Censors, Censures and Campus Cops

Justice Minister Michael Keenan today elucidated new changes to the controversial “Schools Security Programme” that would involve the employment of security personnel to oversee campuses at fifty four schools across the nation.

“It’s a commitment that we made prior to the last election to make sure that we were partnering with schools that might be at particular risk of intolerance”, the Minister stated in his address to the senate.

The program has existed since 2007, however until now the legislation has excluded the use of security personnel, limiting the available avenues of spending to stronger fencing, CCTV surveillance and anti-ramming devices.

Schools receiving the $18 million include 22 government/independent schools. 29 out of the 54 are located in New South Wales, with the majority in western Sydney.

Despite increased security in American schools since the events at Sandy Hook in December 2012, there has been almost no reduction in the number of school shootings in the United States. Measures similar to the ones proposed under the new Schools Security Programme, including CCTV surveillance, stronger fencing and security personnel seem to have made no impact on the frequency and severity of the killings, raising the question as to why the Coalition believes the measures will be successful if implemented here.

A 2013 report on the Impact of Security Measures on Students, by the U.S. National Association of School Psychologists, regarding potential impact of security measures in schools, stated that: “There is no clear evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence, and little is known about the potential for unintended consequences that may accompany their adoption.”

The report goes on to highlight the potential for these programs to increase criminality in students and to strengthen “street culture with its emphasis on self protection”. It also highlights the inherent implication of guilt on behalf of the student that accompanies the use of CCTV surveillance.

This is a situation that is not only likely to distract children from learning, but may also foster paranoia and self-censorship. The nature of school shootings is unpredictable, with often little to no warning that the events were going to occur until after the fact. It is unlikely that employing security guards to act as a bulwark against violence in schools will accomplish anything but a militarisation of our learning environments, colouring the social environment of our schools with an authoritarian palette.

We need to ask ourselves whether measures that have failed to deter the crimes they are established to prevent in other nations are worth the potential destabilising effect on our own school communities. Are we really so afraid of the spectre of terrorism that we are willing to surround our children with armed guards?

I sincerely hope the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.


As of approximately 1pm today, Attorney General George Brandis was censured by the senate, with a motion of 35-32, in regards to his actions towards Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. The motion was proposed by Senator Penny Wong.

Senator Penny Wong's censure motion.

Senator Penny Wong’s censure motion.

Christine Milne, Greens party leader, in sympathy with Wong, stated that “We do not believe he is fit to hold the office of AG and not only that, his behaviour has demeaned the senate and the parliament.”

Milne says the government should have focused on the situation for children in detention rather than attacking Triggs

Labor senator Jacinta Collins has drawn attention to the fact that the Forgotten Children report is not, as Ian McDonald lazily alleged last week, a partisan affair, it features criticism of both sides of politics and also focuses the amount of time children are in detention.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has proposed a royal commission into children in detention, a suggestion most Australians will likely agree with. He does not believe Brandis is unfit to hold office, however believes that the Attorney General has erred “significantly” on his handling of Gillian Triggs. He supports the first four parts of the motion but not the last.

It seems that this is only the second time in our political history a censure motion has been successfully passed against an Attorney General, the first being on the 4th of April, 1973, where Senator Lionel Murphy was apparently censured “because of certain actions connected with alleged Croatian terrorism in Australia and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.”

The “Croatian terrorism” mentioned refers to concerns over local Utasha groups plotting to assassinate the Yugoslav Prime Minister during his visit to Australa. The Utasha was a Croatian fascist movement that had allied itself with Germany in World War Two and had active cells in Australia at the time.

The then Attorney General raided ASIO headquarters on March 16th, 1973, ordering police to open sealed filing cabinets due to concerns about ASIO’s failure to respond adequately to the aforementioned threats, finding that the security organisation had little information on the threat to the Yugoslav Prime Minister and confirming public perceptions that they were neglecting a key security issue. The Utasha group had been involved in several bombings in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane during 1972, causing no deaths but damaging property and injuring members of the public.

