The Maintenance of Madness: New Troop Deployments in Iraq

The Federal Cabinet has approved the deployment of about 300 additional Australian troops to the Middle East to help train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State. The deployment will be for two years from the middle of may, and the troops join 200 existing special forces troops already in deployment in the region.

The Australian contingent will be joined by more than 100 New Zealand military personnel. They will be based at Taji military complex north of Baghdad, which is considered an “enduring base” by the United States Military, one of 14 such bases in the country.

Prime Minister Abbott made statements regarding the deployment at a press conference on the 3rd of March this year.

“We won’t have a combat role. It’s a training mission, not a combat mission. This is not just about Iraq, this is about our national security.”

A casual glance at the history of conflict in the Middle East will show that military intervention does not, as the government claims, increase national security, in fact it performs the exact opposite function, creating heavily armed and motivated militia groups with the spurious justification of prior Western aggression for their continued aggression.

Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson has let it slip that highly trained military personnel, likely indirectly trained by US or Coalition forces, make up the leadership of ISIS:

“[ISIS] is led by experienced former Iraqi generals and others with substantial military experience.”

ISIS is, in effect, the current incarnation of AQI, or Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the central body of Al-Qaeda with links to Osama Bin Laden and notable members of the terrorist organisation. Older readers and the more historically astute will remember that the United States was responsible for training and arming mujahideen forces against the then Soviet Union during its war in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden and his compatriots, who later became instrumental in forming the modern day iteration of Al-Qaeda.

The official reason for deployment is to help the Iraqi government prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against Islamic State and regain control of its territory.

Abbott noted that Australian personnel will “not be working with irregulars, we don’t work with informal, armed groups.”

It turns out that this statement is entirely false and doesn’t accord with the documentary record.

Around November 2010, under the then Gillard government, six senior militia fighters loyal to Afghan warlord Matiullah Khan were flown to Australia to train with elite special forces as part of a “covert strategy to strengthen military operations against the Taliban.”

Matiullah Khan is known in the press as “Australia’s biggest ally in Afghanistan”. His uncle is former Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed Khan, who has a reputation for corruption, brutality and double dealing.

In a few short years he went from being a taxi driver to a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in the area. He was appointed chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses. There are reports that he has dealings with drug smugglers and Taliban insurgents.

We have contracted with his private army, Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, to provide security services to the bases around his compound in the Uruzgan province.

Under an arrangement with the Ministry of the Interior, the Australian Government pays for roughly 600 of Matiullah’s 1,500 fighters, including Matiullah himself, despite the fact that the force is not under government control or oversight.

Matiullah Kahn was killed in Kabul earlier this year in March by a suicide bomber.

From the Pakistani Daily Times:

“Khan’s militia has been involved in mass murder, rape and abductions of men and women.

The New York Times reported that he was earning $ 2.5 million a month through highway robbery, abduction, drug trafficking and extortion. Once, Khan warned his opponents that he could eliminate them by purchasing suicide bombers with the money he received from the Australian army.

WikiLeaks of the US embassy pinned him as a stand-over merchant, a wealthy warlord and drug trafficker.

Australian intelligence knew he was a corrupt war criminal but, despite the US army’s opposition, the Australian army and intelligence corps lobbied to make him an inspector general of the Uruzgan police in 2011.”

From Green Left Weekly, citing a story published in the Dutch Daily, De Pers:

“The extent of Matiullah’s brutality was shown in a massacre reported on by the July 18 Dutch daily De Pers.

The paper said the previous month, Matiullah’s army made a surprise attack on a meeting of 80 people in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province. Five people were killed in the ensuing shootout.

The remaining 75 were knifed to death.

Mohammed Daoud, the district chief of Chora, told De Pers: “As torture, they were first stabbed in the shoulders and legs. The corpses were treated with chemicals to make them unrecognisable.””

In this interview released several days before his death, the contents of Matiullah’s office suite are described as containing “plaques of appreciation from the Australian Federal Police” and a “boxed boomerang – a gift from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, formerly head of the Australian Defence Force.

From the same interview, detailing a raid on a nearby village by Jan Mohammed Khan and Matiullah Khan:

“One man told me how his son was made to lie on the ground – and then they drove a truck over his head.”

