Why can’t we be friends? I’m not ghost-writing for Gandhi or the Dalai Lama and I’ll try to keep clear of that “haters gonna hate” chestnut.

Empathy is a skill many people have yet to master. Photo: news.com.au

The reason I’m feeling so human is that yesterday I spoke with a 65-year-old man who lives below the poverty line in western Sydney.

Chris Novak’s the one in eight Australians who live in less-than-ideal conditions, and he told me a heart-wrenching story.

He’s worked for most of his life. He’s served our country in the Army. He’s been married and divorced. He has two sons and has lost contact with both.

He’s been in and out of relationships, in and out of work, and in and out of bad rental properties in Sydney’s west for the last 30 years.

He’s been king hit. He’s been on a waiting list for the housing commission for 10 years. He spends about $25 a week on food. And some days the pain in his neck, his back and his joints is so bad that he can “barely put on my socks”.

Chris Novak could be my dad. My dad is the same age, and yet is fortunate and privileged enough to say he’s never had to go through the kinds of things Chris goes through on a daily basis.

We were overwhelmed on news.com.au yesterday by more than 300 comments. Many were touched by Chris’s story, but a shocking number of people had no sympathy at all.

“Why does he waste money on a car?” The guy can barely walk, so I’m sure that car helps.

Readers called Chris a bludger, someone who should have worked harder or saved more money or kept in touch with his kids. Others said he obviously blew his money on the pokies and booze - except that he doesn’t do either of those things.

“I’d love to win Lotto I suppose, but you have to have enough money to afford a ticket don’t you?” he told me.

Community psychologist Heather Gridley told The Punch that she was “shocked but not surprised” that so many people couldn’t feel for Chris.

“There’s a skill involved in empathy - actually being able to put yourselves in someone else’s shoes,” she said.

“Not everyone can naturally do that, or learn to, which is something that people who show compassion can do.”

There was some light. Some amazing people who offered to help. Two readers asked directly for Chris’s details, to help with groceries and petrol.

One man from the very top of the top end of town - a director of a prominent financial company in Sydney - emailed me to offer Chris part-time work.

Others weren’t so kind.

“In each of those cases what they’re not doing is stepping into his shoes. What they don’t do is take any responsibility for what he’s going through - it has to be somebody else’s fault,” Ms Gridley added.

“As a society, you do hope that people have compassion. But people don’t necessarily have respect and compassion in their heart.”

None of us know what it’s like to be Chris Novak. 

And don’t tell me for a second that living on Austudy while going through uni is the same. Writing comments from an iPad while living in a share-house and eating two-minute noodles before a college piss-up, with parents ready to pick up the slack if things go wrong, is NOT the same as living in poverty. 

On a person level, I could do more to help charities or donate my time; I’m certainly no pillar of philanthropy. But I do feel a responsibility and a guilt for being part of the society that lets people like Chris suffer.

I don’t blame him for his situation.

“We still like to see ourselves as the lucky country and it’s very confronting to say we’re getting more and more unequal and people are struggling,” Ms Gridley says.

“It’s a great shame that we need to be looking sideways at one another, rather than getting together and saying: ‘Who’s really winning out of all this?’”

Follow Chris on Twitter: @christoforpaine

Heather Gridley is a community psychologist from Victoria University.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST

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103 comments

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    • camzhydro says:

      11:59am | 19/10/12

      I read the article. This guy earns $410 each week, yes this is hard to live off but so is getting out of bed in the morning each day for work. He had no children or any one dependent on him so surely he can try some thing else. Lifes tough.

    • Greg says:

      12:46pm | 19/10/12

      He doesn’t earn $410 each week, he gets that handout as a disability pension and rental assistance.

      He is also 65 and entitled to an aged pension, but obviously gets more on disability, which he has received for 15 years. And what happened to his worker’s compo payout, given that he got injured in a fight while working as a bartender?

      Why isn’t a single aged pensioner, who only gets $356 per week being promoted as the hard luck story?

      This guy makes vague comments about “not making the best choices”, which suggests that he needs to take some responsibility for his situation.

      Is this really the best example that the welfare industry can come up with? How can they expect to generate more guilt and extract more money from productive people who pay for rather than take handouts, when this is the best that they can come up with?

    • camzhydro says:

      01:37pm | 19/10/12

      Exactly Greg there must be 100000 better examples in this country of poverty. I have no sympathy for this bloke.

    • Debbie says:

      11:59am | 19/10/12

      Lack of empathy and greed. The same people who take 100% personal credit for their own lives being great soon change when bad luck visits them, but they still don’t learn empathy. They utilise everything society has to offer to enrich themselves personally with material wealth but are unwilling to put anything in.

    • Greg says:

      12:57pm | 19/10/12

      “Unwilling to put anything in?”

      Except a lifetime of taxes, to pay for welfare dependent people who have taken no responsibility for themselves.

      Yet despite paying a lifetime of taxes, and then getting no pension entitlement themselves, you claim that the responsible people are the “haters”? That those who have paid more taxes than they will ever receive back are the bad guys? That those who take much more from society than they have ever given are the good guys?

      The inverted morality of leftists never ceases to amaze.

    • Deena says:

      01:24pm | 19/10/12

      Further to your comment, they will always find fault with others situations but never their own. ” they shouldn’t have had so many children”, ” he can eat less” blah blah. ALWAYS find fault.

    • Debbie says:

      01:39pm | 19/10/12

      I’m not a “leftist” as you put it.  And paying tax is is not some sort of investment scheme whereby you get back the money you put in plus interest. I do however have compassion and empathy for others who are not as fortunate as me. I’m happy to pay income tax, it’s the price I pay to live in a society.

    • Greg says:

      02:25pm | 19/10/12

      “Paying tax is is not some sort of investment scheme whereby you get back the money you put in plus interest.”

      No, clearly it isn’t. But welfare is just like a sort of investment scheme whereby you get money that you have not put in.

      I am happy for you to pay income tax as well. Clearly you enjoy the sense of moral superiority that it seems to bring to you.

      But those of us who don’t feel the need to constantly display conspicuous compassion or engage in competitive altruism can do without the extra taxes.

      When it comes to compassion, we don’t feel the need to outsource responsibility to the government, which doesn’t have a good track record for obtaining the best use of resources.

    • angel says:

      03:22pm | 19/10/12

      So I assume you don’t use any of the services that our income tax provides, Greg? You didn’t receive an education, or subsidised/free healthcare?

      I pay income tax because it’s my duty as a healthy, capable citizen. I don’t do it to “get anything back”, but do acknowledge that I, and other Australians, do benefit from it. Whether those less fortunate than myself do or don’t pay income tax is none of my concern.

    • Adelaide Hills says:

      04:28pm | 19/10/12

      Lack of empathy = psychopath.

    • Anne71 says:

      04:40pm | 19/10/12

      Exactly, Debbie. It makes me so angry.  Nobody is saying that those with money don’t deserve it, or haven’t earned it - all we’re saying is that they shouldn’t just assume that anybody living the way Chris does “deserves it” because they did things - or didn’t do things - to get themselves in that situation. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck and bad timing - that can happen to anyone. Even those with the money doing the blaming.

