Home > Oz Politics > Could Jenny Macklin live on the dole?

Could Jenny Macklin live on the dole?

January 1st, 2013

She says “I could”, but you watch the video, Jenny Macklin’s answer here is very odd. She ducks the question once, has it put again, and is asked “Could you live on the dole”. She says “I could”, without any elaboration then goes straight back to spin. Her office then tries to delete it from the transcript.

It’s such a spectacular screwup, I think she must have imagined she was saying something different. But, whether or not that’s right, she, and the government, deserve all the pain they get for this piece of nastiness.

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  1. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 1st, 2013 at 17:31 | #1

    In this year’s Federal election there will be an intensive campaign by the ALP to unseat the Greens’ Adam Bandt in favour of Labor’s Cath Bowtell in the seat of Melbourne. I wonder whether one of Labor’s campaign talking points will be that Labor people are clearly smarter than Greens because Jenny Macklin is clever enough to be able to live on the dole whereas Greens Senator Rachel Siewert isn’t.

    Seriously, though, what do decent Labor people like Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese, Claire Moore, Doug Cameron, Andrew Leigh and Stephen Jones, and old stalwarts for true Labor values like Tom Uren, think about shit like this?

  2. Fran Barlow
    January 1st, 2013 at 17:45 | #2

    This is simply scandalous. To effectively delete a question and an answer from the transcript under the cover of ‘inaudible’ because they had the potential to embarrass the minister is breathtakingly offensive.

    If Macklin was confused about the question, she should have sought clarification at the time, or if she misheard and answered in error, the transcript should have remained as it stood with an explanatory footnote setting out the misunderstanding and answering the question asked.

    This is what happens when you pander to rightwing populism. You end up becoming an ugly thing. Here, the Minister cannot even say openly that it doesn’t matter if she couldn’t live on NewStart (gosh what an Orwellian name!) because she wasn’t unemployed.

  3. TerjeP
    January 1st, 2013 at 18:27 | #3

    You’re not supposed to live on the dole. You’re supposed to get a job. It is supposed to be merely a transitional arrangement to tide people over whilst they are between jobs. Although it doesn’t help that public policy has institutionalised unemployment.

  4. Salient Green
    January 1st, 2013 at 18:55 | #4

    TerjeP, I’m surprised at you. What jobs? Some of the outlying suburbs of Sydney have 35% unemployment. What do you think the Youth unemployment rate in those suburbs is?
    That 35% unemployment rate pales into insignifigance when compared to unemployment rates in most indigenous communities.
    There are at least six persons chasing every job available in Australia. The commitment of both major parties to market fundamentalism has seen massive job losses overseas.
    The government owes the unemployed and under-employed a decent standard of living as it deliberately keeps a large pool of these people to keep labour costs down.
    The government could fix the unemployment and under-employment problem very easily if it wanted to but bigoted opinions of dole bludgers fall right into their hands.

  5. Donald Oats
    January 1st, 2013 at 19:03 | #5

    It is reasonable to interpret “live on the dole” as meaning able to meet all necessary expenses, like rent and utilities, for the forseeable future if only receiving income from the dole. Obviously, each person in this situation, of being on the dole for a substantial length of time, will have different individual circumstances which will affect their capacity to “live on the dole.” I don’t really think that most people, if given the choice, would choose to “live on the dole” rather than work.

    Clearly, it is a delicate balance between providing sufficient funds to tide someone over a rough patch—of unemployment—and providing so much as to encourage indolence as a lifestyle. I do not think that $35 bucks a day is an incentive for the latter: far from it.

    If someone becomes unemployed and has some cash savings, they are expected to spend down their savings before they qualify for dole payments. That is another fairly potent encouragement to get back to employment as soon as possible.

    Finally, I rather doubt Jenny Macklin could “live on the dole,” if that means doing so after exhausting all other means of meeting regular expenses, etc. If she continues making throwaway remarks like this, she could well find herself in that very situation :-)

  6. Fran Barlow
    January 1st, 2013 at 19:05 | #6


    You’re not supposed to live on the dole.

    From your lips to God … ;-)

    Nice … I don’t supppose you’re supposed to live while job seeking? Look like someone who isn’t unemployed and desperate? Nah … that would be silly.