These accounts are horrifying, and our complicity in them more so. Indirect involvement in these abuses, though despicable, could be rationalised as a product of the idea that we are working towards some greater good, and indeed, it seems this is the justification for our involvement from many of the sources mentioned in the above interview and publications.

Our direct involvement in war crimes in the region however, cannot be rationalised away.

Reports from The Age in 2009 describe cover-ups by the ADF of attacks on civilians by SAS soldiers in Iraq around 2006-7. The attacks in November 2007 resulted in the murders of three men, two women and one child in a house that allegedly belonged to an insurgent.

In the same month, the newspaper reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads, carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.

One has to ask the question: how exactly does action of this sort confer an increase in our national security? If the Iraqi military is to be trained by the same forces responsible for the financial support of a local warlord and who have engaged in war crimes of their own, I don’t see it as unreasonable to suppose that ethics and adherence to international law will be covered as an afterthought, if at all.

The approach of fighting fire with fire has been an abject failure in stemming the tide of radicalised Islamic extremism in the Middle Eastern theatre, and this new deployment of troops into the region is simply more of the same.

We cannot hope to bring peace to the Middle East with the sword.


Choosing to Lie About Indigenous Australia: Why Tony Abbott Should Do More Than Just Apologize

Tony Abbott has, yet again, demonstrated his appalling lack of knowledge on even the most basic aspects of our society with comments made last week that claimed the problems Aboriginal people face are a result of “poor lifestyle choices”.

The irony of a rich, Catholic white male lecturing a people who have routinely been consciously disadvantaged by government after government after government in this country is palpable.

Anglo-saxon relationships with the indigenous people of Australia have been consistently poor, to understate the matter, since our cultures first crossed paths. The response of our “noble forefathers” to the presence of what they considered to be savages was to engage in mass killing, in genocide, to allow easier access to the land and it’s resources.

There are no Tasmanian aborigines left.

Just think about that for a moment.

Imagine what it must be like to know that from an indigenous perspective, to understand that the white man has since the beginning been a force of slaughter, of death, of discord to your people.

Imagine then what it must feel like to hear one of these white men telling the nation he leads that it is the fault of the Aboriginal people that their living conditions rank among the worst in the developed world, that white police officers murder them in custody, that mining magnates such as Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s father, have proposed they be sterilised.

In short, Tony Abbott is blaming the victims, and he’s not apologising for it.

“I’m not going to concede that. I accept people have a right to be critical of me, but I’m certainly not going to concede that.”

This statement made by the prime minister in response to journalists remarking that his framing of indigenous living conditions as a choice may have been a poor choice of words, demonstrates that this monkey in a suit has even less understanding of the situation than he does empathy towards it.

Was it a “lifestyle choice” that resulted in children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being forcibly removed from their families for over a century?

Does the prime minister believe that these human beings are choosing to live seventeen years less than non-Aboriginal Australians?

This behaviour, from the man who is supposed to represent Australia on the world stage, is despicable. It alone is reason enough to oust Gina Rinehart’s praetorian guardsman and ensure he never holds a position of power in this country again.

For those wanting to learn more about Aboriginal Australia and the horrifying disparity between indigenous people and the rest of the populace, head on over to youtube and watch John Pilger’s excellent film, Utopia.

You can find it here.

Privatisation: Just Who Is It For?

New South Wales is following Canberra’s lead in adopting what the Abbott government is referring to as “asset recycling”, which in practice translates to privatisation, securing 2 billion dollars under the deal.

Abbott’s five billion dollar scheme encourages states and territories to sell assists to fund infrastructure development.

The Baird leadership intends to funnel the money garnered from leasing 49% of the state’s electricity network into road and rail projects, though it is unclear as to whether this will actually take place and if it does, whether the decision is in the public interest.

Proponents of privatisation describe it as conferring a multiplicity of benefits to the public by boosting the efficiency and quality of remaining government activities, reducing taxes and shrinking government. The argument rests on the presumption that the profit seeking behaviour of private sector managers and owners will produce ever more efficient, cheap and customer focused services.

