Musical chairs with benefits

The Liberals’ proposal, weakly echoed by Labor, to impose a form of mandatory sentencing for dole recipients (by forcing Centrelink to impose recommended penalties) will no doubt be a hit with the talkback-radio crowd, but will prove unworkable for its sheer brutality.

All legal penalties are a maximum designed to be applied only in the worst cases. No Centrelink officer, or any fair-minded person, wants to condemn a family to destitution because someone has missed an appointment, which is what will happen if the Liberal proposal is adopted.

Under the current market orthodoxy that an unemployment rate below 5% is too low, an interventionist approach to welfare for the unemployed is as useful as coaching the loser in a round of musical chairs.

Even in this time of “low” unemployment, for one in twenty, there simply is no job. Demonising them, punishing them and making them jump through hoops may sell tabloids but otherwise helps no-one.

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