    Actually, it is possible to “live” on $35 per day, provided of course that you live on the generosity of others who have jobs, or can live the life of an indigent and don’t waste too much money looking for jobs. I’ve seen people make themselves perfectly comfortable sleeping outside the cinemas in Geoerge Street with little bowls for to collect money.

    That $35 per day is a looxury. Back in my day … ;-)

  7. Hal9000
    January 1st, 2013 at 19:52 | #7

    Although it doesn’t help that public policy has institutionalised unemployment.

    Yes, I suppose that employment at the rate that would only just prevent starvation would be preferable. Not.

  8. Fran Barlow
    January 1st, 2013 at 20:02 | #8


    Terje said:

    Although it doesn’t help that public policy has institutionalised unemployment.

    I’m not sure what Terje even means by this remark. Is he saying that unemployment is a deliberate public policy? That the state is in some way less witting way fostering a culture of unemployment?

    It sounds like a vacuous throwaway line and Terje has advanced nothing to even specify the claim, let alone support it.

  9. Fran Barlow
    January 1st, 2013 at 20:03 | #9

    Oops … That the state is in some way less witting way fostering a culture of unemployment?

  10. January 1st, 2013 at 20:22 | #10

    Obviously many people live on the dole, and if Macklin had to live on it, she would too — so the answer is obviously yes. What did the person asking the question really want to know? Is there a more socially acceptable answer, including some hand wringing, that Macklin was supposed to trot out to prove she is the right sort of person?

  11. Maza
    January 1st, 2013 at 20:38 | #11

    Both she and the government will get their pain. Nothing could be more certain.

  12. Fran Barlow
    January 1st, 2013 at 20:44 | #12

    @Tom Davies

    What did the person asking the question really want to know?

    I’m guessing the questioner wanted Macklin to declare that a person could live at a standard that would not embarrass civilised people on that allowance and meet the work test. The answer to that question is obviously not. Unless the person is living at home with the parents or being supported in some other way, it is not going to cover the necessaries.

    Yes, you could sleep rough and survive on it if you were in reasonable health and had some street smarts but you wouldn’t be work ready or contactable by Centrelink.

    Is there a more socially acceptable answer, including some hand wringing, that Macklin was supposed to trot out to prove she is the right sort of person?

    I suspect she proved she was the right sort of person to be in charge of brutalising the disadvantaged, so in a sense she has done the right thing by herself.

  13. January 1st, 2013 at 20:57 | #13

    A desire for fairness is a key value in human, and some other primate societies. One of the forms of this desire is hostility to those who take more than their fare share or avoid making a fair contribution to society.
    One of the disturbing thing about our society is the way some conservatives have managed to convince us that it is OK for some to get far far more than their fair share while it is OK to castigate those at the bottom of the pile who can’t get a job.
    I used to think that Jenny Macklin was a more decent person than this.

  14. Mel
    January 1st, 2013 at 22:33 | #14

    @Fran Barlow “I’m not sure what Terje even means by this remark. Is he saying that unemployment is a deliberate public policy?”

    Obviously Terje is making the point that unemployment only exists (a) because the state places fetters on employees and employers making employment contracts and (b) because the state interferes in the market in ways that kills jobs. This is simplistic nonsense of course but most libertarians apparently believe it.

    The unemployment benefit should be significantly higher but steps must also be taken to ensure passive welfarism doesn’t become entrenched and transmitted from generation to generation.

    I pray to Buddha that all libertarians are re-incarnated as unattractive black females born into violent and dysfunctional families, an IQ of 90 and a range of severe disabilities. I wonder how many would turn into libertarians with the limited life chances such particulars would provide?

  15. Socrates
    January 1st, 2013 at 22:39 | #15

    Jenny Macklin may be telling the truth. If you have spent several years on a ministers salary several times the average wage, have probably paid off your mortgage, and have a government provided car, phone and many other expenses covered, then it may be true.

    Of course, for anyone else… You can’t live on the dole without additional assistance from others or running down your savings.

    Given the video of this statement, and the many anti-government figures in the media, it was extraordinary that Macklin thout she would get away with doctoring the transcript. It makes me wonder what other records she might have editted as a minister?