There is little solid information available about the censure and the events leading up to it. Opinion seems to be split about whether the raid was necessary or an overreach of political power, with this scathing article by conservative magazine Quadrant opting to bat for the latter position, while this article by Andrew Zammit aligns with the former.

What is clear is that Murphy supported legal measures to strengthen the public’s ability to access government information, to remove censorship and to implement a Bill of Human Rights. Amongst the reasons for drafting the bill, the Attorney General stated that, “in criminal law, our protections against detention for interrogation and unreasonable search and seizure, for access to counsel and to ensure the segregation of different categories of prisoners are inadequate. Australian laws on the powers of the police, the rights of an accused person and the state of the penal system generally are unsatisfactory. Our privacy laws are vague and ineffective. There are few effective constraints on the gathering of information, or its disclosure, or surveillance, against unwanted publicity by government, the media or commercial organisations”.

Considering the rumours of CIA involvement in the sacking of Gough Whitlam in 1975, one year after his establishing the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security which served to investigate ASIO’s activities, condemning many and leading to reforms, and their strong links to ASIO, it seems odd that two prominent Labour politicians who had spoken out against the organisation were removed from power so soon after their criticism of the security organisation.

In the senate today, George Brandis refused to comment on the allegations that the secretary of his department conveyed an offer of a specific role to Gillian Triggs at their meeting in Sydney on the 3rd of February, telling parliament that “There is nothing more to say.”

Whether the Attorney General is telling the truth remains to be seen, and with secrecy in the Coalition at an all time high, one thing we can be sure of is that gathering reliable information on the internal affairs of our government will be painfully hard for anyone outside of the party itself.


Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, two likely candidates for the Prime Minister’s role should leadership concerns continue, have allegedly been using Wickr, an app which allows “private, encrypted and self destructing data” to be electronically shredded to leave no trace of messages, to communicate to one another over the last few weeks.

The irony of the situation is palpable, and a perfect demonstration of the hypocrisy in those who routinely ask us to surrender our privacy for our own safety.

If the ministers have nothing to fear, why are they hiding?

A bipartisan report released on Friday backed the government’s proposed data retention scheme, but demanded more certainty about the customer details that would be stored and the agencies that would be permitted access.

Although the report was tabled in the House of Reps, apart from the Chair, Deputy Chair and the Government Whip, no extra debate was permitted.

The lack of debate on a piece of legislation which, if passed, will undermine the basic right to privacy of every Australian citizen seems to be contrived in the interests of opacity. I believe the only honest, reasonable way forward with regards to metadata retention and the broader role of government surveillance in the lives of the citizenry is total transparency.

There must be a national debate on the issue of surveillance and privacy, and in order for the conversation to be meaningful, the public must have access to information that concerns them, namely the agencies responsible for collecting data on the public, the systems, programs and techniques used to do so, the timeframe of these activities and details as to the involvement of foreign states in assisting and overseeing these activities.

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.

The Higginson Leaks: Who’s Really Funding Our Political Parties?

New leaked documents from the office of Phillip Higginson, the Federal Treasurer, seem to indicate that the Liberal Party of Australia may have been receiving donations of a “million pounds Sterling” and up to “several tens of millions of US dollars” from “within the USA”, with the Treasurer stating that he “can now quite confidently ask individuals and their advisors for a donation”.

A few questions immediately spring to mind. If there are donations from overseas, are they being disclosed transparently? If so, is it healthy for our democracy to be influenced by foreign money? Does this phenomena cover both sides of the political spectrum?


It seems fairly obvious from Higginson’s letters that this information was not intended to come to the awareness of the public. In closing the first of his letters, sent on February 22nd of this year, he asks his colleagues to keep the contents of the letters within the party.

“I do hope the recipients will respect my privacy and treat [this] letter with the utmost confidentiality, and debate it only internally. It will serve little purpose to hang out our dirty linen.

What exactly is the “dirty linen” being referred to? From the Treasurer’s comments about asking for party donations from foreign interests, it seems likely that the statement is indicative of this international involvement in the funding of the Liberal Party. Whether he is referring to this case only as “dirty linen”, or whether that comment is indicative of a broader corruption within the party’s funding remains to be seen.