      So when you hear about someone like Chris, don’t just assume they brought it on themselves. Show a bit of compassion. As my grandmother used to say, “there but for the grace of God goes I.”

    • Greg says:

      04:50pm | 19/10/12

      Angel, I don’t have a problem with paying my own way for services that I use. In any case, given the number of government monopolies it is impossible not to use a government provided service.

      But if you are implying that anybody who has ever used government services should pay income tax, then where does that leave the welfare recipients?

      If you are happy to endlessly pay money into a welfare black hole, to subsidise freeloaders and parasites, then fine, go ahead. I won’t try to stop you.

      But I do not consider myself “fortunate” to pay taxes to subsidise the lifestyle of those who haven’t or won’t take responsibility for their own welfare.

      So as I have declared myself to be less fortunate than you, then you should have no objection if I don’t pay income tax.

    • Lori says:

      05:51pm | 19/10/12

      Love the pumpkin scone-round and round rhetoric Greg - but doesn’t make it right, clever or even interesting.  It just makes you seem very silly.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      12:01pm | 19/10/12

      The lack of compassion is, unfortunately, a by-product of our illusion of free-will.  The desire to attribute blame because we imagine that no matter what we are faced with, there’s always a choice that will see us through.  We feel proud because we’ve always made choices we consider good.  Why do we make those choices though?  Consider though that if you were born as Chris, with his genes and his experiences, you’d be in exactly the same situation.  You’d make the same choices because the knowledge, experience and mental framework you use to make decisions would be the same.

      It’s easy to lack compassion when you can invent arbitrary reasons why he is where he is and attribute blame to willfully made poor choices.  It’s harder if you imagine that you had lived his life with his genes, his experiences you’d be exactly where he is.

    • Greg says:

      01:15pm | 19/10/12

      So what you are saying is that some people are born genetically inferior, and are therefore pre-destined to a life of poverty and misery?

      Isn’t that what eugenicists believe? You are not going to claim many political correctness points with that point of view.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      01:28pm | 19/10/12

      No, I make no mention of superiority or inferiority, only of difference.  We all have different genes, and these influence who we are.  A red headed kid will be subject to teasing etc…because of genetic traits outside of control.  Someone else may be born with genes that allow for stunning athletic performances.  The experiences these aspects generate and the way in which we are constructed will direct our lives.

    • Greg says:

      01:51pm | 19/10/12

      Tim, isn’t being born with genes that allow for stunning athletic performances an example of superiority?

      As for being red-headed, that could be a genetic advantage in places like Scotland, enabling higher rates of Vitamin D absorption, while being a genetic disadvantage in places like Egypt, where it would give greater risk of skin cancer.

      Genetic difference means that one set of genes will be better suited than another set within a given environment or culture.

      Are you saying that some people just are not compatible with others?

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      02:18pm | 19/10/12

      “Are you saying that some people just are not compatible with others?”

      I’m not sure what you mean by compatible, and I’m not sure you’re quite understanding what I’m saying.  Whether genes confer an advantage or not is immaterial.  A person with one set of genes will by necessity experience life differently to another.  This is just one factor among many, including which country you are born in, which socio-economic group you’re born into, which school you are sent to, which friends are available at that school, who your parents friends are, what level of nutrients are in the food you are given as a child…in short, a huge number of factors that go into making a person and “personalising” how they make decisions.  That is, what they consider a good idea, and bad idea.

      Then one must consider the present influences.  Have you just been aggravated by someone, is the temperature too hot, is there an annoying background hum, is your lower back aching again, are your dopamine levels low due to recent activities…genes are just one part, but one we cannot ignore when understanding who a person is (i.e lower back pain might be due to an inherited trait).  They are, however, just one part.

    • Rick H says:

      03:10pm | 19/10/12

      Let me help Tim out here.

      It is really simple, and I know this is incredibly general but I am trying to illustrate a point, not make a 100% factual statement.
      Take 2 white 5th generation Australian men, at age 25.
      One was born to parents from Bondi, the other from Campbelltown.
      Guy A goes to private school at Kings, guy B goes to the local High school.

      There is NO WAY these 2 guys have the exact same opportunities in life, the contacts and gfeneral environment the first is in will offer much better opportunities as they meet with other children of wealthy business types, doctors etc…  Guy B goes to a school where the teachers call it a good day if 75% of the class show up.
      Guy A has a mum able to stay at home, guy B barely sees his parents and sometimes doesn’t get breakfast as there is no food left.

      Face it, we can’t even have equality for people in the same city, but different ends of the spectrum, how the hell are we supposed to give equality to people from vastly different backgrounds???

      We need to do a LOT more work before we are even close and I do think that comparing those at the top with SIMILAR people at the bottom is a much more realistic view than comparing a 5th generation son of a CEO with a newly arrived Afghan girl sho doesn’t speak english and has never been to school.

      My egs are extreme to ILLUSTRATE, not as absolutes and I am sure teh intelligent among you will see it.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      04:33pm | 19/10/12

      Thanks, Rick.  That’s a pretty core component of what I was saying.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      12:06pm | 19/10/12

      Gandhi had a bit of the elegant slumming thing going on.

      Apart from that I agree. When I moved here to study one of the first things I noticed was that contrary to my assumptions of the bountiful West there is a hidden vein of poverty here. Which if not dire is still debilitating. And in a society that prides itself on making it on one’s own merits, there is little sympathy for anyone who hasn’t even where it is due.

    • evelyn says:

      12:59pm | 19/10/12

      Gandhi was a fraud. Look at his early political history. Did you know that the man whose claim to fame was opposing colonialism was actually a leading member of the ‘Caliphate movement’ which opposed the break-up of the Ottoman empire, an empire renowned for its white slavery? Did you know that the word ‘slave’ is said by many to be derived from the word ‘slav’ becuase of the number of Slavs (think former Yugoslavia) captured and enslaved by the Muslim Ottoman Caliphate. And what about his statements about blacks in Africa - he has been accused of racism. And what about his sleeping alongside young girls? And drinking his own urine? And arguing for pacifism in the face of the mass slaughter of his own people by Muslim extremists. Read about Godse and why he assassinated Ghandi (also wrong). Ghandi was right to oppose British colonialism, but the picture is not as clear as many would like to think. Pacifism in the face of terrorism is simply aiding and abetting terrorists to terrorize your own people.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      01:13pm | 19/10/12

      Evelyn normally I just ignore this kind of comment.

      However keeping in mind the content of the article, maybe conduct the “Australian Tea Party” (thank you Another Steve) chit chat in the open thread?

    • HC says:

      12:10pm | 19/10/12

      Compassion is an indulgence only the weak take pleasure in, no room for weak people in today’s society.  An immutable fact is 95% of charity comes from less than 5% of the community and this has not changed for centuries (in before some silly old goat starts ranting “in my day…”).

      Not that I think this sentiment is right or good, in fact it’s downright evil but facts are facts and no matter how much pleading is done they aren’t going to change any time soon.  The question is do you keep pleading or do you just shrug your shoulders and accept mankind is cruel and without any redeeming qualities.  Personally I went with the latter a long time ago.

