Welfare, the deserving poor, and the fires

Russell Skelton has an extended look at the government welfare response to the Victorian bushfires, which has, in the main, been swift, generous, and effective, and reports musings about whether some of the same methods can be applied to those who depend on welfare in other circumstances:

As Dr Ray Cleary, chief executive of the welfare agency Anglicare, described it: “For years we have been lobbying Canberra without success to get sufficient resources, less regulation and quick responses for the long-term unemployed, the disabled and the homeless. After the fires, the welfare world suddenly shifted. The fire victims were immediately and correctly deserving of our help and compassion.”

What Cleary and many others working in the social welfare sector now want to know, but are reluctant to ask, is whether aspects of the new, super-streamlined, generously funded welfare delivery system can be applied more generally for the millions of Australians dependent on society’s compassion.

While some of the ideas, notably the idea of better case management, seem plausible for wider adoption, the other key enabler of the swift response – the “super-streamlining” and especially the “generous funding”, are pretty damn unlikely to go past the current crisis, sadly.

It seems to me that the reason why “super-streamlining” was possible is that, for once, governments judged that the public were more concerned about ensuring that everybody who needed help got it, as soon as possible, rather than worrying about the possibility that some of the people receiving the aid might just be something other than totally destitute. Furthermore, the public were prepared to pay whatever it took to ensure that happened. Why? Because the victims of the fire were perceived as victims of something entirely beyond their control, whereas the recipients of welfare in normal times are often perceived otherwise.

If there is to be any tiny silver lining from this recession, perhaps it might be that there will be more compassion towards welfare recipients in general. But, given how that compassion notably faded through the 1990s (aided and abetted by the previous government, of course), I’m not holding my breath.


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64 responses to “Welfare, the deserving poor, and the fires”

  1. wilful

    Noble sentiments, about the right analysis. So, to derail it with the first post, why are victims of this bushfire getting money to rebuild their homes?

    There are house fires all over the State, all the time. And small bushfires consume a small number of houses – what on earth is the difference? Let alone the insured/uninsured debate.

    Oh, also, has compassion faded in the past two decades, objectively?

  2. Robert Merkel

    I don’t have any particular statistics to back it up, wilful, but I seem to recall that during the 80s and 90s, the unemployed were regarded more as victims of the economic circumstances of the time, rather than do-nothing layabouts.

    Of course, that may be rose-tinted glasses.

  3. Liam

    Interesting, interesting article. Thanks for pointing it out, Rob.
    It’s extremely easy for a welfare system to accommodate people who already have the social skills and resources to help themselves. When a welfare agency goes out to help a group of people who until the point of disaster were secure, established homeowning middle-class people with job skills and a network of friends and family, of course the effect on case loads is positive. When you put a middle-class bushfire victim in emergency accommodation you can reliably expect them to be out of it in a short space of time, especially if they’re insured. From the article:

    Can the same level of resources, flexibility and all government co-operation be found for the homeless, people with physical and emotional disabilities and the long-term unemployed?

    I say probably yes, but it’s a solution to the wrong problem.
    Trusting, articulate, healthy well-adjusted people are a social worker’s dream—and there’s no real point of comparison to the needs of the other masses of Victorian homeless people, who instead of fleeing a fire are fleeing physical/emotional abuse, substance dependency problems, their own mental health problems, financial obligations, and so on. Bushfire victims trust and have clear expectations of Government; that doesn’t hold for the poor-who-will-always-be-with-us.
    I really like the idea of single-point-of-delivery in human services. That’s one thing that even without significant extra funding could do very good things.

  4. billie

    The person I know who was homeless for about 6 months had been a ward clerk at Royal Melbourne Hospital for 15+ years before Kennett got to power. When the staffing cuts were announced this woman was subjected to a terror campaign to push her to resign that bought about an [undiagnosed] mental breakdown. She made some woeful choices and ended up homeless until a Catholic charity housed her in a home for the aged. There are a surprising number of middle aged homeless women who don’t have a drink, drug or low morals history. Last I heard she was supervising sheltered accommodation for those more damaged than herself.

    More recently an acquaintance has moved from the private rental market to community housing. The paperwork he needs to shift house, change in rental rate and notification of sale of his car hasn’t been processed by Centrelink because they are looking after bushfire victims. Meanwhile Centrelinks traditional client base risks being breached for not notifying Centrelink of their changed circumstances.

    I welcome a change of Centrelink philosophy that supports people in need rather than making them demonstrate they are in need and punishing them for accepting charity. Most Centrelink ‘clients’ are micromanaged in the extreme to strip them of confidence and self esteem and keep them too poverty stricken to be able to pull themselves out of their legislated poverty.

