Friday, January 09, 2004

“The Howard Government has made some real progress on welfare reform”

So sayeth the CEO of Mission Australia here, without providing a shred of supporting evidence. Patrick McClure does, however, manage to rant about the multi-facetedness of poverty; facets which apparently include a person’s lack of involvement in social life, and the lack of affordable childcare for the unemployed. Go figure the latter – apart from for the occasional job interview, I would have thought that unemployment at least neatly solved the childcare problem. As for poverty/unemployment causing a (detrimental) withdrawal from social life, this is conceded, in part. What is left unspoken by McClure is the extent to which his very own organisation is part of the problem – in particular, by trafficking humans through pointless six-month assignments, otherwise known as Work for the Dole programs.

Not that anyone from Mission Australia, or Mission Employment would want to be seen praising such lucrative programs too obsequiously – this might risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Instead, McClure’s strategy is to cling tenaciously on to 1970s and 80s demographics of unemployment – when it affected mainly youth and over-50s – as the areas where most “reform” is needed. A glance inside any of his organisation’s hundreds of Work for the Dole operations would immediately prove the opposite: overwhelmingly, WfD participants are men from their mid 20s to late 30s, and with a disproportionately high number of uni graduates among them.

Acknowledging this much as being the ground zero of poverty and unemployment in Australia would be a small step towards making real progress. I can’t see the Howard Government doing so (which would be to “own” what is arguably its biggest shame, in domestic policy terms) any time prior to its being booted out of office. Meanwhile, babysitting uni graduates – aka institutionalising them, away from normal social intercourse – is far too profitable for Mission Employment for boss Patrick McClure to even acknowledge the reality of his own operations, much less the immense national repercussions, current and future, of the broader problem.

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