The legacy of some of the less appealing aspects of John Howard’s government will continue to haunt the community for a little while yet. The cabinet has resolved to present its legislation abolishing work choices at the earliest opportunity in February. However, it will take time making its way through the parliament and is not likely to pass until July when the coalition finally loses control of the Senate. Even then, the legislation will provide for transitional arrangements to tide us over until the new regime arrives in 2010, and the last Australian Workplace Agreement probably won’t expire until 2013.
In the meantime, there is another piece of Howard Government policy that still impacts on a number of Australians. The Welfare to Work policy saw the introduction of harsh penalties for anyone who fails to comply with the requirements, up to and including the complete loss of benefits for up to eight weeks. This has always been problematic, because the people who find themselves in this position are already at the very edge of financial survival.
While it sounds like a good idea to penalize people who don’t meet their obligations, the truth is that people have a whole host of reasons for falling foul of the system, which does not take into account the underlying causes of the failure. Whether people suffer from a mental illness, family crisis, or just plain made a mistake, the consequences can be severe. It is projected that about 2000 welfare recipients will be trying to make it through Christmas with their usual benefits suspended, and no other source of support. They must turn to family or charity to survive.
Two thousand might seem like a small number in the overall scheme of things, and it is, but that actually demonstrates the foolishness of the policy. Most people do the right thing. There is no problem with any kind of widespread rorting of the system. Sadly, this draconian and punitive regime only penalizes those who are already desperate, along with innocent family members, without doing anything to help these people overcome their circumstances.
That’s why the new government must keep its promise for a full review of the system as quickly as possible.