    What about the SMH article this morning that says that the intervention in the Northern Territory has increased malnourishment in aboriginal communities http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/intervention-is-hurting-health-20090330-9gzm.html

  5. BilB

    There has got to be a certain amount of political learning that came out of cyclone Katriona and the Bush administration response, for a government planning for a decade, at least, of longevity. Does this learning stick in the long term? We have to be careful about assumed consistency. “The government responded well for the Victorian fires, surely they will treat all fires the same!”. We assume that the good Samaritan didn’t beat his slaves when at home as every one else did because he did one good public act. Corporations use this logic consistently. Howard was an absolute master of such obfuscation.

    Rudd is looking ever more Howard like in other areas. This is a watching brief.

  6. Andrew Norton

    I think Liam is right. We can expect a quick result from donations to fire victims, when after the trillions of dollars pumped into the welfare state since it started escalating rapidly in the 1970s the welfare lobby itself tells us that the problem is worse than ever.

    And to put it in context, the amount collected for bushfire victims is trivial compared to state spending on welfare and not massive as a percentage of total charitable giving.

  7. Hammy

    I was really concerned about the moves to allocate all vacant public housing to Bushfire Victims when there was no shortage of homeless people on long waiting for that accommodation. A lot of the people on waiting lists were long-term homeless and had been waiting for housing for many months, even years.

    I know a few Social Workers who were desperately trying to fill every vacancy as quickly as possible to ensure this housing was used for long-term homeless people.

  8. Robert Merkel

    If you look at the amount collected per person affected by the bushfires it’s not exactly trivial, as various people pointed out in the blogosphere at the time.

  9. Liam

    Hammy, that’s not how a human services department treats the people in its system, or the resources it deals with. In fact, looking at length of homelessness as some kind of an indicator of suffering is just another assessment of how much a person “deserves” welfare. It makes perfect sense to allocate resources to most efficiently serve need, rather than on a measurement of human worth.
    Take the needs of a long-term homeless person. Just taking people off the street and putting them in housing solves very little, especially if you’re moving them away from their established networks (in Sydney, for instance, moving homeless people from the inner city area out to public housing in Mt Druitt, or Campbelltown). Just dropping the poor in houses can often exacerbate their problems. Long-term unemployed and long-term homeless people typically have complex and difficult needs; the Government with NGOs have to provide not only a roof, but also, imaginably, child protection/early intervention/foster care casework, mental health casework, treatment of chronic disease and/or disability at the area health level, domestic violence casework, or combinations of all the above.
    This is quite different from the needs of a typical fire victim, who expects little else from the State but a roof in the short-term, no matter where, and a bit of help with their insurance claim.

  10. myriad

    Liam, I might have misunderstood your post (it’s not written with your usual aplomb), but what I’ve heard from welfare experts rather contradicts what you’ve just written.

    Essentially they argue that shelter is one of the most basic requirements and until you have a fixed, safe, secure and sustainable location, it’s virtually impossible to provide the longer-term intervention services needed to stop someone becoming homeless etc. again.

    I face this situation in my work with former refugees- when we can’t get them accommodation all the other needs (and they are frequently complex and many) typically take a backseat while services focus on finding them a house precisely because of the reasons above.

    I do agree with the excellent article and Robert’s commentary. Helping the fire victims is very much a case of the deserving poor, and exposes rather queasily that unspoken class system in Australia that still exists.

    This will sound horrible, but my good intention to donate to the bushfire appeal vanished when I saw that in a few days everything under the sun had been promised to survivors, and the Red Cross had already raised 60 million or something insane. It actually makes my stomach curdle a fair bit, how we’ll throw so much at the bushfire victims, yet the vitriol and spittle-flecked missives to the local newspapers about the undeserving poor in this country never cease.

  11. Liam

    Robert, the Red Cross has raised $250 million in its appeal.
    [This comment is necessarily split into two]

  12. Liam

    [Part II]
    Victoria’s DHS spends three times that just on wages for its own employees (not including grants to NGOs) every single year.

  13. Liam

    Essentially they argue that shelter is one of the most basic requirements and until you have a fixed, safe, secure and sustainable location, it’s virtually impossible to provide the longer-term intervention services needed to stop someone becoming homeless etc. again.

    Very true, myriad, I would agree heartily. Getting bushfire victims into temporary non-supported housing is designed to stop them ever needing the kinds of supported accommodation meant for people with greater needs.

  14. Hammy

    Liam, I’m certainly not suggesting that a roof over one’s head is the solution to everything although I do think it is important as a lot of other things stem from that. It’s also very rare for people to only receive a roof over their head, there are all sorts of addition support services in place provided by NGOs, DHS etc.