    • Leah says:

      01:57pm | 19/10/12

      “Compassion is an indulgence only the weak take pleasure in” .. so this high-end finance director who called to offer Chris a job - who clearly displayed compassion - he’s weak? Someone for whom society has no room? Really?

      If you think you can’t afford to show compassion then you are weak.

    • AdamC says:

      12:11pm | 19/10/12

      Firstly, we are not getting ‘more unequal’ or, at least, not as a long-term trend.

      Secondly, I certainly do have sympathy for Chris Novak. Whatever mistakes he has made to find himself where he is would hardly make his present hardship easier to bear. I like to think that commenters who slammed Mr Novak yesterday think better of their actions today. (Or maybe they were just emotionally immature trolls looking for an attention-derived dopamine hit.)

      However, I do not think the Newstart allowance or other welfare benefits should be increased. A lot of the mean remarks directed at these sb story case studies is driven by people’s frustration at the ubiquity of this recent campaign to guilt-trip us taxpayers into financing an increase in the rate of Centrelink payments. There is a point at which this sort of emotional manipulation becomes counter-productive.

    • Debbie says:

      12:39pm | 19/10/12

      There is no need for an increase in financing for welfare, just a re-direction from the middle class to the needy. Newstart allowance is woefully inadequate especially for older unemployed who don’t really have many prospects for securing employment no matter what they do or don’t do.

    • Rose says:

      01:14pm | 19/10/12

      Absolutely correct Debbie, Newstart definitely needs increasing and we should be reducing the middle class welfare rorts that prop up people’s lifestyles and enable some to increase personal wealth with little to no benefit for anybody else.
      The problem with Newstart is that is not enough to allow people to live decently, let alone pay for training or job hunting. It’s called the ‘poverty trap’ for a reason, once caught in it is is often damn near impossible to get out.
      Our entire welfare system is set up to penalize those in need and reward those not in need. It should do neither. The system should be set up to provide a decent safety net for those who need it, together with programs and training to assist the unemployed to get into work (the opposite of the JSA network which is woefully inadequate to address unemployment issues and is highly inefficient anyway). Middle class welfare should be reduced so that we can then reduce the tax burden for all Australians. It is beyond a joke that so many people pay tax and then receive equal or greater amounts back in welfare, welfare that they don’t need.
      The campaign to increase Newstart payments is supported by many Australian business leaders, people intelligent enough to know that our current system provides a disincentive and lack of opportunity for people to escape the poverty trap.

    • Greg says:

      01:27pm | 19/10/12

      @Debbie, the “middle class” are just people who work for the money that they get, and then get the privilege of having a large part of their earnings forcibly taken away and given to people who haven’t earned it.

      Very occasionally, the government decides to give them a small part of their own money back. This is then called “middle class welfare”.

      Taxation is legalised theft. After taking their cut, governments use taxes as a bribe get receive votes from welfare dependent people.

      Apparently, we are told that if they didn’t do this, there would be mass violence and social rioting.

      So paying taxes to the government is just the same as paying protection money to the mafia.

    • nihonin says:

      01:43pm | 19/10/12

      Greg, I like what you’re stating and agree.

    • AdamC says:

      01:48pm | 19/10/12

      The old ‘middle class welfare’ canard. I haven’t heard that one before ...

      So which middle class welfare ‘rorts’ would you cut, Rose/Debbie.

    • Mat says:

      01:57pm | 19/10/12

      Hey Rose (and Debbie) - can you please point me in the direction where I can line up for Middle Class Welfare? I want to visit that Eutopia. How does our welfare system hurt the needy and reward those who are not in need? What planet are you living on? And why do I need more of my hard earned to be re-directed to the needy? I pay the whole lot, nearly half in taxes, donate to charity (frequently) don’t get any family assistance for the B.S carbon tax - nothing! If there is any handouts I always miss because I’m about $5.00 over any threshold they set every time. I am sick of this re-distribution trend/issue and all of these entitlement groups putting hands out and telling us it’s got to come off middle class. Be careful we don’t end up like many Euro nations who think the Government and middle class should finance every thing. I am also sick of all the dole bludgers who have rorted the system for years and years and have made it harder on the genuine examples of people who need our help. Tell me I’m wrong on that one. I am so tired of financing these bludgers. Round them all up, take it off them and I would be happy to spread more cheer to the (genuine) people who are in need of help maybe like Chris in this article. Here is an idea, pay them all more (especially the genuine) and bring their living standards to a better and more appropriate level, that’s great but get them working for the dole first (I do not include elderly, poor health in that statement) but get a contribution from welfare recipricants first instead of telling me to pay more. To assume the middle class are so wealthy is absurd, I struggle month to month same as anyone so stop this socialist nonsense and If they can’t find work pay them but they can bloody well pick up papers off the beach or work in shelters or plant trees to earn it I don’t care what they do but they have to be productive just like the middle class and then they can have money.

    • expat says:

      02:29pm | 19/10/12

      I say the Punch allows Greg to write an article about taxation! He has this subject nailed.

    • Rick H says:

      03:30pm | 19/10/12

      So Greg doesn’t believe that a true measure of a society is how they treat their most vulnerable.
      Nice guy.

      Hope no one in your familty ever needs help, like an amulance or fire brigade.  How do we pay for them???  Oh yeah, TAXES.

      USA is a better system, rort and avoid, giver nothin and watch socity prosper yeah??  hahahahahaha

    • lower_case_andrew says:

      12:25pm | 19/10/12

      Basic human psychology:

      - we ascribe good things to our own resourcefulness, intelligence, hard work.

      - we blame bad things on luck, other people, “the economy”, government.

      As a younger man, I spoke much as many around here do: people should pull themselves up, do what it takes, get off their bums etc. I had little time for the down-and-outs, psychology, mental illnesses or any of the symptoms of social failure.

      I think it takes personal experience with these “social failings” to understand that these issues ultimately affect us all.

      I understand now that you can be a good person, a hard worker, thrifty and sensible, and still end up where you do not want to be; that life is not fair, and can deal you a bad hand.

      That people need a helping hand; they can’t always do it by themselves.

      To my mind, this is growing up. It’s the realisation that we’re not alone in all this, nor should we be.

      Now, lest you think I’m some commie hippie, or some proponent of some dreary, bankrupt Swedish-style socialist system, I still believe in hard work (or more importantly, hard thinking) and entrepreneurship and the role of business. And I generally despise most of what government does, and the politics that goes with it. And I don’t have any time for people who sponge off the taxpayer, whether they’re dole bludgers, corporate bosses asking for handouts, unionists too close to government, or public servant lifers.

      But I can no longer turn my back on people as I once did. I can’t ignore their distress, wish it away, or claim that they deserve everything they get due to some personal failing.

    • TrueOz says:

      01:00pm | 19/10/12

      Couldn’t have put it better.

    • Debbie says:

      01:17pm | 19/10/12

      Great comment, it sums it up really. It can happen to anyone, you don’t think it can until something happens out of the blue and then you are in trouble up to your neck before you know it. Some compassion to those who are in dire straits would go a long way and it is our duty to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

    • Mik says:

      01:56pm | 19/10/12

      Sometimes we think we have “time,” only to discover how quickly we grow old.

