Open letter to Richard Marles MP, Shadow Employment Services Minister, 22 January 2022

Dear Mr Marles,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am an Australian voter. I am writing because as of today I have been given to understand (Poxon, 2022) that the position of your office is that it would be “too risky” at this time for Labor to support any initiative for the suspension of Centrelink mutual obligations. I question your office’s position for a number of reasons. Some are as follows.

Mutual obligations have never worked. They “ha[ve] no effect on the likelihood of being employed, but adversely [affect] the quality of that employment,” and “hinder rather than help the unemployed return to employment” (Gerards & Welters, 2021a & 2021b). They subsidise employers’ engagement of labour and exert downward pressure on wages (Productivity Commission, 2002, pp. 2.6–2.7); they disaffect their unwilling “participants” from society (Warburton & Smith, 2003); they are a colossal waste of public money (Aston, 2016). Moreover, even under what were considered normal conditions prior to the pandemic, mutual obligations placed an unnecessary strain on the administrative resources of Australian businesses — a strain which they could well do without, and have explicitly asked to (Henriques-Gomes, 2021).

Under the present conditions, mutual obligations forcibly expose job seekers to a highly transmissible (Burki, 2021), highly virulent pathogen which is not only potentially lethal, but is now known to be a frequent causative agent of disabling, quality-of-life-destroying chronic disease (Malik et al., 2021; Poudel et al., 2021; Shah et al., 2021) by mechanisms which are becoming better-understood and verified empirically at a rapidly increasing rate (e.g. Guedj et al., 2021; Ortona & Malorni, 2021; Pretorius et al., 2021, etc.).

Job seekers are forced to live on a payment below the poverty line (Melbourne Institute, 2021), are consequently exceptionally likely to have been forced into poorer-than-usual health (Tinson, 2020), and are therefore at strongly elevated risk of severely adverse outcomes in terms of both acute and chronic clinical course (Mahase, 2021).

Advocating the suspension of mutual obligations is directly consistent with the ALP’s current National Platform (2021); I refer you in particular to items Foreword.7, Foreword.9, 1.12, 1.16, 1.17, 1.22, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.9, 4.7, 4.65, 4.93, and 5.35, among others. Failing to advocate for such a suspension directly contradicts the letter and spirit of the National Platform for similar reasons.

Far be it from me to teach grandmother how to suck eggs, or to impugn the competence of a Party with such an unblemished reputation for the skilful management of crises of public trust (e.g. Miller et al., 2020). However, those asking the Party to support the suspension of mutual obligations are asking the Party to advance a simple, straightforward, unambiguously practically necessary implementation of the principles to which it has already publicly committed. They are also asking it to support increased social participation, prudence in public spending, reduced red tape for business, and upward pressure on wages — not to mention the rescue of the Australian citizen from the individually inexorable onward march of systematically avoidable pain, disability and death.

Supporting a suspension of mutual obligations would demonstrate Labor’s compassion and its competence in virtually every soundbite-friendly aspect of public policy at the same time. Failure to support a suspension raises pressing questions about the seriousness of Labor’s commitment to winning the next election — and unseriousness at this juncture is arguably ethically (and very possibly electorally) unforgivable.

If you and the Party will not support a measure which is very clearly to the Party’s own benefit and to the benefit of society in general, Australians as a whole deserve to know why, in very clear and thorough detail, and the number who will not be satisfied until they know may prove critical to the Party’s future.

With due respect,
Isabelle Moreton


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ALP National Platform: As adopted at the 2021 Special Platform Conference (2021, March). Australian Labor Party. Retrieved 22 January 2022.

Aston, H. (2016, February 15). Work for the dole is inefficient and unreasonable and should be dismantled: ACOSS. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Burki, T.K. (2021, December 17). Omicron variant and booster COVID-19 vaccines. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, online. doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(21)00559-2. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

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Gerards, R., & Welters, R. (2021b, July 12). ‘Mutual obligations’ hinder rather than help jobseekers to find work. Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, ANU Crawford School. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Guedj, E., Morbelli, S., Kaphan, E., Campion, J-Y., Dudouet, P., … & Eldin, C. (2021, August). From early limbic inflammation to long COVID sequelae. Brain, 144(8), e65. doi:10.1093/brain/awab215. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

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Malik, P., Patel, K., Pinto, C., Jaiswal, R., Tirupathi, R., … & Patel, U. (2021, August 31). Post-acute COVID-19 syndrome (PCS) and health-related quality of life (HRQoL)—A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Virology, 94(1), 253–262. doi:10.1002/jmv.27309. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Melbourne Institute (2021, November 1). Poverty lines: Australia — June quarter 2021. University of Melbourne. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Miller, P., Hundley, I., Hassett, M., Knight, M., Sanaghan, B., … & MacKenzie, B, et al. (2020, June 16). This is another nail in the coffin of public trust. The Age. Retrieved 22 January 2022.

Ortona, E., & Malorni, W. (2021, September 16). Long COVID: To investigate immunological mechanisms and sex/gender related aspects as fundamental steps for a tailored therapy. European Respiratory Journal, in press. doi:10.1183/13993003.02245-2021. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Pretorius, E., Vlok, M., Venter, C., Bezuidenhout, J.A., Laubscher, G.J., … & Kell, D.B. (2021, August 23). Persistent clotting protein pathology in Long COVID/Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) is accompanied by increased levels of antiplasmin. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 20, 172. doi:10.1186/s12933-021-01359-7. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Poudel, A.N., Zhu, S., Cooper, N., Roderick, P., Alwan, N., … & Yao, G.L. (2021, October 28). Impact of Covid-19 on health-related quality of life of patients: A structured review. PLoS ONE, 16(10), e0259164. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0259164. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Poxon, J. [@JeremyPoxon] (2022, January 21). just got a call from the shadow employment services minister, telling me it’s “too risky” for labor to be calling … [Tweet]. Twitter. Retrieved 22 January 2022.

Productivity Commission (2002, June 3). Independent review of the Job Network: Inquiry report. Australian Government. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Shah, R., Ali, F.M., Nixon, S.J., Ingram, J.R., Salek, S.M., & Finlay, A.Y. (2021, May 25). Measuring the impact of COVID-19 on the quality of life of the survivors, partners and family members: A cross-sectional international online survey. BMJ Open, 11(5), e047680. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-047680. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Tinson, A. (2020, July 25). Living in poverty was bad for your health long before COVID-19. The Health Foundation. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

Warburton, J., & Smith, J. (2003, November 11). Out of the generosity of your heart: Are we creating active citizens through compulsory volunteer programmes for young people in Australia?. Social Policy & Administration, 37(7), 772–786. doi:10.1046/j.1467-9515.2003.00371.x. Retrieved 21 January 2022.

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