    It’s also not a matter of “most deserving”, there are a any number of other factors that are taken into consideration for public housing.

    I guess I just share myriad’s cynicism. Not that we shouldn’t be giving generously to bushfire victims (I hate that term ‘bushfire victims’), but that public housing should be automatically allocated to them. We should be providing for the most needy and that’s a complex equation.

  15. moz

    My thought at the time was that bushfire victims quite probably did not need or want to be housed in random locations all over Victoria. especially not if that displaced genuinely needy people. One thing that did occur to me was that the rebuilding should include state housing in all the rebuilt communities, as well as some form of assistance to renters.

    One of the perverse outcomes is that people who were almost able to buy a house in bushfire affected areas are unlikely to still be in that position now – they’re sufficiently cashed up to not need welfare assistance, but they won’t qualify for any of the rebuilding funds.

  16. myriad

    Actually Liam I was talking about the long-term homeless. As I understand it from various experts in the field, housing ius the number one focus (after food and essential medical) as service delivery of everything else needed is affected by it or lack thereof.

    Sure, there’s no question that temporary housing (although let’s face it some bushfire homeless are going to need ‘temporary’ accomm for a couple of years) will directly benefit and be the most critical requirement for the survivors. However like Hammy I’m not sure why they get to bump everyone else off the public housing list, other than it would be a very bad look if they weren’t immediately housed. Of course, unlike our long-term homeless, the bushfire victims had hundreds of offers of private accommodation to choose from as well.

  17. Jacques Chester

    The other alternative is that people respond to large, visible, concrete natural disasters. And that we respond less well to small, invisible, mentally abstract social ills. That this due to natural human biases rather than some eeeeeevil classism.

    Just a thought.

  18. myriad

    It’s a nice thought Jacques, but given the number of us who are connected to people and families having those quiet ‘small’ crises, or providing part or full-time care etc., it never ceases to strike me that we don’t overwhelmingly push our politicians to do more. Instead you see letters in the papers questioning ‘welfare bludgers’ and the like.

    That there is a psyche in Australia that carries an unspoken heirarchy of ‘deserving’ to ‘undeserving’ is pretty evident I think. Just ask the Aborigines.

  19. Helen

    “The Deserving Poor”: Heh, that’s exactly the phrase that came to my mind as I read that article this morning, Robert.

    And Jacques, yes, the concept of the Deserving and Undeserving poor was and still is a reality.

  20. Robert Merkel

    Liam has a good point in that fire victims will tend to have (relatively) straightforward needs compared to the permanent poor.

    That said (and not to imply that Liam believes otherwise) more resources and smarter strategies aimed at the permanent underclass, made available by a more charitable attitude, would clearly help a great deal.

  21. FDB

    “natural human biases rather than some eeeeeevil classism”

    False dichotomy?

  22. lilacsigil

    Immediately after the bushfires, as soon as Kevin Rudd went down there, I commented that the public housing would be going to bushfire victims, rather than homeless, struggling or disabled people who have been on the list for years. Should we have the capacity to house people in a disaster? Absolutely, and I’m pleased to see that it’s not just possible, but can be done simply and well. Should this capacity (in particular, the streamlining of requirements) be for everyone? Absolutely.

    I had cancer a few years back, and needed support from Centrelink. It was the most deliberately dehumanising, cruel, rude, incomprehensible, unnecessarily difficult experience of my life, and I say this as someone who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. No-one should be put through that, and it’s deliberately inflicted on the people least able to cope with it. Like Dr Cleary, I really hope that the government departments involved can learn from this.

  23. Liam

    Myriad, Hammy, Rob’s correct that I’d like to see lots more resources and more strategies aimed at the long-term needy, both in housing and out of it. For a start, I’d like to see Centrelink’s procedures taken to and destroyed mercilessly. They’ve got to the point where they create suffering in order to service it, and ought to be banished both from the Commonwealth budget and from human memory.
    I do think there’s another sense of deserts working here in respect to victims of the bushfire, as if for some reason for their (presumed) lack of intractable complex social problems they were undeserving queuejumpers. Sometimes the middle classes suffer misfortune also.

    I hate that term ‘bushfire victims’

    I think you need to think about why you do that, Hammy. It’s a perfectly descriptive phrase.
    “Genuinely needy” is not measurable in one dimension. Needs are very complicated and there’s no one-size-fits-all housing. DHS temporary housing is meant to be there also for people who need a little help—have a fortnight’s housing while you’re looking for a share house, or while your insurance company gets its shit together, then get the hell out—to stop them becoming people who need a lot.

