When former Keating government minister Gary Johns proposed that sustenance payments or ‘the dole’ be tied to mandatory contraception many from across the political divide saw little reason to argue against what is in actual fact a barbaric suggestion. Indeed, egged on by supporters who felt his ideas were sensible, and by those who found them repugnant his more recent piece advocating for people to first be productive prior to procreating continues his simplistic solution to a significant problem.
Despite the palpable race-based impact here and an obvious slant against women whose reproductive faculties are felt most acutely, Johns’ argument does in fact raise some important issues which need to be addressed seriously.
In his article Johns provides a veritable litany of social issues which accompany the couple of examples which he provides. One can certainly agree with Johns that it would surely be a mistake to think that one could solve such a complex of issues by merely throwing money at the problem, yet his suggestion of requiring all who are receiving some form of government sustenance to be using contraception seems to simplify the issues to mere economics.
His article smacks of the eugenic or social dawinist ideas that are found in the writings and work of Marie Stopes, and that fuelled such horrors as the Jewish holocaust and forced sterilization campaigns that are still evident the world over. While Johns advocates that ‘no one should enter parenthood while on a benefit’ I would like to suggest that his simplistic suggestion in fact doesn’t go far enough. His solution to what he calls an ‘intergenerational reproduction of strife’ plainly to impose contraception on all those receiving benefits thereby cutting down on births from those whom he labels as inadequate parents does little to remedy a much greater problem. Leaving aside the impossibility of administering and enforcing such measures, not to mention the absolute inhumanity of such a proposal, what needs to be considered here is the massive complex of issues that affect many who rely on the dole for their general sustenance.
Instead of applying the particularly barbaric stick of removing sustenance payments to people in need, perhaps more work needs to be done in refining our concept of caring for such people and their offspring. Surely a better solution would be to provide help to those people in ways other than merely throwing money at them and perpetuating the cycle.
Such a negative cycle of social, psychological and economic misfortune can only be adequately dealt with in a way that is respectful of every individual involved. Those who for whatever reason find themselves in unfavourable circumstances need to be treated with a dignity befitting of them as human persons.
What does this dignity look like?
As a Catholic I believe that each person has an innate dignity because they are created in the image and likeness of God; that every person is a good in and of him/herself the only adequate response to which is love – not a schmaltzy, airy-fairy type love, but real and at times gritty charity. Such sentiments are not the exclusive purview of people of my faith but rather abound across religious and cultural divides. Sharing this vision of the innate dignity of each and every person, each of us in the wider Australian community should take an active interest in the well-being of the less fortunate in our society not just because helping those people out makes our whole society a safer place for everyone, which it most certainly will, but because any person who finds themselves in a position of need, whether imposed upon us circumstantially or through a series of bad personal choices provides us with an opportunity to be grow.
I am not advocating here that we as a community succumb to freeloaders seeking to take advantage of people’s charity, but simply that we take an active interest in the health, well-being and education of those around us, particularly those who have hit upon hard times, and empower them to take more ownership of their own lives and the decisions that they make. This does not come in the form of mandating the use of contraception for those receiving government benefits or any other forms of charity.
While Gary Johns only seems to see that some people simply shouldn’t be breeding he misses the quite obvious phenomenon that parenthood has the power to transform lives. Making sweeping generalisations from the few anecdotes he shares of people who for whatever reason have continued to bring children into this world with a supposed disinterest to their well-being, there are innumerable stories of people who through their own awakening to the reality of having to provide for a child have been able to pull themselves out of such situations and, receiving help from government subsidies and charitable individuals and organisations have gone on to make fine parents, who have raised fine children into fine citizens.
Our great nation of Australia so often prides itself on its concern for the battler, the underdog, the person who is down on his luck. Perhaps it is about time that this national myth needs to become less of a myth and more of a reality.