April 13, 2014

Diary of a Foreign Minister, Aged 13 and 3/4? Discuss.


With Sue Townsend passing away in recent days, I can't help thinking about her fictional Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, when considering Bob Carr's current memoir: Diary of a Foreign Minister. For there are many similarities.

For one thing, both are heavily interwoven with political themes.  While Adrian Mole's thoughts, captured something of the zeitgeist of the UK during the Thatcher period, Bob Carr reflects on his diplomatic exploits in Australian politics, at home and abroad. Also, both books would clearly appeal to many readers as a realistic and humorous treatment of the inner life of an adolescent boy.

Yes, I said an adolescent boy! 

For those whiny, belittling comments made about Julia Gillard's "distinctive, broad Australian accent" are VERY year 10 student -  Bob. And for such a snarky comment, any year 10 coordinator, would have you sitting on the airline's naughty step, in transit to detention! 

And Bob, we can't all sound like John Wayne. And why? Because, if you looked lately, you'd notice that we live in Australia. It's not Kansas! And, our Australian accent, in all its variations, is gorgeous. I say that, as the off-spring of what's best described as a united nations union. And since I won't be auditioning for a role in Homeland (or as Lady Whoever on Downton Abbey), any time soon - that broad Australian accent is good enough.

Of course, many commentators are saying that Bob's light hearted self-deprecating banter (concerning frequent flying in "business class"), has been taken far too seriously ...that he's just having a laugh. And, of course it's inferred, that anyone not laughing, just doesn't get it. However, in these so-called post-entitlement times, we "the unentitled", do get it Bob.

Of business class travel, "poor" Bob moans:

Nessun dorma! ... "No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit."

Oh please! That comment isn't funny. For that slice from your former, VIP Foreign Minister life "up in the air", makes one wonder, how you ever did manage to get from A to B, (on a regular basis), in between plane rides - if you couldn't even think ahead - and pack in your hand luggage: a pair of pyjamas, or towelling onesie, and of course not forgetting an Oslo lunch.

Actually, had you donned a comfy onesie, I pity the passengers waking up to that vision of you, from across the aisle ....no doubt it just could send them scuttling back to economy, or even to the loos . . . zu erbrechen (forgive my German). So probably best you forever remain in the tailored Mr Bean suit.

Now even I (a free-range unemployee), know what it's like to travel business class. Of course it was back in the dark ages, during the golden age of air travel, employment, even unemployment! Twas in the post-cat litter, pre-twitter era. God bless it.

At the start of a Rome to Melbourne British Airways flight, there I sat in economy class, beside a mother, and her baby. Feeling they'd be needing additional leg room, during the 24 hour flight, I promptly asked the air hostess if there was an alternative seating arrangement. She kindly explained, that the only option would be to move me (me!) to business class. And off to business class I toddled. And for 24 hours, life WAS different. Moreover, for our troubles, at the end of the trip, they gave "we business class people", a gratis bottle of champagne, each! I was pleasantly happy about that. It's all obviously been downhill since then.  I digress.

Chris Kenny notes, that in his time as Foreign Minister, Carr travelled much more extensively than was required, all the while, tweeting selfies with his interlocutors.
Such revelations, from the minutiae of a Labor MP's life, therefore remain perplexing.  After all, isn't Labor supposed to identify with "the workers" and economy class?

Penny for your thoughts.


Marriage relationship vouchers: Why not, plus 7 more for the unemployed

Productivity Commission predicts retirement at 70 ...

Australian welfare reform: It's all Greek to me

 Photo: flickr

March 22, 2014

Guardian Digital Journalism Scheme - a day in the life [By Erica Buist]

Still pinching herself that her blog about being jobless (may have) landed her this job as a trainee journalist, in the second instalment Erica Buist describes a typical day in which getting retweeted by blokes named Ricky from Reading take the rote out of the routine.


‘Does this belong to you?’ – the question digital journalism trainee and her desk neighbour were too polite to ask.

There is no typical day at the Guardian.

The 10 trainees have wildly different backgrounds, skills, qualifications and jobs. We sit at different desks, go to different meetings, pitch and work on different ideas, projects and campaigns with different departments and flow between them all. The only typical thing is the messiness of my desk. 

There’s a near-empty capless Evian bottle that my workmate and I are too polite to throw away, each of us assuming it must belong to the other.

However, I will attempt to give an idea of what goes on once we bleep our way into the Kings Cross offices …

9am Plonk myself at my desk. Yes, plonk. It’s way too early in the day to simply sit myself down with the grace of a smug ballet dancer. Somewhere between logging on and perusing the news for feature ideas, I blink in disbelief. I have a job. In 2014. At one of the only newspapers I never want to fling across a room. How?

I got hired on the Guardian digital journalism scheme because of my blog, How to Be Jobless.

Flabbergasted that I wasn’t immune to the job crisis affecting a million other young people, many of them as or more qualified than me, I started blogging anonymously, hoping to turn my jobless bleatings into something that would entertain people in the same position.

Somehow, it worked.

A little community of jobless, underemployed and thoroughly peeved young people built up, we nicknamed ourselves the pyjama-army, or "pyjarmy", and I became the unofficial voice of the jobless youth. I like to think I’m here because Alan Rusbridger liked my blog, but it’s just as possible he hated it and thought giving me a job might be the ticket to shutting me up.

