Dear Deputy Principal,
Thankyou for the letter home to all parents, encouraging them to volunteer their time at our primary school for activities such as library, computers or home reading.
I have many happy memories of being the regular 'home reading mum' at your school. We walked to school every morning with dogs, prams and bicycles, and spent at least an hour after that helping the year ones and twos read.
In 2006, the Howard government brought in 'Welfare to Work' and for myself and many other parents, the whole scenario changed forever.
Unless we work full time when our children turned seven, or we are married to someone earning enough money to give CentreLink the flick, we are now obliged to sign a contract stating that we will work a minimum of fifteen hours a week at or above the minimum wage of $14.23 an hour. If we earn less than the minimum wage, we are obliged to work more hours to make up that difference. If we do not qualify for either of these mandates, we are obliged to do 100 hours of Job Search training and be corralled into Intensive Assistance. The job search agencies whom we are unwittingly signed up to, garner a certain amount of federal funding per person that they have to 'process', and therefore they see each individual as a 'funding unit'.
If we do not comply with any of these options, we are considered breachers and bludgers who do not participate within our community in a productive manner.
However, we can do fifteen hours of volunteer work per week to make up for this personal shortfall.
Volunteer work includes most forms of government-sponsored altruism. Unfortunately, according to CentreLink and PVS Workfind, the definition of volunteer work does not include the following things:
* Looking after a friend who has cancer, including driving them to and from appointments, gardening, cleaning or shopping for them.
* Helping your elderly neighbour when they have to leave for six weeks to deal with funerals or births in another state.
* Painting your mate's house.
* Canteen Duty in primary schools.
* Home reading in primary schools.
* Helping kids in the library or the computer room in primary schools.
I don't know a parent who wasn't running around like a blue-arsed fly, before the Welfare to Work regime came in. I suggest that if you want parents to help our kids out in the lunch hour, in the canteen, in the library, in the computer room, then you approach the doctor's/lawyer's/miner's spouse who can afford not to work or queue in government orifices. The other option is a little more socially progressive. Approach PVS WorkFind and CentreLink. Impress on them the need to change their policy of devaluing the work of volunteers within the schools and the community.
I am terribly sorry that I can no longer spare an hour a week to help out with the kids at our school. These days I can barely make the Assembly.
I notice as well, that you are asking for more diverse services from parents, as your own resources are being squeezed. It was with a great sadness I read this letter from you today and realised how all of our resources and time are becoming collectively contracted into non-productive slots that no longer allow us the moments of unadulterated day dreaming and fun and unthinking philanthropy.
Yours sincerely, Sarah Toa
(Cartoon by The Boiling Point, www.mikhaela.net/weblog )