EDITORIAL MONDAY 25.08.08.
“Mutual Obligation” was a concept introduced by the Howard Government which requires welfare recipients to jump through hoops in order to continue receiving the money. On the face of it, it seems like an eminently sensible idea. If the State is to provide an individual with the means to sustain himself, then surely it is reasonable that the individual should fulfill whatever requirements are deemed necessary. The trouble is that life isn’t quite that black and white.
In reality, “Mutual Obligation” is yet another Orwellian masterpiece of doublespeak. There is nothing “mutual” about it. Rather, it can be a draconian measure which undermines community stability and wellbeing. Single parents are required to place the search for work ahead of their duty to care for their children. Disability sufferers who are assessed as being capable of working 15 hours a week are denied the Disability Support Pension, even though nobody can make ends meet on 15 hours a week.
Now, the Rudd Labor Government plans to extend mutual obligation provisions to the parents of children who are not in school. Under legislation to be introduced this week, parents of truant children could have their welfare payments cut off for 13 weeks. Obviously, the intention is to push delinquent parents into ensuring that their kids attend school. But unfortunately it does nothing to address why those parents might be delinquent in the first place.
There could be many reasons, such as substance abuse, mental disorder, family dysfunction, socio-economic stress, and so on. On top of that is the fact that such a measure ignores the reality that people who are dependent on welfare often have no other resources. Take away the money and then what? Do they turn to crime?
The vast majority of parents want their kids to go to school, to better themselves, and to achieve something in life. Parents who deny this to their children have very serious problems that won’t be addressed by stopping the dole money. In fact, those problems could very well be made worse.
Using another literary metaphor, Mutual Obligation in this form is another step towards a “Clockwork Orange” society where people are beaten into behaving appropriately, rather than being taught to be responsible for themselves.
What is truly ironic is that this proposal is coming from the Labor Government. I wonder if Brendan Nelson is thinking about blocking this one?