10am Morning conference. Open to all staff, people wander in and gather on the soft yellow sofas, chatting away. When word gets out that Alan has started speaking we all hush and lean in to hear. (It sounds like we’re in a big room – we’re not, Alan just has a very soft voice. Other bosses get “Kick me” signs stuck on them; it’s about time someone stuck a tiny microphone on Alan.)

He tells us about the Guardian’s online performance the day before, and section editors announce their departments’ content for the day.

Sometimes, guests are invited to talk (off the record, so no details, sorry!) about their organisations. At my second ever conference at the Guardian, the guest was Steve Coogan. I didn’t get to speak to him but I hugged him with my eyes. I don’t think he noticed.

11am On the best type of day, someone will say to me, “Here’s a topic. We need you to write something funny on it, by lunchtime.” I used to do standup comedy, but found I preferred not looking at the audience, especially in dank underground comedy clubs on weeknights when I had a perfectly good pair of pyjamas at home. Now, if I write something serious, I have to comb through it picking out the jokes like bits of gum stuck in a child’s hair.

1-2pm Lunch in the subsidised canteen, which serves as much kale as you imagine the Guardian canteen would.

2-5pm Apart from writing, editing, pitching and researching, the afternoon usually involves an informal meeting with colleagues, as there’s always a project to discuss.

Once I was in a meeting and I took a sneaky glance at my phone. I had a Facebook message from a friend: “Ricky tweeted your article!”

What kind of message is that? Who the hell is Ricky? I typed a reply.

“Ricky Martin?” I joked, “That’s nice of him.”

“Not Ricky Martin, Ricky GERVAIS.

I don’t know why, but I burst out laughing. It seemed absurd, yet it’s quite ordinary. Ricky Gervais is just a bloke. Of course he reads a newspaper. Why wouldn’t he tweet a story he sees? Especially one that happens to be about a service that streams his shows.

Ironically, that article was a learning curve for me. I was shadowing the TV editor for a day and felt particularly ignorant as I don’t have a TV. Even though your job as a journalist is to try to be an expert in whatever you happen to be writing about, I told the editor I only had Netflix, so blog ideas were unnervingly scarce. After some mad research to familiarise myself with the minefield of weirdness that is British television, she said “Why don’t you write about the fact that you have Netflix, and no TV?”

The experience taught me something important: there’s always an idea (and sometimes a bloke from Reading will share it).

It’s easy to forget the reach you have when you go from your own blog to a Guardian one, because on the face of it, the procedure is the same. You fact check, you spell check, you consider the reader, you link to relevant pages and sources, you publish. You reply “thank you” to kind comments. You try to ignore or laugh off the abusive ones. You get the bus home.

Which I do, around 5:30 or 6pm. But today wasn’t a typical day, not even by Guardian standards. Because today I made a breakthrough. I shook things up. I took a stand.

I threw out that Evian bottle.

This article is republished here with the generous permission of the team at


Erica Buist is a journalist at the Guardian, and creator of the UK based blog -  HowToBeJobless.  Find further articles in the Guardian, and Go Think Big.Co.Uk.


Image (Top of Page) flickr

March 15, 2014

Finding Jobs in the Social Media IT Age [By Leah Castro]

In this age of the ever ubiquitous social media, it's not a surprise to find that Facebook, Twitter, and other supposedly personal pastimes can play a role even in the job hunt.

I've been working in the headhunting industry for 5 years now, and here are some tips that I can give, based on my experience:

1. Think before you post

So you had a rough day at work. You think your boss is a demon from the underworld. Or you had a case of the Monday blues and just chucked a sickie. These are ramblings you'd want to share to the Internet world, but you might just want to think before hitting the "Post" button.

I'm sure most of you by now are savvy enough to have your bosses and co-workers on a separate restricted list to prevent them from reading these top secret posts. That's a good first step.

But consider this possibility: in the future, you may find yourself in search of a different career path, or just a different company to work with. One of your Facebook/Twitter friends might be your future new boss or reference. What if s/he remembers all the posts you've made? Do you think s/he will still recommend or accept you for the job?

2. Voice out intelligent opinions

From time to time, use the Internet to broaden your horizons. Learn something new. Read the news. Research about pressing issues. Then share about your thoughts.

On Twitter, consider replying to key persons related to the matter you're talking about, and say something worthwhile. These persons do reply from time to time, especially if they found your opinions particularly insightful. This may help you broaden your network and find like-minded people who might point you to potential career opportunities.

3. Stalk (subtly and ethically of course)

By stalking, I mean find companies you really want to work for, find out the people involved in these companies, and see if they have public Twitter profiles. Follow them, find out what they are looking for in a candidate, and when they post Tweets that you have something to say about, then try doing tip #2 above. Follow their official company Twitter / Facebook account as well. The company might post about their goals and missions from time to time. Or some events they've attended that might present clues for you.

If someone from the company replies to one of your Tweets, or better yet, follows you, you can try to segue into asking for a job interview. Just make sure you don't go too overboard with this!

4. Let your passions be known

Get a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is a social network that is specifically for professionals, jobseekers, and headhunters. Be sure you put in a photo of yourself. In the event you get an interview, the interviewer will remember you more. Also, be descriptive about your expertise. Write concrete experiences you've had in the past that have helped you hone your skills for the intended job. Think of this as your online resume.  Make it a killer one! 