We know that donations to the Liberal Party were more than four times the amount given to the Labor Party in 2012-13, and with more interested parties one can surmise that the potential for ideological interference in government from donors would likely be concurrently higher.

This seems to be reflected in the sources of Liberal Party funding from our own backyard. Donors to the party in the period of 2011-12 include British American Tobacco, with a donation of $12,000, Roslyn Packer, widow of Kerry Packer, whose company owned a controlling interest in Channel Nine, who donated a huge sum of $580,000, shareholders in The Age, DSAH Holdings, who donated $55,000, and Mineralogy Pty Ltd, a mining company owned by the then Liberal Party supporter Clive Palmer, who donated a total of $203,700.

These, along with a long list of additional donors, seem to indicate a strong vested interest from conservative media outlets and big business. It is then little wonder that the governments policies reflect a sympathy for right-wing conservative values and the interests of oligarchs.

In May, 2006, the Howard Government increased the disclosure threshold for political donations from $1,500 to $10,000. Upon announcing the laws, the administration at the time stated that they would result in a “fairer” and “more competitive” electoral system, however, failed to discuss how the changes achieved these goals.

Critics of the change claimed the new laws would increase the chances of corruption, by making political donations harder to track, and by making conflicts of interest harder to detect.

As evidence for this, Senator Kerry Nettle pointed to a $92,400 donation from defence company Tenix, which used former defence minister Peter Reith as a consultant, and Tenix being awarded a $920 million government contract. Tenix’s funding on both sides of the political spectrum goes back at least as far as 1998, as shown in this inquiry into political funding from the House Committee.

The change allowed corporations to secretly donate up to $90,000 spread across the national and the eight state/territory branches of political parties without public disclosure of that funding.

Since 2006, the threshold has increased two or three hundred dollars per annum (adjusted for inflation) so that by 2014 the threshold was $12,400, and up to $111,600 can be received by political parties from each donor (spread across the national and state/territory branches) without a need for disclosure.

Despite the Australian Electoral Commission annually publishing a list of political donors, it is often difficult to ascertain who made the donation, as it is not uncommon for political parties to use “associated entities” as front organisations to hide the source of the donations.

Front organisations such as the Cormack Foundation and John Curtin House Limited provide individuals and corporations with a means of passing funds to the major parties anonymously. Under the current electoral act, these organisations are not required to disclose where the donations came from. Associated entities have become huge political donors in Australia, in 2003-2004 donating $72.6 million to political parties.


It seems that if foreign money is being paid to local political parties, that the economic and political goals of foreign states may be being unfairly represented in Australian politics. If that is the case, we may see decisions being made based not on what is best for Australians, but rather what is best for Washington or London.

As for local donations, it would appear that donors money has been helping businesses to secure lucrative government contracts at the very least. Corporations are not required to adhere to the same standards of transparency as government under the law, and as such the ability of Australians to hold any employees who may be involved in corrupt activity with the government accountable for their actions doesn’t seem to be clearly defined. Citizens may find it exceedingly difficult under current legislation to trace the ideologies and world views of those financing their chosen party, or for that matter, to know who these individuals are.

So how much of the funding for our major political parties can be traced to international donors? There seems to be no avenue for civilian inquiry into the matter, a situation that should raise red flags in even the most die-hard supporters of both parties.

Democratic governance, in order to function as a truly democratic process, requires an informed citizenry. If our citizenry is not able to freely access information about potential conflicts of interest in their elected parties, to understand in objective terms the amount and source of funding given, then we cannot claim to be a democracy in any real sense of the word.

Scott Morrison, Gillian Triggs and Profit, Profit, Profit

“Unless there is major structural change that is made to our welfare system over the next decade and beyond, over a generation, our social services expenditure will swallow the budget.”

  • Scott Morrison, Wednesday 25th February, 2015

For once, Scott Morrison and I seem to agree, although I’m sure that his idea of “major structural change” is plenty different to my own.

What seems to be the focus of the press conference being held today with our Social Services Minister is the notion that our expenditure on welfare is somehow unsustainable or even dangerous to our future prosperity.

