When Newstart means NoStart

August 16th, 2013  |  Published in Guest posts, Poverty & Hardship

Guest post by Nick Costello

Nick C poverty smallIs it possible to live your life with truth and honour as your helmsmen? Is it possible to use such terms when people ask you what you do? I could tell them I paint pictures large and small; write books and poetry; take photographs and create educational videos for use in school classrooms; investigate wildlife mysteries; act as an advocate for marginalised people; and promote the wonder of life and the power of human potential – all things I have done pretty well, and continue to do.

But that’s not what they want to hear. What they want me to tell them is how I earn my living; how I make a material contribution to the wealth of the nation through paid employment; but, sadly, I cannot utter the words.

The other side of prosperity

You see, my physical attributes, and the skills I possess are not what industry wants, and in that regard I am irrelevant. I haven’t had a paid job for a long time; I don’t live in a place of my own and I have never been in a position to start a family. In spite of the forces of Global Industrial Change and a Global Economic Meltdown, it seems my slide into poverty is my own fault. That’s because the Australian psyche cannot let go of an outdated mantra: that the Australian Dream is available to everyone prepared to work hard to achieve it. For those who still believe this, people like me who rely on government income support for survival are anathema.

How did I come to this? Was it my own fault? Perhaps; perhaps I was naive to think the low-paid jobs I had would ever provide more than a subsistence income; perhaps I was overambitious when I sought to compete in a global marketplace as an artist and writer after being forced by inflation to live in a proverbial shoebox.

Nixk C outstretched armsPerhaps I was partly responsible for my own predicament, but I played no part in the big-picture economic decisions that led to it. I was never a cashed-up investor who sank my dollars into foreign industries while Australian factories were closing; I wasn’t a politician who chose to understate the true level of unemployment in an effort to maintain public confidence in the local economy; I was never part of the Housing Industry, where house values were artificially inflated by an auction process and the median price for real-estate was kept high through a conscious decision to limit the number of low-cost dwellings available in the marketplace.

Nick C teeth

Nor was I involved in the sale of government infrastructure and utilities, the privatisation of health, employment and welfare services, or the sale of Australian farms to foreign investors. I was just one of the mugs who took the blame for “welfare-dependency” while governments gave “get-out-of-jail-free” cards to embattled financial institutions, and corporate juggernauts freewheeled their way to greater wealth.

So, what do I do?

To answer the original question: What do I do? How do I spend my time? I gave up looking for paid employment, or a partner, or a home of my own long ago because the odds of having any of these things are about as slim as my chances of winning Tattslotto. For the last three years, I have done voluntary work two days per week in order to qualify for Newstart Allowance. That puts me in “loser” territory, even though my efforts to work my way out of the hole I am in never cease.

Not that long ago, while in a work-for-the-dole program, a visitor asked me what I did, and all I could say was that I was just a work-for-the-dole person. When she chastised me for putting myself down, her words sounded so patronising that I responded with hostility and retreated to the safety of my own company. It wasn’t until later, when I looked back on this incident, that I realised how dark and hopeless my existence had become. At that point, I had almost no control of my life and I couldn’t see a way out. That needed to change, and it did.

What do I do now? In spite of the fact that my material existence remains unchanged, I no longer fear the scorn of bigots. I acknowledge the fact that prosperity and poverty are two sides of the same coin, and that wealth-generation can create hardship in one place while it alleviates it somewhere else.

I live each day with honour…

I search each day for truth; I pray each day for justice; I choose love over fear, inquiry over deception, inclusiveness over affluence; and I fight for the right of all Australians to stand in this land and truly feel they belong here.

That is what I do.

By Nick Costello, Guest Blogger

Nick C profile shot

Nick is a Melbourne artist and writer with an inquiring mind and a passion for social justice. He is also a keen naturalist, and was involved in an intensive investigation into reports of wild big cats in Victoria during the 1980s. Nick is a member of the Sherbrooke Art Society where he has sold many paintings. He has also created community artworks, the latest being a pair of mural panels that can be seen in the main street of Monbulk. The images in this post are from Nick’s portfolio.

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10 comments on “When Newstart means NoStart”

  1. Can’t take a trick with this post! Around the anniversary of it being published here on the website, I re-posted a brief pointer to it on Facebook. Unfortunately, I did not restore the Facebook ‘Like’ button for it here (after removing it because of a glitch, see previous comment). As an alternative record of the interest in this post, I am pasting a link to the FB pointer, which provides some record, although less satisfactory than it could be. With apologies, again, to Nick, and thanks for a great post…Joan Beckwith.

  2. Facebook ‘Like’ button removed on this post because Facebook glitch wiped the record prior to mid-May 2014 (at that stage, for my records, and with apologies for the problem to Nick Costello, guest blogger, n=222)…Joan Beckwith.

  3. Ruth Miller says:

    Your honesty & integrity are refreshing Nick. They open up one’s eyes beyond ingrained & imposed cultural constructs that define people in our supposedly classless society.

  4. Stef says:

    Nick, I have been through some similar struggles. Even though now I have paid employment and I can say simply “I am a teacher” (without telling people I am not full time) I am still the same person I was for the two decades I did not have an “occupation” (a paid one at least) I could hide behind. Thanks for your courage in explaining this issue that many of us experience and for making the world better with your art and volunteer work. Newstart is a pittance, but by keeping some of the critical thinkers very poor I guess they can get away with exploiting everyone else all the more! I hope you stay strong! Stef

  5. Ivi says:

    Nick when someone asks you say you’re an artist, a writer. Being unemployed isn’t who defines us (even if it defines how we live). You ARE contributing to the community and working for social justice, obviously one of the diminishing few thinkers that this country lacks. You have important things to say I would love to hear more as a spot in a newspaper, or letter to the editor etc that would spark some thinking and debate in our complacent community . Be strong and value your achievements, most people envy those with artistic skill (even though its a hard one to make a living off) I would think, from what you tell us, someone who is trying to make a difference

    • joanbeckwith says:

      Thanks for this comment. The process is a little cumbersome, so bear with us. Your comment, intended for Nick Costello as guest blogger on this 2020socialjustice website, is directed by WordPress to me (Joan Beckwith) as the main author/moderator of the site. I have let Nick know that comments are starting to come in and we can hopefully get more flow happening soon. This is the first time I’ve had a guest blogger on the site, and very pleased for it to have been Nick, but the territory is a little uncharted and not technically straightforward (at least not for a non-techo). To also pick up your point about additional coverage for Nick’s post, we will be working on it, so fingers crossed and keep posted…Joan Beckwith.

  6. Jim Johnson says:

    You’ve been poking about in the corners & receses of my mind! And I thought I was somehow so different & unusual to the rest of my ex-university social group. Love the message, love the passion. Regards Jim.

    • joanbeckwith says:

      Thanks, Jim, am assuming your message is intended for Nick Costello who wrote the guest blog about life on Newstart and I will make sure he knows that people have been messaging…Joan Beckwith (2020socialjustice).

  7. June Connell says:

    Thanks Nick , for never giving up the fight for Justice,. x

    • joanbeckwith says:

      Yes, the long haul can be very long, but hopefully some sustaining periods of achievement and invigoration along the way. I will do my best to make sure Nick is aware of your message, June, and others that come via me, via 2020socialjustice. Thanks, Joan Beckwith.

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