Don't have enough experiences under your belt yet? Consider #5 below.

5. Connect with friends and offer your expertise

Post on your profile and offer your services for free or at a really cheap price. For example, if you're an aspiring web developer, offer to make websites for your friends' businesses for free. Want to get into event planning? I'm sure you have a friend who's getting married or throwing a birthday party. Offer to help out in the planning process. Are you an accountant perhaps? It's safe to say that majority of your friends would LOVE to ask for advice from someone they know and trust. By doing this, you can put more substantial content to your resume and you might even be referred by satisfied clients to people that can just help you land your dream job!

6. Social media as your portfolio

Facebook is a great place to post photos that show your expertise. Post a photo of a successful party you helped plan. Or some plumbing tips that you yourself can attest to. 

Speaking of photos, Pinterest is an awesome place to share them, too! Pinterest is basically a site full of gorgeous photos, and if people like them they will share it to their friends until you reach a new network of people!

Blogs are also a great way to showcase your skills. You can post free useful tutorials for people - viewers will always appreciate them and share them to friends.

They say "It's not what you know, it's who you know". I say, "it's what you know that helps you find who you need to know"!

Note: While I've outlined several ways to turn your social media accounts into assets for your job hunt, this doesn't mean that I think your accounts should be restricted to that. I still agree that our Facebook profiles are personal, so feel free to post about a recent meal you can't stop raving about... or how hot you think Chris Hemsworth is ;)

Leah Castro works at PNI Business Solutions an IT recruiting agency that caters to SMEs from all over the world.


Cartoon Image: flickr

February 21, 2014

Job Hunting In Barbie's Dream World [Mutual Obligations: ep 15]

When the following Monday comes around, after not hearing back from Mr Darcy, I resolve to go along to the new Job Skills Training activity, that he'd spoken so glowingly about. Gosh was I excited. NOT!

Instinctively, I decide to go with the flow of the Job Network's "program", rather than risk the penalties imposed on absconders (aka no Newstart allowance for several weeks), meaning no money to cover essential utilities, food, lodging, telephone, transport, prescription medication - and in a worst case scenario - perhaps ending up living in an Ikea box under a tree. Better still, there's always the possibility of being a night time stowaway, in one of the faux interior settings, within the actual Ikea store itself? Oh what fun! Although faux bathroom plumbing could be an issue.

Returning to theme ..... Mr Darcy never did return my phone calls, or emails. In fact he seems strangely absent from the job agency that day.  

Mr Darcy goes AWOL

And quite unexpectedly, I'm soon informed that Darcy has left the Job Network - for good. Gone. Just like that. Where do they go?....I always wonder? In the past six months, I'd gone through four! such case workers. And sadly, I had so many other participatory activities scheduled, for myself and Darcy .... I digress.

And then well hello Dolly!

Moving forward, oh what joy? it was to meet the job skills "guru" (one hoped), who would be conducting our course over the next four weeks. 

She's best described as being everything that Monsieur wasn't....(insert heavy sad sigh).  For starters, she bore a strong resemblance to an anorexic version of Lara Bingle ...(insert lugubrious yawn).  Fortunate for her, and unfortunate for a mega-menopausal unemployed uber-cougar of a certain age, who (during such tiresome remedial jobseeking sessions), would so benefit from the visual distraction of another perky Frenchman in tight jeans.  Please Mr Kevin Andrews won't you send me another of those DEEWR employees of excellence....to take the mind off one's pitiful joblessness?

Wearing a mini mini-dress, stiletto heels, and displaying perfect salon quaffed, blonde hair - this new gal on the block, appeared to be a walking, talking, living Barbie doll! And I would say Barbie perhaps had only recently celebrated losing her first teeth, taking her first Contiki Tour (do they still run them?), drinking her first schnapps, getting her first push-up bra, the front door key to mummy and daddy's house, and of course the key to their deluxe model, uber-fuschia Winnebago!

Now don't I sound like a grumpy, and jealous old wench. But really, dear reader, this stick-insect thin chickster must have been half my body weight, oops - I mean AGE! Moreover, I imagine her employment history would span mere nanoseconds, in contrast to my twenty five years or so, in the workforce. And so naturally I just couldn't help wondering why that Job Network agency couldn't show some wisdom and prudence, by at least hiring a middle-aged Barbie to run the show? It was a far cry from the mature and extraordinarily nuanced - midlife Monsieur - who had conducted our class of 2013 .

C'est la vie.

Oh where are you Monsieur when I so need you!

Final plea bargain

Before the session gets under way, still convinced the mysteriously AWOL Mr Darcy has placed me in the activity by mistake - I ask Barbie if there's any chance I could be excused from attending? 

Please please, pretty please Miss Barbie! Please say you'll give an old dame one of those Get Out of Jail Free cards, from the Monopoly community chest ...So that I can return to the sanctity of my home office, which is (after months and months of unemployment), now state-of-the-art, purpose-built solely for prolific job application production. Furthermore Miss Barbie, don't I look like a dame who already knows her beans on applying for jobs and cold calling?

However, what indeed was I thinking?! BIG brain malfunction on my part.  Of course, no such luck exists in Job Networkville. And no surprises ....I don't get a reprieve. Though it was worth a try.