  24. Chris

    I had cancer a few years back, and needed support from Centrelink. It was the most deliberately dehumanising, cruel, rude, incomprehensible, unnecessarily difficult experience of my life, and I say this as someone who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time.

    Any ideas on why you think these sort of experiences are so common? Is it the frontline people? The system? The legislation?

  25. billie

    Centrelink is designed to be “most deliberately dehumanising, cruel, rude, incomprehensible, unnecessarily difficult experience of [anyone’s] life,” to make it clear that welfare payments are absolutely a last resort because the politicians like Howard and the media owners like Packer and Murdoch want government funds to flow to the poor deserving mega rich.

    Many people scrimp by in genteel poverty on less than they would get on Centrelink payments to avoid dealing with incompetent, rude, petty Centrelink staff sticking their snouts in other people’s business.

    Centrelink and Job Network are an absolute disgrace that are going to cause many more Australians a great deal of pain and hardship as unemployment rises in the coming recession, unless there is a massive reform and about face on philosophy and policy. I wish I owned a Job Network provider – money for jam.

  26. myriad

    Thanks Liam, I understand where you’re coming from a bit better now. I don’t disagree at all that the bushfire victims deserved and needed immediate assistance. I hate seeing long forgotten and often derided Peter robbed to pay shiny new deserving Paul tho’.

    And I couldn’t / can’t help but be very conflicted by the level of generosity shown by Australians to the bushfire victims. Can you imagine a similar amount being raised for Aborigines? Can you imagine the government relaxing ID requirements for any other person, no matter how destitute they are?

    Chris, my two cents is that it’s the legislation that then drives a culture. That’s what my friends who work in Centrelink think at any rate. Such levels of authority attract people who like exercising it, and no matter of weeding or training will change that while there are draconian powers in place. Also Centrelink is often the rock in the hard place, as the legislation is diverse, coming from several key departments, and often highly inflexible. Combine that with working with often very difficult clientele (nb: being difficult doesn’t mean you should get nothing) and ‘compassion fatigue’ sets in pretty rapidly I imagine.

  27. moz

    The Centrelink experience is not unique – I’ve had friends in NZ say that even for someone with a PhD getting a benefit and staying on it is no small challenge. Their take was more along the lines of “how does anyone without excellent English and good bureaucrazy skills even begin the process”. It is, as has been said, designed to make its victims suffer, not least as a way to reduce the number of people who get benefits. The worst part IME is that it’s completely random. There’s no predictable cause and effect, just a maze of different answers depending on who you talk to.

    My thought when I was on the dole a few years ago was that it would probably be simpler and less risky to take up armed robbery as a career. I can definitely see the attraction of drug-dealing, put it that way. Better to be jailed for theft than rendered destitute and unemployable due to Centrelink deciding that they’ve overpaid me and therefore I have committed fraud. Yes, they did overpay me and no-one in Centrelink was able to explain how they came up with the amount I was given, let alone how I was supposed to deal with the overpayment other than by waiting for “someone” to notice and start making accusations. As always, being white, educated and articulate helped a lot, but I still ended up spending 40+ hours dealing with the overpayment.

    If minimum wage laws applied to the “mutual obligation” required of dole recipients either the dole would have to go up or the obligation down. Quite significantly.

  28. Jacques Chester

    False dichotomy?

    I suppose it is. There’s also a generous dollop of stereotyping. Mutual stereotyping.

    Question: suppose that deserving/undeserving poor is a common concept with no biological basis whatsoever. Is the problem a) that the concept exists, or b) that you feel people are incorrectly assigned into these categories?

    If a person is in poverty due to mental illness, are they deserving or undeserving? What about a businessman who becomes bankrupt due to a smart, harder-working competitor? What about a person who gets fired when a new tax or regulation is introduced to protect trees?

  29. sublime cowgirl

    As a former social worker i’ve had a million thoughts over this whole middle class crisis deserving poor thing. I’m not going to elaborate as i’m deliberately trying avoid cynicism and to keep away from soapboxes these days.

    I will share, though, how touched i was to hear a local group of african refugees up here independently organised a fund raising dinner to support the bushfires victims down in Vic. It initially struck me as odd as they surely have a greater need. But, as my friend who knew them pointed out, they, of all people, understand forced displacement, and how important it is to have a home.

  30. myriad

    yeah sublime cowgirl, several of the new communities I now work with held benefit events to donate to the bushfires. I think also tho that there’s a bit of trying to show they really are part of the mainstream community – I just hope they get the recognition they deserve for such acts of kindness. It also reminds me how statistics show again and again that it’s the poorer socio-economic groups who donate the most to charities.

