Morrison’s happy clappy prosperity theology lies at the heart of his JobSeeker cruelty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny sing during an Easter Sunday service at his Horizon Church at Sutherland in Sydney. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Without even realising it, I’ve become a stereotype.

I’m a white, middle-aged bogan from the western suburbs of Sydney. Mt Druitt is a stone’s throw away. I like to wear flannos and trackies in winter, and NBA jerseys and footy shorts in summer.

But tying it all together is the fact that I’m on JobSeeker. AGAIN.

Well… not yet. But let’s go back a bit.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

I was one of the three-quarters of a million Australians who lost their job due to the pandemic. It was a good job that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the company I worked for was so big and successful that they weren’t even eligible for JobKeeper. Thus, I was gone.

Fortunately, I’d been with the company for over five years. I suddenly had a lump sum that could have helped put a deposit on a house, had employment been easy to come by in the aftermath.

It wasn’t.

I applied for JobSeeker. One incredibly straightforward application process later, I was done. It was stunningly easy, but the amount I was eligible for wasn’t even enough for one week’s rent, paid fortnightly.

Six months later, I was still unemployed and the effects on my mental health and family life were bordering on disastrous. I was falling apart. I didn’t recognise the person I saw in the mirror, I genuinely felt no connection. Dark spells could last a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, plagued with relentless and often brutal suicidal thoughts. Sleep goes out the window, and stress is permanent. I’d never had anxiety in my life until last year, and it was ever-present.

I’m sure from the outside there might even appear to be a positive to being unemployed for six months after a healthy payout. And who knows, if I didn’t have kids or rent or bills, maybe I could have seen the lighter side.

But instead of joy or excitement, all I felt was dissociation, depression and self-loathing. Any moments I may have devoted to interests or projects brought immense feelings of guilt about my situation, imploring me to apply for anything and everything. How dare I devote myself to a creative outlet when I could be trying to find a job unloading boxes from a shipping container that may have once contained refugees?

I was almost at crisis point before salvation came in the form of full-time employment. Unfortunately within two months my employer had decided to pivot and I was back out the door.

I didn’t realise how much can change in such a short amount of time.

BACK ON THE ‘SEEKER

I didn’t want to, but now more than ever I was in the kind of situation that calls for government assistance. So I reapplied – and fuck me if it wasn’t an entirely different situation this time around.

The application process was exponentially longer and more thorough, and I get it. We’re not in a crisis anymore and we need to be stricter with our money. It wanted to know every little detail about our household income, without giving a shit about our expenditure to help contextualise anything.

It felt intentionally humiliating.

Sure, my partner has savings – not least because she’s much better with money than I am – but that money goes to groceries, school fees, day care and a host of other expenses that are necessary to function in the city with the highest cost of living in Australia – another fact not given any relevance in my application.

Once again, I was approved for JobSeeker. Huzzah.

Unfortunately, I won’t be receiving any of it UNTIL THE MIDDLE OF MAY, due to our COLLECTIVE savings. Literally. In the letter it says ‘because of the amount of your available funds’.

Mine are due to run out in a couple of weeks, and my partner’s will be missing a big chunk before I’m even eligible for the first payment which, once again, is barely one week’s rent paid every two.

If I don’t get a job in the next couple of weeks, well before my payments are even supposed to begin, I’m fucked. We essentially have to become destitute in order to receive a payment that is supposed to help people facing that very situation, which will be such an insufficient amount it helps us make no progress at all.

Weren’t we all going to get through this together?

MORE OF THE SAME

Like he did when the country was literally on fire, now that the worst of the pandemic is over, Scott Morrison has abandoned Australians in need. But should we be surprised?

Thinking an extra $3.50 a day is going to make any tangible difference in the lives of struggling Australians is an insult. We’re not the Loch Ness monster. Wage growth had already slowed while living expenses, particularly utilities, have risen through the roof – even before the pandemic.

I understand that welfare is a delicate balance between supporting people while still incentivising them to find work, but the latest change is beyond insufficient.

Morrison is a man who, as Social Services Minister, cut two billion dollars from the pension. A man who used his early Prime Ministership to warn of a divide between the ‘taxed and taxed-not’, taking aim at unemployed welfare recipients who sit around 30% below the poverty line for not doing their part, demonising them as the enemy and failing to mention the number of organisations at the other end of the spectrum – in fact, championing for them as he sought in excess of $70 BILLION in tax cuts for corporations, saying they were necessary to protect our GDP and hiding, as always, behind nationalist, protectionist rhetoric that does little for the nation and its inhabitants and plenty for the corporations that line the LNP coffers.