  16. Happy Heyoka
    January 2nd, 2013 at 00:37 | #16

    I’ve been composing an angry letter to her since I read about it – something along the lines of “ok, so show us how it’s done”…
    – First, pick a charity to benefit from the experiment.
    – Next, donate all but a couple of grand from her savings.
    – Then for the first eight or twelve weeks she needs to donate 100% of her income; there should be some ritual humiliation applied liberally during this period.
    – For the next year or two she needs to donate, what, about 96% of her income to that charity to get her back to $35 a day.
    – Oh, and for the sake of completeness, she is required to clothe, feed and school a dependant during this period while making rent and utility payments.

    @TerjeP : I was brought up with a pretty strong work ethic, I’m a fairly bright chap and have owned companies, worked overseas and done plenty of hundred+ hour working weeks in my life. Heaven forbid you experience a personal reversal of fortune that prevents you from applying for a position where you can exercise your obviously prodigious talent for the big bucks. I never thought it would happen to me.

    If we want to reduce the burden of the “safety net” then, IMHO, cutting it out from under people is not the correct economic lever to pull.

    Policies to create more industry, policies to improve our trade position, cheaper access to training for skilled jobs, better access to childcare and after school programs… there’s a hundred other ways to fix it.

  17. BilB
    January 2nd, 2013 at 04:51 | #17

    This issue raises the subject of affordable accommodation.

    I would have read Macklin’s comment to mean that “in the circumstances of an unemployed person I (she) would find a way to survive on the new start allowance”. From here current position she would probably be ineligible so the argument regarding herself living on the new start is moot.

    However for young people at the level of $330 (if that is what it is)


    is quite liveable where a person is in share accommodation which will range from $120 per week to $220.

    The real issue here is to do with accommodation affordability, and that can vary widely region to region. So while you are ripping in to the minister think about how you would frame a universal income support device that has to work nationally.

    If you cannot conceive an income support mechanism that everyone, including Terje, would support then you are being hypocritical in criticising Macklin for her attempt to answer the very subjective question.

    The attempt to rewrite the interview is a separate issue.

  18. Ikonoclast
    January 2nd, 2013 at 06:12 | #18

    Langmore and Quiggin wrote a book and published it in the 1990s; “Work For All: Full Employment in the Nineties.”

    If the public and politicians had listened back then we would not be in the mess we are in now. Their book had many of the substantially correct answers.

    It is clear that economic policies operative since circa 1972 have failed. That’s 40 years of failure. How long does a failed experiment (neoclassical monetarism) have to continue?

    I’m astonished we are still stuck doing the wrong things after the 2008 GFC. Western society is dysfunctional and trapped in a failed ideology.

  19. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 06:52 | #19

    This episode adds a further surreal dimension to the tale of Macklin’s preselection for Jagajaga in the mid-1990s.

    The main contenders for preselection at the time were Macklin from the Left and Philip Bain from the Labor Unity (Right) faction. The decisive bloc of votes in the preselection was controlled by John Maynes, leader of the Shop Assistants Union and a longstanding National Civic Council-aligned union official.

    In this scenario one would normally have expected Bain to have been preselected. However, it had been drawn to Maynes’ notice that Bain had, as a young man in the 1970s, been a member of the Communist Party of Australia. For Maynes, this meant that Bain’s then-current views and factional affiliations were set at naught because of his original sin of communism, and the Shoppies’ votes were thus delivered to Macklin.

    As it happens I knew Philip Bain in 1979 when he was the co-editor of Rabelais at La Trobe University, and can attest that he was generally regarded as a very decent, humane and compassionate individual, whatever his party or faction affiliations. I wonder if John Maynes still has enough Rerum Novarum juice left in him to reflect that Philip Bain, whatever his past sins, would have brought more Christian social commitment to politics and policy than Macklin has been able to.

  20. TerjeP
    January 2nd, 2013 at 06:55 | #20

    I can see here from comments that I am alone in believing that full employment is an achievable public policy outcome. Everybody else seems to regard unemployment as a natural occurrence that must be “managed” rather than an unnatural situation that should be cured. I suppose if you start with different assumptions then you will invariably draw different conclusions.

  21. Fran Barlow
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:18 | #21


    I can see here from comments that I am alone in believing that full employment is an achievable public policy outcome.

    Who says red herrings are a rare animal?

