December 2015

“Welfare notes” is an irregular update on unemployment and fight for livable welfare in Australia.

1. Cashless Welfare Card

The federal government has embarked on yet another iteration of income management. The initial income management program was introduced by the Howard government as part of it’s appallingly racist “Norther Territory Intervention”, ostensibly aimed at stopping child abuse. In reality the scheme was an arbitrary array of racist and paternalistic measures that increased indigenous poverty and wrought destruction on indigenous communities.

The new income management trial has been dubbed the “Cashless Welfare Debit Card” and is due to be inflicted on the South Australian community of Ceduna. A twelve month trial of the new welfare card is expected to be expanded in the new year, and will likely affect the Western Australian towns of Kununurra and Halls Creek.

Unlike the Basics Card, which controversially required merchants to sign up to accept the card (basically restricting indigenous people to shopping at major chain outlets), the new “cashless welfare card” is expected to function as a debit card and will presumably be accepted anywhere that has EFTPOS access. According to the DSS website:

The cashless debit card will look and operate like a normal bank card, except it cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or withdraw cash.

Public demonstrations against the Ceduna trial were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Ceduna on 21 Nov.

Public demonstrations against the Ceduna trial were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Ceduna on 21 Nov. Photo by Kerry Davies.

The kicker is how they intend to achieve this. Detail is thin on the ground, but at community information sessions in Ceduna activists were basically told that the Department of Social Servicess is relying on merchants in the town to discriminate against people utilizing the new welfare card.

The Australian Association of Social Workers utterly eviscerated the plan in a submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee, here are some highlights:

This Amendment allows for a trial on an aspect of income management that has failed in the past … On the evidence to date, involuntary income management has not been successful in reducing the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs. …

The technology of the proposed debit card is unproven …

A considerable number of people who do not need income management will be affected by this proposed Amendment … Within the trial sites there will be a large number of welfare recipients who manage their scarce resources well and who do not have a problem with alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling. Their normal patterns of financial management will be disrupted yet they will gain nothing from the trial. The Evaluation New Income Management in the Northern Territory: Final Evaluation Report highlighted a number of such instances. …

This Bill foreshadows a movement toward a more intrusive and disrespectful welfare system that would be rejected by the majority of Australians as paternalistic.

The AASW and others (eg. Eva Cox in this article for the conversation) argue that the government’s Ceduna trial wont even give them the information on income management that they claim to be seeking. The trial wont distinguish between the impact of income management and other new policy changes targeted at Ceduna, a twelve month trial is decidedly short for its stated aims.

I disagree.

The Ceduna trial is not a test of the effectiveness of income management to combat substance misuse. We already know that conditional welfare is disastrous upon the lives of welfare claimants and utterly ineffective in preventing substance misuse.

The cashless welfare card is a trial in politics. It will test whether this level of pervasive control over the lives of welfare claimants can be effectively implemented, it will test the technology, and it will test the politics.

The government has been steadily moving “toward a more intrusive and disrespectful welfare system” for more than a decade. In 2014 significant measures towards a harsher welfare system were rejected by the majority of Australians (although the expanded Work for the Dole program remains). The Ceduna trial is a subtler approach, an experiment upon a largely indigenous community that can be slowly extended and expanded with minimal resistance.

Meanwhile, the failed ‘Basics Card’ continues to operate across the Northern Territory.

2. Work for the Dole evaluation released

According to the ABC:

A study commissioned by the Federal Government has found its work for the dole trial led to just a 2 per cent increase in job placements.

The evaluation was undertaken by the Social Research Centre and probably warrants a longer read by those of us campaigning on the issue of Work for the Dole. The whole thing is online here.

When the government announced the policy I was hopeful that sufficient pressure placed upon potential hosts could prevent the policy’s successful implementation. The evaluation notes:

At up to 15 hours per week per participant, the number of available work experience activities has been sufficient to meet demand – although initially a slow start, once the coordinators and providers were on board with the programme there appeared to be little difficulty in sourcing activities (although there were some exceptions in some of the more regional locations) through host organisations. … However, the suitability of activities has not necessarily aligned with what job seekers are able to do (or want to do).