We mustn’t forget that the raison d’être of a business is to provide profit. People do not start up or buy a business for the sole purpose of serving the public, that sort of behaviour is more likely to be found in a monastery than in McDonalds. This basic profiteering function of business is primary in capitalist society, and we often see that rather than being customer or human centric, the businesses that make it to the big time cut corners when it comes to ethics and the treatment of their employees and customers.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the same profit hungry managers and owners the evangelists of privatisation refer to may have no second thoughts about implementing practices that make service unaffordable to large segments of the citizenry. Profit seeking organisations may decide that spending on the disabled or the poor is money wasted, and those affected may find it far more difficult to seek accountability than they would were the services government owned.

It is worth noting that efficiency is not the only goal of services like electricity, healthcare and water. One must also take into account quality, ease of access and sustainability when building a picture of what a successful service should look like.

Privatization was billed under Jeff Kennett’s Victorian government as leading to a more efficient and productive industry, passing on the savings to consumers. Despite Kennett’s comments to the contrary, electricity prices in the state have remained consistent with non-privatised states, only falling below the mean between 2004 and 2008.

There is evidence that companies running Victoria’s electricity services increased prices by up to 175% for “off-peak” periods, a decision which affects a sizeable portion of the populace who conduct their business during those times, perhaps the most notable example being agriculturists and farmers.

The notion that productivity would increase under privatisation has fallen apart, with the industry becoming an anchor on national productivity since the turn of the century. The private sector’s tactic of employing a higher percentage of managers and salespeople has contributed to further bureaucracy rather than having the intended effect of streamlining the industry.

Selling off government assets is typically coupled with the promise of the revenue being funnelled into new and needed infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, however the promise does not always carry through to reality. Economist John Quiggin noted that investment in infrastructure did not occur in Queensland under Bligh’s leadership despite almost ten billion dollars being made from the sale of government assets.

A 1991 report from the Harvard Business Review raised three key conclusions on the issue of privatisation that may help us frame the issue a little better:

1. Neither public nor private managers will always act in the best interests of their shareholders. Privatisation will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest, which includes, but is not limited to, efficiency.

2. Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.

3. When these conditions are not met, continued governmental involvement will likely be necessary. The simple transfer of ownership from public to private hands will not necessarily reduce the cost or enhance the quality of services.

There are hidden costs of privatisation rarely spoken of by the politicians and their friendly counterparts in business. When a public service is privatised, much of the time employees are paid less on average and lose their existing benefits. On the surface this seems like a saving, but the costs of poverty and ill health must fall somewhere, and it seems it’s generally into the waiting arms of another state agency. The profits increase for those at the top of the pyramid, and those underneath carry an ever-increasing burden to support them.

It is also unclear as to whether privatisation actually does save governments money, with a study by the Project on Government Oversight finding that in 33 of 35 occupations, using contractors cost the United States Federal Government billions of dollars more than using government employees.

This seems yet another example of cosy relationships between politicians and businessmen taking priority over the wellbeing of the public. A more thorough, nonpartisan investigation into the history of privatisation in Australia, a cost benefit analysis and a public debate over the issue would go some ways to clarifying the relationship of privatisation to the people it affects.

Pudgy Figures and Figures Fudged: George Brandis, Education Reforms and the Penal System

Figures used to produce secret government modelling on university fees were “invented by department officials” according to the education department’s associate secretary, Robert Griew.

“In each case, while presented as assumed facts and informed by departmental analysis and research, these figures were essentially invented by departmental officials for the purpose of providing material for analysis based on assumed patterns of behaviour,” he wrote.

The government did not want to release documents detailing the impact of deregulation on regional higher education and the potential cost of cuts on individual institutions.

While largely unsurprising, this is another example of failure to live up to even the most basic forms of transparency and accountability by the Liberal government. A few questions that need answering:

Why were the figures invented rather than being based on actual data?

How does invented data provide a reliable and accurate set of prediction on which we can model changes to the education system?

Why were the documents relating to the impacts and potential costs of these reforms not available to the public, whom they affect, for review?

Answers to these questions would be a step in the right direction for our Prime Minister, whose actions of late have landed him in hot water not just with the electorate but also with many of his own party members, as evidenced by the spill several weeks ago.