    • Greg says:

      02:15pm | 19/10/12

      Basic leftist human psychology:

      They ascribe resourcefulness, intelligence, and hard work in others as due to good fortune.

      In fact, building the Australian nation and taking the country from the stone age to the space age within 200 years is just attributed to “luck”. We are allegedly “The Lucky Country”, and the resourcefulness, intelligence, and hard work of the British pioneers was irrelevant.

      They also ascribe lack of ingenuity, stupidity and laziness in themselves as due to bad luck, or due to alleged persecution by the successful.

      They blame their own failure upon the success of others. Instead of improving themselves they denigrate the successful, while simultaneously demanding handouts from them.

      Their resentment and envy is thinly disguised by sanctimonous and self-righteous demands for “compassion”.

      Yet their brand of “compassion” is only ever uni-directional, and they can never get enough of it either.

      The only thing that they are willing to share is their poverty, both financial and moral.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      03:12pm | 19/10/12

      “They ascribe resourcefulness, intelligence, and hard work in others as due to good fortune.”

      Where do they come from, Greg, if not from fortune?  There, but for the grace of circumstance, go I…

      If you had been born to parents (you don’t choose your parents) who continually told you how worthless you were, were traumatised as a kid (kids, who are stuck where they find themselves, unless they choose a street life), had a string of bad luck losing jobs (we don’t control industry forces) etc…and were finally randomly mugged (we don’t control the actions of others), put into a coma and turned paraplegic…what choices in this circumstances did the person have?

      In my case, my parents happened to have the values they instilled in me, which allowed me to make the choices I’ve made through my life, which happened to be there for me to take advantage of.

      So here I sit, in a penthouse overlooking the city, with a comfortable job, time to indulge my studies, excellent food and wine and I can say without hesitation that I am proud of none of it.  It is here because it could not have been otherwise.  I am fortunate, however, and aware of how many things could have happened that didn’t.  And aware of how many things that might still be.

    • fml says:

      12:25pm | 19/10/12

      Good Article Chris,

      And a round of applause for the anonymous readers who asked for their details and offered help. These little acts of kindness go unnoticed by most, but go along way.

    • nihonin says:

      12:29pm | 19/10/12

      I use to care about other people up till I needed help, after learning how much other people and charities cared, I stopped giving a shit about the rest of you.

    • Swingdog says:

      12:30pm | 19/10/12

      Boy, this is the wrong place to post this article and expect empathy.

    • Greg says:

      01:40pm | 19/10/12

      No it’s not.

      I feel empathy and sympathy for Chris Paine’s dad. It sounds like he is one of the good guys, who has worked hard, taken responsibility for himself and his family, and has not become a burden upon the taxpayer.

      But even his son gives him no credit for a lifetime of virtue. No, he just publishes an article that attribues his current situation as being due to being “fortunate and privileged”.

      Just pure luck apparently. Everything that that he achieved just fell into his lap effortlessly.

      How could anybody not feel sorry for a guy whose son says things like that?

    • Swingdog says:

      02:16pm | 19/10/12

      Just proved my point.

      Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

      You can do it for one person but are either incapable or unwilling to let yourself do it for another.

    • Greg says:

      03:31pm | 19/10/12

      Just proved you wrong.

      Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

      Exactly. Not the ability to understand and share the feelings of every other person, or at least a person who has been duly nominated by the usual suspects.

      I have empathy for many but not all people.

      How about you? Do you share the feelings of murderers and rapists, or do you draw your own line?

    • Swingdog says:

      05:17pm | 19/10/12

      Sure, but you seem to have drawn a very restricted line.

      Don’t worry, nobody is asking you to hand over money, just to empathise a little. It’s just a bit sad that you don’t seem capable of that.

      But then if you see the world in terms of a set of self-imposed virtues then that’s to be expected.

    • TheFormerCynicised says:

      12:33pm | 19/10/12

      I swore I wouldn’t post again to The Punch because I was so disillusioned and depressed by the tone. This article (always read the articles though) and the one by Samah Hadid have made me return to say thanks, Punch Team, for showing me that compassion and empathy do still exist in this society and for  encouraging others to open their eyes and hearts to the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves.

      Life takes many twists and turns. Who are we indeed to judge another’s road if we haven’t travelled it? 

    • DOB says:

      12:35pm | 19/10/12

      I didnt see the previous story about Chris, but I am regularly shocked by the sheer bastadry and heartlessness of many of the comments that appear on this blog (and, to be fair, on many others). Before the advent of blogs and online comments I heard the thoughts and opinions only of those i came into contact with on a day to day basis, and mostly that was in circumstances where there was not a lot of oppportunity for free small talk. Until blogs I really had no idea that so many people harboured such viciousness within themselves.
      If blogs are a true reflection of what goes on in the wider world then the human race is not as far removed from the jungle as I thought it was and it becomes far easier to see why some of the atrocious things that happen in our world are likely to continue while such people remain isolated in their own little worlds of selfishness…

    • lower_case_andrew says:

      01:07pm | 19/10/12

      @DOB

      “. Until blogs I really had no idea that so many people harboured such viciousness within themselves.”

      Don’t worry…


      “If blogs are a true reflection of what goes on in the wider world then the human race is not as far removed from the jungle…”

      I don’t think political blogs are a true reflection of society. Any more than FaceBook or Twitter (or Jezebel!) are true reflections.

      Rather, they’re a distortion. An amplifying effect, brought on by anonymity, ease-of-access and a lack of accountability.

      Much of the vitriol around here is people just mouthing off. Saying things that they could never say to people in the real world.

      Can you imagine some of the people around here walking in to a pub and telling the patrons that they’re all gullible, greedy idiots for voting for Gillard or Abbott? No, of course not. They wouldn’t have the guts (or the lack of brain cells).

      So they stir the pot here, get things off their chest. Better here than other places I guess.  And it’s a safety valve in a way:  better to get the heat out online, instead of taking to the barricades with teargas, guns and clubs.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      01:35pm | 19/10/12

      “An amplifying effect, brought on by anonymity, ease-of-access and a lack of accountability.”

      In many online communities, it is also further amplified by an echo room effect, where only those in agreement with the prevailing sentiment are permitted to remain.  All anyone ever hears is the reflected sound of their own opinions.

    • expat says:

      03:40pm | 19/10/12

      The politically correct nature of society means that people will either fake a point of view or simply shut up to avoid conflict. You may be shocked at how many people actually think if everything was put to an anonymous poll. A vocal minority always distorts the view from the media which are in large left leaning, and a few far right.

      There is a reason that a more direct method of democracy is avoided, particularly by the left. Do you have any idea how different life would be if the vast majority of laws and policies were passed by a referendum?
      Put the welfare system to a referendum with each allowance and subsidy listed with the option to cull it, or a set of intervals which are an acceptable range to pay per month. My bet is 80% of the welfare on offer would be culled.

    • pete says:

      12:35pm | 19/10/12

      Makes me feel warm inside to know middle class families are pandered to with plenty of goodies, rebates and rorts while this bloke eats dog food.

