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Weekend reflections

June 9th, 2006

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

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  1. June 9th, 2006 at 21:41 | #1

    Australia’s unemployment rate fell from 5.1 per cent to 4.9 per cent in May. Good news but obviously still too high.

  2. Dogz
    June 10th, 2006 at 14:32 | #2

    Yes, excellent news on unemployment.

    Think of the thousands of dysfunctional families that now have a chance at a decent life thanks to Howard’s reforms.

    With their deep concern for those at the bottom end, we should start to see the left dropping their objections.

  3. conrad
    June 10th, 2006 at 15:50 | #3

    You may as well believe in Santa Clause if you believe the unemployment figures have a whole lot to do with the number of people working.

    It would be good if the participation and underemployment rate were reported at the same time as this unemployment figure.

  4. Katz
    June 10th, 2006 at 17:12 | #4

    With regard to Howard’s New Model Australia:

    If lot’s of folks out there are happy in Howard’s brave new industrial relations world then I’d be among the last to wish to rock the boat.

    If folks think that they owe the world the gift of their docility, then hey, it’s a free country.

    It’s up to others to decide whether or not they are being exploited and what they choose to do about it.

    It’s just that I have a sense that maybe I hear the distant sounds of stirred up hornets’ nests…

    Hope I’m wrong.

  5. June 10th, 2006 at 17:13 | #5

    A breakdown of the numbers, courtesy of the ABS.

    For the merry month of May (trend data, not seasonally adjusted):
    NSW unemployment rate constant at 5.3%
    NSW participation rate constant at 62.9%
    VIC unemployment rate constant at 5.2%
    VIC participation rate increased by 0.1% to 64.4%
    QLD unemployment rate fell by 0.1% to 4.9%
    QLD participation rate constant at 66.2%
    SA unemployment rate increased by 0.1% to 5.4%
    SA participation rate constant at 61.2%
    WA unemployment rate fell by 0.1% to 3.7%
    WA participation rate fell by 0.1% to 67.6%
    TAS unemployment rate increased by 0.1% to 6.5%
    TAS participation rate fell by 0.1% to 61.0%
    NT unemployment rate fell by 0.2% to 6.0%
    NT participation rate increased by 0.2% to 70.4%
    ACT unemployment increased by 0.1% to 3.4%
    ACT participation rate increased 0.4% to 73.3%

    (And for the record, I agree 100% with Conrad and Terje. There should be a far greater emphasis placed on underemployment, and we shouldn’t be ecstatic that one in twenty persons is unemployed.)

  6. Peter Evans
    June 11th, 2006 at 01:12 | #6

    What is unemployed? The definition has changed hugely since the 1970s. Every federal government since then has fiddled the definition, and introduced various tests (sometimes just amounting to a one off return of some meaningless forms) specifically designed to give them an excuse to drop a whole lot of people from the welfare payrole. Todays figures aren’t remotely comparable to those of 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30, so it’s bullshit to even attempt it. Your average innumerate journalist is incapable of any meaningful analysis, as it might require them to read a bit. (For what it’s worth, an old hand and friend in the federal department for these things reckons that using a Fraser era measure for unemployment now would yield a figure of 12-15%. )


  7. Mark U
    June 11th, 2006 at 08:35 | #7


    I agree with you that today’s unemployment figures are not directly comparable with figures from the past.

    But the Federal Government does not “fiddle” the definition of unemployment. This is one of those myths that gets credence from people continually repeating it. The ABS definition of unemployment conforms with International Labour Organisation standards. See: http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/RN/1997-98/98rn33.htm for a good but dated summary of statistics on unemployment and under-employment.

    The problem is that the ILO standard counts someone as employed if they work for one or more hours per week in the survey period. So the standard is biased in favour of counting someone as employed rather than unemployed.

  8. Bob McDonald
    June 11th, 2006 at 12:04 | #8

    For the first time for a decade I am unemployed – an experience I highly recommend for academics and politicians who have input into to policy regarding managing unemployment. Indeed 13 weeks should be compulsory for them or their family members.

    Non Payment for consultancies and then brief jobs on the wharf combined with an old mate arriving to move into the local home for the elderly giving me a dog and half a ton of stuff and an expectation I’d visit 3 days out of 7 and take him around a bit did the trick.

