Since the middle of the twentieth century, Australia has committed to a universal safety net for all who live here. Partly this has been in response to the realisation that human rights for all people are important to guarantee peace and social cohesion. Partly, it is due to the Australian sense of a fair go for everyone and the notion that no one in a prosperous country such as ours should be condemned to poverty. Finally, it is due to an empathetic realisation that anyone of us could fall on hard times; and if that happened to us, we would like there to be a safety net.
Since the late twentieth century, a countervailing view has gained momentum that promotes individual self-interest and the acquisition of wealth. In this vision, the marketplace has become the defining model for understanding people and society. People are valued, not because they have intrinsic worth, but because they have value to the market, which usually means that they have value to an employer. This narrow vision has contributed to a global reduction in safety net payments, and an increasing exclusion of the people who already bear the brunt of inequality and poverty.
It is important to see how our treatment of people who need SRSS payments is part of a wider pattern of exclusion of certain groups. In Australia, we see similar policies enacted against those on Disability Support Pension, Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and Austudy.
It is therefore important that this particularly vulnerable group of people, who have often experienced great suffering in the country from which they have come, are extended a firm and secure safety net. If we begin to unravel the safety net under them, we may find that the safety net eventually unravels under us all.