A to Z of Barbie

And yet, amazingly, despite my initial teething problems, my feelings of intrepidation soon disappear - when on day one, I discover how nice and congenial Barbie seems. For despite her skinny frame, youth, and unblemished complexion, she appears so pleasant, warm, and friendly! The Job Jetwork hostess with the mostest!  And I simply can't stop myself from letting Barbie know, that with her presentation, poise, and personality - I foresee a lucrative future for her as a commercial TV weather girl.

Barbie tells us that her actual training and career goals are in Marketing and Event Management. And we unemployables are, after all - an event to manage. So she's come to the right place, I tell her.

Our esteemed job-skills facilitator then provided enthralling snippets of her own work and home life. Was there a Ken in her life, I wanted to know? And there was! Which was just as well, as she didn't hold back from revealing all, about her nasty brother. Barbie informed us, that her obnoxious sibling, also worked as a Job Skills Trainer - in another job centre - within the same building. Spooky!  Perhaps they're Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews' love children?

Then predictably, Barbie puts the spotlight back on we unemployables, by asking each participant to explain to the group, how they ended up being in the course. Now isn't that obvious Barbie? Are you trying to rub our noses in it?!

And then day one turns into day two - and still what a swell party we unemployables were having. Of course since Barbie was clearly a food avoider, there was no free lunch on offer, although she did kindly let us have "lavatory breaks".

And then there was role play!

We had to split up into pairs and role play. Lucky me, I got to role play with the nonchalant and spunky young Jeremy. A lad of thirty years, with oh so beautifully cut wavy hair, which hung in just the right direction across his smooth forehead ...and there was not a facial stud, or tattoo in sight.  For a woman of uncertain age, who as an unemployee doesn't get out much, Barbie's job readiness class was transforming into a speed dating service, minus the added expense. Entirely win-win.

Jeremy's task, was to get to know anything he could about me in five minutes. Wow! A conversation all about me! And I talked and drivelled on about my family dynasty, the mafia connections, the challenges I encountered navigating a sibling bridezilla, the dream I had about Mr Darcy and his rabbit, my problems with a domestic rat, the importance of doggy daycare, whether he had a pirate costume? ...and was he free next week to role play with me?

And then I got a second chance to role play with Jeremy. Only this time it was the young spunkster's turn to drone on about himself. However in that instance, Barbie told me I had to express a total disinterest in what the young spunk had to say. Why?

Did any of us learn anything from this pointless exercise? Yes we did. We discovered that, at the going rate of $900, or thereabouts, per unemployed participant - the course so far seemed like a waste of Australian taxpayer money. Regardless, I was quite chuffed, when Barbie applauded me in front of the other unemployables - for my excellent body language skills! And I thought, that perhaps Barbie was not so bad after all.

February 19, 2014

My Unemployment Experience [Guest Post by Cathy]