The ABC and the Seven network have both reported that Malcolm Turnbull has been advised that he has the numbers to slide into the top job without much turbulence. Whether this is wish-thinking on the behalf of the source and/or the networks remains to be seen. Turnbull himself refused to comment on the issue, telling reporters that he’s “a member of parliament… I’ll leave [the press] to speculate about all that stuff.”

And speculate we will.

If Turnbull does move up the ladder in the Liberal Party, he’ll certainly have his work cut out for him. Dealing with a large body of people at the best of times is difficult to say the least, dealing with a party of strong minded ideologues, most of whom fall almost entirely to the right of the political spectrum, is likely to be a management nightmare. If Turnbull can elicit some sense of collegiality within the party, and force compromise out of some of the more extreme members, we may see a turn around in the party. He has already made statements defending Gillian Triggs after her vilification by fellow party members, and seems to support a push for more transparency around sources of funding and internal activities in general. At the very least, if Turnbull becomes Prime Minister we can wave goodbye to the madness the pious Roman Catholic reminiscer extraordinaire has wrought on this country over the last two years.

Another interesting piece of information the government would rather keep hidden away from the public eye is the apparent failure of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to accurately report the amount of prisoners in the penal system. The ABS records only the number and characteristics of people in custody on a single day – 30th June – each year.

This is despite more than $3bn being funnelled into the system per annum.

Without accurate data showing the demographics of prisoners, their behaviour, length of imprisonment, whether they are first time or repeat offenders, what socio-economic and lifestyle factors contributed to their incarceration and so on, it seems unlikely that any improvement can be made in the system. It is essentially being run blind.

If reforms need to be made in any area of our society, surely the penal system is a prime candidate. Countries like Norway have implemented rehabilitation oriented systems of incarceration, lowering recidivism rates to just 16% in some areas, as opposed to 38% according to “SCRGS 2006. Report on government services 2005”, the results of which were published in this study on recidivism by the Australian Institute of Criminology. Rather than following the predictable and tired governmental response of “doing it our way”, perhaps we can adopt a humble attitude and admit that we have much to learn from the successes of other nations.

George Brandis has come under fire from ex- Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes, who stated in this article written for The Guardian, “I was a human rights commissioner under five attorneys-general from both sides of politics, Brandis [has been] the only one to question my integrity.”

Staffers for Brandis apparently berated Innes for his criticism of retail giant Myer’s CEO Bernie Brooks, who had made comments disparaging the National Disability Insurance Scheme, stating that the money that was earmarked for the project “could have gone through [his] cash registers.” In addition to the callousness of the comment, having previously worked for Myer and being privy to the internal culture there I find that scenario highly unlikely.

Innes went on to say that “Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs, because they are not in a position to easily defend themselves. Far from defending, Brandis has attacked. It is he who has made the serious error of judgement. He has “shot the messenger”. Triggs has advocated human rights compliance by Australia – she has done her job.”

Along with his support for mandatory metadata retention, a program which has been slammed in courts across the EU for being a serious threat to human rights and the privacy of citizens, these revelations paint a picture of Brandis as being wholly unconcerned with fulfilling the role he is employed to, seeming instead to be more focused on supporting schemes to expand the influence and control of the state in the lives of every-day Australians.

It is for this very reason we are in desperate need of transparency when it comes to funding and the internal activities and correspondence of our elected officials. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the monetary forces and concealed influences that shape policy in this country. Urgent reforms in this area are not only important, but necessary for the country to progress and grow into the exponentially increasing complexity of the digital age.

I had to cut todays update short due to time constraints, so some important information was omitted. Rest assured, I’ll be publishing a more extensive review of current affairs in Australian politics tomorrow, but until then, have a wonderful night friends.

New “Anti-Terror” Legislation Undermines Basic Human Rights

Yesterday Australians were once again asked to swallow a weakening of our civil rights masquerading as a safety measure.

Amidst the broken record appeals to a dangerous external threat to the nation in the form of the “death cult” Islamic State, prime minister Tony Abbott introduced the idea that Australians could benefit from the creation of a new, “flexible” department dedicated to preventing terrorism.