  31. hannah's dad

    Myriad can you give some sources for this please?
    “It also reminds me how statistics show again and again that it’s the poorer socio-economic groups who donate the most to charities.”
    [That’s a request, not a challenge.] It’s a very interesting statement.

  32. Paulus

    The other key enabler of the swift response – the “super-streamlining” and especially the “generous funding”, are pretty damn unlikely to go past the current crisis, sadly.

    Oh, Rudd is ‘super-streamlining’ $900 into the pockets of everyone earning up to $80k … while giving not a cent to the long-term unemployed who didn’t earn enough income to pay tax last year.

    That’s ‘generous funding’ in anyone’s language.

  33. Jacques de Molay

    Wasn’t there a piece in Crikey the other day about the Job Network system being scrapped by this Government on the 1st of July? Supposedly to be taken over by two English companies, A4E and Reed Employment who are both for-profit providers.

    Can it actually be possible to make the Job Network system even worse?

  34. myriad

    Hi Hannah’s Dad,

    I’m heading into training all day, so unless I get google lucky this morning, I can’t get to the couple of reports I’ve got in mind in my office.

    Out of interest, being a Taswegian, our newspapers regularly report with pride on how Tas, and particularly it’s poorest areas, register as the most generous donors to charity.

    It’s not hard to find stuff like this, even tho it doesn’t have a reference (but I’m not sure why Costello would lie).

    that’s going to have to do this morning, will try and get back to it on thurs.

  35. Chris

    myriad @ 34 – This article claims the reverse about Tasmania – least number of taxpayers who donate with the smallest amount donated per person who does donate. But there’s lots of ways most generous could be defined. Eg percentage of disposable income donated might result in higher numbers and only considering tax payers or donations that are tax deducted may have the opposite effect.

  36. FDB

    “Is the problem a) that the concept exists, or b) that you feel people are incorrectly assigned into these categories?”

    O Noes!! Another false dichotomy! I say both are problematic. I reckon a) is the case if what’s being argued is to simply not look after people who ‘have nobody to blame but their own fool selves’. There are strong utilitarian arguments for giving a basic level of state care even to those who make no effort to help themselves – the alternative being crime, misery, children raised in abject self-perpetuating squalor etc etc

    And b), because even if one believes in differing types and levels of welfare for those in different categories of need and dessert, it’s crucial that (for example) the mentally ill aren’t lumped in with the simply lazy. Telling the difference is often difficult.

  37. joe2

    Well one thing is for certain, [email protected], presently, a large number of people are employed detecting those that “have nobody to blame but their own fool selves”. A bucket load of judgement is a marketable skill that many have absorbed by osmosis from a solid religous upbringing or just natural pickiness.

    Maybe by providing a guaranteed base, liveable, income to all there would be no need for sorting the “mentally ill” from the “simply lazy”, in the first place. The saving in administrative costs would be enormous and the vibe around Centrelink and jobnetworks would improve vastly. A no-blame system may just work.

  38. FDB

    “Maybe by providing a guaranteed base, liveable, income to all there would be no need for sorting the “mentally ill” from the “simply lazy”, in the first place.”

    I agree there should be a guaranteed base, but my point was (partly) that it would certainly NOT remove the need for sorting out what type of assistance someone needs.

  39. Jacques Chester

    There are strong utilitarian arguments for giving a basic level of state care even to those who make no effort to help themselves – the alternative being crime, misery, children raised in abject self-perpetuating squalor etc etc

    There’s an argument that unemployment is the root cause of these sorts of malaises; poverty is an intermediate cause. If you are gainfully employed you have improved social integration, have some money to take care of yourself and generally don’t have the time or energy left over for petty crime (grand crimes are another matter altogether of course). Between employment, porn, violent videogames and sport you can generally find substitutes for various forms of poverty, crimes and misdemeanors.

    In any case, discussion of “no-fault” welfare makes me itch to sell you all on the benefits of the LDP’s 30/30 plan.

  40. Jacques Chester

    Small correction — unemployment is a candidate root cause for many ills, not all. Mental illness is another biggie, for instance.

  41. Fine

    Imagine what might happen if Centrelink’s micromanagement was abolished and the money saved put back into social security and resources that actually assisted people. It doesn’t have to be like this and never used to be. I was on the dole for a while in the ’80s. My ‘case manager’s’ attitude was that I didn’t really need any help from him and he was right. So, it was a case of bung in a form once a fortnight and the cheque’s in the mail.

    Of course, that doesn’t work with people who need assistance to find work, but it’s really dubious as to whether the assistance Centrelink offers does much to help its recipients. An example. A friend with an MA forced to attend a literacy class. A complete waste of resources, but bodies had to be found to make up numbers. But she would have a weloomed a class in small business management. That wasn’t on offer, of course.

