Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-3-5134 8556

+61-4-1349 7828

March 2007 # 3

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Back to Editorials 2007

Technically Speaking

A young man, lets call him Andrew, is sitting on the footpath, cigarette hanging from his mouth staring at nothing. He’s just been breached for a “technical” oversight. 

His journey to despair began four weeks ago when a mate of his dad’s asked if would like to do some work cleaning up his front yard and knocking down a fence. At 25, still living at home and with a rocky employment record, Andrew jumped at the chance to earn a few dollars. 

He took the job and over the next two weeks not only cleaned up the yard and knocked down the fence, he helped the builder put up a new fence, cleaned out the gutters, mowed the lawn and even got the washing in when it rained. The two weeks were great fun but in the process he forgot his “job ready obligations.” 

While he was doing the work he was also required to look for six jobs per week using at least three different methods. He could ring, cold call, use the Centrelink computer touch screens or fax potential employers. He had to keep a diary of all contacts with times, dates, contact names, contact numbers and any other information Centerlink demanded. 

During his first week he failed get the six contacts done. He simply ran out of time each day and by the time he had finished the work he was doing, it was after business hours. He thought of making up some fake contacts but remembered his case worker telling him that Centerlink randomly check out the contacts in people’s diaries and if he got caught it would not be good for him. 

In the second week of his job he made sure he rang, cold called and used the computer to fulfil his quota. The trouble didn’t start till he went to one of his regular case management sessions last week. 

He wasn’t sure whether to tell his case manager of his oversight but as he thought the bloke was OK he decided to fess up and find out what he could do to make it up. He went to the meeting and told his case manager what had happened. This was duly noted and entered into the computer. He was told that the government was cracking down on people who breached their obligations. 

Today the letter arrived. Because he had failed to uphold the “agreement” he had made, he would, forthwith, have his unemployment benefit withheld for eight weeks. He could retain his Health Care Card. This was just before I found him. Without any visible means of support or any hope for a reprieve. When I asked if he would appeal it he told me that it could take three months for the result to come back so what was the point! 

So here we have the outcome of the government’s attack on the poor, the unskilled, the unemployed and the underemployed, the disabled, the sick and the single parent. While they have continually told us that there is such a thing as “mutual obligation” it would seem they have no sense of responsibility or care for others. However, when it comes to one of their own, they are more than willing to bend, no break, the rules. 

Queensland Senator, Santo Santoro deceived the Australian people and the parliament and broke John Howard’s Code of Ministerial Conduct when he failed to declare shares he held. 

Once this fact was known, Howard and his mob rallied around Santoro and said that his breach was only a “technical breach” and as such he should suffer no penalty. Why, we were told, he even gave all the profits he made when he unloaded the shares to charity. This lie also went largely unchallenged.

The organisation Santoro gave the money to is not a charity but a non-profit, right wing, anti-family, misogynistic, conservative grouping of religious organisations calling itself the “Family Council of Queensland”. This group has no tax deductible status and as such cannot “technically” be called a charity. This is not the first time Santoro has used his position to bolster the private sector or conservative groups. Last year he was accused of helping a mate win contracts for aged care beds. This mate later bragged that he had hit the jackpot with Santoro’s help. 

When it comes to one rule for one and another rule for the rest, the Howard government is the clear winner. While the most needy must beg and scrape they allow dishonesty in their ranks to remain. Santoro’s remorse for not telling the truth only went as far as “its regrettable the oversight occurred.” In fact, so dishonest is this man he didn’t bother to disclose the shares until he found out he had made a motza from them when the company sent him an update on their profitability. 

Santoro’s dishonesty and Howard’s defence of this dishonesty points out once more how the lust for power has infected and destroyed any moral integrity the Howard government and its members could once, perhaps, claim. 

Labor has no better track record in these matters and we should not be looking towards them for help. Both parties are intent on insuring that people like Andrew are left at the bottom of the pile while shoving their snouts even further into the trough. 

Tomorrow morning Santoro, Howard and all those in parliament will wake up in nice beds, in nice houses or hotel rooms. They will take tax payer funded trips to their offices or elsewhere and be wined and dined at no personal cost to themselves. With no sense of regret or obligation they will go about their business as if we, the people, are the problem and not their employers. 

Tomorrow morning Andrew will wake up in his bed and lie there wondering how he can tell his parents he cant pay his board and lodging this week, or the next or until well after Easter. He will probably go around to his girlfriend’s place and chill out until she gets home from work. However, a sense of pride, responsibility and obligation will prevent him from asking her to help him out, even though he knows she will. 

It’s a real pity that more people like Andrew, people with personal integrity, honesty and a willingness to muck in and have a go don’t occupy the halls of our parliaments. The crooks, cheats, liars and thieves who do occupy the places of government certainly don’t “technically” measure up to the ideals we have for “good leaders”. At least Andrew was doing an honest day’s work before his “technical” oversight came to light and at least he didn’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming to admit his failure. I wish him well and hope that next time I see him he his holding his head higher than last time I saw him.

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