Such a department could oversee all existing forms of law enforcement in the nation, including ASIO and the AFP.

The likelihood of corruption under such a model seems unreasonably high. If one organisation within the government has regulatory powers over our systems of mass surveillance in addition to the highest levels of law enforcement, and that department is expressly dedicated to stamping out “terrorism”, it would not be unthinkable that such a department could quickly fall into the role of aggressively quashing political dissent.

The means of doing so at the disposal of such a department would be further reaching and far more pervasive than even the Stasi could have hoped for, with current programs within ASIO allowing agents to access the email records, phone calls and online chat activities of citizens, along with their associated metadata. It would be trivial for such an organisation to imprison political activists, and under new legislation journalists would be unable to report on any such abuses, facing up to ten years imprisonment.

There is a proposed mechanism of accountability in all of this, which would supposedly feature the commonwealth ombudsman, Colin Neave, as having oversight over the way metadata is collected and used. This is out of step with statements made to The Guardian Australia by Neave himself that his office would not play a formal oversight role in the scheme and would give advice only at the attorney general’s discretion.

Citing a report commissioned by his own government, Abbott voiced his support for the measure, along with a review of the current terrorism alert system and new strategies to counter violent extremism.

These strategies do not, according to the governments own report, which you can find here, extend to a review of the systems and departments already in place, despite enormous public backlash following the revelations of Australia’s involvement in the Five Eyes surveillance network, a global dragnet coalition comprised of the security agencies of Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

The report does state, however, that there is a need to employ “increasingly intrusive and sophisticated monitoring measures”, citing the disclosure of classified documents by Edward Snowden as a causal factor in the need to broaden the scope and power of local security agencies. This does not seem to reflect rulings by the Court of Justice in the EU, which called metadata retention, part of the proposed extensions to security agency powers, a “wide ranging and particularly serious interference” with the fundamental rights to respect for privacy and the protection of personal data.

Nor does it reflect the data collected on the efficacy of such programs. A report by the New America Foundation, available here, states that “an in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. “

The report seems to recognise this in a round about way, even if it does not take into account the implications therein, stating in a few different ways that lone terrorist attacks by people who don’t use telephones or the internet in planning and executing their activities are nigh on impossible to detect and most likely cannot be prevented.

In summary, it seems that the government is relying on the tried and true methods of fascist administrations throughout our history, that is, painting a picture of an external threat that poses grave danger to our citizens, if, and only if, it is not kept at bay by ever increasing state power.

This rhetoric is too tired and worn to allay the fears of any critically minded individual, and is blatantly out of step with the actual, measurable severity of the threat of terrorism to Australians.

The Coalition is trailing once again in the polls, at 47% according to a poll published in the Australian newspaper on Tuesday, and it is beginning to become transparent to most Australians that these proposed measures are little more than desperate vote grabbing by an incompetent government of ideologues, interested solely in their own continued employment.

Basic Income and the State of Australian Welfare

We live in a period of history where the scrutiny around our welfare system is at an all time high. Government attitudes towards our nations un- and under-employed citizens are primarily disparaging and punitive, while maintaining the myth that their approaches to policy reform in this area are designed to aid those least fortunate among us.

In contrast to the official rhetoric, there are simply not enough jobs to go around in this economy, and the act of punishing honest jobseekers for a situation that is ultimately outside of their control, a situation in no small part created by the current and previous governments, is not only irrational but inhumane.

So what exactly is going on with out welfare system, and is there a potential alternative to the wasteful and inefficient bureaucracy we seem to be saddled with?

Let’s start with the a look at the welfare system as it exists in our society today.

We are currently employing a means tested welfare system, which translates to the idea that you, your partner and your families income should determine if you are eligible to receive a social security payment. Also assessed under this model is the client’s job history, current employment status, ability to work (judged on physical and psychological factors) and compliance with mandatory activities such as work for the dole and/or job training sessions.

Much of the processing in the system is outsourced to non-governmental organisations with varying degrees of ideological and/or religious commitments.

So what is it to be a client in this system? What can an Australian citizen expect when applying for a payment?