  42. Helen

    I’m having too much fun envisaging a Libertarian government disaster relief response. 🙂

  43. David Irving (no relation)

    Helen, you have a wicked sense of humour.

    Apropos Centrelink and the Job Network Service Providers, those pricks are a plague on the body politic. The sooner the govt cleans them out the better. Last time I was between contracts (beginning of 2005), they wanted to retrain me. As an IT professional with a degree and about 10 years relevant experience, and another qualification (and experience) as a cartographer, retraining was the last thing I needed. A job would have been useful, though.

  44. FDB

    “Libertarian government disaster relief”

    You’re so naive Helen. The Libertarian government won’t need to lift a finger, because they’ll have allocated property rights to all formerly public spaces and privatised the institutions. Posses will be mustered, lamington drives driven, and the philanthropic libertarian supermen of tomorrow will laugh at your backward ways.

  45. Liam

    Libertarian government disaster relief

    Actually, that’s just called a functioning insurance industry. In NSW, Victoria and Tasmania it even pays directly into funds to support emergency services.
    State Labor Governments: socialist one day, libertarian the next.

  46. Caroline

    Wasn’t there a piece in Crikey the other day about the Job Network system being scrapped by this Government on the 1st of July? Supposedly to be taken over by two English companies, A4E and Reed Employment who are both for-profit providers.

    Can it actually be possible to make the Job Network system even worse?

    Oh yes it can!

    There are fortunes to be had in running job network agencies. Just ask Therese Rein, who went from being a part time vocational counsellor to having an estimated net ‘worth’ of 60 million. All thanks (very much) to concept of ‘for profit’, job network providers. Job network providers. Sheesh, I can barely believe I wrote that safe in the knowledge that everyone knows what it means, even though as stand alone . . . group of words it is utterly meaningless.

    I wonder how much influence the she had with the idea that the current/old system was completely shambolic and run by opportunistic charlatans? She’d know of course. I read somewhere she was the most loathed employer in Britain and of course the honest mistake about underpaying her staff is well known. She seems like a nice enough woman . . .

  47. Caroline

    Sorry about a lack of a’s above.

    I guess what I find galling about this is not so much to do with Therese Rein the person, but with the idea that an individual can make a small fortune, or in her case a large one and by all accounts set to grow larger as a direct result of thousands of people who for the most part live on the poverty line. I would like to see a great deal more transparency with these providers. I would like to know for instance, if the last job network provider I was with were actually paid for me finding myself a job? It will be interesting to see who are the international companies who have been awarded the latest contracts for this now greatly contracted service. Any links at all, with Ingeus or Workdirections UK and there will of course be hell to pay.

  48. Caroline

    Plus. Every cent earned by these agencies is paid for with tax dollars while the level of scruitiny they garner from the general public compared to that of the hapless mug on newstart is negligent. They are easily, equally as useless as the CES or more so, primarily because they will not divulge the name of the person or company advertising a position vacant and you often do not find out until the day you are due be inteviewed who it actually is you are supposedly keen to be working for. This makes tailoring an application nigh impossible–should you even get that far. I have never heard another word to the many jobs I have gone for through one or other of these agencies.

    Aside from providing their own infrastructure, offices, chairs, computers, staff, (which the government already have in abundance), its hard to see how outsourcing employment services is not in the long run far more of a drain on government revenue. Moreover . . . it really pisses me off that I am expected to apply for jobs with companies or individuals of whom I know nothing, not even their name, while happily supplying them with my personal details.

  49. Helen

    I’m a bit gobsmacked about that one too, Caroline – an Australian government outsourcing Employment services in a time of economic downturn, of course creating further local unemployment in the process… Joseph Heller where are you?!

  50. Jacques de Molay

    Caroline @ 47,

    Job Network’s are notorious in trying to claim they found you a job that you found off of your own back. They have a habit of desperately trying to get the details of the employer out of you so they can claim they found it for you and receive the extra funding. I’ve heard of it happening plenty of times and my brother is going through the whole thing right now.

    He quit his job but is fortunate that there is always demand for cooks/chefs but was getting too used to not working so despite my advice to not go near the Centrelink/Job Network system if he could help it he signed up with a Job Network. A few days later he agreed to take a job from an ALH mob that were chasing him. Since then the JN has been ringing him non-stop, up to 7-8 times a day to get the details off of him. They won’t stop until he relents and just gives them the info.