    • Draconian says:

      12:53pm | 19/10/12

      I don’t know pete.  Fresh fruit and veges are a lot cheaper than dog food.  Have a look at the price of tinned meat and veg.  They’re a lot cheaper than dog food.

    • pete says:

      01:03pm | 19/10/12

      I think you understand the point I was making.

    • Greg says:

      01:09pm | 19/10/12

      So taking responsibility for yourself and your family, and paying taxes instead of taking welfare, is being pandered to?

      Keeping some of the money that you have worked for is a rebate or a rort?

      Taking money away from other people who have earned it is an example of a righteous person?

      Leftism is truely a mental illness.

    • Chris Paine says:

      02:17pm | 19/10/12

      Hi Greg,

      1) Where did I mention that I’m a leftist? Wait, I’m a leftist?
      2) ‘Leftism is a mental illness’. I can educate you on actual, devastating, life-altering mental illnesses if you’d like;
      3) My father whole-heartedly rejects your ‘empathy’. Thanks though.

      The Warmest of Regards.

    • Michael says:

      03:19pm | 19/10/12

      @Greg. Sure am glad you’re not a mother. I expect that you would make the little buggers get their own chairs out to feed themselves… BTW its call the commonwealth for a reason pal. I am sure the millions of dollars you apparently have unwillingly paid in taxes, have upkept all the roads, hospitals, enducation, infrastructure that you have used… Oh an additionally you might want to do your math on this as well as it is exceptionally cheaper to have welfare and a basic welfare net than to let others starve, go uneducated and live lives of crime. Because, you know, there have been NO studies done on the relationship between poverty and eduction, crime and education, poverty and health etc etc….

      I wont bother to offer links to various studies as I am pretty sure that it wouldnt change your mind or attitude anyway, but google searches should help as I am not inclined to, as clearly you are not inclined to help others less fortunate.

    • pete says:

      03:24pm | 19/10/12

      You’d be surpsied where I sit on the political spectrum, Greg.

      I’m just not in the business of seeing this bloke on the skids because the no net tax family voting block are pandered to. Howard created the monster and Labor are too gutless to do anything about it

    • Greg says:

      04:34pm | 19/10/12

      Hi Chris,

      1. Where did I mention that you were a leftist? My comments have been directed at other posters.

      But now that you mention it, the signs are all there. You are a journalist, aren’t you? So the odds of you being leftist are 10 to 1 on, especially when you only quote a single “expert opinion” who just happens to have the same ideological leanings as yourself. Tick.

      You also “feel a responsibility and a guilt” for being part of Australian society, whose achievements are soley due to being “fortunate and privileged”. Tick.

      You are susceptible to accepting any story as long as it is “heart-wrenching”, enabling you to showcase your own claims to compassion and empathy in a quest for moral supremacism over any of those lesser mortals who dare to hold other opinions than you. Tick.

      In fact, contrary opinions are considered as evidence of a lack of compassion.

      And, of course, you assume that every comment is personally directed at you. Yeah, OK. Now that you mention it, you show all the signs of being a leftist.

      2. Oh, here comes the reference to your own, self-publicised, mental issues. An attempt to generate guilt via a victimhood claim. Sorry, but it didn’t work. If you want to engage in debate with me, then I won’t treat you any differently than anybody else. If you are too mentally fragile to engage in debate, then you need to take responsibility for yourself, and disengage. I am not responsible for your mental health.

      3. I don’t need your father’s acceptance to feel empathy for him. There are plenty of people who go through life oblivious to the fact that they have been shafted, but that doesn’t change the facts or my level of empathy.

      I don’t agree with your opinions, and I have explained why. If my arguments bother you for some reason, then maybe you should try to work out why.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      12:37pm | 19/10/12

      What a privileged position you occupy, Chris, and how selectively you choose to apply your empathy. The reason you were able to live the typical uni student life is because of your profound privilege. The reason you didn’t see anyone who didn’t is that you have to be of a privileged background like yours to be able to attend and succeed at tertiary education. What a pity you can’t feel empathy for the thousands of high school students who already know university education is an unaffordable dream, well before they reach their senior years.

      Attitudes towards Austudy like yours, Chris, are the reason that the current university entrance rates are so skewed against disadvantaged students. Because disadvantaged students don’t have “parents ready to pick up the slack if things go wrong.” Their parents are struggling to feed themselves, and are unable to spare the funds to support their children. The knowledge that Austudy is prohibitively inadequate without parental support, coupled with the knowledge that parents lose entitlements once children pass the age of compulsory schooling is partly why so many students in disadvantaged areas disengage from tertiary education as a goal.

      Your pithy demands that I have empathy for this old man who squandered his life are undermined by your arrogance, and casual disregard for those on Austudy.

    • RobM says:

      01:08pm | 19/10/12

      And thus you have expertly validated the original article…

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      01:10pm | 19/10/12

      “Your pithy demands that I have empathy for this old man who squandered his life are undermined by your arrogance”

      You’re capable of empathy for only one situation at a time?

    • Melanie says:

      01:12pm | 19/10/12

      Thank you for your comment. I whole-heartedly agree. I was enjoying this article, until it got to that paragraph.
      I come from a disadvantaged background. I simply couldn’t afford to choose uni as an option after finishing high school, as I had to work and move out straight away. At the age of 21, I started full-time uni with the government financial assistance and part-time work.
      I got through, and did very well, but I lived in poverty for three years to get there. I can assure you, my parents were not willing to “pick up the slack” at any moment along the way, and I racked up debt just through normal living expenses during this time.
      If you are not priveledged, like Chris, it is a hard battle to pull yourself up to the middle class in this country. I wish we could all have a little more empathy, including Chris, and stop assuming you know the ins and outs of everyone’s lives.

    • GigaStar says:

      01:24pm | 19/10/12

      Your post is full of whinging, whining and weakness jade (the other one). Defeatist propaganda full of apathy and “it’s not my fault it’s everyone elses” excuses.

      Going to university has got nothing to do with privilege and is not an unaffordable dream. I came from parents who left school at 14 and worked in factories all their lives. I came from Dandenong and if you know anything about Victoria then you’d know its a hole full of gangs and drugs. My parents didn’t have any money when I left high school so I had to work full-time and study via correspondence to get my first degree. Now I’m studying a Masters degree and in a well-paid job in finance. So much for your pathetic post.

    • bec says:

      01:54pm | 19/10/12

      Thanks jade.

      I was one of those who commented that I survived on Austudy at a rate of $200/week. $125 of that was my rent. I had $75 to live off, which included transport, and it was barely enough for me to live off. I was a disadvantaged student. My parents had 3 other kids at home and couldn’t afford to help me out at all, and there was no university in my home town so I had to move to a city 6 hours away. Dad still cries when he talks to me about it and feels terrible that they couldn’t help me out more. It’s arrogant and rude to suggest that all uni students on Austudy can afford to booze up and use parents as a backup. I used to walk home from uni as often as I could because by not paying the $1.10 bus fare it meant that I could maybe buy something else to feed myself. The situation was absolute hell and I can never go back to doing that again (hence studying by correspondence whilst working full time this time around).