It is commonly said that Australia is spending too much on its welfare system, with the federal government stating that it is “unsustainable”. Currently Australia is spending 6.9% of its GDP on welfare payments, less than half of other developed countries including France, Italy and Belgium, who all spend more than 16% of their GDP on welfare payments.

Australia is ranked 25th of the 30 countries in the OECD in terms of government expenditure on unemployment benefits. Contrary to popular belief, there exists in this country no “age of entitlement”, with the amount of persons on Centrelink payments steadily decreasing since the Howard era. It is clear that when (according to figures from ACOSS) 2.5 million Australians are living on less than $400 dollars per week, that government spending is simply not adequate to meet the needs of its people.

Despite this obvious inconsistency, the current federal budget cut 13 billion dollars from the welfare system, pushing Australia even further out of line with our democratic neighbours overseas.

The Newstart allowance has an uncharacteristically low rate of payment compared to other developed nations at just $257 per week, which is only roughly 64% of what is needed to live out of poverty, and only 40% of the minimum wage. This means payments to jobseekers are not meeting the true costs of living in Australian society.

To further drive the nail into the coffin of the unemployed in this nation, the Abbott governments budget revealed that job seekers applying for Youth Allowance or Newstart allowance, who have not been previously employed, will face a six month waiting period of no income support before they are eligible for payments, which they will receive only by undertaking 25 or more hours per week of Work for the Dole activities. Once they have been on this program for six months, they will lose the existing income support unless they undertake training or study.

It is commonly stated that “anyone can get a job if they try hard enough”, inferring that Australia’s unemployed population are taking advantage of the welfare system and simply not trying hard enough to gain stable employment. According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of September 2014 there are 156,000 job vacancies. Competing for these job vacancies are in excess of 750,000 people. This means that even if every single vacancy was filled by previously unemployed persons, there would still be more than 600,000 unemployed people left over. When you factor in the roughly 920,000 underemployed Australians (as of July ’14), on average there are 10 job seekers for every job vacancy in the country.

Long term unemployment has doubled since the 2007 global financial crisis, with more than 200,000 Australians receiving Newstart Allowance for more than a year as of October 2014, according to a report published by the Department of Social Services.

Under the current Australian welfare system, if a recipients income is less than $48 per fortnight, they will earn working credits, up to a maximum of 1000. These equate to dollars in the sense that if a recipient has 550 credits, works a week and earns 450 dollars, they will have 100 credits left over. This means that as long as there are credits in the recipients account, their payment will not be subjected to normal means testing.

This provides a small grace period whereby the disincentive of reduced income from beginning work is minimised, however if the recipient is being paid a low wage, say 250 per week, and uses up their working credits, they are effectively put in a situation of being penalised for working. The penalty often winds up with the person receiving the same amount of money as they were prior to employment, with the added pressure of labouring in a low paying job. This is itself is a huge disincentive to work, as the jobseeker will realise that they are able to collect the same amount of money without any work.

This creates a sense of pointlessness to the act of seeking and finding work which discourages welfare recipients from making a concerted effort to change their circumstances. It does not appear to be a long term fix to the problem of unemployment.

As of September 15th 2014, the Commonwealth government gave Job Service Providers such as Mission Australia the ability to directly suspend the payments of unemployed clients. This privatisation has effectively placed the lives of all JSP clients into the hands of private companies. These companies are less transparent than government-administered institutions, meaning jobseekers will find it far more difficult to hold their providers accountable for their decisions. The decision allows JSP’s to manage cases independently of government oversight or influence, increasing the likelihood of intimidation of clients and lessening the ability of citizens to legally challenge any abuse.

There are other glaring issues with the structure of policy in our welfare system, but for the sake of brevity I’ll refrain from listing them all out here. As you can see from these examples, the situation is less than optimal.

So what, if anything, is the alternative? Many people are under the mistaken impression that Australia’s model for welfare is either above average or simply adequate to meet the needs of its clients, but it seems from my experience that the vast majority of those who hold such opinions are unaware of a very interesting and innovative program that has been trialled around the world with great success. That program is called Basic Income, and it could be not only a viable path forward out of poverty for Australia, but perhaps even our best option.