When I was in my early twenties, I went to university and got an Arts degree. I had a lot of fun and spent much time at the uni bar … and I learned a lot of things there, as well as in lecture theatres. When I finished my Honours degree, I found it difficult to gain full time employment, with my focus on philosophy and literature. So, I took temporary jobs, and then went to London for a year and lived quite well and variously doing temp work for an agency. Before I left Australia, I had sat for the Public Service examination, and lo and behold, I was offered a JOB in the APS!!!
I toddled back to Australia, and started work. I am not sure if I was more bored or frustrated. But, hey, it was a job. I left that job for a while and worked elsewhere. Then I went back. As one does, in the APS, I climbed the ladder and got to the point where the amount of my tax per fortnight surprised me, as it was so close to the money I took home. The work also became more interesting and I enjoyed it.
Then … drum roll … I got pregnant. I planned to go back to work after my baby came, but when that happened, I just couldn't do it. Leave him in child care at 8 am and pick him up at 6 pm, and be doing the washing and cleaning on the weekends? That was not what I wanted as a mother, and, by that time, I was also a single mother.
So, I took a redundancy package. And, that was the end of my full-time employment.
While I stayed at home and looked after my baby. I also completed a law degree part-time, because I wanted to make myself more employable. Ha!
I think I got one interview. And, that was a disaster.
Was I too old? Was I too female? Did being a SAHM count against me? I still don't know the answers, and of course, no potential employer is going to tell me.
I started volunteering. I had a great time, loved the work, and in the end, this led to a job offer. I had to leave my state, settle down in a place I had never been before, transfer my son to a new school, and get used to a rather different climate.
Again, I loved the work. It was interesting, varied, challenging, and I was very good at it. But, it was part-time.
This kept me tied to the ridiculous social security law administered by Centrelink and other government departments. Despite working more hours than the legislation demanded, I was still required to attend silly interviews, where the Centrelink worker asked if I was still working, and I said that yes, I was, and we then talked about the weather until it seemed that the correct amount of government time had been wasted and I could then go back to work.
Part-time work also kept me poor. Working part-time, you have the same obligations as a full-time worker. You still have to put meals on the table, buy clothes, pay for transport costs, kick in for school fees, and so on. But, you don't have the same amount of money. I mention this not to complain, as I did love the work, but as a single woman, part-time work doesn't allow you to save for your future.
Well, the job was getting stale after about 3 years. I had no prospects of advance in the organisation, or in the city. I needed a change.
I resigned, grabbed my son, and we travelled round the world on part of the proceeds from selling the house.
Looking back, now, I wonder if either of those decisions were sensible. Possibly not, but I didn't know then what I know now.
Because, since then, I have been almost unemployable.
We returned to Australia, and moved state to a more populous area. After a couple of years of looking for work in a variety of areas, I decided to go back to study yet again. I did a teaching degree. I did well in the classroom in my practicums, and I loved it. After graduating, I looked for work in my state … I looked for work in Tasmania … I looked for work in WA … I looked for work in the NT.
I got 6 weeks work in schools as a substitute teacher over 12 months.
Being unemployed is hard work. It is frustrating, sad, boring, dull, and it saps your confidence. Sending off hundreds of applications and not even getting an acknowledgment, let alone an interview, is tough. I looked for work as a teacher, and in any areas related to my education and experience. Nothing.
I was sick of sitting at my computer all day looking for work. I really wanted my son to see me working. I really wanted to work.
So, I came up with a plan. I would move to a cheaper place, and I would open a business. Again, looking back with hindsight, I am not sure if this was an insane decision or not.
I talked to Centrelink about my plans. I was assured that they supported my decision, and that I would continue to receive payments until my business made a certain amount of profit. They seemed pleased that I was doing this, that I was being proactive.
Ha, bloody ha.
I arrived in my next location and started opening up the business. Within a fortnight, I had my first interview with the local Centrelink people. They said that, despite opening a business, I still had to look for X number of jobs per fortnight. As you can imagine, this was somewhat disconcerting, and I became rather emotional …
This was silly. I was putting in tens of thousands of dollars to make an effort to get me OFF Centrelink's books, and they told me that I still had to look for work, and if I was offered a job, I would have to take it. If I took a job, then my business would result in a huge loss financially for me.
It was too late to change my mind. I'd signed the lease, I'd paid a bucket load of money. I was committed to the shop. What saved me here from wasting the money I'd committed, was that the area I had moved to had (and has) very few jobs available.
I worked 10 to 12 hour days frequently during the week and had weekends off (mainly). I spent a fortune on rent and stock and furnishings. I did this in an area where people didn't have a lot to spend, and in an environment where many people were spending what money they did have shopping on the internet.
I continued to be required to attend interviews with Centrelink. Now, I will say here that Centrelink offices vary widely across the country. Brisbane, for example, generally has fantastic staff. Here it varies. I've been addressed by my last name alone … “Come this way, Smith” (although Smith is not my real last name). I have been for ONE interview with them over two years where I had to wait for less than an hour. Again, there seemed to be an expectation that the interviews lasted a particular amount of time after the essential questions had been asked and answered.
When my lease ran out, at the end of a year, I decided that to put more money in would not be sensible. I closed up with help from some friends and a few bottles of good wine.
A few regrets about the business not being a money-spinner … many more regrets about not having somewhere to be at 9 am, not working, not meeting people and making them happy, not going home pleasantly tired at the end of the day.
A year later and nothing. No jobs here for someone with my qualifications. Too many other unemployed people here for somewhere to take a risk with me. Still I have to attend pointless interviews with Centrelink and my JSP.
So, there is my history, and my whinge. Moving forward, what can be done?
The Centrelink legislation, the Social Security Act, is out of date, cumbersome, difficult to understand, and interpreted in different ways. Aside from the Act itself, there are two guides to implementing it: one is only available to Centrelink staff, the other is available on line, but few people know about it. Some Centrelink staff just use their own opinions, or prejudices to make decisions. The Act needs updating and simplifying.
New provisions need to be made to give people a fair go. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. A couple on the Age Pension who own their own house, and have substantial other assets, live a very different life to a couple on the Age Pension who are paying rent.
A single parent on the Parenting Payment Single pension whose child is under 8 receives substantially more than the single parent of a child over that age. The difference for me is about $180 per fortnight. This is a lot. I can't understand the reasoning behind this decision: there is no point where the government can say that from age 8 up, children cost less. There is an argument to say that a high school aged child costs a heck of a lot. The fact is that kids DO cost money, and that their first 18 years are extremely important, and they don't need to bear the burden of poverty when it can be alleviated with comparatively little funding.
We hear politicians talk about education and how important it is. We hear about Gonski reforms to put more money into schools. As a mother and a teacher, I support better funding for schools, of course I do. But, if a parent, or a couple on NewStart Allowance, can't afford to pay for rent, power, food, clothes, water, and all the other expenses, then how much good are the Gonski reforms going to do? I raised this at a recent Centrelink interview and it was suggested that I send my son out to get a job. I replied that I would rather he worked at doing well in Year 12 and going to uni.
Single and coupled parents on NewStart Allowance, or Parenting Payment, will generally receive Family Tax Benefits A and B. Single people without kids receive just NewStart. This is $542 per fortnight for a single person. A quick search of a real estate site for accommodation in any major city will show very few places for rent under $200 per week. We can all do the maths here. After rent, there is $142 per fortnight left for food, clothes, transport, gas, electricity, water, etc. Sure, there is rent allowance, if you're eligible, but at $110 per fortnight, this doesn't help much.
Then, there are some payments which are available to people on very high incomes, like Family Tax Benefit. It's my belief that these payments need to be revisited. If you're on $100,000 per annum, you do not need to be supported by taxpayers earning less than that.
There are not nearly as many “dole bludgers” as the government (any government) would like you to believe. Most of us on NewStart, or Parenting Payment, are good people, good parents, who are bringing up our children to be good tax payers. Most of us would love to have a job, especially a full-time job, and most of us would love to celebrate a separation from Centrelink.
Social security legislation in Australia needs a wholesale review and a fairer system to ensure that Australians are given a fair go, and the ability to live their lives and raise their children with dignity.