    Fuel hit $1.45 per litre and me and the elderly dog (18) were broke – So I rang. Never wait that long before ringing – it costs to get on the dole. The first trip was to the work provider – $20 worth of petrol. Expecting an interview and having a plan to get out of the poo I was stunned to be given a few forms and told ‘just fill them out’. No way – I wanted my interview – my $20 worth – and got it only from being articulate.

    Unemployment benefits last 13 weeks and then if you are up to 55 you work for the dole or get told which job you work in I was told.

    The ‘real’ phone interview happened two weeks after the first.

    The next meeting was over 100k away – I could have made it 30k return but wanted to access some other services. My last employer who could not be a nicer guy couldn’t find an employment seperation form anywhere in town and without it me and the dog could not finalise signing up – or get money. Other employers who are not so nice we were told can deliberately delay payments for weeks or months if they chose too – and they do – without penalty.

    We then went across to the social worker and then to a private charity and managed to beg for $25 petrol to get home a day old loaf of white bread for me and cheeese and bacon rolls for the dog. They offered more food but i thought others would need it more – a wierd but common thing. We ate our fair in the car in the rain – but our spirits were good – we could get home.

    The faxed seperation form from a very good gov worker – they are all good -did not come through properly and so-on – but a couple of days later the cheque was in the bank and they even rang up to tell me, couldn’t ask for better from the gov workers.

    The change from car seats, extensive jar searches and couch investigation was wrapped in $1 and $2 roles to provide milk and bread and just enough for cigarettes. Gold coins from an old coat lining even lead to a celebration with the downing of the last beer – the dog even got a lick.

    The first cheque paid the phone bill and $90 for a tank of petrol, a bit of food and a new bottle of gas $90 – hot showers again – then over suddenly in the fruit shop when the EFPOST dumped out. I changed mine after a fight with the ANZ so that I didn’t get an overdraft costing me $25 each time I went over thank Christ.

    The second cheque arrived with the car rego and the second monthly phone bill. I put some asside for the rego, fuel in the car and became a vegetarian. No-one here has eaten bananas – No 1 unemployed tucker of the past – for motnhs – they are now $14 per kilo. You could get brown bannas for $1 a kilo in any city – eat, toast in bread, make patties and even cakes. Not anymore. Mum now has to take pills for potassium deficiency, subsidised on national health, to make up for the bananas she used to eat.

    The businesses of getting on the dole, staying on the dole and trying to drive very very minimumly is extremely time consuming.
    You curse silly mistakes that cost $20 for days.

    I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about maintenance I cannot do to the car and hoping it won’t die, feeling bad about not seeing an old Mum and Old mate as much as I would like- cooking dog food and thinking of revenge for the dogs (apologies to dogs) who have not paid me – two in a row that now know I have too little to get them to court. I didn’t start the vege garden as I thought I would – maybe this week – I visited the old fella who couldn’t undertsand why i had not seen him much – and mum 200k away who at 79 cooks me frozen meals while I do bit around the house for her. My trips were once a week – now once a fortnight at best. Even a busted car tyre will put this trip beyond reach and a fear parking fines and speeding tickets,

    Her pension is being eroded too – by high prices of vegetables, increases in rate and water charges, increased insurance costs and almost doubling of small item costs like nail polish remover etc. – and now cooking food for me. She shops very cunningly and has a weekly budget that accurately atomises all her annual costs – lawnmower fuel is now $3.50 pw – and she is now $500 a year worse off than before the GST.

    It is like a race. I have now 7 weeks to get back on my feet or my income will drop another $60 per week with attending work for the dole and my time to get restored will be taken away.

    The low wage jobs I may be forced to – $12.50 per hour for around 30 hours per week – my calculator tells me pay less than the dole when fuel, tax etc are taken into account. At fifty that could be very dangerous to my mental health and I could just smack an arrogant employer in the ear – at best.

    By sheer luck I do not pay rent. If I did, even with rent allowance, I would probabaly have been evicted by now.

    I have met a whole invisible class of rural people – people I knew but did not really know – living in this full time scamming hell to survive.

