and who dwell on the lowest order of respect from the public.

So why, all of a sudden, when single parents will be forced to look for work for less money from the government, has it become such a big issue?

For one thing, it's been known for a very long time that the Newstart Allowance is grossly inadequate. The argument from policy makers is that the low amount of money is supposed to act as incentive for people to look for work.

Most of those people will only be able to find low paying casual work. What's the incentive if the choice is between a low paying government allowance that is at least a form of predictable income, and low paying short term work?

There's also little incentive to continue on into further study. ABSTUDY (for those over 25) is even less than the Newstart Allowance - so the incentive isn't geared to getting someone into a stable career, so quite to the contrary.

Centrelink will treat you the same and tarnish you with the same varnish as everyone else under their roof, and abolishing the parenting payment is only going to further expose how broken treatment of the unemployed are.

So at least in that regard, it's for the better, in that it will finally show how pathetically unemployment, and particularly long term unemployment, is dealt with in this country.

For percentage of single mothers however, many of whom are already working and unable to make ends meet as it is, taking away $80 or $100 per week will make many of them completely unable to cope, and will either wind up homeless or relying on charities.

For the sake of $728 million over four years, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The economy is clearly slowing, and true unemployment is rising. It's also interesting to ponder whether the additional 84,000 people being shuffled over to the Newstart Allowance will be counted in the ABS's unemployment statistics.

So economically, it's already a failure. The parenting payment would already be spent on, well, parenting stuff - childcare, schooling needs, activities (if there's money left over), and other related services.

And if we want to poke fun at single mothers, let's not forget that the government itself played a part in encouraging everyone under the sun to make more babies - the Baby Bonus - sure, it was a product of the Howard era, but it's a bitch rich to target single mothers when you grease their hands with $5000.

So do you want to lift the birthrate for all socioeconomic classes, or do you only just want to lift the birthrate for well-heeled two parents families?

Crunch time is rapidly approaching for this Labor government, which is just beginning it's treacherous voyage into an election year.

It won't be able to do simple circus tricks to divert away the electorate's attention, such as stupidly blaming the Greens for all of the world's problems and for supposedly threatening dinky-die Aussie families.

They will need to be held directly accountable.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

'Bonus' or 'refund'? Sexing up the 'Schoolkids Bonus'

Look at these balloons below, just lifting away the expenses of a child's education. It's magic!

It's difficult not to be cynical after Labor rolled out a television advertisement today showing a volley of these bright red balloons lifting up all manner of objects associated with education; books, bags, and... guitars?

Apparently the $420 bucks for little Jill in primary or $820 for little Jake in high school will even go so far as to pay for a guitar and associated costs, not to mention a bunch of sporting equipment.

And this payment is so cool, folks, the government has even seen fit to make 'school kids' all one word, into 'schoolkids' - doesn't that just scream education?

Making a bastardised word by running two words together - obviously this is all about education, and all about your child's educational future.

It's also difficult not to be cynical about this payment, because it already existed, in fact, it's existed for decades, only to be repackaged by Labor into a funky, happenin' thing.

Previously, it was known as the Education Tax Refund. The only difference being, a parent was required to keep receipts and recover the same amount of money through a tax refund.

So, it is at least more than a name change. But Labor could not simply change the name of the otherwise inconspicuous tax refund and call it their own brainchild; they did in fact have to remove some of the paper work, and possibly consult a marketing company to dress it up a bit.

And that in itself is not such a bad thing. A refund for education expenses is a great idea - besides tuition costs, education and rearing a child is an expensive endeavor - why else would the government pay you $5,000 a pop for making one?

It's just simple logic.

So, is this the 'Education Revolution' that Australians were promised? Shiny red balloons lifting up cricket bats and a generic dictionary?

Apparently so. That, along with NAPLAN, which I would dare say does not have one friend among teachers, is apparently making for smarter kids, even though Australia internationally ranks 27th out of 48 countries for reading alone.

Well, at least we're up there with Lithuania.

And further, higher education is not the government's interest. As it stands, the government is really only concerned in teaching your son or daughter how to read, write, add, and subtract, just barely enough to soldier away in low-skilled and low-paid employment.

The Australian government is consistently not concerned with your child going to university, where they would be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars back in fees, even for the most basic of bachelors; and there will be no cute red balloons to save them, with Youth Allowance being three times less than the dole.

