The Guardian June 20, 2001


A message from the zealots

Tony Abbott is concerned about our "work ethic". In a feature article in 
last week's daily press the Workplace Relations and Employment Services 
Minister continued his crusade to stigmatise the unemployed, indeed, all 
people receiving welfare payments. "After 100 years Western countries are 
still coming to terms with the complex impact of the welfare state on the 
work ethic..." Abbott described welfare, along with cars and bio-
engineering, as a "blessing", but "it is not an unmixed blessing". To 
cotton on to his rationale note the key terms "work ethic" and 
"blessing".

Further, it turns out that there's no poverty in Australia: "By modern 
definition, it seems that the poor are always with us because `poverty' has 
become a relative measure, which generally means lacking the disposable 
income of the richest 70 or 80 percent."

Perhaps he means people should glory in their destitution and in shedding 
worldly possessions.

Abbott is manipulating public opinion to soften us up to accept what is 
basically a regime of forced labour imposed on welfare recipients. The 
disabled, sole parents, home carers, the unemployed, are all being forced 
into cheap labour schemes under the guise of work programs.

Their names will then be removed from social welfare lists so that the 
government can announce it is reducing "welfare reliance". In accounting 
terms it is called "cooking the books".

In Abbott's blessed work ethic gospel, the dole bludger of right-wing 
mythology becomes someone almost paralysed through lack of activity, 
"People who would never consciously decide to stay on welfare can often 
find that working is almost more trouble than it's worth", and "Work for 
the dole marks the end of the era of unconditional welfare".

People on social security, then, have become plain bone idle and lazy and 
need to be prodded into action like so many stubborn and sleepy cattle. And 
according to this gospel "work for the dole" has also solved a great moral 
dilemma for the God-fearing Right: "It's a sign that we have finally grown 
past the permissive society".

Abbott holds forth with the self-righteousness of the zealot preaching from 
the pulpit because, like the general belief-based leanings of his 
government, he is a fundamentalist Christian  in his case a Catholic of 
the Jesuit variety.

When based on such notions as creationism and original sin, justifying 
working for poverty wages as well as repressive and backward policies like 
work for the dole becomes child's play.

In fact, Abbott pretty much blames the welfare system for the whole 
economic crisis now bearing down on us.

Never mind that his government provides billions of dollars in "corporate 
welfare" through the regressive restructure of the tax system, company tax 
breaks, rorts and bail-outs.

Nor is it a worry for the Minister that his Party is the recipient of 
millions of dollars from corporate well-wishers. Isn't that a form of 
"Party welfare"?

Nor is the Minister worried that his government has increased military 
spending by $23.5 billion over the next 10 years. All of it is intended to 
kill millions of people when necessary. I suspect that that does not create 
any moral problem for Tony Abbott.

The Minister baldly states: "In a market economy it's impossible to ensure 
that everyone eventually has a job  but not impossible to ensure that 
everyone eventually has something to do", and goes on to proclaim: "These 
changes are designed to make work more attractive than the alternative, 
without increasing labour costs." This sounds suspiciously like working for 
nothing!

Although he couches his welfare sermons in the latest cutting-edge, sugar-
coated economic jargon, in reality he wants to dump the welfare system  a 
system that's been won and defended through years of hard struggle  and 
take us back 100 years.

That was a time when governments had no responsibility to address hunger, 
poverty and unemployment, when children were forced into the work-houses of 
Dickens' time.

People often turned to the church as they were, almost literally, naked in 
a world with no welfare payments, no job protection and at the mercy of the 
greed of landlords.

The government is rapidly marching Australia back to such a time. The 
government has turned the welfare system over to Christian organisations, 
is pouring tens of millions of dollars into the private school system at 
the expense of the public system, has sold Radio Australia to a British-
based Christian fundamentalist corporation and has appointed an Anglican 
Archbishop as Governor-General.

John Howard's rejected preamble to the Constitution opened, "With hope in 
God".

You may also recall that the Christian group with the biggest chunk of the 
welfare system, Mission Australia, set down as criteria when employing its 
own staff, that they must be practicing Christians and participate in 
compulsory prayer meetings at work.

While together, such developments seriously undermine the separation of 
church and state, they also serve to expose the ideological alignment of 
the Liberal and National Parties with the agenda of the extreme Right, such 
as One Nation and the League of Rights.

Among them goes racism (anti-immigration and anti-Indigenous rights), 
extreme nationalism and adherence to fundamentalist Christian ideas.

Religious fundamentalism is political reaction. For working people, the 
imposition of its political, economic and philosophical rigidity, means 
oppression, destitution, deprivation, exploitation and servitude under 
those who are "born to rule".

As for Abbott, he is not unlike his namesakes of feudal times when the 
overlords used priests to bless their policies and whip the peasants into 
line under the threat of Hell and Damnation while doling out empty, pious 
promises of a heaven in the hereafter so long as they did as their masters 
demanded.

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