Jobs Not Justice?

Horticulture industry Pacific seasonal worker pilot scheme
17 August 2008
DAFF 08/102B

The Rudd Government has announced a three-year pilot seasonal worker scheme in the horticulture industry, where there is a lack of workers to harvest the nation’s fruit and vegetables. Under the trial, up to 2,500 visas will be available over three years for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia for up to seven months in any 12 month period. Small groups of workers are expected to start to arrive late this year. Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke announced the pilot, saying it would help Australian horticulture industries and could also meet the development needs of our Pacific island neighbours…

The scheme has the support of the Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howe: like Tony Burke, a member of the NSW Labor Right; unlike Tony, a former Trot.

The Australian guest worker scheme is apparently modelled on The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Work Policy, announced by the lesbian witch Helen Clark in 2006 and formally introduced in April, 2007. Nic McLellan has published a research paper on the subject of the RSE: ‘Workers for all seasons? Issues from New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) program’, May 2008. “By April 2008 after a year of operation, 92 companies had been approved as Recognised Seasonal Employers and 4,070 workers from the Pacific and South East Asia had RSE visa applications approved. Of RSE visas issued, 3,923 have been used (as at 23 April 2008).” McLellan’s study concludes:

There are significant dangers in regarding seasonal workers as commodities to be traded between countries, and the heritage of the blackbirding era should be warning enough for policy makers – seasonal labour programs in Australia will only work if they take account of the rights and interests of the workers from the Pacific. The New Zealand experience has raised crucial issues about the need for consultation with unions, churches, welfare and support services and local islander communities in the Pacifica diaspora before any program starts in Australia.

One of the most obvious questions that occurs in this context is: why don’t Australian farmers employ Australian workers? The National Farmers’ Federation released its report ‘Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme’ (PDF) on April 7, 2008, calling for filling 22,000 entry-level job vacancies through a reciprocal “mutual benefit” arrangement with Pacific Island nations.

But still: what about the roughly 481,700 (July 2008) unemployed? Surely these idle hands could be put to work picking fruit? And what about the indigenous unemployed?

Recently, Noel Pearson, Director of the Cape York Institute (For Policy and Leadership), has raised just this question. He’s also floated the idea of scrapping the dole for young Aborigines, on the basis that the dole is often a more attractive proposition than finding a (low- or lower-paying) job. Thus:

Ban Aboriginal dole until 21, Noel Pearson pleads
Patricia Karvelas and Padraic Murphy
The Australian
August 22, 2008

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson has urged the Rudd Government to scrap the dole to Aborigines under the age of 21, saying the generous payments trapped people in a cycle of welfare. He said anyone thinking of leaving school should be confronted with a choice: earn or learn…

His call to scrap the dole was proceeded by a similar one voiced by ALP President Warren Mundine:

Dole cut call if Aborigines won’t work
Patricia Karvelas and Stuart Rintoul
The Australian
August 21, 2008

WELFARE laws should be overhauled to force Aborigines to take jobs or face immediate cuts to their dole payments – even if it requires moving away from their homelands. Labor powerbroker and indigenous leader Warren Mundine told The Australian yesterday the Rudd Government should introduce hardline welfare reforms that forced Aborigines to take work all over the country, with consequences for those who refused…

Such policy prescriptions stems from a more general analysis of the needs of Aboriginal communities, one which Pearson recently articulated in an address at a forum in Brisbane organised by eidos, “an independent research institute and think tank [whose] objective is to generate new ideas and dialogue on good education, labour market and social public policy.”


According to Pearson, the mass of Aboriginal Australians now constitute a semi-permanent underclass, whose meagre job prospects — and wider social dysfunction — prevents them from entering the working class proper. Pearson argues that this is the result, in large part, of a failure in the modern welfare state. In this context, Pearson makes a distinction between the traditional (good) welfare state and the contemporary (bad) model.

The ‘traditional’ welfare state emerged, he argues, in the early part of the twentieth century, and — in one of its major, if not only functions — was geared towards providing income and other forms of support to those otherwise unable to secure jobs — in particular, children and the elderly — and gain entry to the labour market. This model was also based on a notion of reciprocity: that is, ordinarily, adults could be expected to gain jobs, pay taxes, and to make financial and other, non-financial contributions to the social order, in return for which they could expect their children to be educated, to be provided with a pension, if required, upon obtaining retirement age, and to otherwise be provided with essential social services.

In contrast to this model, Pearson argues that a form of ‘passive’ welfare consumption has evolved, one which imposes no such obligations upon the citizen-consumer. This is a failure of both economy and morality. Within Aboriginal Australia, welfare provision, once marginal, is now an entrenched mode of living, one which leads to various forms of moral, social, and spiritual corruption. Linked to this economic poverty is economic passivity; hence the need to introduce tougher measures


to compel young Aborigines in particular to enter the labour market, even — or especially — if this is via the bottom rungs of the occupational ladder. Further reinforcing this work-shyness is the absence of a model of economic participation; that is, many Aboriginal children have parents who are similarly unemployed, and in many families a breadwinner is absent.

Pearson uses the metaphor of the staircase (as opposed to the ladder, for example) to describe the situation facing indigenous peoples. This staircase has three dimensions. The first is the foundations, which are the social norms governing acceptable forms of behaviour. In his analysis, these norms have disintegrated over time. One dramatic example of this is the use of drugs by Aboriginal peoples, in particular, alcohol and cannabis. In addition to the other social problems associated with the use of such drugs, they tend to render young people unfit for labour (work). There is thus a need to re-establish these social norms, and to limit, as much as possible, the extent of drug use by Aboriginal communities.

