At least the deadly coronavirus pandemic has had one upside.
For unemployed Australians, the COVID-19 panic has meant a doubling of their take-home pay.
It's the first real dole increase the jobless have received since 1994.
As far as I can tell this is the only silver lining to an extremely large virus-shaped cloud. But it really is a ray of sunshine.
That said, as perhaps a million Australians are currently finding out, the headline rate is only part of the reason the system is completely broken. From go to whoa, Centrelink fails this country's most vulnerable and needs fixing.
Let's just start with the (new) name: the JobSeeker allowance.
This reflects a long-standing furphy that the government wants everyone to work.
It flatly does not. In fact, it's long-standing bipartisan policy to keep about 700,000 Australians permanently off work.
Per government policy, if unemployment drops below about 5 per cent, the Reserve Bank jacks up interest rates, or the Commonwealth slashes spending until enough people are out of work to keep inflation stable.
Got it? They're not "bludgers". They're not "lazy". It's just policy. It wouldn't matter if everyone in the country was an unsleeping workaholic automaton, we'd just have a better-organised line outside Centrelink. If they weren't unemployed, you would be.
The system isn't miserly and predatory in order to encourage people to work. It is predatory and miserly because government believes it should be.
To my mind, government has a mutual responsibility to provide these ordinary people they do not want to work a fairly generous public dole in return for their sacrifice, without really too many strings attached.
Instead government does the opposite, forcing people to jump through endless hoops, perform often meaningless tasks and endure daily humiliation to receive what is objectively an inadequate amount of money, about $565.70 a fortnight for a single person with no children. Read some stories online at the Unemployed Workers' Union, they're horrific.
Worse, for years the government issued "robodebts" - threatening legal notices demanding payment of debts it knew it may not have been owed. This systematic fraud perpetuated on the country's most vulnerable only ended when the Federal Court last year ruled it was unlawful.
It was revealed this week that the Commonwealth stole perhaps half a billion dollars through this scheme, surely the largest theft of any sort in Australian history. It drove many to suicide. It's likely nobody will face any personal responsibility for this crime.
Fraud is famously common in the "work for the dole" sector, as well. The Job Services Australia system, also called the Job Network, is almost the perfect place for a rort - a phony marketplace of private companies given public money with limited oversight to perform an intangible task for vulnerable people.
A Four Corners investigation found five years ago that forgery, manipulation of records and the lodgment of inflated claims for fees are widespread. These are the very organisations whose job it is to teach Australia's poor the value of "personal responsibility".
Instead, The Guardian showed last year, the system sometimes bribes the jobless to lie so its providers can receive their own much-larger welfare check, for no work and for no good reason.
That's a hard lesson. My corporate welfare is earned, your food scraps are a mere handout.
Even honest job retraining would not help the unemployed. Creating a better skilled alternative workforce is about reducing the burden of training new employees for employers.
Let's be clear: The system isn't miserly and predatory in order to encourage people to work. It is predatory and miserly because government believes it should be.
In my opinion that is a bad thing.
I think in one of the world's wealthiest nations every single person should be able to easily afford rent, food and electricity without major stress no matter their circumstances, by right, in return for nothing.
And this month, for the first time in living memory, they may be able to. In April the dole will be set to $1100 a fortnight, care of the government's $66 billion coronavirus stimulus. Pop the champagne.
Mind you Prime Minister Scott Morrison says this increase will be temporary, with the amount halving again when the coronavirus crisis ends.
If the Commonwealth really does this, it should be asked to justify this choice to throw people back onto an unfair system that traps them into financial distress on the merits, without reference to jobs they don't want people to get.
- Andrew Messenger is an ACM journalist. He spent about six months on Newstart a few years ago and has vowed never to go back.
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