    If people are unemployed or without means, the community must find a way of ensuring these folk have means to support themselves in ways that don’t predispose them to harm themselves or others. Generally, these means must be structured to permit them to live in dignity while being at a standard that is economically sustainable and available to all who require it. The willingness of a community to undertake and maintain such arrangements is one of the tests of its integrity. Seeing our fellow community members living in undignified circumstances shames us all.

    Arguments about whether “full employment” is possible (and what that would mean in practice) are entirely beside the point. I will note in passing that the idea that “unemployment as a natural occurrence that must be “managed” is bog standard mainstream commentary (it’s reckoned that 5% is “natural” and perhaps even desirable from a capitalist point of view) rather than something those on the left are keen on.

  22. Chris Warren
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:28 | #22



    Youth allowance is around $200 per week. How can you pay for gas/electricity with the remainder if you also have to feed yourself?

    How do you buy cooking equipment, or decent clothing, or access phones to apply for jobs?

    How do you buy toiletries? bedding? transport? medicines?

    What is the psychological impact? when the middle class has so much wealth, ignorance and arrogance?

    Does social justice mean anything to you?

  23. moz does nothing
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:32 | #23

    TerjeP, excluding structural unemployment (people changing jobs, broadly) “full employment” has only been achieved through major state investment in job-producing entities. The “good old days” were full of people employed by the railways, the post office and so on, to do very little. That’s what many of them were capable of. Today, we prefer to employ some of those people to make the lives of the rest miserable by imposing work tests, benefit suspensions and massive public stigma on beneficiaries. I don’t think that makes anyone happy except a few rich people who greatly benefit from the reduced taxes.

    These days actually staying on the dole for any length of time is a job that taxes people with considerable social capital. The “dole bludgers” I know just accept that they will lose the benefit from time to time, at unpredictable intervals and for reasons that can’t be explained. It seems designed to induce great amounts of stress (which in turn makes people less able to look after themselves, let alone look for work).

  24. Katz
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:34 | #24

    But TerjeP, do you think that full employment will be achieved by starving dole recipients?

  25. Fran Barlow
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:43 | #25


    But TerjeP, do you think that full employment will be achieved by starving dole recipients?

    Well he did say that you weren’t supposed to live on the dole.

    Terje merely makes the well attested right wing point that “incentive” means different things for the privileged and the poor. The privileged need gold and the poor need the lash. This is the system that invests the concept of “choice” with appropriate ideological content.

  26. Ben
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:44 | #26

    @Salient Green
    Speaking of Indigenous Australia, I had generally believed Jenny Macklin about the Intervention but this Big Brother act of “History has always said this. You heard it wrong” makes me doubt her.

  27. Katz
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:55 | #27

    I was wondering whether TerjeP is courageous enough to support adaptation of Swift’s solution by having the unemployed eat each other.

  28. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 07:57 | #28

    To give some specific perspective, I have calculated that if I were forced onto Newstart and associate rent assistance, after paying $450 per fortnight rent for my 1-bedroom flat I would be left with about $150 a fortnight to cover all my other expenses. But it gets worse than this.

    Because I’ve been at the same location since May 2001, the periodic rent increases for the flat haven’t kept pace with market rent increases. One of the other flats in the block is now vacant and is being advertised for rent at $520 per fortnight, which would leave a Newstart recipient who moved into the flat with about $80 per fortnight for all other expenses. Bear in mind, too, that the flat is being advertised at well below the typical rent for 1-bedroom flats in this suburb, which is equal to or above the entire Newstart Allowance plus rent assistance.

    I think it’s time to immediately start finding out whether Jenny Macklin can live on her Parliamentary pension.

  29. Tim Keegan
    January 2nd, 2013 at 08:01 | #29

    I predict that this policy will have a detrimental effect on the day to day lives of children and their life chances. Where’s the light on the hill?

  30. Fran Barlow
    January 2nd, 2013 at 08:28 | #30

    @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy

    One might add as well that cheap rent often tends to be for short term leases — 3 months, or 6 months at most. If you have to move every 6 months you can add about $1000 minimum for those expenses alone. Then there is the little matter of bond and rent up front.

    If I had to move, I daresay I’d have to budget about $3000 for it (assuming somewhere in Sydney or the near region). Luckily, I’ve managed to stay in the one rented house for 21 years.

