Why do MPs keep telling the unemployed to move to the regions? Because they know they can’t.
Whenever a coalition government wants to avoid awkward questions about why so very, very, very many people are without work, or why they’re removing support for those at the bottom of society’s pile, you can bet that they’ll immediately deploy their classic comeback: it’s the unemployed’s fault for selfishly remaining unemployed.
Former Employment Minister Michaelia Cash insisted that there were jobs ‘for those who wanted them’
Warren Entsch invented the term ‘job snobs’ back in the Abbott era, and it’s been the favourite go-to bad-faith lie of the federal government ever since. Former Employment Minister Michaelia Cash insisted that there were jobs ‘for those who wanted them’ back in 2019, even as unemployment soared and retail shed workers like sprinkles atop an unaffordable cake.
And in July last year, when much of the country was still in lockdown, ex-Liberal MP, Craig Laundy, did a lap of the Murdochracy to talk about how the real problem was employee laziness and not [checks notes] that incurable global pandemic which was really starting to hit its stride.
‘…and you’re offering proper wages for that, right?’
The rhetoric has ramped up ever since, especially with the regular coverage of noble farmers loudly bemoaning today’s lazy jobless refusing to leave the city to pick fruit, and then going very very quiet when asked ‘…and you’re offering proper wages for that, right?’
In fact, any time some lefty socialist troublemaker, like the unions, the Bureau of Statistics (ABS), or someone with eyes and a window notices that the jobless are doing it tough, the Liberals immediately dispatch someone to prissily declare that the problem isn’t poor economic management or deliberately punitive government policy, but that the unemployed are all feckless and indolent sluggards who simply won’t give those bootstraps an adequate pulling.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham was trotted out last week to respond to criticisms about his government’s decision to remove JobKeeper and slash JobSeeker next month
And thus, like clockwork, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham was trotted out last week to respond to criticisms about his government’s decision to remove JobKeeper and slash JobSeeker next month, at a time when there are 129,000 job vacancies to be shared, loaves and fishes-like, between 1.3 million unemployed people. And his contention? That ‘there’s plenty of jobs in the bush’.
Specifically, Birmingham gave a speech (conveniently dropped to the Australian Financial Review) in which he declared that people could just move to regional Australia where jobs are appearing like cane toads after a rain – in agriculture, but also ‘mining and drilling companies who can’t find workers for drill rigs, or parts of the construction industry… Vacancies also exist in those tourism regions that have seen a resurgence in domestic tourism. Cleaning companies have openings that may previously have been filled by international workers, while demand continues to grow in the crucial care sectors’.
The thing is that even if that was not a remarkably optimistic overstatement of the case, there are plenty of reasons why the ‘just move to the bush’ argument is not a serious suggestion – starting with the fact that today’s unemployed are not in fact loveable cartoon hobos cheerfully riding the rails with a bindle over their shoulder and a pocket full of dreams.
It’s not that people might have family obligations, or local support networks upon which they rely to survive, or have medical conditions that require specialist services hard to access outside of a metropolitan centre
And it’s not that people might have family obligations, or local support networks upon which they rely to survive, or have medical conditions that require specialist services hard to access outside of a metropolitan centre – although those are all great reasons which are incredibly common.
Neither is it the obvious, yet never-mentioned, fact that moving is incredibly expensive and would require finding new accomodation – and Anglicare’s 2020 Housing Affordability survey concluded that even with the increased pandemic rates, a single person on JobSeeker could afford a grand total of nine rentals in the entire country, so best of luck with finding cool new digs.
No, the reason that MPs suggesting the jobless should go bush is deliberate victim-blaming horseshit is simple: a person on JobSeeker will be kicked off benefits if they up and move to the regions.
You can read all about it at Centrelink’s webpage: ‘Moving to an area of lower employment prospects’, where the very first sentence runs as follows: ‘If you move to an area with less jobs, a 26 week non-payment period may apply’.
There are exceptions, like if you have a job offer, or can prove to Centrelink’s satisfaction that there are better prospects where you’re moving – but the idea that an enthusiastic seeker of work could simply up stumps from a state capital and lob into Geraldton to see what’s shaking is a transparent and cynical lie.
And MPs know this, obviously. It isn’t a serious recommendation so much as the federal government dodging responsibility for its handling of the economy.
Creating full employment is hard, and building a robust social safety net is expensive. But blaming unemployed people for their own predicament? That’s always cheap and easy – and for this government, apparently, it’s fun too!
Andrew P Street is a Sydney-based, Adelaide-built journalist, columnist, author, editor and broadcaster.
Apart from his monthly Echo column, he pens a regular column in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Street is also the author of the acclaimed The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott, and The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull: the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. For more info, visit www.andrewpstreet.com.