However, would it really be such a trial to keep receipts for schools costs - after all, mostly all tax paying adults in some way or another are smart enough to keep track of their entitled refunds, and tax reforms are continuing to unravel some of the red tape associated with the system.

At the present moment, single parents (although the media only ever refers to them as 'single mothers') are facing the prospect of being transfered from the single parenting payment to the old and stale Newstart payment, which has recently featured heavily in the news for not being nearly adequate enough as it stands, and also not being nearly enough to raise a child.

One could argue personal responsibility, but as we know, not everything in life goes according to plan, and not everything is easy. At the crux of it, a child who finds him or herself in this circumstance has the right to be properly clothed, fed, and educated, even if that means the government taking up the slack - because who else will?

Forcing single parents to work is one option. A most likely result will be minimal wage, casual unskilled work, and work that isn't guaranteed or permanent. Factor in child care, and the parent may find that him or herself might be better just not working, which is probably the reason they (partly) choose to be unemployed.

Perhaps the government felt the need to spruik the Schoolkids Bonus as a means of softening the blow to single parents - "sure, your parenting payment may just be about to be taken away, but never mind that, if you have a couple of kids at school, here's a grand!"

Tax benefits, home owner grants, baby bonuses, healthcare rebates, childcare rebates, school kid bonuses...

I wonder just what is wrong with the private wages system if the government constantly feels the need to sweeten it with a volley of governmental supplements for the act of reproducing.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Not So Compulsory Voting

I am probably too young to remember the last time that the notion of erasing compulsory voting in Australia was floated, but recently the idea has been dug up by the Liberal Party of Queensland.

Much to the chargin of the Greens and Labor.

Several Coalition MPs nationally have signalled that it might be a good idea, with 'personal liberty' being the tagline cause for raising the issue.

Australia is the only country in the world where voting is compulsory, where it was introduced in 1912.

A few reasons have been given as to why this is, such as Australia's small population, that it's a civic duty, that Parliament would be more reflective of the will of the people, and that it shows the population the benefits of political participation.

The last reason is an interesting one, because for the other 1,000 days where people do not have to vote, the mast majority of them show little interest in politics, and bemoan or just downright deride it.

And the you force them to a polling booth one out of those 1,000 days and somehow expect them to make an informed choice.

Many of them would have no idea who or what they are voting for, with many just leaving the ballot blank or filling it in incorrectly.

That isn't to say that voluntary voting is the way to go, either, however.

If you gave Australians the option of voting, you would be left with a handfull of people that are passionate only for their respective parties turning up, and concentrating political power with them.

The argument to that of course is that in every other democracy on the planet, voluntary voting usually works just fine, and continues to operate without too many problems.

In fact, the yearly push to encourage people to enroll to vote in those countries, such as the United States, could actually stimulate the minds of people to think about who, what and why they are voting.

This however also leaves the door open to special interest groups that would pressure people and influence their vote.

So what's the answer?

Would you prefer that lazy weekend sleep-in with bacon & eggs knowing you wouldn't be fined for not voting for something you care little about, or would you rather at least make an effort to participate in democracy?

Of course the first option would win out, although you may have a nagging in the back of your mind that you should have hauled your sorry butt out of bed and performed this illustrious civic duty bestowed upon you by our forefathers.

The important thing perhaps to make clear is that 'voting' itself isn't compulsory - it's really just turning up to the place of polling and having your name ticked off - as the ballots are of course secret.

Given that, politicians rarely, if ever, want people to think, let alone think critically about them.

Free thought is the politician's greatest enemy, and it is countered at every possible turn through propaganda and media advisers.

They are always right, and the other guy (or girl) is always wrong - any deviation from that premise, and they possibly lose your vote.

Given that, how are people meant to make an informed decision at the ballott box?

Do I choose tap water or spring water?

There's 'dyed-in-the-wool' voters and 'swinging' voters - do the wool voters think less perhaps?

It's an endless to-and-fro argument, but perhaps the greatest reasons to keep compulsory voting is as follows - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

While Australian democracy is abrasive and sometimes disgusting at times given the vitriolic language from commentators, it is in fact remarkably stable; one of the most stable political systems in the world.

It differs from China, for instance, where not voting is compulsory, which is a far more greater infringement on civil liberty.

It's perhaps best to forgo your bacon & eggs and just turn up, you are free to complain and whinge, make your mark or no mark, and go back to bed.

After all, you have a 50/50 chance of the majority dictatorship of your preference being installed.