  51. David Irving (no relation)

    Jacques @ 50, I experienced exactly what you’re talking about for a couple of weeks after I got my current job. The Job Network Service Provider (hah!) I signed up with hassled me for the details of the job I’d found with no help from them, doubtless so they could claim the $14,000 (or whatever) for being about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

    Bastards.

    Howard has so much to answer for.

  52. Caroline

    The magic word he can use Jacques, is probably harrassment, with the understanding that this is, as they should know, illegal. There really needs to be a specific auditor of these agencies, they’re tricks, and rorts are legend with the people who have no choice other than to engage with them on some, even minimal level.

    The last job I had, a maternity relief gig, I found without the help of the job network, but it was not due to start for 8 weeks after I’d secured it. In the meantime I had the obligatory appointment with the agency, so naturally enough I told them the good news and didn’t hesitate to tell them who the job was for. It didn’t occur to me that they would be dishonest enough to claim the success for themselves. Anyhow, I sat there as usual like an empty lemonade bottle, while my case manager, to all intents and purposes ignored me while scrolling through the jobs advertised online, just as I had done, unable to tell me anything I didn’t know already (as usual), and then uselessly suggesting I apply for a job advertised in a take away food shop. I told him again, that I already had got myself a job and I wasn’t about to take on another under the false premise that I would be hanging around for more than a month or so. He sighed heavily at this inconvenient level of honesty and went back to looking through the meagre array of advertised positions.

    Once I had been working for the magic 13 weeks, he rang me and said I was eligible for a (hoo boy!) $20 gift voucher to use at Big W et al,if I could tell them how much I was earning. WTF? I decided to forgo this largesse as I didn’t think it was any of their business what I was earning. They send it to me anyway, no doubt, guessing what the answer was to the magic question.

  53. Jacques de Molay

    David & Caroline,

    It most certainly is a rort, a licence to print money. We can’t ever forget the good ol’ Salvo’s getting busted for cooking the books to the tune of around $5m. I can’t remember the exact figures but for each job seeker that comes through their doors they get an additional $1,000+ to spend directly on each person. That grand is supposed to go towards things like clothes, equipment, bus tickets, petrol vouchers etc for each job seeker. Most job seeker’s don’t see a cent of that as the JN pockets the lot. I think they get about 10 grand for getting you into a course and around 16 grand for “finding” you employment. You’ve got to be pretty damn greedy to cook the books when gorging on such a magic pudding.

    Caroline, I’ve heard of plenty of people having a job (but not working full-time hours) not only being required to attend JN “services” but to also look for work. A bit like that clown was doing with you, they’re not even interested in listening. When my brother went through all this the first time around a few years ago now I informed him about them getting x amount of dollars to spend directly on helping you get a job. As they don’t advertise or inform most job seekers of this (unsurprisngly) he was pretty reluctant to ask them. I said “Just hit ’em up!”. Once he found the job (off his own back again mind you, through a friend) after that 13 week period they sent him a cheque for around $100. A few months later another one for about $200 and after about nine months a third and final cheque for around $500.

    A $20 Big W voucher? The nerve.

  54. Jacques Chester

    I’m having too much fun envisaging a Libertarian government disaster relief response.

    Yes, you’re right. Only governments can respond to crises. FEMA didn’t turn away Wal-Mart water trucks in New Orleans. Red Cross fundraising drives are of course handed over to the government as soon as disaster is declared, and good thing too. Can’t leave it to amateurs and unenlightened mere citizens. Leave it to the professional bureaucrats.

  55. Liam

    Jacques, in Australia, disaster recovery efforts are coordinated (and partly provided) by State Governments. Each has a variation of a Disaster Recovery or Emergency Plan into which NGOs and agencies fit, with arrangements varying from simple goodwill to MOUs to contract-like agreements. NGOs are excellent at inspiring volunteer efforts and fundraising efficiently, conversely, Governments are excellent at centrally managing non-market events like disasters.
    In Victoria, the DHS is responsible for emergency management and the coordination of the NGOs’ disaster recovery efforts. There’s also the one-purpose Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.
    There *are* of course places in the world where charities and NGOs take on sole responsibility for the provision of disaster relief—they’re called failed states.

  56. Helen

    And the US, of course, the place where neoliberalism was so fashionable that Grover Norquist boasted that he could get government down to the size where he could drown it in the bath. As it happened, that simile turned out to be very unfortunate for the then government.

  57. Jacques Chester

    Jacques, in Australia, disaster recovery efforts are coordinated (and partly provided) by State Governments.

    Absolutely. Usually through tri-service or quad-service joint commands. But there’s no physical or economic law that prevents private organisations doing it.

