July saw the roll out of the new Labor Government's 'Workforce Australia' scheme, leaving countless jobseekers struggling to find answers or assistance. Unsurprisingly, this new system isn't going to do any actual good for the roughly one million people currently claiming regular unemployment or disability-related income support in this country.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Employment Tony Burke unveiled their Workforce Australia model at the very end of June this year and announced the almost immediate, nationwide change to the previous JobActive program. The new program primarily changes how income-support recipients report their required 'mutual obligations' and has reorganised which third-party providers will now fulfill government contracts.
Under Workforce Australia, claimants are required to reach a threshold of points earned by submitting job applications, undergoing 'employment-preparedness' training courses, and attending mandatory meetings. Minister Burke touted his office's new 'points-based activation system' as an "innovative, modern, and flexible" solution to the Coalition's Centrelink model that Labor spent years in parliament decrying as "unfit for purpose". For such a nominally small change on paper, Labor are evidently immensely committed to making sure they get their Workforce Australia scheme up and running as quickly as possible.
In the rush to get their Centrelink reforms out the door, we've seen this government repeatedly show the sort of callous indifference to the realities of those who require income support that we might expect from any administration. Even before the election, Albanese made it clear Labor wouldn't move to increase Centrelink or Rent Assistance by their first Budget Delivery, and since, they've quietly scrapped plans to even review assistance rates too.
On top of the incoming changes themselves, hundreds of thousands of people - already in the most economically precarious part of society - have been left struggling to even find out the first thing about how this system will impact them, contact their new mutual obligation provider's offices or access the new online services. Every single time any government uproots their administrative infrastructure there is always an immense struggle to get everything returned to even a baseline level of smooth operation, and now Albanese and Burke are needlessly playing around with the program keeping almost a million people housed, clothed, and fed.
The last-minute notice that the entire JobSeeker system was being discontinued meant that everyone on it had to migrate to a series of brand new web portals and mobile services. Predictably, the first fortnight of the new system saw the government's IT infrastructure utterly fail to handle the amount of traffic it got, and countless people were unable to report to their providers due to rolling website outages. Confusion over the new system saw record crowds forced to line up outside Centrelink offices on some of the coldest mornings in recent memory - and amidst an emergent new wave of Covid-19, no less - in search of answers.
Anyone who had ever needed to claim financial assistance before could have told you just how "unfit for purpose" the previous Centrelink system was, and it's only gotten worse. Labor's "innovative" new arrangement supposedly gives beneficiaries more options about how they meet their mutual obligation goals, but in reality, it has needlessly destabilised the lives of everyone who relies on it.
Capitalism creates an artificial precarity whereby, even in the richest nations, we're all told that millions of households have to live well below the poverty line - and that those of us daring to ask for help must jump through every bureaucratic hoop the capitalist ruling class can throw at us to get it. Food, housing, stability - these are all human rights, not things you need to earn by competing for points with whichever broken JSP website you've most recently been palmed-off to.
This government does not seek to benefit the working class. No government can, or will. The interests of the Australian Labor Party - just like the Liberals before them - lie in the capitalist system which perpetuates both unemployment and the punitive, paltry, scraps begrudgingly handed down to the lowest on their totem-pole.
The ALP can slap together a Centrelink restructure on a month's notice in order to pretend they're in any way meaningfully different to the LNP, but they would never do anything to affect real, material, change. A strong working-class movement is the only thing that could force the government's hand to raise unemployment benefits above the poverty line. Just as a militant working class is the only thing that could properly address the fact that almost one-in-ten houses in this country sit empty while rising costs of living are driving more people than ever into homelessness.
Like any political party, The ALP has a deeply vested interest in maintaining the status quo of capital. This means keeping the unemployed as destitute and miserable as possible, lest those who are in employment find further leverage to negotiate for improved workplace conditions and wages. The struggle for a better standard of living ought to be felt by the whole of the working class - both those of us in employment and otherwise.