The first movie I saw in 2013 was Rise of the Guardians, a Dreamworks film about the “Guardians” of children’s hopes and dreams – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost fighting the master of dark, fear and nightmares, Pitch, aka the Boogeyman. Yes, a kids movie pure and simple. A good one too, in that it highlighted a number of good ideas – that people need to find their “centre” – the thing that drive their actions; that belief in positive things and having pleasant dreams is not a bad for children to have; that if you are the boss of something (like the Guardians), you can get out of touch with ordinary people; that enjoyment is something that can be missing in our lives. It was nice to sit in the cinema (the local one, I still avoid Hoyts like the plague) and also see a movie through my kids’ eyes. It was an enjoyable film that wasn’t reminding me that I needed to enjoy things ironically and was also free of in-jokes about other films.
It was also highlighting to me how pointless my morning’s activities had been – having debates with people about the changes to single parent payments and Jenny Macklin’s gaffe. The gaffe and resultant predictable response featured a number of things that characterises the current political and media landscape and highlighted what I think is missing from our society – a wider vision of what positive things can be done for people.
The question – “could you live on $35 a day?” highlighted the adolescent nature of a media pack that would think such a question in any way heightens the conversation about policies. It’s a “gotcha” question designed to either trip up the politician involved or would bring out the usual string of weasel words – “this change in system is designed to encourage single parents to find other employment and be productive members of the economy…”. On this occasion, it tripped up an unwary Macklin, which caused a great deal of back slapping and chortling from the media pack. Not a single journalist in Canberra would agree that it’s a facile question – their job, as currently they see it, is to create headlines and soundbites.
Imagine if Macklin went completely off script and replied “No, I couldn’t, because I’m a government minister who is employed to do a very complicated job. Could you live on $35 a day?” The gallery would be apoplectic. It would be good to watch. It would highlight the stupidity embedded in such a glib way of looking at a complex issue like welfare reform – with journalists who appear to have the memory and lifestyle habits of goldfish – simply seeking the next new sensation. Superficial retail politics where what is needed are questions about the wisdom of such a movement. Better questions would be “what do you know about the impact this would have on single parents – have you talked to a wide range of people that will be affected by this?”; maybe “is this a move designed to make the ALP more appealing to talkback callers and current affairs programs?”
The issue highlighted the Labor Government’s distance from those who voted them in – their increasing neoliberal attitude towards welfare reform. The move would be seen as “encouraging” single parents to seek paid employment, through taking away a payment. That’s not encouragement, that’s forcing. Short order forcing as well – the original announcement was made the day Julia Gillard made her famous “Misogynist” speech, which was not that long ago – not really giving single parents a long time to make alternative arrangements. Plus, the changes coming into affect when school aged children are at home for another month doesn’t make it any easier for these single parents to be “encouraged” to seek work. What has also been lost is that the changes also mean single parents are also losing other benefits afforded to them because they are parents.
What is being lost in this part of the discussion is that these changes will have a profound impact on children – their single parents should be considered more than just potential cogs in an economic system. It says that in the scheme of things, single parents don’t deserve any more than a person without children that is seeking a job. The problem is for the single parent, children are important. For the 8 year old child, they would need expensive after and before school care – if that can be obtained. If the parent hasn’t had a high paying job and even finds a job, there is no guarantee that it would cover child care and transport costs – if you live in various parts of Sydney and Melbourne and have a full time paid job, you have to have a car. That idea also discounts the idea that looking after children is a job in itself – as has been covered in this excellent post about the context of welfare reform and its biases by Bluntshovels.
The issue will now have oxygen and already we have had Adam Bandt from the Greens following on from Rachel Siewert’s week on Newstart last year. I am not a big fan of stunts like these, but they are seemingly necessary in order to parties like the Greens to make a public and lasting statement in the general public on an important issue like this – it will help to give the Greens have a presence on media outlets. Plus, it’s one time for the Greens to be an opposition party to a mean spirited Labor Government. It is a policy change we would never see the Liberal Party oppose – because, like the changed asylum seeker policy, it is consistent with Liberal Party philosophy. Also, likewise with the asylum seeker policy, wait to see Labor people say the Greens live in a “fantasy land” where they don’t deal in “reality” of the situation. Many in the ALP seem to like attacking Greens more than they like opposing the Liberals. Maybe because in many ways, the ALP is more like the Liberals in their lack of a progressive inclusive social philosophy, instead hell bent on short term job creation for individuals. The reality is that Australia is a rich country that should be able to assist the parents of our children if they need that assistance. There are other ways the Government can find savings. This action, however, gives them a chance to show (not tell – you will never hear them actually say this) that they are “tough on lazy single parents”.
This takes me back to the movie and what it metaphorically tells us about our polity – our current political landscape is focused not on positivity, but instead tied up with negativity and irrelevancies. There is a whole gaggle of people tied up with the absurd Ashby business and whether the LNP is paying Ashby’s costs. It’s something we will probably never know because the general public doesn’t seem to understand or care and it seems most journalists in Canberra are too lazy and goldfish like to pursue it. That isn’t anything new – it’s old news, like that silly AWU business. What is forgotten in that is the ALP could have avoided the Ashby / Slipper mess by simply supporting Harry Jenkins as the speaker and enacting Andrew Wilkie’s poker machine regulation, which would have had a positive impact on people in helping to cut down poker machine addiction. Plus spare us the problems that had plagued Slipper long before he became the speaker, such as a clumsy way of expressing himself away from parliament – which seems to be his biggest actual “crime”.
Ultimately, I think people who dive into the Twitter storm each day forget what governments and politics should be about – being Guardians, helping those who need help as well as providing positivity to Australians wanting to build a happy, healthy nation. Driving out the nightmares and fear that we see whipped up in various newspapers, TV programs and on talkback radio. I’m not talking the weasel worded “assistance” and “encouragement”, I’m talking about finding out what Australia does well and emphasising that. You won’t find that with much of our Canberra Press Gallery, addicted as they are with the sound bite and daily gaffe. Fortunately, there are some around who do focus on the big game. People should seek them out as the derp storm rises closer to the election.