DOUBLE STANDARDS

The hypocrisy is obvious, and you need look no further than the JobKeeper program.

Like JobSeeker, JobKeeper was, in principle, a great idea to protect jobs and the economy. Like JobSeeker when I first applied, the original eligibility criteria was loose – all a business really had to do was tell the ATO they expected a decline in revenue of 30-50%, depending on their size.

There was little to no actual recording of how many jobs were saved, either by companies or the ATO, who have since come out and said “once companies have applied for JobKeeper and been found eligible, whether or not their profits rebounded during different phases of the program was irrelevant to their entitlements.”

Now we’re hearing stories of companies who were paid JobKeeper and never actually needed it. Toyota were one of the first to pay back their windfall, saying it was ‘the right thing to do’. This is a member of the automotive industry, who’ve been fighting hard for their own survival for a LONG time before we knew what coronavirus was. They had enough awareness and sensibility to do the right thing.

Super Retail, Iluka Resources and more have since joined the club, but it’s been FAR from universal.

Last Friday, NewsCorp’s flagship advertiser Harvey Norman reported a $438 million profit (a 115% rise for the year) after also receiving $22 million in JobKeeper payments. Remember, JobKeeper was paid to companies who expected a 30-50% loss in revenue. Not a 115% increase.

Did Harvey Norman expect to lose sales? Possibly. I doubt they would have sought government assistance if they truly believed they didn’t need it in the initial chaos. But when you come out the other end thriving, shouldn’t you pay the money back, if only out of some perceived obligation? Shouldn’t you… you know… not be a cunt?

Not according to Rupert Murdoch wannabe Gerry Harvey. The man who has previously called ideals like giving money to the homeless ‘a waste’, saying “you’re helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason” is surprisingly (ha!) unrepentant about receiving money he didn’t need.

“It’s a tiny amount of money and… 99% of the [total JobKeeper] money won’t be repaid anyway.”

So, it’s a ‘little’ amount ($22 million is tiny compared to the extra $25 I’ll be lucky to get), and ‘no one else is doing it’ are the justifications for keeping millions you don’t need. And that’s ALL!

On the other side of the coin, if you’re receiving JobSeeker or any other individual benefit from the government and you gain a windfall, whether through ignorance, error or proven dishonesty, for even 1% of the amount Gerry received, you could face years in prison and/or crippling fines.

Just for a bit of fun math – I would have to be earning that extra $25 from JobSeeker for 880,000 weeks (or roughly 16,923 years) before it matched the amount given to Harvey.

While the government is busy cracking down on individual welfare abusers, whether intentional or accidental, while giving us a whopping $25 extra, some of the JobKeeper payment numbers revealed by Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh were astounding.

Accent Group received $13 million, and their CEO got a $1.2 million bonus. Star Casino – who were also granted exemptions from the stricter coronavirus regulations when they were initially enforced so that they could stay open, keep making money off gambling addicts and presumably keep people employed – received $64 million in JobKeeper and gave their CEO an $800k bonus.

This doesn’t even mention the fact that many companies took their profits and turned them into stakeholder dividends. Our billionaires haven’t just survived during this challenging time, they’ve actually seen their wealth increase by an average of 59%.

There are a plethora of unnamed and undeserving recipients out there, but we’ll never know who they are. Unlike New Zealand and the United States, who require all recipients of corporate COVID handouts to be placed on a publicly-accessible register, in Australia the Federal Government PROTECTS THEIR IDENTITIES.

The only way for our media to find out who kept and reappropriated these funds is to go through each company’s financial records, an arduous task I’m glad some great people are still willing to do.

Meanwhile as millions of Australians struggle for work and the differentiation between unemployed and underemployed muddies the waters, where does our PM stand? Surely he’s at least SUGGESTED that the moral or just thing for these companies to do would be to pay back the money it turns out they didn’t need, right?

Pfft. Of course not.

“I’m not into the politics of envy. If there are some companies that want to hand that money back, great. Good for them. But let’s not lose sight, in some sort of envy narrative, that the program did not change the course of the nation.”

An envy narrative? We’re jealous that these organisations got money they never even needed and now have no legal obligation to return? We’re jealous because if we did something similar at the individual level we’d be fined and/or incarcerated? I’m jealous because I’d need to be on the dole until the Earth is swallowed by the Sun to make anywhere near the amount some of these cunts got for simply guessing – INCORRECTLY – the impact of a pandemic on their livelihood, and they still get to keep it?

How fucking petty of us.

It’s almost as bad as his ‘if you’re good at your job, you’ll get a job’ comment late last year, ignoring the fact that MY JOB DOESN’T FUCKING EXIST ANYMORE.