First, let’s get a little perspective.

The industrial revolution replaced human labour with technology.

The information revolution is replacing cognitive human tasks with machine equivalents.

Jobs like driving, medicine and document translation are now able to be mechanised in this way. Massively open online courses are showing that technology has huge promise in education, paving the way to lower fees and easier access from across the socio-economic continuum.

This advancement in technological sophistication is creating a world where the vast majority of jobs can, and soon will be, performed by machines and computers, leaving little room for human labour. An eventual situation of mass unemployment is inevitable under these circumstances, unless arbitrary roles are created for the purpose of keeping people employed. Our ability to produce items with our labour may become economically worthless as 3D printing and similar technologies make manufacturing complex objects quicker and easier than ever before.

Thus, on the output side of our new robot economy, we have a material abundance undreamed of by earlier generations. But on the production side, we have an economy increasingly independent of human labour and so unwilling to pay for it.

Hence, the looming unemployment crisis.

The approach of our government to this rapid shift seems to be quite plainly out of step with the situation itself.

It is seen as the duty and responsibility of every moral individual to seek paid work, and their failure to do so, even in economies where the number of unemployed persons is higher than the number of available jobs, is seen as entirely the fault of the jobseeker, as a sign of a lack of moral substance or character. This moral ideology was introduced by capitalist interests around the industrial revolution, in order to create an impetus for subsistence economies to move into profitable ones.

What is Basic Income, and why consider it as a replacement to a means tested system?

Universal basic income is the idea that governments should guarantee all of their citizens an income sufficient for a decent standard of living.

Under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, it is stated that “”Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Australia was one of the eight countries involved in drafting this legislation, and as a signatory to the declaration is obliged, ethically if not legally, to provide this level of care to its citizens.

The current welfare system in Australia requires a vast bureaucracy in order to ensure that recipients are not claiming their benefits fraudulently. This bureaucracy requires personal tax advisers, who are sucked out of the productive sector to fulfil these roles. This system needs to be updated in terms of its infrastructure every few years, which, when the system must cover millions of recipients becomes prohibitively expensive. By removing the idea of means testing, the entire apparatus designed to support it becomes unnecessary, and the need for continued spending on the maintenance and renewal of this system disappears with it.

The administration cost under basic income would be comparatively miniscule.

When welfare benefits are contingent on hours worked, income, family status, employment and so on, this creates opportunities to game the system, either by illegally lying (fraud) or by simply obeying the incentives put in front of you with no desire to change your circumstance (waste). Removing this incentive structure disallows gaming the system and ensures that the system reaches people exactly as intended.

Basic Income style programs give workers the ability to refuse a job with unsuitable or unhealthy conditions, extremely low remuneration, or abuses of power in management. In order to retain their staff, businesses would have to meet the demands of their current and potential employees, as they would no longer be able to hold the threat of financial ruin over their heads to keep them working in unsatisfactory conditions. This could potentially require no government intervention and would improve the quality of workplaces for employers and employees alike.

Policies such as the minimum wage will also be less important to enforce, as with basic income workers have a financial safety net in place already. As workers ability to negotiate with employers increases, the need of the government to tightly regulate the labour market lessens, allowing more freedoms and providing benefits for employers and employees alike.

With minimum wage obsolete, manual labour can be priced at its fair market value, therefore reducing the amount illegal immigrants stand to gain from working illegally and being paid cash in hand. This creates an incentive for immigrants to pursue legal immigration procedures as the potential incentives are more substantial.

Many basic mental health issues like anxiety and depression can be traced directly to poverty, and to a sense of being on uncertain ground financially and existentially. Many people feel as if they are days away from homelessness and that the available services have rather large cracks through which they are likely to slip. If there is a guaranteed level of security for these individuals, the threat of extreme poverty, starvation and homelessness is no longer a reality, providing a situation in which these people can feel truly comfortable. Without that sense of security and comfort, it is far less likely that the individual will be deemed suitable for employment.

The removal of the moral stigma of unemployment and the tests one is subjected to under the current system will also contribute to lessening psychological distress and feelings of misanthropy and alienation from the government, leading to a more cohesive and tight knit community. There is also evidence that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity, again making it less likely that a given individual will be capable of finding and maintaining employment.

