There are two
places I really don't like. The first is dentist's waiting rooms
and the second are dole offices. Being in both give me a sense
In the dentist's
waiting room I begin to sweat a little and my knees begin to
ache. I imagine the huge – I mean really, really big – needle
that will be plunged into my gums and the way in which my jaw
will ache for a day or two afterwards. I imagine the recurrence
of the dreaded 'dry socket' which is even worse than the
toothache. In the end I submit to the procedure and put up with
all the uncomfortable processes required.
When it comes to
the dole office, similar feelings of dread are evoked. Earlier
on this year I found myself waiting in the que at a dole office
as I signed up to receive the infamous 'welfare benefits' our
society grants to those who are in hard times.
Out of necessity I
booked in to sign up and duly attended the appointment. I found
my way to the office and when I entered I felt like turning
around and walking straight back out. The last time I was ‘on
the dole’ was when I was in my teens, fresh out of high school
and looking for an apprenticeship. How times have changed.
In this age of
“accountability” I had to bare my soul to the “customer service
officer” and give over the most intimate details of my private
life. I had to sign a document, that described in detail, the
penalties that applied should I give false information,
regardless of whether it was by way of oversight or deliberate.
For what seemed like forever, I sat as a barrage of questions
was fired at me. I was asked how I had lived without income
(savings), whether I had looked for work (yes), if I had
travelled outside Australia (no), if I had any bank accounts
other than the ones I declared (no) and on and on it went.
I was also asked to sign a “mutual obligation” form that
outlined the obligation I had to diligently look for work and
the ways in which I would penalised for not doing so. I was also
given a “work diary” which I had fill in each fortnight,
detailing the jobs I had applied for. I was also given a form
that I had to fill in every two weeks and return to the dole
office so my “benefit” could be processed.
Don't get me wrong. I can see the need to ensure that people who
are claiming benefits are checked and that we are grilled in
order to ensure that our claims are in no way just an easy way
out. My six weeks or so on the dole demonstrated to me the ways
in which we are subjected to classification, surveillance and
monitoring when it comes to being assisted by our fellow tax
What I also realised was that being on the dole is pretty much a
full time job. Scouring newspapers and the internet for jobs,
calling or writing to prospective employers, filling in “job
diaries” and responding the seemingly never ending stream of
paperwork mean that being on the dole is not something that can
be done between drinks.
Thankfully, that short period of being subject to constant
threat of penalties is over. It did, however, renew in me the
respect I have for those who, through no fault of their own,
find themselves subject to the scrutiny of the state. It is not
pleasant, places you in a constant state of dread and certainly
doesn't do anything to boost your self image or morale.
But when it comes to our private schools, it seems they demand a
different set of rules.
You might have heard that the current federal government is
wanting to pass a bill that will cause all schools, public and
private, to, among other things, disclose a whole range of
things that, in the case of private schools, have been hidden
from public scrutiny since the start of time.
Of interest to me, in the current context, is the fact that the
schools will have to disclose all sources of funding in the new
format for annual reports. Julia Gillard, the Federal Minister
for Education says that such disclosure will usher in a “new era
of transparency” and make it easier for parents to make
‘informed choices’ about their children's schooling. Yet, the
private schools, who stand to get twice the funding of the
public schools, are baulking at opening up their books.
So, I ask you, ‘is it fair that the poorest have to subject
themselves to scrutiny while the wealthiest do not?’ Evidently
it is fair. It is worth noting that most of the wealthiest
private schools in this country are associated with religious
organisations. Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Uniting,
Presbyterian, Orthodox, Jewish and other faith based schools
account for the majority of private school providers. The
non-Catholic ones want to disguise themselves behind the
“independent” label. Yet it is apparent they really should be
called “non-accountable” schools.
Its also worth noting that under the much maligned Australian
Constitution, there are clear declarations about how the state
should not fund religious bodies, which obviously includes their
schools. However, these declarations are ignored by successive
governments seeking to curry favour with their “serious money”
Another thing worth noting, as our government seeks to inject
$28 billion of our hard earned into the private school system,
is that the so called “Australian Curriculum, Assessment and
Reporting Authority” will include only government appointed
bureaucrats and private school nominees. I suggest it should be
renamed the “Australian Private School Fund Raising Authority”.
With no public school representatives allowed on it, how will
the government know what the true state of public education in
this country is?
Like dentists and dole offices do to me, the thought of private
school money having to be accounted for sends shivers up and
down the spines of the elites. Unlike me and many others, when
it comes to their spending of our money, they do not have to
sign forms, attend job appointments, fill out activity diaries
or in any way stand accountable for putting our their hand for a
hand up (as if they need it any way).
I’m all for choice and all for assisting those who need a hand
when times are tough. I even support dentists who provide good
care (even if I try to avoid them at all costs). But when it
comes to my taxes being spent at a 2 to 1 ratio to save the
already wealthy from the ramifications of their choices, I think
there is something seriously wrong with our system.
I suppose the wealthy are just as nervous about having to
disclose how they maintain their lifestyles as I am about saying
‘ah’ when the person in the white jacket with the big needle
asks me to open up or when the “customer service officer” asks
me to ‘sign here’.