  31. moz does nothing
    January 2nd, 2013 at 09:21 | #31

    Fran, “cheap rent” in practice seems to mean moving out from the CBD, If you keep pace with the expansion of public transport it’s possible to keep rent down to the point where rent assistance barely kicks in. That means, though, making sure it’s always at least half an hour bus trip to the nearest train station. You also need either so little stuff that you can move it with a shopping trolley, or a friend with a car.

    Which of itself is enough you make you permanently unemployable in these days of “on call” casual staff. Being an hour or more away from work when they offer you a shift pushes you way down the priority list at that casual, flexible, minimum-wage job.

    Watching the next generation leave school and look for part time work (because full time is out of the question) is pretty awful. It doesn’t matter what the legal protections are when the dole is so hard to get. People are really facing “would you like some money for this job, or nothing from the dole” as their options. And Centrelink is only very slowly starting to acknowledge what the modern casual work means for dole recipients. Almost as a matter of course, if you pick up a couple of days work you will be deemed to have committed benefit fraud (ie, not told Centrelink six weeks in advance that you will have income this week). So that pair of 5 hour shifts that actually took 16 hours of your time comes with a hidden bonus of an extra 4-10 hours chasing Centrelink to sort out your benefit and try to avoid being suspended for unreported income. It makes cash work very attractive, not least because with cash the advertised rate is the actual rate. Getting $15/hour on the books actually means $15 x 4 hours paid less the benefit abatement rate of 50%, plus a bonus two appointments at Centrelink and one at your job search provider explaining that a: you got paid work; b: this is how much you got paid; c: that is why you didn’t “actively search for paid work” that day (most people just do the search anyway, it’s easier and faster, but that relies on having the time to do so); and d: here is written proof from the employer that the work was for a short time, at short notice, and cannot be relied on in the future; so e: please don’t cut off my benefit or cut it by the amount I earned that once, every week from now on. In summary, four hours paid work ends up taking 20 or more hours of the “dole bludgers” time with a strong probability of savage financial retribution. Sorry, “accidental underpayment”. Ahem.

    Also, if every time Centrelink underpaid someone that counted as fraud committed against the recipient the fraud statistics would look very different. Especially if there was an audit and enforcement team dedicated to finding and prosecuting people who did that repeatedly and deliberately.

  32. hc
    January 2nd, 2013 at 09:52 | #32

    How else could she have answered? “No, I couldn’t I would perish.” That would be false.

    This line of attack on her is “gotcha” sentimentalism and sensationalism. In short, she said “X” isn’t she immoral and wicked and aren’t we moral and good for pointing out her wickedness? Her attempt to deny the answer reflected her understanding that the honest answer would inevitably invite just such a “gotcha” attack.

    Macklin like most Labor politicians (and most politicians) would like to increase such payments but they are aware of taxpayer hypocrisy. Pay them more but, for God’s sake, don’t increase taxes.

  33. January 2nd, 2013 at 09:54 | #33

    I am in agreement with Terje except his bizarre notion that public policy is not attaining full employment.

  34. Geoff Andrews
    January 2nd, 2013 at 09:56 | #34

    Maybe it was a question that should have been anticipated by Macklin’s PR department.
    If so, what should their advice have been, given that it is in the same league as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or the old cadet reporter favourite “How did you feel when you saw your child being taken by the shark?”.

    How about:

    (a) “That’s a hypothetical question; I can’t/won’t attempt to answer”
    (b) “I am advised that it is possible to live on $235 a week”
    (c) “If I had to, I could”
    (d) Just give her the famous Tony Abbott silent angry glare or the Julie Bishop ceramic shattering stare until she says “Thank you for your time, Minister”

    … and with that own goal, the Quasi-liberal team trails the quasi-Liberal team by 3 goals.

  35. alex dante
    January 2nd, 2013 at 09:57 | #35

    BilB :
    The real issue here is to do with accommodation affordability, and that can vary widely region to region. So while you are ripping in to the minister think about how you would frame a universal income support device that has to work nationally.

    If the onus is on us to come up with a solution, what are we paying Macklin to do? Because “provide stupid soundbites” isn’t really worth the salary she’s drawing.

    Yes, god forfend those of us who aren’t working on this issue full-time as our primary means of employment (with advisors and staff to assist) don’t have the answer while expecting better ones from those who do…

  36. Fran Barlow
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:08 | #36


    How else could she have answered?

