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.