All readers are encouraged to share their experiences of unemployment, job searching, interviews, and anything else that fits in with this blog. Please email me at:  50shadesofunemployment@gmail.com

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February 13, 2014

So What Do You Do? Six Ways To Answer That Vexing Question [by Stevie Martin]

Although the perfectly normal adult "what do you do?" question gets asked every time you meet someone new, it's surprisingly difficult to answer when you don't have a set response, or a job. Thankfully, we have some suggestions.

"I'm freelancing"

It doesn't matter what area you're freelancing in. To distract them from asking about the specifics you could try either (a) spilling your drink on them  (b) spilling their drink on them (c) spilling their drink on you (d) throwing your drink at the wall (e) dropping your drink, shouting "FIRE!" and setting fire to yourself by way of distraction.

"I'm taking some time out to figure out what I want"

Boom, immediately you've gained control of the situation in a way that unemployment never allows you to. You're not floating around aimlessly, crying at jobcentres and cash machines. Instead, you're unwilling to rush into a career that isn't right for you. (As well as a useful party get-out, this is also a genuinely good thing to do). You're weighing up your options. Bear in mind 60% of the people you speak to will have sold their actual dream for a vaguely important sounding job title and an even vaguer alcohol addiction in a bid to stem the aching boredom that comes with sacrificing one's happiness.

"Do you like dogs?"

AKA Pretend You Misheard And Alter The Conversation To Something Totally Different. One issue is they may think you're mad or drunk, but people like chatting to interesting conversational partners. Also, they might genuinely have a big thing for dogs which would cut through all the painful small talk and get you talking about the stuff that really matters.

"I'm the CEO of a pen company while moonlighting on the side as a Romanian travelling clown called Honko Honko"

Lying extraordinarily about your job will force the other person to view you as an eccentric, creative type who doesn't like labels. If they try to delve deeper, lie even more and change the subject to something more interesting (dogs?). One down side to this is they may think you're sidestepping small talk and appearing mysterious in a bid to flirt with them, and they could end up trying to snog you. Or is that a plus? Depends.


Honesty is sometimes the best policy, but going meta and banging on about how you're unemployed and find such questions upsetting will make the other person feel so guilty they'll be unable to continue the conversation. Feel terrible. Get drunk. Probably choose one of the other response options.

I'm between jobs right now

This is as good as saying you're unemployed, but it just sounds more proactive. If they probe, just offer them the last piece of work you did for anyone, regardless of when or what it was. Worked for the uni magazine in 2009? You've been doing some freelance writing for an independent magazine in Lancaster (If you went to uni in Lancaster. Other universities are available). Be careful though, you could end up being the victim of well intentioned but incredibly annoying advice. Like "have you tried starting a blog?" and "Have you looked at jobs on the internet?" Both of which, as we know, are one-way tickets to Patronising Town.

This piece was written by 
Stevie Martin
 and originally appears on the UK jobseeker website - Go Think Big.Co.UK. It's reposted here with Stevie's generous permission.


Stevie Martin is part of the team at Go Think Big.Co.UK. - a site that helps young jobseekers get their foot on the career ladder - http://www.gothinkbig.co.uk/

Image: flickr

February 12, 2014

The Seven (and more) Signs of Ageing and Exemptions from Mutual Obligations [by Monica]

When one is unemployed, one must comply with compulsory Mutual Obligation Activities, organised by ones Job Service Provider (JSP). This is something akin to conscription. Any attempt to get an exemption from this, and you’re seen as a job avoider, a deserter, an absconder, a pariah! even.

I’ve been told several times now, by certain employees of Job Services Australia, that my pain - stiffness, dizziness and general malaise - is really just well, old age. That it’s not for ‘wimps’ and I should just get on with things. Getting on with what though? That’s the important question.

Given the above, I think it only fitting to talk about what ‘old age’ is for a woman of a certain age like me, and whether or not it might be something more sinister; as suggested by a medico quite recently when I popped in for some light handy work!

Scary Old Coots and Does Working for a Living Mean the Unemployed are Dead

Close readers of my previous post - 'A Spinsters Guide to Dole Bludging Purgatory', will be familiar with my ongoing problems with arthritis and my constant search for a good GP. One who is well versed in chronic pain management and has some understanding of our unresponsive tick and flick welfare system. An organisation whose staff resemble either a used car salesman (if you happen to get a good one) or a rip snorting Bitch whose modelled herself on Irma Grese - one of the female guards from Belsen in Nazi occupied Germany.

One GP seriously thought that Job Service Providers were staffed with medical personnel, or at least supervised by them. Raucous laughter could be heard ringing throughout the entire surgery, and after I stopped laughing, I told said GP that I thought that perhaps they were confused with workers compensation.