In some cases, it was reported that activities were created by coordinators (as expected) but then providers were unable to provide suitable job seekers to fill those places because, for example, they had criminal records so could not be placed in that activity, they had transport/access difficulties, or became ineligible for WfD. Some providers and job seekers expressed a concern that too many activities were of the same type (charity shop work and environmental/gardening were cited, for example) that did not always provide sufficient work-like experience or choice.

Work for the Dole participants contacting the Dole Action Group have pointed to the creation of a veritable industry of pseudo-charities that exist solely to churn work for the dole placements.

The best I heard recently was from a person who did a Work for the Dole placement at a charity that (among other things) distributed food parcels on behalf of other charities:

Which is basically they give us food parcels as we have healthcare cards and they are seen to be doing this service.

3. myGov problems

Who needs the Australia Card when we’re all progressively forced into using myGov! From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Mrs Smith, who lives in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn East, has been unable to access online services through myGov for three months thanks to an “error” which nobody seems to know how to fix.

Oh fun and games, good thing it’s never happened to anyone else, right?

DHS was unable to comment on whether the problem was widespread. However Centrelink’s Facebook page is littered with daily complaints from customers including images of call wait times on mobile phones of over an hour, and complaints of being locked out of myGov accounts. Fairfax Media has also received correspondence from frustrated users unable to access their myGov accounts on an ongoing basis due to unresolved errors.

4. Centrelink industrial dispute ongoing

The enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) covering Centrelink staff expired 30 June 2014. When I last posted an update, Centrelink staff had just engaged in a series of short stop-works… There has been little progress since then.

The Canberra Times reports:

The Department of Human Services has cancelled a staff vote on a new enterprise agreement before Christmas.

The Community and Public Sector Union said it was a “tacit acknowledgement” workers were fundamentally opposed to losing rights under the government’s “failed bargaining policy” but Human Services has rejected this assertion as a misrepresentation.

The enterprise agreement ballot of all DHS staff would have closed on December 22 but had now been delayed until February next year, the CPSU said in a statement.

In September 83 per cent of DHS staff voted ‘no’ to their agreement offers.

As I said back in May, government cut backs and under staffing at Centrelink is making life unbearable for Centrelink workers and welfare claimants alike.

5. Unemployment Rate

ABS Labour force statistics for November report that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen by 0.1 percentage points to 5.8%. According to the ABS there are currently 752,300 people unemployed in Australia.

The labour underutilization rate (definition) has also fallen, to 14.3%. Approximately 1,797,600 people are looking for (more) work.

The most recent stats on job vacancies (August 2015) reported approximately 160,200 positions. The next series (November 2015) is not due out until January 2016.

There remain approximately 11.2 people seeking (more) work for every advertised job in Australia.


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The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group has published a statement on the Michael Schmidt matter. In part it reads:

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group is studying these documents and has not yet reached any conclusions. If the allegations against Michael Schmidt are true, he should be expelled from the movement and treated as both a serious danger and a thorough scoundrel. If they are false, he has been appallingly libelled and he deserves public exoneration – and his accusers are guilty of, at best, reckless behaviour.

We believe that a tribunal, composed so as to hold moral authority in the Anarchist movement, should be established to investigate the allegations thoroughly and impartially according to the principles of natural justice and to publish a report of its findings. The Anarkismo Network, to which the MACG belongs, is pursuing an initiative along these lines. The MACG therefore appeals to the Anarchist movement to withhold judgement until such a time as either the tribunal reports, or it becomes clear that the attempt to form a credible tribunal has failed.

I have a lot of time for everyone in the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, but on this issue I think they have it wrong.

In 2015 the nature and political content of anarchism is hotly contested by increasingly incompatible anarchist tendencies. This conflict over the soul of the anarchist movement is playing out in disputes on the Michael Schmidt matter.

In this context, there is no possibility of forming any tribunal, or any other body, that was “composed as to hold the moral authority of the Anarchist movement”. The disparate political and ideological tendencies that consider themselves the anarchist movement today do not have the degree of political or organizational cohesion required to undertake such a task. Any body established by or out of one tendency or group would be condemned by all of the others.