      My point is that while $410/week isn’t a lot, it’s certainly enough to live off. Right now I earn about $670/wk after tax, and I’m able to save about $300-400 of that per week. Meaning that I’m living off less than $400/week. I have a car, I eat very well, I buy DVDs and junk all the time, and I can now afford to play sport and go to the movies. I really don’t see how someone can’t live off this amount!

      I do have empathy for this man, but it’s limited - there are a hell of a lot of people out there who live with a lot less money than that per week. There are people who work part time jobs (which might be all that they are able to get) that don’t get that much per week. It just feels like a bad example of someone living below the poverty line.

    • Leah says:

      02:06pm | 19/10/12

      Jade, Chris is not criticising Austudy, he’s just saying the financial position of most Austudy recipients is not on the same level as Chris Novak’s financial position (and others who are truly below the poverty line). I’m sure he would recognise, like I do, that some university students really are toughing it out like Chris, or worse.  As someone who works in a university I see students claiming ‘poor’ all the time when they’re really not. A colleague was helping assess scholarship applications recently. As part of the application process students needed to submit their bank statements. There were applications from people claiming to be in dire straits yet they had spent $100 in the previous month on iTunes purchases or $50 on gym memberships. Yes there are some Austudy recipients who are doing it tough, but being an Austudy recipient does not make you poor.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      03:26pm | 19/10/12

      @Leah - as Bec and Melanie’s comments demonstrate, there are many who struggled significantly, and found his dismissal of uni students living on Austudy offensive. I was merely pointing out that this paragraph was dismissive of the very real challenges that many disadvantaged students face, and the fact that these challenges often mean that university is primarily the province of people from privileged backgrounds. And that his selective pity turned me off much of his arguments.

      Those disadvantaged few who do manage to struggle through are to be lauded, not held up as a reason not to do more to ameliorate the very problematic effects that familial disadvantage has on the affordability of tertiary study. Perhaps if we focus on making the financial burden of tertiary access easier for truly disadvantaged students who are currently underrepresented or not represented at university, we would have less people in Chris Novak’s situation to begin with?

      @Gigastar - you, bec and Melanie are not the rule. Do you think your choice should have been easier to make, from your disadvantaged position? Let’s not forget, Chris Novak could have had a free tertiary education in his lifetime, something the current generation will never have. One could say he squandered his opportunity and is now reaping the consequences.

    • mick says:

      03:38pm | 19/10/12

      Just departing the context of the article on Chris and focusing on AUSTUDY/getting through Uni: 1) Why should the Government cover all of your study/living expenses? Tertiary Education is not a right; you have to be motivated and disciplined if you expect to see any returns. 2) Full time study constitutes 4 units, often following a pattern of 3 hours attendance required per unit. If you’re smart, you can squeeze all units into one or two days. This leaves 5-6 days with no commitments. Why not get a part time job? Once again, it’s not easy to secure one, but it’s manageable. 3) I work full time and study part time. Many people do. I have never received hand outs from my parents, and are accruing full HECS debt.
      My point - if you really want to be at University, you do not have to rely on your parents or the Government.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      04:34pm | 19/10/12

      @mick - your point stands for courses in the Arts or in Business. Try doing that while studying medicine, or law, or engineering and you may find the study expectations are greater.

      Furthermore, tertiary education, one could argue, should be subsidised by the government because statistically, one’s earning power increases significantly, meaning that the government can potentially reap back far more than it sows in supporting tertiary access for disadvantaged young people.

      And finally, supporting people straight out of high school increases the likelihood of completion, without expensive expenditure on targeted support for mature age students.

      I’m by no means suggesting that it is impossible to support yourself through tertiary study. Merely that the suggestion that everyone at university is some kind of lazy prat with parents to support them if they drop the ball is quite offensive to people such as yourself, who have had to self-fund, and who don’t have the luxury of failing financially.

      Again, perhaps if we make tertiary study less of a financial burden, it may encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to see it as a viable option. Whether that be through flexible study arrangements, greater increases to Austudy and lowering of HECS, or perhaps flexibility with regard to how much recipients can earn before their Austudy is reduced, or some other method is another issue.

    • evelyn says:

      12:42pm | 19/10/12

      Congratulations. About time Punch readers focused on poverty in Australia. All the so called human rights people seem to care about is poverty in exotic overseas locations or getting more and more resources for so called refugees here, mainly so as to secure high paid ‘aid’ jobs for themselves, preferably overseas where they can live like royalty. 
      Unfortunately the writer has avoided the hard truths. Refugees are sent to the front of the queue for housing and are displacing Australian born people (over 100,000 of whom are homeless) who have waited sometimes for ten years. In S.A. the Government issued statements saying those who have been on the list for 10 years are not considered as needy as new refugee arrivals and will have to ‘come to terms’ with never being housed! This breeds racism and resentment and is deeply, deeply unjust. It is simply unfair and wrong to tell such people not to look ‘sideways’ but instead look on refugees as being victims along with themselves. That is simply to demonize people who have every right to compare their treatment with that of new arrivals and demand fair treatment. The fact is that little or no weight is given to time spent on the housing waiting list compared to large family size and refugee status – so refugees can always jump the queue. 
      Multiculturalism is underpinned by cultural relativism that says all cultures are equal. If all cultures are equal then putting one culture, Australian, above others, is cultural supremacism and therefore racist. On that basis nationalism is racist and Australia as we know it (flag, religion, language, law) must be changed beyond recognition – essentially abolished. PM Gillard’s Government is driven by multiculturalism. As such her Government feels no sense of loyalty to Indigenous and native born Australians and cares very little about their suffering. It is too busy putting refugees and new immigrants ahead of people who have lived here for 50,000 years or who built this country, and have lived and paid taxes here for generations. It is cruel to put the burden of ‘do-gooding’ on native people who are as poor and needy as new arrivals.
      In the next decade people will see the results of this form of multiculturalism (or really cultural Marxism) as, in its name, many native born are gradually impoverished, driven from their established inner city communities, and discriminated against in favor of new immigrant arrivals whose large families and welfare dependence will make them lifelong ALP/Greens voters. This article is a glimpse into the future.

    • firefly says:

      01:38pm | 19/10/12

      Best comment on here Evelyn. You summed it up perfectly. Just about every person i know (& a whole lot of randoms) feel exactly the same.

    • pete says:

      12:45pm | 19/10/12

      One thing to remember for those without sympathy - you have no idea how close you actually are to skid row.

      Things can fall apart very, very quickly and given Australia hasn’t had a recession in a long time many people would be ill-equipped to deal with a downturn.

    • Needabeernow says:

      01:53pm | 19/10/12

      Agreed Pete, I served 12 years in the forces including overseas (been there, done that and got the medals - yay for me!).  I was working on return as management in an industrial manufacturing company.  Then I had a breakdown.  No idea why, to this day. Anyway, I ended up homeless, broke and cold and hungry to boot.  I was lucky to get to Rozelle Psychiatric and get the help I needed.  My life is now back on track. The point is, it is easy to be holier-than-thou and make statements about how it is all this person’s fault.  Sometimes it is, sometimes not; but how would you know?  If a person asks for help it is normally because they need it

    • pete says:

      03:37pm | 19/10/12

      Yours is a good example. Injury or illness can take you down at any time. I doubt many would have the finances or even adequate insurance to ride it out.