Anyhoo, to be exempt from participating in mutual obligation activity agreements, one needs a medical certificate from a GP. While I was there, I had the GP take a look at some lesions on my skin that required removing. The GP who carried out this procedure was an ‘older fellow’ from country Australia, a bit gruff! Spoke with a gravelly voice and he seemed to have an irritable temperament. Perhaps that was the result of having to deal with unemployed persons such as myself, coming in with pesky boring old issues, having to be bulk billed and taking up precious medical skills that should be used on the paying hard working patients. But then, perhaps he was just constipated! who can say. I have a wee suspicion that he may have been used to working on large animals. I’ll get to that in a minute. So what did the old coot do you say?

I’m glad you asked, at this point you might want to get a cup of tea, or coffee, or plonk even. He told me to take my top off and to lay down on one of those gurney things they have in GP surgeries that never look quite wide enough to me. He needed to have a good gander, so, lie down I did. I should have known better at this stage but quick as you can he said, “I’ll take that off right now”. I’ve never had anything removed before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 

He was making light chit chat while he examined my lesion and asked what work I did for a living. I said I was unemployed at present to which he replied “are you healthy?” I thought, perhaps he might be referring to the difficulties of eating fresh healthy meals when you’re trying to live (bludge) on $35 a day. So I said “well you know I try to eat healthy foods” to which he interrupted and said, “no! no! I mean you’re not HIV are you?” 

How silly of me to think seniore’ quack was displaying a remarkably compassionate bedside manner towards a patient trying to survive on the Newstart allowance. By the way, what is this ‘New Start’ malarkey!? And, what exactly are they making allowances for? Sorry, I got distracted.

Look, can I be honest with you here? Am I paranoid? Or,  was that a reference to his assumptions and stereotypes about the unemployed? “If you’re HIV,” He said, “You might not heal very well”. No, I said I’m definitely not HIV.

So I thought for a moment, when someone asks you what you do for a living, what does that mean? If you’re not ‘working for a living’ doesn’t that then imply you must be, well, ‘dead’. That’s certainly old then isn’t it?

It’s Surgery! Not Home Renovations

So seniore’ GP asked me to scoot over on the gurney closer toward him. He leaned right into it, pressing against me, and with one hand grabbed the other side of my hip and pulled me over towards him. At this stage I was feeling rather tense and alarmed. Relax he said, and rather tersely at that, and looking down, I watched as he slowly injected a local anaesthetic into my stomach. He repeatedly retracted and reinserted the needle in and around my aberrant lesion - Fark!... it…. hurt (oh! Potty mouth I know!). I couldn’t help but say shiiiiiiiiit! Out loud. He mumbled something about it hurting quite a bit as a result of having to inject the needle into the stomach muscles.

So while he waited for the anaesthetic to take effect he took this moment to educate a medically illiterate unemployed person such as myself, as to what the lesion was, why I had it, and not to worry as it wasn’t cancerous, nor was it contagious. 

It seems I have a seborrhoeic keratoses. They usually look like crusty brown/black spots which seem to be stuck onto the skin- (how very attractive you’re saying). Seniore’ GP then said, “at least it’s not on your neck or your face because they can be quite unsightly”. Unsightly! Unsightly! How very rude of seniore’ to suggest that I was somehow hideously disfigured by this lesion, and I couldn’t possibly inflict myself onto the general public. Anyone would think that it had hairs and teeth coming out of it! Not unlike those big hairs I saw poking out of his nose and ears. Given I was so unsightly, I wondered if I would qualify for a medical exemption from my Mutual Obligation activities. He could write on the medical certificate - ‘hideously disfigured’ in the diagnostic category and - “unlikely to improve anytime soon in the near future” -  for the prognosis.

So I wanted to know what caused these lesions. 

Apparently, it’s all part of the ageing process, lucky me! 

So seniore’ GP dragged over a metal trolley which had a black metal box sitting on top and silver metal switches on the front. There was a long cord coming out the back to which some kind of hand tool was attached at the end. It looked very much like a soldering iron. He placed this instrument at the foot of the gurney between my two feet and then said, “Now how does this thing work?” If ever there was a perfect time to be a “Job absconder" now was it. 

For a fleeting second I imagined myself jumping off the gurney, quickly running out the door making some sort of excuses as to why I couldn’t stay. But of course it was too late for that. While he was busy flicking switches on and off trying to figure out how to turn this medieval apparatus on and rid me of my ghastly black encrusted pox, I noticed something glowing red at the foot of the gurney.

Then seniore’ quickly swooped it up and said, “Righto! We’re ready to go!” 

I thought about looking away but I couldn’t, you know like you do when you’re drawn to some grisly horror picture. So I watched intently as the red tip of this sorcerers instrument was placed on my lesion and melted away my pox. Yes, it was burnt off with a red hot iron, how lovely! He even had the courtesy of kindly letting me know that the pungent smell wafting about the surgery was my skin burning. I kid you not, he actually! said that. 

Apart from the injections it was a painless and very quick procedure, but no doubt antiquated, because they’ve long since discovered liquid nitrogen and cryosurgery. Perhaps seniore’ GP really did get confused and accidently used a soldering iron. Or, perhaps this is some secret medical procedure only to be used on the likes of non-paying unemployed scum like me.

So readers might be thinking at this stage why I didn’t just shop around for another more suitable medico who would happily take care of my ailments, one that is used to dealing with welfare filth. I mean we all know that those on welfare are nothing but malingerers who doctor shop, rorting the system dry. Each and every-one of us is personally responsible for the budget deficit.