    But I should probably avoid derailing the whole thread on what is, admittedly, an arcane argument of importance only to anarcho-capitalists and their critics (or sandman-isers).

  58. Liam

    Indeed, Jacques. In Southern Lebanon, Hezbollah was a great deal more successful in disaster recovery after the 2006 war than the Lebanese Government was. Private/public as always is a matter of preferences.

  59. Lefty E

    Arent they ‘3rd sector’, Liamista?

  60. Liam

    And Fourth Generation if you believe some people.
    To return to the question of preferences: there’s no economic law that disaster recovery must always be invested in a Government; but I’d suggest that the reason responsibility for DR generally lies there is because it’s so difficult, when it fails, to blame and sack the market. People like the invisible hand when the going’s good, but it’s not a very reassuring parachute.
    By contrast, Ministers and Secretaries whose responsibility it is to ensure coordinated DR always have the nagging fear of getting the public kick in the arse if they get the ‘heckuva job’ wrong.

  61. Michael Williams

    I believe the point of democratic politics was supposed to be that it representative of its peoples needs and wishes, essentially to their best interests in priority. Each politician is therefore drawing a wage from our common wealth in order to act as a civil or public servant. The idea that a public servant can then dictate to a citizen is absurd to begin with, they actually are meant to work for us.
    As a person who has survived the bushfires and dealt with the system from all angles, I am dissapointed by the performance of this supposed representation. Anyone who spends more on a lunch than i might make in a year has no hope of understanding my reality let alone representing my concerns with it.
    Really, only public forums such as this offer any representation worthy of the description.

  62. FDB

    “The idea that a public servant can then dictate to a citizen is absurd to begin with, they actually are meant to work for us.”

    A government can’t make laws? A policeman can’t enforce them?

    “Really, only public forums such as this offer any representation worthy of the description.”

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Here, you are representing yourself. Or do you consider that coming here is a vote for the policies of Mark Bahnisch, President for Life of Larvatistan?

  63. John H.

    Like Dr Cleary, I really hope that the government departments involved can learn from this.

    They can and will learn but that will be largely irrelevant. The problem is not in the public service but in the executive. No govt is going to go soft on the down and out, politicians are still largely dominated by notions of individual responsibility and self determination. Mythical ideas in a way but as long as people use these whips against the down and out don’t expect any real changes soon.

    The tragedy is that there are studies suggesting that intervening early in life crises has a significant cost\benefit payoff. If you let people to move too far into the dark side they just may never come back. Unfortunately our welfare policies tend to be arse about face, we wait til people are in real big trouble before the govt offers any significant help and by then it is usually way too late.

    Job Network’s are notorious in trying to claim they found you a job that you found off of your own back. They have a habit of desperately trying to get the details of the employer out of you so they can claim they found it for you and receive the extra funding. I’ve heard of it happening plenty of times and my brother is going through the whole thing right now.

    Job network is a public ripoff. It should be exterminated. We may well have been better off with the Commonwealth Employment Service. Put the providers on notice. If you have to deal with them make it known that you are aware they have a duty of care to help you and you are going to monitor that. Make them aware you are going to start writing letters, ask them about the complaints process in the very first interview, ask them for concrete criteria for their performance. Tit for tat, they demand that of their clients, demand the same from them. If they ask you to do any of those silly programs then ask for an independent analysis of the benefits to be derived from those silly programs. Now the consultant will remember you and be anxious to get you out of the way. It’s a nuisance to have to do this but it is the only way I can think of to make them earn their dollars. In my experience the “bees to honey” attitude means they just ignore you.

  64. Michael Williams

    “A government can’t make laws? A policeman can’t enforce them?”

    A court may make law, a policeman may enforce it. no politician should be above the spirit and letter of the law.
    But a goverment is a group of people usually notablely ungoverned.
    I am far more comfortable representing myself.
    I certainly believe that the actions of any Goverment should be in accordance with the will of the people. Yet how many closed door discisions are made that no one feels happy about but the few they benifit?
    When this underlying discontent means that a large percentage of the population is seeking treatment for depression and other mental disturbances, the only logical coclusion is that the system is fundamentaly sick.
    The tragedy of Black Saturday was the result of nearly 70 years of bad descisions, political end gaining and corner cutting. For the sake of a few careers and bank accounts, people died.
    This represents a massive betrayal of public trust, and a massive loss of confidence within the survivor population.
    Promises of rebuilding have given way to red tape delays that will ultimatly make the assistance rendered so far to towns like Marysville meaningless because there has been no follow thru.
    The same descisions that lead to this disaster are happening all over again, for the same greedy reasons. Other people in this region belonging to The Marysville & Triangle Development Group feel the same I’m sorry.