Time to call out the government's disrespect of its own people

POSTURING: Liberal senator Anne Ruston is the minister for families and social services. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
POSTURING: Liberal senator Anne Ruston is the minister for families and social services. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

On Monday, Senator Anne Ruston published a press release that called for Australians to "unmute" themselves and call out disrespect when they see it, in response to International Women's Day.

Respect in this context means to have "due regard for someone's feelings, wishes, or rights".

This involves being considerate of, and having empathy for, the experiences of others, while acknowledging each person's basic dignity, listening to others' opinions and validating the contributions they make.

So let's unmute ourselves about disrespect, shall we?

The ParentsNext program is a good idea in theory - it provides a framework for parents who have a career gap due to raising a family, to help them prepare to re-enter the workforce.

However, its implementation brings with it a host of problems that leave many participants feeling trapped and, yes, disrespected.

ParentsNext is a compulsory program for certain parents receiving a parenting payment for at least six months.

It sets out mandatory activities/appointments that "participants" with children older than six months and younger than six years who haven't reported paid work to Centrelink must undertake or risk losing their income.

This program is just another example of the one-size-fits-all approach that the government seems to take to welfare policy.

The "participants" in this program are disproportionately Indigenous and female with reports stating that 95 per cent are women.

It makes assumptions about the capacity and educational level of those subjected to the program.

It provides no real support or applicable assistance to people with existing qualifications, and it assumes "participants" are incapable of setting their own goals and working towards achieving them.

Some of those enrolled in the program report being "forced" to sign participation plans that included agreements to attend playgroups, swimming lessons and so on at their own expense, where a failure to sign meant they would lose their payments.

This is not about getting back into the workforce or supporting their educational development.

Is this showing due regard for someone's feelings, wishes or rights? I would argue that forcing someone to do anything fails the respect test.

Is the cashless debit card an example of how the government respects its vulnerable Australians?

Those subjected to this program are not on it by choice - they are forced onto the card and in so doing, suffer 80 per cent of their income being "quarantined" because the government doesn't trust them to not spend it on gambling or alcohol.

Taking away a person's right to decide where and how they spend money in a blanket program that impacts those unfortunate enough to live in the targeted areas - regardless of their circumstances (with exemptions being extremely difficult to achieve) - is not showing due regard for basic human rights.

The United Nations argues that it is not. In a report, Special Rapporteur Philip Alston stated that the federal government showed a lack of regulation and resistance to considering human rights in its cashless debit card program.

Is Senator Ruston showing respect when she calls people experiencing unemployment dole bludgers - especially when her press release was for International Women's Day and there are more women who are experiencing unemployment than men and 42.3 per cent of single mothers are not employed, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics?

Is she showing consideration for people's rights when she makes blanket statements about increasing JobSeeker payments lining the pockets of drug dealers?

Is the federal government showing respect to people struggling when it increases the JobSeeker payment by just $25 a week and attach strict new conditions to the receipt of the payment?

Is it "empowering" Australians by beefing up mutual obligations and continuing the rhetoric of the dole bludger who can't be trusted not to laze about on the sofa all day playing Xbox?

I honestly find it quite laughable that a government which disrespects the rights - even the most basic human rights - of its people is trying to parent us into standing up for the disrespect that we see in our every day lives.

So, I'm unmuting myself and calling out the disrespect that our government shows its people on a daily basis, coated in elitist narratives of a parent-child relationship that smacks of patriarchal anachronisms that have no place in a modern government.

Perhaps modelling such a concept, instead of posturing about it, would be a better course of action.

Just a thought.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au. Twitter: @ZoeWundenberg

This story Zoë Wundenberg: Time to call out the government's disrespect of its own people first appeared on The Canberra Times.