      The other article does say he got belted at work. It’s easy enough to get injured and quickly burn through savings.

    • Another Steve says:

      12:46pm | 19/10/12

      On the odd occasion when I can actually bear to read the comments attached to Punch articles I am constantly amazed at the difference between what I read in the majority of these comment postings compared with what I see in real life. 

      It’s like Punch forums are a meeting place for the Australian Tea Party.

      Thankfully the real world is far more compassionate.

    • Gordon says:

      01:42pm | 19/10/12

      You are right. Commenters can and do apply abstract rules: “the poor should HTFU”. When IRL one human being is confronted by another in real need the tendency is to help where you can. Maybe mouth off later on the Punch.

    • scott says:

      12:49pm | 19/10/12

      He should ask his local church for assistance, surely they would have some community programs that could assist him.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      02:06pm | 19/10/12

      “surely they would have some community programs that could assist him.”

      Providing he’s happy to put up with a healthy dose of judgement and proselytising, yes, I imagine they would.

    • Draconian says:

      12:51pm | 19/10/12

      If I walk a mile in someone elses shoes…
      They would be shoeless.

    • fml says:

      01:56pm | 19/10/12

      “I murmured because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet”
      -proverb.

    • Stormy Weather says:

      12:59pm | 19/10/12

      In the 80’s there were lot’s of movies, not great ones, but many which depicted class issues. Thinking about all those John Hughes movies like Pretty in Pink and Breakfast Club.
      There were musicians who were really politically active eg. 60’s hippy movement and 70’s Punk sub culture rebelling against authority, a little bit of grunge in the 90’s.

      We don’t have much in our popular culture (apart from narcissism) on TV that reflects the struggles of disadvantaged people anymore. It’s all about the struggles of the privileged.
      There’s no “Goodtimes” or “Rosanne”.

      It’s all about reality TV, Celebrity, Celbritiy kids,  Kardashians, American/Australian Idol crap. We have Underbelly glorifying violence and drugs, most movies are either fixated on drug culture or those awful Adam Sandler movies.
      The influence of Video games desensitising violence and sexism. Where you can “choose” to punch a woman or “kick a bum”. Horror movies and sequels make more money than any other films .
      Even the celebrities who do try to be different (mostly to make money of course) are all rich kids who have middle class followings, middle class sycophants.

      I’m quite surprised that despite the internet, most of the voices being heard are from the privileged . The politicians who decide for us are all privileged.
      I fail to find any politicians who actually had a tough life. Maybe their parents did but they certainly didn’t.
      Why does this matter?
      Governments create policy, policies affect members of the community. If only a select part of the community is being catered for then everyone else slips by the wayside.
      The former working classes are all cashed up and have joined the middle classes, while the new working poor are all on minimum wage or relying on benefits.
      An average middle class home, two incomes coming in, smaller households yet live beyond their means and demand middle class welfare because middle class politicians have catered for them and middle class members of society have more money and free time to lobby.

      Overtime,people are slowly influenced by the Government’s policies and attitudes eg Keating telling someone to “get a job” and Gillard preaching to disadvantaged single mothers that they should know the “dignity of work”, Howard’s middle class welfare etc.
      They are also influenced/manipulated/brainwashed by media and entertainment into not caring about the poor. Media has a great influence not to mention who owns the media.

      Poor people have never been so shamed for their poverty.

      We’ve become a society of victim blamers, resentful and bitter.
      We want to blame people’s choices for their problems regardless of the actual cause.
      We all love to look down on someone to make ourselves feel taller but the end result will stifle our collective growth as a humane society.

    • ziggy says:

      01:18pm | 19/10/12

      One has to ask, what has brought him to this situation? You tell us he has had multiple relationships, two sons, served his country, has been in rental accommodation for 30 years. But, you do not tell us why he does not own his own home, why his multiple relationships did not work, why he has no relationship with his sons ? Does he have mental health problems ?  Or, has he just wasted his years?  Whatever the case, I do feel for him, probably because of his age.  I do wish him well, and with a little help, maybe it is not too late for him.

    • Evalee says:

      01:38pm | 19/10/12

      When the basis of everyone’s value is how much money they can generate, we lose meaningful engagement with a large sector of society.  Yes, money is necessary.  Yes, working is good on a number of levels.

      Not everyone is best suited to this paradigm.  Not everyone’s best work is done 9-5 (ahem).  There are other aspects to living which are not connected to the generation and accumulation of wealth and which we need to value (in a non-transactory way).

      There is so much ‘stuff’ required to be seen to fit in to regular society.  And for what benefit?  Sometimes I want to chuck it all in and buy a caravan and live like a gypsy.

      Society seems to want to burden it’s members with debt and ‘things’ then berates us for not being more happy and carefree.  Excuse me??

      Tony was right when he said “Shit happens’.  It does indeed.  I am not a great money manager but have managed to live and work in countries on opposite sides of the world.  There have been some pretty lean weeks but overall I have not gone without for too long. 

      One lesson I have learned late was to ask for and accept help.  Not a good money manager?  Find and accountant you feel you can trust and hand things over (with appropriate oversight of course). 

      Mr Novak is beyond this stage of things now, I know but my point is, there seems to be this fear being a part of a community of people (family, extended family, trusted associates) which has it’s foundations in the need to be seen to be perfect and in charge of everything.

      We are human, with all the glory and grubbiness that entails.  We should strive to be better than we are but we cannot live our lives in the future.

    • Jenni says:

      01:43pm | 19/10/12

      I work with disadvantaged people and I find the prevalent attitude of most people from the outside looking in is “... it could never happen to me.” I have also very nearly found myself IN their shoes after a serious injury left me incomeless for 8 months. Only through the love and support of some *very* special friends did I manage to keep my home, my sanity and my life.

      People sit in their smug little glass houses waiting to throw stones at passers-by who are less fortunate than themselves. Yes, many of the homeless and poor have made poor decisions in their lives, does this make them “deserving” of living the rest of their lives in hardship? Does it makes them unworthy of our empathy, support and assistance?

      To truly put yourself in these people’s shoes, all it needs is an admission that it *can* happen to you. Try it, and then open your heart a little.

    • tbirdtrav says:

      01:55pm | 19/10/12

      Wasn’t Chris Novak bass player for Nirvana?

    • tbirdtrav says:

      02:02pm | 19/10/12

      Nope that’s Krist Novoselic ....

    • Carl Palmer says:

      02:02pm | 19/10/12

      I’m not entirely sure what your point is re Chris Novak, but if you are suggesting that we should do more to help, then yes I would agree. I guess I / we could all find that extra hour / half day / day to help someone less fortunate. I am however not one to support constant cash hand outs or constantly just giving stuff eg food as the panacea which some articles seem to suggest. As they say, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This also assumes that he wants to learn how to fish.

      Many many years ago I was working in a psych hospital and I tried to help a young man get out and make a life for himself. One day we were having a chat and he turned around and said that he was happy where he was and had no intention of moving anywhere. I wouldn’t have clue where he is today, the hospital is well and truly closed, but I’ll bet he is one of the people in the poverty cue, I hope he isn’t but if he is, good luck with him.
       