If there ever was an organization that was broadly held in sufficient esteem to undertake such a task, it was the AK Press collective. They have already, in a manner, assigned two people to conduct and investigation and publish a report. The articles by Alexander Reid Ross and Joshua Stephens have been greeted in much the same manner that any report by any “tribunal” would be.

In practical terms, any tribunal established amongst the Anarkismo network will leave groups and individuals wishing to understand the Michael Schmidt matter with roughly the same task. Approximately a hundred thousand words have been spilled on the Michael Schmidt matter in the past two months, most of it speculation, assertion, or “evidence” which defies verification. Anarchists will have to take a look at what Michael Schmidt admits he has written, make a judgement on it, and act accordingly.

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Returning YPG volunteer Ashley Dyball has now beenreunited with his parents at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.

Dyball was released at Melbourne Airport just before 3am this morning, after four and half hours questioning by AFP. He has not been charged with an offense.

For anyone interested, I joined the group of friends, family, Kurdish community and other supporters who gathered to greet Ashley at Tullamarine aiport this evening.

A selection of tweets and photos from the evening is available on this Storify page, ‘Ashley Dyball released without charge’.

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I’ve finally gotten around to listening to Dave Eden’s excellent podcast, Living the Dream, and in particular an October episode on conspiracy theory entitled ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’.

Dave advances a few ideas about the nature of conspiracy theory and reasons for its current prominence. In particular the podcast is commenting on the growth of conspiracy theory in broadly ‘left’ movements (Occupy, opposition to the TPP, etc) where before such ideas would be rejected.

These are all issues worth considering, but after listening to the podcast, something else struck me.

I’ve spent the better part of the year involved in the campaign against the Reclaim Australia phenomena and its various offshoots. An understanding of the growth of conspiracy theory is directly relevant to understanding the Reclaim Australia phenomenon.

A Definition of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden proposes that conspiracy theories:

attempt to explain the world, the broad situation of the society we exist in, as a product of the action of a coherent determined group. So it’s not simply that there are conspiracies, but that the social order can be explained as a conspiracy.

And that there are a variety of common characteristics to conspiracy theory:

This conspiracy is usually described as being alien and outside of the norm, an external force that has impregnated and infiltrated the social order. However it is simultaneously dominating and everywhere. … Linked to this, normally, the vast majority of people are described as being asleep and brainwashed … and the conspiracy theorists themselves often understand themselves as being “the only sane man in the world”, simultaneously not being believed and in danger.

In terms of both of these elements, the idea of ‘conspiracy theory’ is directly relevant to Reclaim Australia and it’s offshoots.

For the anti-Muslim racists of Reclaim Australia, Islam is an “external force” that is presently infiltrating the social order. Refugees, mosques, and halal food are all seen as elements in a progressive campaign to Islam-ify Australia, impose Sharia law, and subvert the existing white Judaeo-Christian social order.

The power that Reclaim Australia supporters attribute to an Islamic conspiracy varies. Reclaim Australia and it’s offshoots are attempting to establish street movements, micro-political parties and alike to ‘resist’ ‘Islamization’. They clearly do not think that the power of the conspiracy is total.

However, every setback their movement faces is explained in terms of an Islamic conspiracy in league with the forces of the state. In Victoria, the decision of the Bendigo City Council to grant a planning permit for the construction of a small mosque was explained as the result of a corrupt nexus between the business interests of Bendigo’s Mayor, the Islamic community, and the federal government.

When an appeal against planning permission for the Bendigo mosque failed at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the conspiracy theory expanded to include court collusion. The looming failure of ‘Rights for Bendigo Residents’ in the Supreme court will doubtless be explained in the same way.

Dave Eden argues that:

Conspiracy theory, linked to this model of understanding the world, is reactionary in both content and form. … They are often tied to some formal of formally fascist or libertarian politics, explicitly anti-marxist, explicitly anti-feminist, explicitly seeing ideas of white middle class subjectivity under attack. They are normally deeply racist… and you often find a deep anti-environmental element too.

The more obviously fascist wing of the Reclaim Australia milieu publicly advances all of these ideas, but they are present throughout the entire Reclaim Australia movement.

As the year has progressed, explicitly anti-communist and anti-left ideas have come to the fore of the Reclaim Australia movement. The Melbourne based neo-Nazi offshoot, the United Patriots Front, is spending far more time talking about the evils of “contaminated” “cultural Marxists”, whilst including plenty of white supremacist, anti-feminist, and anti-queer rhetoric to boot.