    Honestly. Assuming I had to pass the work test and had no other store of resources to draw upon nor anyone willing to supply me with cheap board I would have to take steps that would make it much less likely that I would find longterm work. It’s quite likely I’d fall into poor health, and sleeping rough at my age would make that especially likely. For young people of course, whose effective unemplyment rate is much closer to 20% in many areas and especially those who tend to be most at risk of underemployment or unemployment, these risks are especially grave. It’s terrible of course but if we are to honour fiscal conservatism and to present ourselves as rightwingers then there’s really no good alternative but to make the poor suffer.

    Sadly, there are always winner and losers in public policy and the lives of poor people are just not as worthy as the lives of privileged people. In a market-based system, privileged people are the more valuable asset, and since the total program cost of looking after these folk is less and they tend to be more politically engaged, it’s simple good sense to pander to them.

    Does that sound greedy? Uncaring? At odds with notions of equality to which I would once have paid lipservice? Sure. But I’m a $6000 per week government minister not someone wanting to relive their glory days as a “red fem” so the poor can kiss my {oops … forgot this was a mixed audience, but you get the drift.}

    Had she said that, I’d have given her points for candour. I like candour.

  37. Katz
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:12 | #37


    I agree.

    Nevertheless, we tax payers fund battalions of ministerial minders and spinmeisters whose sole function is to construct credible lies to be consumed by the folks who paid for them.

    It would appear that Macklin’s professional liars let her down badly. This is clearly a collapse of governance.

    There should be a Royal Commission.

  38. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:20 | #38

    If George Orwell were around, he would perhaps (following on from the argument in “Politics and the English Language” point out that the government policy in question is one that can only be defended by arguments that are too brutal to be stated openly, and has been adopted for reasons that are too absurd and contemptible to be stated openly, leaving the government with no other recourse than to arguments that are even more absurd when stated openly.

  39. Ikonoclast
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:30 | #39


    “I can see here from comments that I am alone in believing that full employment is an achievable public policy outcome.” – TerjeP.

    Just two posts up from your comment I mentioned the Langmore / Quiggin book. This book viewed full employment as achieveable – excepting 3% (sic*) frictional unemployment – and proposed the public policies to get there. The policies would work if ever implemented. I mentioned the book above. That makes at least 2 here, J. Quiggin and myself, who believe full employment is an achievable public policy outcome.

    * Note: I would nominate about 2% as frictional unemployment. Just a personal call based on politics and perceptions. 3% is too close to 4% which in turn is too close to 5%. It’s bad to set targets which allow weasel politicians to fudge it further. Next thing they would be calling 5% unemployment frictional.

  40. Ikonoclast
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:00 | #40

    Moz does Nothing said; “Centrelink is only very slowly starting to acknowledge…”

    This was probably just an imprecise statement. The type we all make when blogging quickly.

    Being pedantic, I will say this. Centrelink (management and staff) do not legislate, make laws or set welfare policy. The Government of the day does those things. Welfare policy is the responsibility of the government and (by extension) the entire electorate. Centrelink and DSS before it (like DIMA too) have been forced to implement and administer idiotic and inhuman policies for at least two decades. A small percentage of their staff appear to enjoy being tin gods, narks and scrooges with public money but the vast majority don’t like being put in such an invidious position (by the neocon politicians of the Liberals and Labor) and do their work as fairly as they can.

    Many of the good and experienced over 50 staff can longer stand the lunacy (generic managerialism, endless restructures, absurd policy, gimcrack fast tracked systems and procedures) and are leaving in droves. Their young staff are smart, dedicated, stressed, over-worked, under-appreciated and under-paid. I suspect many will burn out well before 50.

    The federal government now treats its frontline staff like s**t. I strongly advise people I meet (when and if the topic comes up) to never accept base grade employment with the Federal Govt unless they are totally desperate and their only alternative is casual work in a fast food joint. If they still intend to work for the feds I say keep looking for a better job and get out as soon as you can.

  41. J-D
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:03 | #41

    @Fran Barlow
    It’s all very well saying you’d give ‘points’ to politicians who talked like that, but what good are your points to them? Would you give them your vote?