Basic health standards may improve under basic income as well. In the Basic Income trial in Dauphin, Manitoba, an 8.5 percent reduction in hospitalisation was found to be a direct result of the minimum income. This was attributed to the reduction in workplace injuries and family violence resulting from the rise in incomes.

The cost of ordinary welfare systems fluctuate over time due to economic factors, creating a situation of instability whereby government may feel pressured to cut funding to welfare programs under tough financial situations. The current Australian government under Tony Abbott’s leadership has done exactly this, effectively reallocating the funds from welfare services to defines under spurious notion of protecting the security of the nation. Under a Basic Income type system, the income is paid to all adults regardless of whether they hold a position within the labour system, thus to a large degree negating the impact of economic trends on the welfare system itself.

With the rise in the automation of currently human-run services, the unemployment rate is likely to rise steadily into the future. This would impose a significant strain on current systems of welfare due to the high intake of recipients and the need for expansions to the system of bureaucracy to cope with the demand. Under Basic Income, the rate of spending is constant and thus is unlikely to be swamped under the inevitable wave of jobless adults the sophistication of our technological life will bring.

The extra wealth available to persons under Basic Income type systems also encourages the development of small businesses. The usual fly-or-die situation of business startups is negated, as the entrepreneur has a financial safety net to catch them should their business fail. More people would feel comfortable starting their own business under this model, which is likely to increase innovation and competition in the economy. Evidence of this in action can be found in the Namibia study, where those receiving basic income were shown to be more enthusiastic in setting up small businesses and on average increase their earned income by 29%.

Much work in the areas of charity, academia, arts, music and community outreach type programs is socially beneficial but not profitable for those performing the tasks involved. Many people relegate these aspects of their life to weekends or days off, and even more simply cannot find the time to perform an action that is unprofitable to them or their families. A basic income would allow these individuals to spend more time on work of this sort without losing potential sources of income or marginalising existing sources.

As people have the money they need to fulfil their fundamental human needs under basic income, they are more likely to spend time reflecting on what it is exactly they’d like to do with their life here on earth. It is more likely that under this system, individuals will find the time to study their chosen profession, move to jobs they enjoy and thus are more likely to excel at, and generally reflect more on the nature of existence and the relationship of self to other. This is likely to decrease social unrest and antipathy, and increase the cultural and technological output of the populace.

Every adult under this system would be entitled to basic income independently of any other people. This gives them effective financial independence. Many abusive relationships are maintained through financial blackmail of the abused party, a situation which could be easily eliminated were those individuals given the means to escape financially.

How would we pay for it? From the Queensland University of Technology:

“It would be paid for from income taxes on all other income, and tax allowances will be reduced or curtailed. Current targeted, means-tested and contributory benefits will cease, to be replaced by the Basic Income. The present income tax allowances and deductions benefit higher income earners proportionately more than the less well off. By removing the tax allowances, higher income earners will contribute a little more income tax than under our present system.”

Historically, supporters of Basic Income have included Martin Luther King, Milton Friedman and Bertrand Russell.

There are obvious questions here that I’ve left unanswered, but again in the interests of brevity I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to do your own research into any other queries you may have.

It seems obvious from this information that the Australian welfare system is fundamentally broken, and that this brokenness is not entirely accidental.

Government policy in this area is in direct contradiction to all the available data that suggests that increased spending on the poor and at-risk elements of society not only increases economic security, but social cohesion overall. The Abbott administration has failed to learn from the mistakes of the past, and seems to be content in ignoring the successes of foreign nations in this area.

If we are to secure a future of opportunity, freedom and safety for our children, we simply must stand up and demand a better welfare system in this country. Whether that comes in the form of a Basic Income style model, or whether that means simply bringing Australia into line with other developed nations, it is clear that radical change is not only desirable but necessary.

The smokescreen of government rhetoric on this issue can be blown away only by an informed populace, determined to fight for their basic human rights. We owe it to ourselves and to our fellow human beings to make ourselves into that populace, in the spirit of unity, compassion, friendship and love.