They have recently decided that the current Victorian Premier is a communist who has been orchestrating the street based responses to their organizing efforts.

Dave Eden talks about the impact that conspiracy ideas have on the capacity of the left when he says:

The vision of the world they present, forecloses the possibility of collective agency. How’s it possible to transform the world when the world is so dominated by this conspiracy? And in practice the dissemination of these ideas further produce disorder, disorganization, lack of confidence amongst us as a class. These kind of ideas increase our feelings of powerlessness and paranoia.

In terms of the far-right, the conspiracy theory plays a somewhat different role. The idea that the conspiracy exists, but that it can be resisted by courageous ‘patriots’, has been the basis upon which the Reclaim Australia movement and its offshoots have build.

That said, in terms of their affect on the working class, the problem is the same. Islamophobic conspiracy theories have provoked wider class division and disorder.

Prevalence of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden argues that conspiracy theory has become the “default framework for a critique of the world”.

It’s difficult to assess the extent to which the prevalence of conspiracy theory is increasing. My personal experience backs up what Dave Eden argues. Conspiracy theory is increasingly predominant in spaces where I would previously have expected left anti-capitalist ideas to be totally dominant.

There isn’t a great swath of polling on conspiracy theory over time, and what polling exists obviously has some problems in terms of the contested definition of conspiracy. That said, what polling that does exist suggests that if conspiracy is a “fringe”, it’s a damned big one:

28% of [United States] voters believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government

In terms of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, I can’t readily find accurate polling. Last year approximately one in four polled reported “negative feelings” towards Islam or Muslims. I’d be interested to see how that has changed after this years events.

Anti-Muslim conspiracy theories are the dominant idea in the Reclaim Australia milieu (assuming their online communications are representative of the movement as a whole), but they are not necessarily the entire movement.

There is an overtly fascist core at work in the likes of the United Patriots Front. For many of these actors anti-Muslim racism appears to be the tool of the day rather than a sincerely held position. The likes of Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson (and a few others I can think of) have made the transition from anti-Semitic neo-Nazis to anti-Muslim defenders of the State of Israel a little too quickly for any reasonable person to believe that their surface politics are sincere.

That said, the rise and rise of anti-Muslim conspiracy theory has created the environment in which these fringe players have been able to reach a much wider audience.

Explaining the growth of Conspiracy Theory

Dave Eden presents two concurrent explanations for the rise of conspiracy theory on the Australian left today.

The first is a bit tangential to any discussion of Reclaim Australia. Eden proposes that past defeats (in particular the failure of the movement against the Iraq war in 2003) taught a whole generation that they were powerless.

The growth of conspiracy on the left is evidence of it’s powerlessness, the failure of the Iraq War movement taught a whole generation that collective action (in particular a rally strategy) didn’t (or no longer) worked, and the left currently does not offer credible alternatives to either apathy or conspiracy.

The second explanation draws directly on Marx. We’re witnessing the massive growth and output of capitalism, whilst experiencing less and less control over our own lives. In terms of the far-right, I’d propose this is the more interesting area of investigation.

The growth of anti-Islam conspiracy theories and alike has a lot to do with the current situation in capitalism.

The weakness and disorganization of the workers movement is relevant to the rise of the far-right. The conditions of the whole working class in Australia are under attack, and are progressively being eroded. However the white working class faces something of a double attack on their position.

The white (male) working class in Australia has long enjoyed a position of relative privilege within the wider working class. This relative position is being eroded, in particular by the casualization of labour, the erosion of the social wage, and the erosion of real wages. In 2015 the Australian working class is experiencing an income recession.

The elements that make up the Reclaim Australia audience feel their their ‘rightful’ relative position of privilege is being undermined. At the same time that the position of all workers is being eroded, the racist sees their status being reduced to that of non-white workers.

Dave argues that conspiracy (and perhaps by extension racism) leads to passivity and paranoia. The thing that has characterized Reclaim Australia is they have successfully gone beyond this; Reclaim Australia has been an active outburst.

The particular form its taking is an outburst in response to the erosion of a position of relative privilege.