      And as for ““None of us know what it’s like to be Chris Novak.”, that’s true, some have probably been thru far worse.

    • Bitten says:

      02:11pm | 19/10/12

      “He’s worked for most of his life. He’s served our country in the Army. He’s been married and divorced. He has two sons and has lost contact with both. He’s been in and out of relationships, in and out of work, and in and out of bad rental properties in Sydney’s west for the last 30 years.”

      Chris, what are you doing? Disempowering people? I’ll make the point today that I tried to make yesterday: empathy is one thing but denying or obstinately closing your eyes to the links between a person’s actions and the consequences is wrong. It disempowers people and makes them victims.  Did this person’s life just ‘happen to’ them? Come on mate, grow up and stop treating adults like infants.

      Welfare recipients can continue to receive welfare, by all means. But there are many reasons why they are on welfare, and as defiantly as you want to ignore this, the truth is many of those reasons relate to the choices they make. Your approach disempowers people and divorces them from responsibility for their lives, effectively turning them into mere flotsam buffeted by the waves of a merciless and cruel sea of life. Do you truly think that individual’s have no influence over their life outcomes? That choices have no consequences and we are powerless as infants blundering our way through the world? The word ‘blame’ has garnered very negative connotations in this age of moral relativism, but if we dial down the hysteria for a moment, blaming someone for a situation is effectively drawing a link between an action and a consequence.

      Very few things in our lives happen ‘to’ us. Terminal illness. Losing a child. Being physically disabled after an accident. There are things that are true acts of fortune. But many of the factors that underpin marginalisation in Australian society (uncomfortable though this may make people) are not things that come out of nowhere. Alcohol abuse. Drug use. Gambling. Inability to hold down a job. It is obstinate and borderline intellectually dishonest, to insist that all unemployed people have either lost their jobs or been unable to hold down a job for more than a few weeks because they’re amazing workers. That is crap and we all know it. But ‘Think of the children!’ I hear you cry! A child cannot choose what household it is born into, that is undeniably true. But children grow into adults and we can absolutely choose to either be like our parents, or be different. I choose to be different to my father. I choose not to become an alcoholic. I choose not to beat my partner. I choose to work and I choose not to blame ‘others’ (the government, rich people, the old boss, my teachers) for what has happened in my life.

      I am responsible for much of what has happened in my life, because I have made choices. If you consider my life and how it has turned out, I have made very good choices and consequently, the good things in my life (steady income, home, loving relationship, great friends) are a result of those choices. If I am responsible for those things, that are very good and I acknowledge them as such, then surely it is equally empowering to link the actions of an individual to the negative consequences that flow from it.

      A critical element in esteem building (something that I believe is quite important in addressing disenfranchised individuals, and acknowledged as such) is to remind people that they have the power to be different and to change. This means linking their actions to consequences, both in the past and moving forward.

    • chrisw says:

      03:05pm | 19/10/12

      So you think that you are to be commended for having a steady income, loving relationship and great friends? Fate and luck had nothing to do with any of this, it was all your doing? Do you think that if you work hard in life, don’t drink and smoke and make the right choices, your life will be hunky dory?? Yeah, good luck with that one.

    • DJ says:

      04:22pm | 19/10/12

      I find the “he has 2 sons” comment the saddest part of this story.
      He has 2 sons that refuse or dont want to help him and would rather see him live in poverty on the streets. Yet we the public are shamed?

      They should be ashamed of themselves

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      02:25pm | 19/10/12

      I’d rather have my taxes go to help this guy out than to pay for middle class family welfare, but I don’t get a choice- both the ALP and Coalition are going to feed the middle class welfare junkies and that is that.

    • Steve says:

      02:49pm | 19/10/12

      If there was a ‘like’ button for this comment, I would have clicked it.

    • Mat says:

      02:50pm | 19/10/12

      And when you get a hand out you send it back don’t you Shane? Please share with us your take on middle class welfare - what is it? And what is a middle class welfare junkie? feed us what Shane - tell me what they feed me (besides bullshit)? Back this up Shane I want you too elaborate - please

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      03:30pm | 19/10/12

      @Mat- Don’t get any handouts from the government and don’t want any. I’m only in favor of welfare for pensioners, short term unemployed (less than a year) and the disabled. Any other form of welfare should be eliminated. As for the middle class family welfare junkies, they are the ones who kick up a fuss every time it looks like their “entitlements” might be cut back…...

    • Loxy says:

      04:29pm | 19/10/12

      Shane, I’m with you except I would probably allow single mother benefits for a maximum of a year after the birth of the child and only for the first child – after all everyone should have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without the children suffering.

      I’d also keep the childcare rebate as it encourages people to work. If parents had to pay full price for childcare the reality is a lot of people, probably mostly mums, simply wouldn’t work as it wouldn’t be worth their while financially - this represents lost income tax for our country. On face-value the lost income tax is worth far more than the subsidy, however there are also long-term costs that no one probably even considers like the benefits to the economy of keeping women in work and maintaining their skills as opposed to a women taking 10 years off work to raise children and then being unemployable.

    • Kris says:

      02:53pm | 19/10/12

      People lack empathy and blame this guy for the simple fact that they dont want to acknowledge that it could have been them. Its very scary to see that sometime only luck means that you have enough food to eat and a nice place to live.

    • The Proofit says:

      03:01pm | 19/10/12

      It’s not simply about putting yourself in other people’s shoes.  Some people try to empathise, but when they put themselves in that person’s shoes, they take their own drive, intellect and street smarts with them. 
      Some people, for whatever reason, are not able to make the best of the hand they’ve been given.  They need our support, not our condemnation.
      Life shouldn’t be a competition with winners and losers.

    • Richard says:

      03:29pm | 19/10/12

      This person possibly deserves some empathy. All the bloggers going on about how much he receives think how much you receive in the form of Family tax Benefit A & B , Baby Bonus and any other of the other payments one can receive. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t receive some sort of C’wealth payment. I know you pay tax but then so do I out of my Defence retirement pay (pension).

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      03:44pm | 19/10/12

      “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t receive some sort of C’wealth payment.”

      Hi! smile

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      05:22pm | 19/10/12

      “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t receive some sort of C’wealth payment”

      Hi.

    • Debbie says:

      03:40pm | 19/10/12

      I am truly impressed by all those self made successful people. They pro-created themselves, delivered themselves in hospitals they had built using medical knowledge they discovered and perfected. Then they educated themselves in schools they paid for with 10,000 years of knowledge they alone discovered. And fed themselves and defended the country at the same time.

      They didn’t consume or use anything they alone hadn’t paid for in advance so why should they pay tax to help or advance anyone else.

    • SydneyGirl says:

      04:15pm | 19/10/12

      JK Rowlings was interviewed the other day on The Daily Show.  She mentioned that she was on welfare for awhile and basically would have been homeless otherwise. And the reason she stayed on in Britain and pays taxes is because she wanted to give something back.

      Sometimes you make good but the getting there can be facilitated.

      So that’s there.

 

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