  42. January 2nd, 2013 at 11:06 | #42

    An old book but a beauty is Unemployment by Layard , Nickell and Jackman.

    There is a good review of it by Olvier Blanchard as well somewhere out there if people are interested in this topic

  43. Sam
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:16 | #43

    I lived on youth allowance as an undergraduate student for many years; this is less than the dole. I found it tough, but easily survivable. Rents have gone up a bit since then though, so if I were to do it now I would have to live a bit further out from the city. This would mean riding my bike further everyday, but that wouldn’t kill me.

    Like TerjeP, I am much more concerned with lowering the structural unemployment rate than making unemployment more enjoyable, however it’s my belief that the net effect of TerjeP’s suggested policies would be to increase this rate, not reduce it.

    I’d like to see the federal government acting as employer as last resort. The work could be reasonably hard, and perhaps paying just slightly less than current minimum wage. There’s lot’s of work to be done around the country, and only a dysfunctional economic system preventing people doing it.

  44. Chris Warren
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:48 | #44

    Another parliamentary bimbo tried the same provocation in 1984 – Stephen Lusher.

    See: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19840409&id=2FFVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wpUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1562,3950820

    The outcry was thunderous at the time.

  45. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:58 | #45

    Lusher’s stunt was performed for, and covered by, 60 Minutes. It elicited a brilliant Tandberg cartoon showing two people looking at a news billboard that read “Lusher survives on dole for 60 minutes.”

  46. Fran Barlow
    January 2nd, 2013 at 12:36 | #46


    It’s all very well saying you’d give ‘points’ to politicians who talked like that, but what good are your points to them? Would you give them your vote?

    Well no, of course not. Voting is an expressive or symbolic act and self-evidently, I don’t share the values espoused in the remarks so I wouldn’t be supporting them. That said, I would feel a lower level of disgust for them than at those who thought exactly the same thing but tried to locate its provenance in “being cruel to be kind” or “to ensure fairness amongst benefit classes” (yes Macklin said that about the supporting parents’ benefit changes) or “to avoid institutionalising welfarism/creating a cycle of dependence” or some other meme du jour.

    Nothing I do is meant to be of use to them. I am no kind of servant of theirs. The social interests of boss class politicians will never be my concern. At most, I might have an indirect interest in the momentary triumph of one over the other where that triumph might in some way relieve some of the misery their system inevitably imposes on working people or the marginalised more generally. A politician who spoke with such candour would simplify the business of encouraging the working people to step forward and press their claims for justice and serve to demystify politics. I can like that without wanting success for the utterer of such remarks.

  47. Donald Oats
    January 2nd, 2013 at 12:43 | #47

    @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    Thanks for the evocation of that Tandberg cartoon caption—it has made my day!

    On the topic of what Jenny Maclin said…I just saw the video again, and Macklin’s reply is a picture of clarity: no easy way to defend calling it “inaudible” in the transcript.

    As for Macklin being able to “live on the dole,” it is worth considering her current salary of over $6K per week, and wondering if she truly appreciates the scale of the change to $35 bucks a day? I suspect she doesn’t have the slightest clue, and upon reflection she regretted her curt and ridiculous answer. Whether a staffer redacted the reply from the transcript, or she did, the net effect is the same. It makes them look devious.

  48. Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 12:53 | #48

    At this point I am going to offer a self-criticism which might also be offered by others, notwithstanding the very good points that have been made about the adequacy of Newstart and about employment policy.

    What we have overlooked is that the issue here is not just the (in)adequacy of Newstart, it is that many thousands of single parents are having their, and their families’, living standards massively reduced as a result of being shifted from Parenting Payment to Newstart. Further, in many cases they are having their existing patterns of engagement with education and employment disrupted by being moved onto the coercive and paternalistic Newstart “mutual obligation” and “intensive support” regime.

    Here is a good place to learn more about the issue.

  49. TerjeP
    January 2nd, 2013 at 13:06 | #49

    Katz :
    But TerjeP, do you think that full employment will be achieved by starving dole recipients?

    Of course not. Can you point to any data showing that Australians are starving?

  50. Katz
    January 2nd, 2013 at 13:10 | #50

    Of Macklin’s spinmeisters, Oscar Wilde might have said, “the unspeakable in pursuit of the unrepeatable”.

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