After years of sustained campaigning by anti-poverty activists to "raise the rate" of Australia's dole payment, employment minister Michaelia Cash announced a suite of changes to the jobseeker unemployment allowance. For a start, the payment will be cut.
Cash and her Liberal/National cohorts are claiming the cut is actually an increase, given that before a special coronavirus supplement doubled the rate, the dole was even less, and hadn't been raised in 20 years.
Yes, for a few heady months between April and September 2020, doubling the rate to $550 a week enabled dole recipients to live out their wildest economic fantasies. Would you believe that one woman on the dole could finally afford to see a dentist?! A dentist! Another planned to buy glasses so she could see! Someone went really off-piste and allowed herself a meal every single day, while a single mother with two kids was even able to stop living in her car.
With all those unemployed people regaining the capacity to improve their health and function socially, I guess the government felt they had to bring the hedonism under control. At the end of September last year, the supplement was dropped from an extra $275 a week to $125 a week, then at the end of December, it was dropped again to $75 a week, sending the unemployed firmly back under the poverty line.
Related: Morrison's meagre jobseeker rise is a political fix that only tightens the screws on the unemployed | Rick Morton
The new rate will mean that a million jobseeker recipients will wake up $50 a week worse off on 1 April than they were the week before and yet be told by the government it's an increase because "April Fool, poor people! The joke is always - always - on you!"
"This is about getting the balance right," said the social services minister, Anne Ruston, about the new rate. It's a revealing quote for two reasons.
The first is that ANU's Centre for Social Research and Methods discovered in August last year that the introduction of the jobkeeper supplement and the temporary, meaningful increase of the dole had lowered Australia's poverty gap by 39% and the number of people in poverty by around 32%. So by "getting the balance" she appears to mean "increasing the poverty of the poor" and by "right" she seems to mean "in the method that we prefer".
The second reason her quote is revealing is that it was the same Anne Ruston who in 2019 actually said aloud that "Giving [people] more money would do absolutely nothing ... probably all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money."
"Probably" is the key word here, because beyond the assumptions of her apparent obscenely classist bigotry, the minister doesn't really seem to care enough to know. If she could be bothered, she might examine the reasons why even her own government chose to double the rate of jobseeker last year.
Video: Rishi Sunak raises self-employed grants (SEISS) from 20% to 40%, meaning the maximum grant will go up from £1,875 to £3,750 (Birmingham Mail)
It wasn't to facilitate a nationwide smack-and-tinnies Christmas. It was because increasing money to poor people drives spending - on things like dentists, and glasses, and food and accommodation. Their spending meant that amid the sudden economic slowdown of the pandemic, the economy didn't collapse.
As a big thank you to the very people who saved the economy, Cash is also forcing new obligations on jobseeker recipients. These include additional job searches, requirements to attend face-to-face appointments with job service providers, intensive training courses for recipients who have been on the payment for more than six months and more paperwork for some recipients.
Related: 'Starvation payments': jobseeker recipients say new rate puts a normal life out of reach
Cash also announced a new hotline for employers to report recipients who turn down a job offer and get them breached.
What a superb illustration this last one is of how the Liberals have considered nothing, absolutely nothing, within the abuse-of-power scandal exposed by the rape allegations of Brittany Higgins.
Imagine, if you will, the powerless, unemployed person who fronts a sleazy, exploitative employer in an unsafe workplace and is reminded the employer holds the weapon to breach them.
Some of us, alas, don't have to imagine. "When I was 19, I applied for a bartender job & was offered that job after an interview," wrote @cmdibley on Twitter, "I was then told that on Saturday nights, I was required to work topless. I said no thanks so I guess I deserved to be punished by the very reasonable employer dobbing me into the government."
@Rosemaryrosemar echoed: "Yep a uni bar I applied to had a cattle call and the owner proudly called his recruitment process, 'selection by erection'. Imagine not being able to say no to that?"
I had my own lucky escape just before heading off to a job interview at 18, receiving a nick-of-time phone call informing me it was a front for the exact kind of sex pest the Liberals' new changes could completely empower.
Predators aren't the only reason people refuse job offers. Some workplaces are clearly unsafe, or the boss is a wage thief, or the job is cruel or unethical, or the work obliges an impossible family dislocation and disruption to care arrangements.
Decades of punitive welfare legislation have also created a situation in which dole recipients are terrified of taking jobs that have a risk of just falling through because getting back on the dole takes weeks and they can be left with no income.
Cash concluded her announcement saying the government would "do everything" to move people from welfare into work.
"Everything," that is, but stimulate economic growth through targeted welfare spending, or create some actual jobs. After eight years in government, and with a million Australians unemployed, the government's inaction used to look incompetent. Now, it just seems wilful.