    A trip to a meeting to put in for a job which used $50 of change to buy petrol was wasted when no-one turned up to the meeting, Bureaucrats do not care they are paid anyway – the dog and I were pissed right off – and hungry as we thought we would get lunch (him scraps under the table or from the infamous doggy bag). We went home dejected and took a day to re-think the situation and cobble up some chance of applying for work.

    I have a huge backlog of work to do ironically – work I do for community groups fighting inappropriately sited wind farms and hotels, helping others with hassles with everything from the dole to logging trucks and overzealous debt collectors. I helped an 80 year old guy here renew his mining permit after he drove 200k return to be told complete bull and made several phone calls to be told the same. I found the freecall number on the web and sorted it for him – but no-one else who was paid to helped him.

    Governments of all levels run consultation and meetings like an industry with local people critically affected swamped and confused and relying on others willing to give their time to sort out stuff for them – it happens across all communities in Australia.

    In the past volunteers could at least get the dole as a small taxpayer payment towards fixing up all the bits and pieces governments cannot and will not. I fear for the future with this poxy attack on the unemployed continuing.

    In a few weeks my number will be gone from the CES data base – ironically no longer used to generate unemployment figures. I will make it, but throughout Australia there are thousands of people who have not made it. They don’t starve they theive at worst and scam at best. Ironically the most generous people will be their fellow unemployed and pensioners. A pecentage will take to hand bag snatching and target old women who put up the least fight. In summer they will go to beaches and empty wallets from unsuspecting swimmers. In the country they go through houses never locked – even stealling very carefully so as to keep access and not be detected for as long as possible.

    Desperate family men will rob banks, cash dodgy cheques and nearly all get caught quickly – or make it as crims.

    Many of the crims I have met looking after them some years ago, voluntarily for early release, surprised me by having weekly or monthly tragets that they thieved to make. Most needed $500 per week for a missus and two kids and a bomb car.

    Teenagers and early twenty year olds of course ‘want it now’. They are fiesty and easily stuff up the dole and then they face criminality or suicide an option government policy encourages and academic advocates of hardline anti unemployed policies should consider. A dead tweny year old left hanging in a shed is a sight that may sober policy makers.

    The middle road of welfare is scratching and is less and less available. Their criminality is usually hopeless and emotional and they stress to breaking point and now fill Victorian jails where 80% of inmates have mental helath issues accoding to their jailers on the Melbounre ABC Jon Faine program a couple of months ago. This is not cost effective for taxpayers – $200 per day instead of $200 per week.

    On July 1st those who breach the dole conditions – like breaking down on the way to an interview and not properly accounting for the mishap, getting the date or time wrong or forgeting altogether – something the employed do every day – will lose the entire dole for 3 months. Then they have to go to their ‘work for the dole consultancy’ and beg for the $700 odd that is can doled out for specific things to keep them alive. In rural Australia the cost of fuel will use that $700 over three months alone – $#$%@%#^$

    This system is not economically rational – ironically. It is designed to denigrate the victims – and there always are victims – of all government economic policies. This blaming those on the dole is a childlike thing from academics threatened by signs of failure of their pet ideas and ideologies I think – explaining its nasty edge and ignored extreme high costs.

    It likely costs many times more to harrass people on the dole than the payments are worth – especially he bulk of the fraud has been with the employment providers that unemployed are forced to sign up with. Again on the jon Faine Program in Melbourne talkback callers revea;led hundreds of thousanmds of dollars worytn of emplyment provider scams and little chance of being caught.

    Under Lange in NZ there was a brief period when you provided a taxfile number to the post office and got the dole automatically. You provided a taxfile number when you got a job and the dole was cut automatically. The CES and work providers then had to attract people to their door – real competition that saved taxpayers a fortune.

    Compliance for unemployement and tax evasion was one of the same.

    We must provide country people with fuel relief now – it cost the dole to look for work as it stands – through vouchers for petrol for all travel _required by C’link and reasonable like visiting family _ with a sliding scale for the costs for cars of different types.

    The cost will be offset by savings in mental helth alone.

    The work provider consultancy scam must be properly investigated and then wound up with debt recovery teams left to track down the millions of dollars of taxpayers money and get it back.

