Sunday, 2 March 2014

Abbott's Green Army: Punitive Civil Service

The LNP has put forward legislation to create a "Green Army" of disadvantaged Australians to engage in assorted environmental clean-up projects, at a pay rate of half the minimum wage. You can read the SMH article about it here.

Australian Labor has stated they will support the Green Army when it comes before the Senate. Read about that here.

What disgusts me about this isn't the vilification of the disadvantaged, which has been an Australian pastime since before the Howard years, or the deliberate erosion of workplace standards & the minimum wage, which has also been an essential element of the Australian political landscape for a while - it's the disservice it does to the very concept of civic participation.

An "environmental workforce" is a noble ideal, not because the environment is important (though it is) but because it represents the possibility of citizens being mobilised peacefully by the state to be empowered as stewards of our environment. Not "the" environment as an ecosphere or vague political abstraction, but our environment; our forests, our streets, our streams, our gutters, our parking lots. The maintenance of these areas by those of us who live in them - & the gratitude & respect that maintaining them on behalf of the polity should afford - ought to be a fulfilling, meaningful activity that our government would rightly be lauded for enabling.

Instead, that very possibility is destroyed by turning the act of taking care of our own environment into a punishment for what a capitalist system considers effluent - those unable to meaningfully take part in the systems of profit generation & consumption. It makes the maintenance & beautification of our world - not in the broad sense, but in the immediate, personal sense - a fucking dunce cap to be placed on the heads of social pariahs. What should be a noble, worthwhile activity is reduced to a brand of humiliation, a clear denoting of failure in the eyes of society.

Paying people doing these tasks a deliberately sub-minimum wage says as clearly as a capitalist society can say anything, "these people, and the task they are performing, are lesser. What they are doing is a job for the shameful, & the situation they are in should be reviled or pitied, but either way avoided." It twists acts of maintenance, of caretaking, of respecting our towns, cities and suburbs into a punishment, an unwanted activity we hand off to the unwanted dregs, and they'll bloody well do it if they want to eat & pay rent. There's no possibility of the barest self-respect in that.

Our society is, and should be, ashamed of the excessive waste it necessarily creates as part of its operation - whether it be inanimate garbage, or the human unemployed. Now Abbott has discovered a means to lump the two together, with the intent of ignoring both. Whatever you think of this as a policy, as a pure means to an end, of far more critical importance is its ideological underpinnings: the conservation of our public spaces, and the offering of assistance to those failed by our economic system, should both & together be considered embarrassments to be shunned, not duties to be willingly & proudly performed by all Australians.

This transforms active participation in civic life by citizens in the interests of citizens into a punishment meted out by those who are supposedly due our respect as worthwhile members of society - those who engage in profit-making for their own ends. The fully-revealed subtext behind this legislation, free of all bombast, is this: working to maintain the beauty & purity of our shared spaces & collective assets is a shameful weakness, & the exploitation of each other to increase our individual wealth is a righteous success.

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