The Guardian July 12, 2000

Kill for the dole

by Magda Hansson

People receiving unemployment benefits may soon become so mutually 
obligated that they may have no time left to look for work if the latest 
plan by some Liberal backbenchers gets off the ground.

They are proposing enlistment in the Defence Reserves for unemployed 
receiving the princely sum of $160.00 per week to be entitled to keep their 
full entitlement.

The Minister for work-for-the-dole schemes, Tony Abbott, has given the 
proposal his qualified support but said that no decision has yet been made. 
The jobless would still have to meet the Reserves educational, fitness and 
citizenship criteria.

A leading defence expert, Michael O'Connor, has attacked the plan saying 
that it was one thing to have unemployed young people working with the 
local council or planting trees but it was quite another to "have them sent 
over to East Timor to be shot at". No doubt the Government thinks this is 
an excellent way of keeping the unemployment statistics down.

This deliberate abuse of the unemployed comes after a week where Employment 
National was caught trying to get a job seeker to work for no pay and the 
revelation that performance targets set by Peter Reith's Department 
requires Centrelink to impose fines on 85 percent of work-for-the-dole 
recipients accused of failing to meet their obligations regardless of any 
natural justice.

In a letter tabled in the Senate, Employment National wrote to a Darwin 
employer encouraging him to take on the job seeker on the basis of no pay 
for the first two days. This breaches the Government's own Workplace 
Relations Act.

While the potential employer and Employment National will probably go 
unpunished, you have to wonder what penalties were in store for the 
unfortunate jobseeker if he was not taken on, even if he was prepared to 
work for nothing. Not trying hard enough, no doubt.

Meanwhile, other documents tabled this week have revealed that the 
Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business has 
required Centrelink to impose fines on 60 percent of dole recipients and 85 
percent of work-for-the-dole recipients who fail to meet their obligations. 
Obligations that the unemployed have no say over.

The unemployed can appeal to have the fines revoked but only a minimum 
number of penalties are allowed to be overturned. It is decreed that no 
more than 25 percent of dole recipients who appeal should succeed and no 
more than 15 percent of work for the dole should be overturned.

This is a complete denial of natural justice. What would the public 
reaction be if the criminal justice system were run this way? Only 15 
percent of convictions permitted to be overturned on appeal.

The Australian Council of Social Services have said that the document 
confirmed its own research that penalties were too harsh.

The President of ACOSS, Michael Raper, gave an example of a woman who did 
not declare her full earnings from employment that resulted in an 
overpayment of $51.70. She was fined a massive $763.00.

The Government is quite willing to spend many thousands of dollars in 
investigating and prosecuting social security recipients who are overpaid 
even small amounts of money. Frequently it is the Department itself that 
over pays.

It is a pity its resources are not directed to creating jobs instead of 
punishing the victims of its job destroying policies.

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