    There are savings on house insurance and the benefits to the employed, unemployed and pensioners of not being bashed, robbed as often, from lower insurance costs and there will be less chance of financial disasters leading to family disasters and visa versa. Properly providing for unemployed would provide unimaginable benefits for society and the economy.

    Just think, if the dole was guaranteed unemployed would be eligable for loans to get themselves out of the poo.

    The government here, like in England, should also pay rent as part of unemployment – cost effective mass purchases and less ripoffs with accommodation for the umemployed and pensioners.

    Finally we should all pay an unemployment tax like is paid in Europe so that in the future when people who have paid taxes become unemployed they can live on 75% of their past income. This would keep the economy in their towns going, have a good base to get back to work from and not be treated like shit – which is the current case in Australia.

    Economists and other academics on public payroll and others working for industries that enjoy corporate subsidies need to embrace their fellow welfare dependent – not kick them and shy at counting the number of actual unemployed.

  9. Katz
    June 11th, 2006 at 12:40 | #9

    There is to be a resurgence of state-funded god bothering.

    According to this story:


    Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop supports federal funding for chaplains in State Schools. Apparently Ms Bishop is responding to concerns of parents “looking for choice in the education and values taught to their children”.

    This tax-funded folly gratifies immensely Greg Hunt, the parliamentary secretary for environment and heritage He sees it as an opportunity to reform the “anti-religious” state systems. He believes it is past time for the Commonwealth to intervene “to give government-educated children a chance.” (The chance to do what is not recorded in the story.)

    Here’s the nitty-gritty:

    “Under the plan, the Commonwealth would match funds raised by any government school that voluntarily raised money for a chaplaincy program.

    “Mr Hunt said the issue of the separation of church and state would be avoided because it would apply only to those schools that applied for the funding and would be voluntary for those students who wanted to consult a chaplain.

    “Mr Hunt said a full-time chaplain would cost schools about $70,000 a year to provide.

    “So if a school could raise $35,000 then the Commonwealth would match that with another $35,000,” he said.”

    Mr Hunt knows his Australian Constitution:

    “Sec 116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

    On the other hand, were a school council to appoint a witch, an astrologer or a devotee of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Federal government would be compelled to spend my money on that spiritually worthy cause.

    And as soon as any priest, pastor, rabbi, mullah or crystal-gazer employed by the Commonwealth speaks to an assembly of students at which attendance is compulsory s/he is in breach of the Australian Constitution.

    And look on the bright side. Federal government funding of clerical folk may expose state school kiddies to the kind of religious experience which so successfully alienates students of the nation’s very best Denominational Schools.

    I therefore have mixed feelings about Minister Bishop’s interesting proposal.

  10. June 11th, 2006 at 14:06 | #10
  11. The Presybterian
    June 11th, 2006 at 16:18 | #11

    It’s about time God-fearing values were taught in state schools. I am all in favour of the government paying for chaplains.

    Provided they are not Catholic.

    I am not having any Papists teach my children.

    Or any of them Methodists, either.

  12. conrad
    June 11th, 2006 at 18:57 | #12

    Bob M: I enjoyed being unemployed when I came back to Australia last year. If you worked for 10 years, then it might have been a good idea to save some money, and then you might have enjoyed it too. This is one of the problems with many Australians — no one really cares about their own future, and then wonders why the government doesn’t either. Personally, I would much rather the government doesn’t force me to save via an unemployment tax when I can do it myself without a whole layer of bueracrats taking their cut.

  13. Peter Evans
    June 11th, 2006 at 22:32 | #13


    The definition is “fiddled” in the sense of how “people out of the labout market” is measured, an increase of which will lower the “unemployment” rate at any given time. People are deemed out of the labour market if they are chopped off the dole for all manner of breaches of condition, and long term unemployed are often reclassified onto sickeness benefits (when really they just want a job). There are other intentional and agressive bureaucratic measures specifically intended to lower the statistics on just who is actually in the labout market. People are actively discouraged from registering for benefits.

    I’ve been unable to find out how long Australia has been using the ILO definitions of employed (note: they are not defintions of unemployed) but I seem to recall some change in the early 90s (okay – it’s vague, and I’m quite likely mistaken).

    By the way, good effort Bob McDonald!


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