Mutual Obligations? A Contradiction in Terms By James Cook
In the 1980s the term ‘mutual obligation’ [MO] was used in a way which caused me some concern. It was claimed by a ‘roads bureaucrat’ that the weighbridge operator had a ‘mutual obligation’ to report farmers whose
trucks arrived overloaded, before unloading at the wheat silos. This type of reporting was, in my opinion, very un-Australian and borders on ‘citizen’s surveillance’ found in totalitarian regimes. There was no thought of forgiveness because the farmer had to load as much as possible of his crop into the silo to avoid delays by weather or other harvesting problems. The same expression was used last week in relation to the government’s COVID-19 assistance packages, so I Googled ‘mutual obligation’ to find a recent definition and came across the attached article and appended below. We should be very concerned! The personal experience of the author navigating the bureaucratic labyrinths of Centrelink would be daunting to the most pugnacious citizen seeking help in a time of need. The concept of ‘MO’ today has its roots in a poorly devised financial system more in keeping with George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.
Are there any realistic solutions to the dilemma which so many people find themselves in this reputedly wealthy Australia? There certainly is and it has been known for 100 years but almost completely hidden from
public view! The solutions can be found in two Social Credit financial policies. These should not to be confused with the Chinese variety of ‘social credit’ that is the antithesis of Social Credit formulated by C.H. Douglas. The first policy is known as ‘The Just Price’. It puts the brakes on financial Inflation by balancing the cost of goods and services between the manufacturer and consumer, thus putting value into the ‘People’s Money’. It is a policy which eliminates Inflation which is the ‘root-cause’ of ‘evil centralisation’ leading to destructive business practises of amalgamation, rationalisation, unforgiving debt, and finally bankruptcy. The second Social Credit Policy formulated by
C.H. Douglas is ‘The National Dividend’—it is a payment made to all citizens as a ‘Right’ to their enjoyment of a wealthy Nation. Australia is a very wealthy Nation by world standards and if it was a ‘corporation’ we would expect Australia to be paying handsome dividends to its shareholders--but it is not! Adopting these policies alone would make no end of improvement to the well-being of people like the author of ‘Life on the Breadline’ and end the bureaucratic bullying to enforce ‘mutual obligation’. These two policies alone would make families stronger by reducing violence and deprivation to women and children. It would reduce the demand for higher pay and have a beneficial effect on employment and business management, because consumers could be sure their dollar was worth the same every day, year in, year out. Neither would be Inflationary because the policies are based on the ability of ‘national affordability’ only. Further discussion of the finer mechanics of implementation will only lead to obfuscation in the voter's mind and let their political Representatives evade their responsibilities of supporting desirable voter policies. Social Credit ‘financial policies’ are complimentary to the concept of a ‘Basic Income for All’ or ‘BIG’--but far better because Social Credit demands policy financing should be in the form of ‘credits’ rather than ‘debts’. There is no need to delve into the realm of Finance here other than YOU demand better results from your elected Representative or else change the way you have voted in the past, otherwise you will only receive more of the same.
“The term “mutual obligation” is very deliberately used by the government to cover a multitude of sins and indignities that are inflicted upon Centrelink recipients such as myself. Essentially, it’s the hoops you must keep jumping through to not be cut off your payment: reporting your income, applying for jobs and dealing with all the activities your Job Network or Disability Employment Service demands of you. You might think, “Just do as you’re asked, how hard can it be?!” The problem is that this list of things, this series of hoops just keeps on growing and moving around. You jump, and it’s moved at the last minute. You can fulfil all your requirements and still be cut off your payments. You start with being categorised to determine what your “mutual obligations” are: how many jobs you must apply for, how many hours you must devote to looking for work or training, how many Job Network meetings you must go to. To take myself as an example, my illnesses put me in the Job Network category that is called the Disability Employment Service (DES). A few years ago, I was assured by a Centrelink worker that a DES would be more accommodating, more understanding of my health issues. She assured me the issues with my previous Job Network would disappear.