Struggling Australians are being forced to choose which bare necessity they want to forego in this week’s groceries, while profitable companies get to choose whether or not to hand back money they never needed? And it’s ENVY?!

Should we be surprised? The PM still rides high on the religious part of his identity, so why isn’t he (still) promoting egalitarianism and community?

While cynical atheists like myself snort derisively when religion enters political discussions, I wasn’t aware of just how much the elements of Christianity have changed. We half-heartedly refuse to believe that a leader’s religious ideology could be so pervasive in wider areas of government policy, that it could so inextricably shape parts of our lives that religion should not touch. And we’re wrong.

PROSPERITY THEOLOGY

We all know Morrison is a religious man, he told us in his first speech in parliament. We also know he is heavily affiliated with Hillsong, but other than better production values, bigger arenas and a jazzier vibe, I don’t know what the difference is between Hillsong and all the other churches I’ve never attended. Honestly.

Hillsong DOES have some common ground with the Catholic Church – namely the sexual abuse of children. From the outset let’s say that Hillsong leader Brian Houston was censured by the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse for his failure to report his father’s confessed, SERIAL sexual abuse of children. True story.

It was also the home to Morrison’s other friend, Leigh Coleman, who was awarded over $43 million in federal defence contracts while posing as a charity set up to address Indigenous disadvantage in a set-up that reads more like dodgy Christian money-laundering scam than anything actually altruistic or beneficial. Isn’t that… our money?

But the key difference between the mega-churches led by Hillsong and everyday Christianity is PROSPERITY THEOLOGY – a religious style that has picked up steam since Kenneth Copeland and co realised the similarities between telemarketing and their version of commercial faith back in the 80s.

This relatively modern take does away with egalitarianism, teaching that wealth and prosperity are gifts from God and should be revelled in as a sign of God’s love. Private jets, luxurious homes and grandiose displays of indulgence should be revered, celebrated and aspired to.

No longer is it easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom. No longer is a love of money the root of all evil. No longer is it impossible to serve both God and money. I mean, shit, son-of-a-paedophile Brian Houston even wrote a book called: ‘YOU NEED MORE MONEY: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for your Life.’

If someone called you up on the phone trying to sell it, you’d see it as the scam it is and hang up immediately.

While Morrison and the rest of his prosperous clergy (rife with fellow members of the LNP) see themselves distinctly as the recipients of God’s favour, what does that make the rest of us?

What does that make someone like me, who has worked hard and earnestly for a long time, only to have the rug suddenly pulled out from under me and face a bit of hardship? Or the people who are many years further down the welfare track, piled upon by a system that doesn’t give a fuck about them and a society that can make it hard for some of our most disadvantaged demographics to ever escape their situation?

I’ve paid taxes for a long time and yet in Sydney the main roads are all privatised, tolled and regularly in disrepair, the public transport system is overcrowded and unreliable, my own personal experiences with the health system last year made me glad I have private cover, and I can’t get any welfare until I have no more money. What the FUCK are my taxes being used on? Going to Gerry fucking Harvey? Or Leigh Coleman?

I don’t even have enough of a word count to ponder how the prosperity gospel is being used as a means of ideological (and financial) post-development-style colonialism in the most populous and most poor Christian regions in Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines.

The prosperity gospel doesn’t try to place religious values or beliefs to guide one in society, rather it seeks to co-opt them as a justification for the benefits enjoyed by those with excessive wealth, and then pitch it as a way for others who’ve given everything to their faith to give just a little bit more.

It portrays financial success as an attainable goal while never actually closing the gap.

The PM says ‘the Bible is not a policy handbook’ – and that’s probably good for him given how far from the ‘good book’ the ideals of prosperity theology are landing.

But it’s a formidable unknown that will, if Morrison’s approval ratings are to be believed and he DOES win the next election, shape the future of our nation for years to come in ways we can barely anticipate. And that’s terrifying to someone like me – and I WENT to Catholic school. If he holds on and wins, we could be looking at a closet theocracy guided by the prosperity gospel for a long time to come.

As Leviticus says: “If any of your fellows become poor and are unable to support themselves… help them as you would a foreigner and a stranger, so they can continue to live among you.”

We know how Scotty feels about foreigners.

And women.

And Indigenous Australians.

And thanks to this paltry increase to an allowance I can’t even access until I’m beyond broke, I now know how he feels about me.

It’s a long way from love.

Thankfully, the feeling is mutual.

Now give me my god-damned welfare.



WRITTEN BY

twitter: @davepiepers
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