A critical reflection on Welfare Reform in nine sad poems and one note of hope,
by Dr John Falzon
Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveller who has been attacked. It is justice’s role to prevent the attack. Frederic Ozanam 1
1. Australia at the dawn of the 21st century: More like the 19th? More divided than diverse?
How many feel oppressed and blamed for their oppression?
How many ask: What does it profit the country that we be pushed and shoved like this? Will anyone profit from us, pushed off income security and into low-paid jobs? In 1848, Ozanam1 wrote of the burning need to take the side of “the people who have too many needs and not enough rights”.
Australia 2006: unprecedented changes to our social security and industrial relations frameworks. Combined, these changes will supply cheap labour, driven by legislative sticks into the lowest and most insecure end of the labour market.
How many of us would love the chance to connect? But this is not connection. How many of us will suffer and how many of our children will suffer? Not connection; catastrophe.
2. The prophets cry blue murder: “Woe betide those who enact unjust laws and draft oppressive legislation, depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, plundering the widow and despoiling the fatherless.”2 Paul VI wrote of the mutilating effects of “oppressive social structures, whether due to abuses of ownership or to the abuses of power, to the exploitation of workers or to unjust transactions”.
3. Remember the story that Nathan told to David?3 The one about the poor man’s lamb that the rich man took possession of and slaughtered even though he had many flocks and herds of his own?
Bewildered, we watch the little we have, we who survive on the margins, being taken away.
We’re told that this is good for us; that it’s good for us to take care of ourselves even if this means being poorer and more crushed.
Some of us live in cars or on the streets.
Some of us are homeless – one in every three is a child.
Two out of three children who seek assistance from a homelessness service are turned away each day…
This is not good for us. This is not good for our children.
4. We feel like we’re pushed with sticks. As if this is all we understand.
Our incomes have been lowered. What does this teach us? How are we to give our children breakfast, let alone birthday cakes? How should we explain this to our children, the flesh of our flesh? “How shall we sing…?”4
5. We had no choice. We had to sign the contract. When we left work to help our children who were sick, we lost not only our jobs but 8 weeks of income from the Government.
This is not good for our children. Centrelink sent us to a charity. It’s justice we’re after.
6. How’s our future going? Crushed.
We’re accused of “welfare dependency”. We’re told that “welfare dependency” is not benign. What do you call the cancer of poverty? Working poverty or the poverty that breaching brings: neither of these is benign. It is not good to jump out of the frying pan and
7. into the fire.
8. Are we the ones who must pay to make our country more competitive?
9. “I feel like a dreadful mother when I say this, but I used to be out of the door at 6am. I’d ring home at 7am to wake the children up. They would get ready for school and I would meet them on the way home.” 5
Are we wrong to feel that it is easier to exploit us than to house us or to enable us to claim the power that comes from learning?
10. This is our “struggle for justice and love in the world of today”.6 We won’t be silenced. We are desperate to “make all things new“.7
This article was first published in Eureka Street: www.eurekastreet.com.au
Notes: 1 The founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society; 2 Isaiah 10:1-3; 3 Samuel 12:1-7; 4 Psalm 137:42; 5 Living Low Paid Report; 6 Deus Caritas Est; 7 Revelation 21:5.
Dr John Falzon will sleep out on June 21 to raise awareness for homelessness in Australia. Click here to find out more how you can support the 2012 Ceo Sleepout.