Protesting Is A Right That Shouldn’t Be Linked To The Dole
The battle between politicians and people who collect a Centrelink payment has been heating up for a few years now.
But the latest salvo from Canberra is particularly outrageous -- or at least threatens to give your eyes a strain from rolling if you’ve served any time at all in the lip-service battalion of the culture wars.
According to the people we somehow voted into power, having a voice in the public sphere should be grounds for having your Centrelink payment stopped. Of course, they don’t put it like that. Instead of saying, “we want punitive action against people who publicly disagree with our policies and how we run things, driving them further into either penury or silence”, they frame it as a question of proper time management for ardent jobseekers.
“Taxpayers should not be expected to subsidise the protests of others,” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has said, expertly reframing the narrative.
“Protesting is not, and never will be, an exemption from a welfare recipient’s mutual obligation to look for a job.”
Which really makes you wonder if Senator Cash has ever looked for a job or taken part in a protest before. Because it turns out you can actually do both, especially in these days of online applications and LinkedIn profiles -- you could be chained to a tree or even chained by the neck to temporary fencing and still ask Siri to shoot off your selection criteria for that sweet call centre gig.
It’s not like the old days where you had to walk into Timezone, hand in a CV that went straight into an overstuffed drawer, then scrawl their phone number in your dole diary before heading over to protest the war in Iraq at the Wollongong Mall amphitheatre.
But for all her questionable opinions, at least Senator Cash has the decency to waft the diaphanous veil of “considering the role of the downtrodden taxpayer in all this” over her assault on un- or underemployed activists.
Get off our teat, the subtext says, and then you can criticise us. Until then, be quiet and take your pittance each fortnight.
A pittance, of course, which cannot be raised because -- as Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said (albeit quoted in a report she later called 'misleading') it will “give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money”. But hey, that’s another front in the war.
Peter Dutton, on the other hand, has emerged to share some warm memories of the Bjelke-Petersen era, when protesters ranked somewhere just below battery hens on the totem pole of significance, and could be treated with a similar level of contempt.
Specifically, he’s advocating jail time for protesters who are wasting police time by forcing them to deal with the disruption caused by their actions. (He also wants their photos distributed “far and wide” in a name’n’shame-style campaign that would encourage protesters’ family members to keep them in line, as though Australia is some kind of collectivist culture. As though the name of his current enemy doesn’t have the word “Rebellion” in it.)
Now, I don’t reckon you’ll find too many people outside of a National Party nursing home arguing that Queensland was a better place pre-Fitzgerald Enquiry and/or World Expo '88, but that’s the “community expectation” of police powers we heard advocated by the former boy in blue on Ray Hadley’s show. Cancel their welfare, which the taxpayer funds, and throw them in jail… which… the taxpayer…
Whether you think gluing yourself to a main road is a sensible way to draw attention to the plight of the planet or a bloody stupid thing to do, the point is not the nature of the protest, but the nature of the protesters.
Demarcating who can and cannot go into the public sphere and share their opinions on the future of the world -- and demarcating that financially, in particular -- is the kind of slippery slope that leads to an even deeper inequality.