How wrong she was. I can honestly say some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had regarding Centrelink have been with DES providers. These are not specially trained workers as you may think: educated in health issues or social barriers, empathetic and eager to support. Most of the time I have had case workers with far less education than me, with little life experience and no clue as to the reality of my medical conditions. I try very hard to hold on to my self-worth in these appointments. Many times, I don’t succeed. But I must attend, or risk having my payments suspended. I am forced to repeat my history over and over again to multiple case workers, even though my notes are in my file. I had one DES worker press me for specific, intimate details of one medical condition I have. I replied that I was not comfortable with revealing that, and wasn’t it enough that he knew what my condition was? He would not let it go, arguing that he “needed to know” for my benefit, despite him having no legal right to those details. He kept pushing, interrogating me to the point where I blurted it out, holding back tears.
I ended up leaving that appointment, holding it together until I got to the elevator, and then started to cry. It is a special kind of shame when you realise how powerless you are in a room where the other person can remove your only source of money. I wanted the appointment to be over and I wanted to eat, so I relented. I was horrified. This man forced details out of me I have not told close friends and moreover saw nothing wrong with it. Telling people to “do training” is a whole other kettle of fish. “Earning or learning” was a favourite phrase of the previous minister Joe Hockey when talking about people on Centrelink payments. But there comes a point where “learning” things you are already capable of becomes insulting and demoralising. I recently went with a friend to his Job Network meeting for moral support. This is an intelligent young man, with a university degree and previous retail and warehouse experience. He had already been forced into two supposedly “voluntary” Path programs by his Job Network; both unaccredited and not nationally recognised. These were incredibly dubious courses that, if the wider public knew about, would be horrified taxpayer money is being spent on. Courses like the “Theory of Coffee Making” course, where not a single student touched a coffee machine. The other Path course he was forced into was a “business” course in the loosest sense of the word, run by someone who bullied the students. All students were from the Job Network. Instead of letting her class go home early one afternoon when the work was finished, she forced them all to do a scavenger hunt where, I kid you not, activities like “counting the car parks” and “taking a selfie with the security guard” were listed. My friend was gobsmacked.
This kind of insanity sounds almost unbelievable doesn’t it? Taxpayer dollars being used to force university graduates to count car parks, so their meagre dole is not cut. There is no refusal of these pointless activities. Refuse these humiliating tasks and your payment is suspended by the Job Network. In theory, the “mutual obligation” you enter into should be suited to the person and fair. But in reality, this is rarely the case. My friend did not want to do another Path course; from my descriptions of them I’m sure you can understand why. Under the legislation, the Job Network had the power to exempt him from it. They refused to do so, eventually admitting they could do so, but wouldn’t as “their policy” was to enrol job seekers in courses. They demanded he re-enrol into a resume course he had completed three months earlier. Bear in mind that Job Networks gain extra government payments for “outcomes” like placing job seekers in training. There is a perverse financial incentive to enrol their clients into any course, no matter how pointless or inappropriate it is for the job seeker. My friend found out later that every time they put a client into the resume course, the company got $300 from the government for this “outcome”. Not one of the courses he was forced into led to him gaining employment. With the new demerit point system, the right to stand up for yourself as a job seeker is being decimated. In theory, you can negotiate a suitable mutual obligation job plan. But in practice, not signing a plan they suggest can result in demerit points you can’t appeal, and being bullied and harassed. There is no “mutual” – there are no negotiations. The negotiations are as fair as having a gun to your head and agreeing to hand over your wallet. The system we are forced to use is not a mutual obligation, but a system of relentless bowing and humiliation – being forced into pointless busy work like unrecognised courses to feed this government’s insatiable need to make the unemployed “do something”. Feeding the idea that us “lazy slobs”, as they like to paint us, need beating into submission. And all this mutual obligation is overseen by Job Networks and DES providers who profit off punishing us for the tiniest infractions. They profit from bullying their clients and using taxpayer money to fund these activities, all in the name of making us “leaners” remember our place.
Centrelink’s mutual obligation scheme, is indeed a system of ritual humiliation, devised to break the unemployed and hopefully cause them to fall through the cracks. The system is so cruel and so stupid that it has not thought about the long-term consequences, only petty abuse penny-pinching. It is a disgrace, oppressing people who are the most vulnerable in our society, to the eternal shame of Australia. Let’s do something about it, beginning with a Royal Commission into Centrelink. Hopefully Centrelink can be closed down.