Monday, September 9, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy

Curious compassionate conservatism
Who will benefit from the government’s welfare reforms?

Senator Jacqui Lambie speaks to the media about cashless welfare cards.

The new season of parliament began with a flashback to an old idea, one that’s framed by the government’s desire to shake up the welfare system, namely through drug testing recipients and increasing the rollout of cashless welfare cards. The Sydney Morning Herald this morning ran a story on the “compassionate conservatism” driving Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans for welfare reform.

The phrase “compassionate conservatism”, a euphemism for cutting welfare, was brought to prominence by George W. Bush in his 2000 election race, and has been recycled by conservative leaders ever since. But when Scott Morrison talks about compassion, it’s hard to see where his sympathies really lie.

A company called Indue was awarded the contract for the cashless welfare card trial in 2017 after a limited tender. St Vincent de Paul Society said in a submission to a Senate hearing last year that, according to documents released under Freedom of Information, the government spent nearly $18.9 million to trial the cashless welfare card – which works out to be some $10,000 per person. The average Newstart payment for a single person without children is under $15,000 per year.

Questions about a potential conflict of interest in the government’s engagement of Indue were raised in 2017, when media reports highlighted that lobbying firm SAS Consulting Group, which represented Indue at the time, was owned by National Party president Larry Anthony, who was a director of Indue between 2005 and 2013.

The effectiveness of cashless welfare cards may be debatable, but what is clear is that they are good for the companies that manage them and the politicians who want to look tough by picking on marginalised people. Based on the false logic that people are on welfare because they are gamblers or drug addicts, the cards quarantine 80 per cent of a person’s income so that it can only be spent on essentials. The card also hampers purchases of things like second-hand books and furniture, which are common needs for people on low incomes.

After some confusion as to her position on both the drug testing of welfare recipients and the expansion of cashless welfare cards, key crossbencher in the Senate Jacqui Lambie – who has herself battled poverty and addiction – softened her support of the extension of cashless welfare card trials to other sites, and issued a blunt and powerful statement about drug testing welfare recipients.

“The government hasn’t done its due diligence here. It’s put the cart before the horse. We have bugger all in place to help people with mental health let alone drug and alcohol rehabilitation,” the Tasmanian senator said. “The fact the government wants to throw drug tests at everybody but themselves shows plain as day what the real agenda is. It’s one rule for them, one for everyone else. They don’t want a breathalyser at the chamber doors after those long dinner breaks where half of them get on the sauce.”

She added that “this isn’t about who is getting tax dollars, it’s about who’s easy to take them from … If the government wants my vote on drug testing, it’s time for them to step up and put comprehensive mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in place.”

Welfare recipients shouldn’t hold their breath waiting to see the kind of compassion outlined by Lambie turned into policy; it would be in stark opposition to the doctrine of compassionate conservatism.

“The fact is Scott Morrison won the election on May 18. He needs to stop acting like an opposition in exile on the government benches and actually develop a plan to deal with the economic challenges that Australia is facing.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was blunt in his assessment of the government’s rhetoric as parliament resumed today.

“Whether [climate change] is man-made or not is irrelevant … That’s a debate that has extremes from both sides.”

David Littleproud, the federal minister for natural disaster and emergency services, in response to a question about the relationship between human-induced climate change and the intensity of the bushfires currently raging in New South Wales and Queensland.

The revolving door
Inside the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, a place that is dysfunctional, inflexible and underfunded.


The proportion of Australians who think that politicians are corrupt, according to Greens senator Larissa Waters ahead of the Senate voting in favour of her bill to create a federal anti-corruption body. “For 10 years the Greens have been pushing for this … Australians have a had an absolute gutful of the dodginess, the donations, the corruption, the favours for mates. They’re sick of it, and they want their democracy back,” she said.

“The slippery slope argument I keep seeing [is] this is not obscene content or objectionable content [but] it’s clearly illegal. I don’t see any public interest in making this kind of material that is designed to humiliate and to incite further terrorist acts and hatred.”

eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, on issuing a direction to Australia’s internet service providers requiring them to continue blocking access to eight websites that host video of the Christchurch terrorist attacks or the manifesto of the alleged perpetrator.

The list

“What the Home Affairs minister really enjoys is power ... He gets his kicks not so much from tormenting his opponents, but from crushing them into impotent misery. Thus the brutality of his treatment of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Biloela is almost incidental. What matters is his demonstration of supremacy – his ability to override all the normal standards of decent behaviour just because he can.”

“An on-drive to the boundary the ball
going on and on through dust and dirt
on and on past the shed all the way past
the chook pen and on bouncing over
bark flaked and fallen from wandoos.”

“The debate about religious freedom is shaping up as difficult for both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese. It risks enhancing divisions in both major parties and across party lines. Those fault lines fall more between social progressives and conservatives than between people of faith and those without.” 

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at



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