What’s the Solution?

I have spent the bulk of the past year involved in the campaign to oppose Reclaim Australia and it’s various offshoots. The campaign has focused on disrupting specific attempts by the far-right to project power on the streets.

What we don’t have is a wider plan, idea or practice for addressing the growth in racist conspiracy theory.

If you boil this down … conspiracy theory is the logical outgrowth of a life without power. So the alternative to conspiracy theory is the collective development of power.

As much as I hate to admit it, Dave is right in his assessment of the current strength of ‘the left’:

The left as it exists, very marginal, very small … does not currently have a practice that can manifest power.

But I am skeptical of any position that argues there is a “starting point” in the realm of analysis.

Sure, we need all of these things:

We would need to start with an analysis of capitalism today, how does it actually work, develop a series of strategies about what concrete groups of people can do in this concrete conjucture to shift the balance … and then manifest tactics to allow that.

But, how is any analysis of capitalism today ever formed? How are strategies about concrete groups of people developed? How are tactics that actually convey power projected?

And even if by some magic wand an individual or small group suddenly discovered the answers to these questions, how would such ideas actually transmit from this small group to theorized groups of people?

Meaningful strategy has to be a responsive process developed in practice. Effective tactics will only ever be discovered by experimentation in practice. A commitment to practice is the only way to begin to develop groups that would genuinely have the capacity to transmit this practice (through their engagement and action with) to larger concrete groups of people that could develop the capacity to change society.

The starting point is not an analysis of capitalism today, it’s a commitment to practice that reflects, experiments, and recognizes and learns from mistakes. More than anything else this requires that people committed to libertarian emacipatory politics come together in groups and organise for a concurrent process of action and analysis.

Conspiracy theory as a broad scale social phenomena is not something one can argue away. … What gives it life is the palpable absence of the class movement itself.

On that I agree.

Living the Dream, ‘Everything You Know is Wrong’:


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In a move that will make criminals of every hippy with a bookshelf, the Andrews’ government is amending the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances act 1981 criminalize simply possessing “a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence”.

That’s right, they’re coming for your grow guides!

The proposed amendments represent a significant uptick in Victoria’s war on drugs; simply having the wrong book could land you five years in prison.Watch movie online John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Under current legislation, the possession of a drug manual is only prohibited if you intend to use it. The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act states:

A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so, possesses a substance, material, document containing instructions relating to the preparation, cultivation or manufacture of a drug of dependence or equipment with the intention of using the substance, material, document or equipment for the purpose of trafficking in a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

The proposed amendment creates a new offense of possessing without intent:

71E Possession of document containing information about trafficking or cultivating a drug of dependence
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, possesses a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 600 penalty units or level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) or both.

This amendment is a significant increase in the state’s power to criminalize “things” associated with drug production that are not actually drugs or drug production.

Our totally trustworthy government will insist this legislation is only intended to ‘catch’ would be Walter Whites, presumably before they had setup their epic drug laboratories. In reality, the scope of this amendment is far wider.

Every kid who downloads a copy of the misnamed Anarchist Cookbook online will be liable for five years. Heck, the definitions of ‘document’ and ‘possess’ are such that you’d better not be cruising 420chan or one or any number of popular forums.

And what about things that are not obviously titled drug manuals? When the crime is possessing a “document containing instructions relating to” stripped of all requirement to establish intent, all manner of different books, articles, and Encyclopedias become potential causes of long term incarceration.

A further amendment criminalizes publishing a “document containing instructions”, and again, the test of “intent” connected to drug production is missing:

71F Publication of document containing instructions
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, publishes a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
(a) with the intention that the instructions will be used by another person for the purposes of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence; or
(b) knowing or being reckless as to whether the instructions will be used by another person for the purpose of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 1200 penalty units or level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum) or both.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is irrelevant whether the document or the instructions contained in the document actually work to traffick or cultivate a drug of dependence.
(3) For the purposes of this section, publish includes sell, offer for sale, let on hire, exhibit, display, distribute and demonstrate.

So be careful what you put in that Wikipedia article.

Every year that the drug war is allowed to continue, the powers that the state claims in order to prosecute this war increases at the expense of what little remains of individual autonomy.


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