Minutes of an undated caucus meeting in Parliament House
Attendance: Mr Cringes (leader), Ms Upstart, and several unimportant MPs.
Mr. Cringes: “We need to do something about beneficiaries coming up to the election. Our polling tells us that we gain 3% of the vote every time we target beneficiaries. This I shrink from doing, personally, but the party is the thing”.
Ms Upstart: “As potential Minister I have lots of ideas. I have trawled the policies of countries as punitive as ourselves and have a veritable treasure-trove of policy options to put before the meeting today to heap enormous pressure on those who dare to be out of work or bringing up their children on the public purse”.
Mr Cringes: “Thanks, Lulu. But do try not to sound so enthusiastic about it. Remember, we are doing these things because we care”.
Ms Upstart: “Hmmm. Care…care….care… I’ll remember that”.
Anon: “I have a brilliant idea to put forward. Many of these beneficiaries are in their position because they have little education and therefore cannot get well-paid work. What about helping them get the qualifications they need to get into good work? They will never look back”.
Ms Upstart: “They do not deserve an education!”
Mr Cringes: “Be quiet, Lulu. So, Anon, you need to understand that we need a healthy population of beneficiaries so that we can bash them. Giving them a hand up out of poverty won’t do at all. No, we need then there to make life a little harder for them”.
Anon: “But isn’t that self-defeating if we could help them be independent forever?”
Mr Cringes: “We in the National Party talk about this as a point of principle. While pragmatically education might help, why should beneficiaries get a free leg-up to education when hard-working kiwis have to pay through the nose for theirs?”
Anon (muttering into his water): “Free education for all perhaps?”
Ms. Upstart: “Oh for heaven’s sake. Go join the Greens!”
Mr. Cringes: “So what do you have for us, Lulu?”
Ms. Upstart: “Well, I have looked at a range of sanctions we might use to make life harder for beneficiaries and perhaps put up a few barriers”.
Mr. Cringes: “And…?”
Ms. Upstart: “I have come up with three front-runners. The first is a no-brainer – ticks all the boxes. That is, sanction any beneficiary who does not get all their children fully immunised. They do it in parts of Australia. And this is a truly useful policy, as we are keen to get immunization rates up”.
Mr. Cringes: “Oh that is a wonderful policy. I love the coercive element, too, which will play out with our swing redneck voters”.
Anon2: “But I understand that mainly the immunization refusers are middle class families who read lots of dodgy research – how will that help?”
Mr. Cringes: “Perception, perception. We will be seen, at one stroke, to be disciplining beneficiaries and helping solve the immunization problem we have. It’s a great policy. And a great point of principle. I can hear it now in my speeches – ‘People who rely on the state to bring up their children have a responsibility to be model parents’. There are votes in this”.
Ms. Upstart: “I am glad you like it. I am sure you will like the next one even more. Compulsory drug-testing of all job-seekers!”
Mr Cringes: “But isn’t this already happening? Even Jacinda Ardern supports that”.
Ms. Upstart: “No, this is not about workplace drug-testing, or related to an employment application. This is all beneficiaries, randomly tested in their own homes by mobile units! It is brilliant!”
Mr Cringes: “So what sanction would you impose, Lulu?”
Ms Upstart: “Well I think that they should be arrested for ingesting illegal drugs and charged”.
Mr Cringes: (Sighs) “Well I suppose we can run it past the lawyers but I think that there may be a few human rights implications. But good idea in principle.”
Ms Upstart: “I have one more suggestion. We will require every beneficiary family to sign up to a healthy eating programme. No sugary foods and drinks, no chippies or fried food, plenty of vegetables. We could launch dawn raids to check on kitchen cupboards…. Oh yes, we might as well check the whole house for cleanliness, too, and cut benefits for dirty or delinquent eaters”.
Mr Cringes: “Oh well, let’s cost it out. I could see us selling the good eating idea, although kitchen inspections are a little 1950s. Anything else?”
There wasn’t, although no doubt further plans were in the pipeline.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.