The second element of the staircase Pearson describes as forming a combination of supportive networks and productive capabilities. According to this model (developed by the economist Amartya Sen), opportunities for social (education) and economic (employment) opportunities, when combined with personal responsibility (internalised value system), produce the magic potion marked ‘capability’. On the basis of imbibing this potion, members of the Aboriginal underclass (passive welfare recipients) are provided with the opportunity of joining the ranks of the (largely non-indigenous) working class. (Sen’s concepts of capability, and related notions of positive or substantial freedom, negative freedom and happiness, are summarised by Jan Garrett in the online paper ‘Amartya Sen’s Ethics of Substantial Freedom’ [January 2005] and given fuller expression in his book Development as Freedom [Random House, 1999].) Crucial to the provision of this capability is the role of parents in socialising their children into accepting the social norms which form the moral foundations of this model.

The third and final element comprising Pearson’s staircase metaphor is the notion of choice. That is, the social construction of rational incentives to ascend the staircase of opportunity.


At present, insofar as Pearson is concerned, carrots are being dangled by government at the bottom of the staircase, not the top. Subsequently, many choose to remain somewhere near the bottom, passively consuming welfare, rather than attempting to ascend the staircase — and experiencing temporary privation as a result — in order to reach its dizzying heights. Social welfare, in other words, acts to distort the otherwise rational operations of the labour market, and this distortion must be abolished.

On the basis of this model of economic and social development, Pearson also articulates a political and social agenda. First, welfare reform, and the (re-)introduction of moral and social obligations on the part of those in (temporary) receipt of social welfare. Secondly, and closely related to the first aim, is the need to address the price distortions which social welfare introduces into the labour market. In addition to unemployment benefits, Pearson identifies family tax benefits as a key area requiring re-formation: according to Pearson, for those Aboriginal people who have children, the generous nature of such benefits makes it irrational to not rely upon the state for their sustenance (rather than income derived from employment).

The second aspect of Pearson’s agenda concerns, on the one hand, the need to sustain primary supports networks: those required to deal with crises, especially those concerned with addressing family collapse and dysfunction and which aim at family sustenance and reconstruction. On the other hand, the need to abolish secondary forms of intervention — which consist, apparently, of innumerable programs geared towards addressing the failures of primary forms of state intervention.

Pearson elaborates on what an appropriate form of social welfare might and should consist of, one based on achieving four essential aims. First, proper financial management: the rational allocation of resources by the family unit. Secondly, the provision of effective forms of health care. Thirdly, education and parental stewardship. Finally, housing. In this area, Pearson stresses the importance of devolving property ownership from the community to the individual (family). (This is based on the implicit recognition of what is elsewhere referred to as the ‘tragedy’ of the commons. See: ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, Garrett Hardin, Science, Vol.162. No.3859, December 13, 1968. Also ‘The Myth of the Tragedy of the Commons’, Ian Angus, Monthly Review (zine), August 25, 2008.)

With regards the tertiary… Pearson has nothing to say.

The final stage of Pearson’s struggle is directed squarely at what he identifies as the social welfare industry and its lobbyists and representatives (ACOSS, among others) and their apparent reluctance to adopt Pearson’s crusade against passive welfare. He identifies the reasons for the existence of this reluctance/resistance as being partly the result of ideological and political conflict, but — primarily I think — in terms of the real, material interests the lobby and industry has in its own economic and social reproduction, and therefore the maintenance of a dependent underclass. In his concluding remarks, Pearson quotes Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels) approvingly: “Misery rises to the level and means available for its amelioration”.

In essence, Pearson’s thesis boils down to the claim that the poor need discipline, not handouts.

Speaking of handouts, the Cape York Institute is sucking on the government teat to the tune of $1 million per annum ($4,028,489 budget total / $ 2,423,694 salary).

To be continued…

    On Theodore Dalrymple, see ‘Why Intellectuals Like Genocide’, New English Review, July 2007, where the British psychiatrist has some interesting things to say about contemporary Australia, and in particular the reception by the ‘intelligentsia’ of Keith Windschuttle‘s pioneering work of historical revisionism, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002) which successfully (according to Dalrymple/Daniels) “set… out to destroy the idea that there had been a genocide of Tasmanian [A]borigines carried out by the early European settlers of the island”. On Australia, Dalrymple/Daniels observes:

    “Australia is known, not without reason, as the Lucky Country. It has virtually every resource known to man. It is a liberal democracy and has been for most of its existence. No one in Australia has ever feared the midnight knock on the door. To live well there requires a good deal less effort than in most places, perhaps anywhere else. The climate in much of the country (the current drought notwithstanding) is very pleasant. Overall, it is probably the best place, certainly among the best places, on earth to live. The fact that it is lucky is not, of course, a consequence of its natural endowments alone, but of what human beings have made of those endowments. Australia is a triumphant success…

    The fact is, however, that political reforms in Australia, whatever they might be, are very unlikely to add much to the sum of human welfare there. Australia confronts human beings with their existential responsibility to make happiness for themselves, and this is sometimes a hard responsibility to face up to. For if you are unhappy in a country like Australia, you have to consider the possibility that the problem lies with you rather than with the conditions that surround you.”

    Of further interest : ‘White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre’, Noel Pearson, Griffith REVIEW, No.16: Unintended Consequences, 2007 (PDF) | Anarchism and Aboriginal sovereignty, slackbastard, July 16, 2008

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2023 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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