Do you really need to “live on the dole” to understand?
Oh Jenny Macklin, it’s only the second day of the year and you’re in a deep mess, made messier by the clumsy efforts of your staff to clean up after you.
And now an argument over whether single mothers of children aged 8 and over should work has turned into an argument about the generosity, or not, of the dole. They are actually two different debates.
But now you’ve opened the door to Greens MP Adam Bandt to challenge you to join him in a week-long stunt that will not reveal anything of substance.
Bandt, who is facing an exciting 2013, getting married and probably losing his job, has questioned Macklin’s claim that she could live on the $35-a-day Newstart allowance (can we stop calling it “Newstart” and just go back to the “dole”?).
Macklin, as the minister in charge of the biggest pot of money in the Federal Budget, gets paid $903 a day.
Welfare advocates say she can’t possibly empathise with welfare-dependents on her salary.
Macklin has never struck me as being someone lacking empathy. It was slightly startling to hear her quick reply to the million-dollar question - “could you live on the dole?” if only for the reason her answer was so assured.
[For the record, she said: “I could”]
Most politicians in that situation give the pat response that the dole is not about providing a comfortable life, that it is a safety-net, and that people should be encourage to go back to work. Sometimes they also throw in a bit of fiscal responsibility and a reference to “priorities” and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It is safe to say most people would not claim they could live on $35 a day.
Macklin may well be rethinking her position on the question. But the answer is meaningless really.
And spending one week “living” on the dole is a hypothetical charade that doesn’t take into account myriad factors such as education, family situation, or even the time of year (I bet winter in Melbourne would be much tougher on the poor than summer).
We don’t pay our Federal Ministers all that money to live the lives of all their constituents.
The Health Minister is not a doctor, the Defence Minister is not a soldier, the Immigration Minister was born and raised in Sydney and the Childcare Minister does not have children.
We pay these people to seek and act on the best possible policy advice.
Bandt will no doubt go ahead with his plan, but we don’t need him to tell us $35 a day does not make for much of a material existence.
The argument should be whether that’s its job.
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