We’ve heard the term “mutual obligation” thrown around a great deal in the context of the federal budget.
Mutual obligation is an idea that seems on the face of it, commonsense.
Essentially it means that individuals should contribute to society in exchange for the support society gives them.
Let’s examine the notion, and turn it on its head.
Take three examples.
The first is a returned soldier - let’s say a Vietnam Veteran, who was conscripted and spent a year on operational service, say with an infantry battalion, or perhaps in cavalry, crewing an APC, or maybe as an engineer on mine clearing operations.
Because of the nature of his posting, he was exposed to combat, and saw a couple of mates blown to pieces in mine incidents.
This individual, at the time of call-up, was gainfully employed, and had been paying taxes. At the end of his service, he was reinstated in his previous occupation, but after about fifteen years, he found himself with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He took one look at the hoops he needed to jump through to get support through DVA as totally or permanently incapacitated, and decided it wasn’t worth the grief, and to use a bad metaphor, he soldiered on.
At the same time, he continued to work, pay taxes, and support his family.
The second example is a person with disability. He has Cerebral Palsy, but despite this, he completed schooling, and got a job working for a federal bureaucracy.
He was good at his job, and by 2014, was in a senior position.
Then at age 51 he was made redundant in a round of austerity measures aimed at trimming the public service. He is now unemployed, and struggling to pay a mortgage and support his family.
His chances of finding a new job, given his age and disability, are almost zero.
He has been contributing and paying taxes for over twenty-five years.
The third example is a twenty eight year old who was prescribed a medication for Attention Deficit Disorder. At the time he was in employment and paying taxes.
He had a very bad reaction to the medication, and it sent him into a psychosis. The prescribing physician was negligent, but this young man could not be bothered with the carry-on he would have to go through to take civil action.
His subsequent hospitalisation meant that he lost his job, his network of friends, and his accommodation.
He was forced to return to his parental home during his rehabilitation.
He has recovered and is now looking for work, but a mental health crisis doesn’t look great on a resume. Whilst it’s not completely clear, the tightening up of conditions for Newstart are a worry he doesn’t need as he tries to get his life back on the rails.
Here are a few simple questions.
What does “mutual obligation” mean as it relates to these individuals?
Do their individual contributions prior to the incidents that damaged their lives count for anything?
Do they have an entitlement to support to achieve a reasonable quality of life and should this support come from the taxpayer?
What does “mutual” mean in this context?
Or can what has happened to them be described in the two words used by the current Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition a few years ago?
These are real people, by the way. I didn’t make them up.
Over to you.