In my recent article on Basic Income and Australian Welfare, I pointed out that Australia ranks 25th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of welfare spending, despite many of those countries experiencing far tougher economic situations than our own. This disparity between our ability to provide basic service for those in need and the willingness of our government to do so I believe highlights a serious problem within the leadership of this country.

A severe lack of empathy coupled with an economic consciousness that seems to have been grown in the vacuum chamber of Liberal party ideological round-tables is a terrifying prospect for the many thousands of disabled, elderly and poverty-stricken Australians these proposed cutbacks to social security will affect.

It has been shown time and again that spending on the poorest areas of a society is one of the fastest and most secure ways to eradicate the vast majority of crime, domestic abuse and mental health issues in a population. Many of our endemic social issues are directly related to the existential insecurities poverty brings about in the human psyche, and on a purely economic basis I would put it to anyone undecided about welfare spending that a healthy, sane citizenry is far more capable and likely to produce profit than a sick, mad one.

The likelihood of honest, mature discussion about this situation with the Minister for Social Security seems low, with Morrison stating today that “every measure that’s on the table in the Senate remains on the table.  I want to be really clear about that and if someone wants me to take one of those measures off I’m going to put something else on because the rules are the same for other members of parliament as they are for the government. The budget needs repair.”

For more information on the welfare system and a possible alternative to the punitive measure proposed by the Coalition government, head over to my recent article on the subject.


President of the Human Rights Committee Gillian Triggs has come under fire from the government for the “Forgotten Children” report into the plight of young persons in our detention camps. Triggs has confirmed that the government sought her resignation from the HRC, commenting that the inducement, which included an offer for “other work” by attorney general George Brandis, was a “disgraceful proposal” .

The government appears to be taking a strategy of ruthless aggression towards any individual bringing factual information to light that demonstrates their failings. The sheer wastefulness of such a partisan  approach is highlighted in committee chair Ian McDonald’s comments yesterday, which confirmed that though he is more than comfortable attacking Gillian Triggs over the report, he hasn’t even bothered to read it himself: “I haven’t bothered to read the final report because I think it is partisan.”

Ironic indeed coming from a member so partisan he cannot bring himself to so much as consider an opposing viewpoint.

This “hardline” approach is a disservice to the Australian people, making what should be a reasoned and informed exchange of information between mature adults resemble the squabbling and clique politics of a high-school canteen.

It is clear that maturity and a truly non-partisan attitude from our elected officials will not simply spring up on its own. We must demand these traits from our elected officials if we are to bring the power of the democratic system to bear on the issues that need it the most, namely the treatment of our fellow human beings.


If we read between the lines, we can see that the Coalition’s attitude towards its citizenry is not one of respect or compassion. The main talking point throughout all of our current big ticket issues, from terrorism to social security to human rights, is cost. How much will it cost the taxpayer?

It is becoming clearer by the day that, as a people, we are in need of a government that prioritises people. Profit is all well and good for those who stand to benefit from it, but for the vast majority of us who do not occupy positions of prestige and power, we are keenly aware that the millions stuffing the pockets of Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are millions we could desperately use.

It is simply not good enough to run a government based overwhelmingly on the pursuit and hoarding of money.

The failing of such a narrow view is that it does not take into account costs that cannot be represented quantitatively. The human cost of tightening the valve on social security is immense, with many people facing homelessness, starvation and possibly even death under the new legislation. Many more will find themselves marginalised because their particular brand of suffering is not “serious enough” to warrant taxpayer funding.

The fear and desperation felt by many people on social security is something I’m all too familiar with. It tears apart families, breaks relationships and worsens mental illness and fatigue. These problems are manifest in the rates of domestic violence and petty crime in our lower socio-economic areas.

Is this not the very kind of situation where empathy and a basic respect for human life is needed most? Surely, 25th out of 30 OECD countries in welfare spending, we can afford to invest in our brothers, sisters, cousins, colleagues, teachers, friends?

If we look at the real costs of poverty, I’d say we can’t afford not to.

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.