Firstly, when you cannot attend your mutual obligation activities, you must provide a medical certificate to Centrelink and it has to be handed in before the appointment or before your program starts, depending on whether you have weekly or fortnightly appointments, otherwise you’re in breach of your obligations. 

If you do happen to find a sympathetic doctor, they might not work full time, and they’re often so good at their job, everybody wants to be their patient, so it can takes weeks to get an appointment. So what should you do?, book in just in case your job service provider happens to arrange a totally inappropriate activity for your circumstances that you can’t do. You also need to book a double appointment, because the doctor doesn’t just write a medical certificate like writing a prescription. This further excludes your chances of getting a quick appointment. 

Finding a good city doctor who takes the time to get to know their patients and who is willing to practice good medicine in order to be able to do their best for their patients takes’ time. But they don’t always stay in the practice for long, my long term doctor after nine years left medicine to do something else altogether and another left the state. More recently, another left the practice to move suburbs to a new and smaller clinic because she hated working for the medical centre that I had been attending for years because it changed the way it practiced medicine.

So I was left with a bright red spot on my stomach. But seniore’ GP wasn’t finished with me yet. He continued to regale me with lurid stories about my pox. He told me that the old ‘witch’ or ‘crone’ commonly seen in children’s stories pictured with a wart on the end of her nose, probably had a seborrhoeic keratosis like mine. And then it hit me - like a bolt of lightning. Only now had I come to understand what all this talk of old age was, and realised not only what I had been struck down with, but also what fate awaits me.

Sudden Onset Cronism

The following is a list of signs and symptoms that fulfils the diagnostic criteria for cronism. At least seven or more of the symptoms must be present for the diagnosis to be made.
  1.         Unexplained cackling
  2.         Frequent early morning haggardness
  3.         Remarkable ability to straddle a broom. (I recommend a V8 Millet)
  4.         Decreased acceptance by others
  5.         Defeating Satan in all-night chess games (OK I just made that one up)
  6.         Riding Storms
  7.         Bundles of sage appear under pillows
  8.         Night independence
  9.         Increased levels of both whimsy and malice (nice)
  10.         Wickedness
  11.         Curses increasing in strength and duration (very, very useful)
  12.         Disappearing from mortal eyes during the winter months
  13.         Fires immediately go out when you enter the room
  14.         Hexing cattle (Mad cow disease?)
According to Wikipedia, a crone is a female character in folklore and fairy tale. In some stories, she is disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner - often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. I don’t know about you but I LIKE HER already!!!

The Crone is also an archetypal figure, a Wise Woman. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, (that’s me! I’m baron alright!). Her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag (she’s my bestie).

The word "crone" is a less common synonym for "old woman," and in New Age and Feminist spiritual circles, a "Croning" is a ritual rite of passage into an era of wisdom, freedom, and personal power. I could do with a good ‘Croning’ whose up for it?

It’s Check Point Charlie Time

So I tell seniore’ GP that I was really only wanting to request a medical certificate as I was not capable of doing my conscripted activities for mutual obligation, on account of my arthritis. I asked him if he could show mercy on a poor crone and save me from the eternal fires of damnation. He said what!? And then I said what!? And then I said “oh never mind”. He asked me if I had the form to sign to which I replied that I was to understand it was something that he should have access too.  Eventually after quite a bit of fiddling and rusting about on the computer he found what he was looking for.

There is a box on the Centrelink medical certificate for the doctor to write the prognosis. There used to be several boxes for them to tick regarding your symptoms and whether they are likely to persist, but Centrelink in tightening its rules and regulations and has amended the form. Now, all but those who are in a coma are eligible to participate in mutual obligation activities.  Seniore’ GP, wanting by this stage to get me out of the surgery and on my way, filled out the form rather quickly and in the section for prognosis he wrote ‘uncertain’.

So of course I stood in line with all the other unemployables at Centrelink waiting to hand in my certificate. There are no longer counter staffed dealing with all welfare recipients issues, with only one employee who rushes off to morning tea the minute it gets to your turn leaving you and all the other towy clients furious enough to burst a boiler. Instead, as an efficiency measure, we now have a specific staff member for people on Newstart standing behind what looks like a lectern with a computer embedded into the top. 

So it gets to my turn, and a female staff member asks for my details and reference number -  like they always do, and I hand over my medical certificate. It feels like I’m handing over identity papers at some military check point. She glances down and says, “I’m not accepting this”. I want to know why, and she tells me that my condition isn’t permanent and therefore I do not qualify for an exemption. I protest and say that I have arthritis which is a permanent disability, and that the doctor has made a clerical error on the form. She can hear the tension in my voice, but she says “that not the point”. 

I can feel my body physically begin to retreat, because it’s all so difficult and all so hard, and you often feel like giving up. But I know that if I don’t get this form in her hand and onto my record, I will face another useless job club with pointless activities that won’t support me, waste my time, and that are very likely run by a staff member who long ago stopped being compassionate about the unemployed. 

“Look, I said, my condition is not stabilised, it’s permanent, it won’t get better it’s only going to get worse”. So she agreed she would take it “this time”. There you have it Centrelink can override a medical opinion and deny your claim for an exemption. According to government ministers this policy is in the best interests of everyone because it’s only the genuinely vulnerable who should be getting welfare benefits. Therefore, the government has to enact policy reforms to stop all that nasty rorting going on and ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of.