From July 1, 2014 a new Work for the Dole program began its gradual phase-in around Australia. This program stipulates that people on the dole have to apply for forty jobs per month, and complete up to twenty-five hours of community service per week.
Nationally, the move has been controversial. Jeff Borland, Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne told the Sydney Morning Herald that the evidence disputing the efficacy of the program is “overwhelming,” and that ''it's hard to believe that the government couldn't understand that this isn't the best way to improve people's employability.”
One particularly outraged person is Western Australian software developer, Bowz. He’s created an app and a website that funnels outgoing job applications straight into the office inboxes of the politicians who created the policy. I caught up with Bowz to ask him about his DoleBludger app, and what he’s hoping to achieve.
VICE: Hey Bowz, so tell us, how did you ended up making this app?
Bowz: Well there was a lot of discussion over beers with friends about various political issues, and a lot after the 2014 budget. It was while playing GTA5 that I decided to actually do it though. And what I was trying to do, first and foremost, was highlight the utter absurdity of the policy. It's so absurd, and so morally corrupt, that it seems like it actually belongs in GTA. That's why I used the GTA faking style with a logo that looks like some dole bludger drew.
As you see it, what’s wrong with the policy?
It seems like no one actually ran the numbers. We're talking about 400-500 Million applications per year under the 40-per-month plan. If each application takes three minutes to process, it would require more than 10,000 people working full-time, just to review the applications that the policy generates, just to review the applications of people ticking boxes.
Basically, it seems to me that the policy was conceived much like the app - over one too many beers. It should have stayed on the back of a coaster and never made it through to actual policy.
But you’re not the only one to have this reaction. In fact, another app developer had a similar idea.
Yes, SpamBludger was announced a few days before I went live. The developer, however, wanted to send the applications to businesses. My view was that the government created this problem, so why should businesses receive the burden? I thought the applications should go straight to the politicians who thought it up. They created a mess, let them clean it up. This has the added benefit that the politicians are getting a first-hand look. They're not hearing from donors about how this policy is impacting them, they're hearing from the staff in their office who receive the applications, they get them in their inbox themselves. They can't avoid the issue when you slap it in their face.
This is all very devious. What are you trying to achieve?
The app was intended as a form of political protest. I wanted to create a platform for young people to re-engage with politics, but I also wanted it to be functional as well. The applications sent via DoleBludger actually count as Newstarter's job application efforts.
But more importantly, if you look at the average age of our politicians - it's all 45-60 year olds. Okay, they may have wisdom and experience, but they have no idea how young people tick. I can't stand the irony that our Employment Minister is some old fart from Tasmania, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, with youth unemployment over 20 percent in parts of his state. It'd be like making an Archbishop the Science Minister, if we had one…
So our government is disconnected, and you’re highlighting it?
Yeah, the older generation don't understand the impact that technology has on young people. We grew up connected, and when you're connected, it's much more difficult to turn a blind eye to social injustice. When feminism and equal rights were big in the 60s, news moved slow, older generations could maintain a handle on the changes because it developed over time. In that sense it was a linear process.
So what’s the future of activism?
Activism is harder than ever with issues constantly changing, but I think it is going to get stronger as more people who grew up with technology join the media/politics and legitimise those fights from within. Grassroots movements will continue to be effective, but the media needs to recognise this shift for it to be politically effective.
Young people don't want to march in the streets. They want to use their technology to affect change. They're dismissed as keyboard warriors (and if you use that term to describe me I will find and kill you) because the older generations never used technology in this way. They had to sit around in pow-wows, learning from each other. Nowadays, we sit on the couch with our mobile or tablet and can be better informed on any issue we want than generations past thanks to the Internet. I see this app as a happy medium - politicians need to answer their emails, and young people like that their message is getting across immediately.
Nice. So how does it end?
We're simply at the start of this shift to activism happening through technology. You can find examples of it working, but for every successful online movement, there are 100 that fall by the wayside. I hope we get to the point where online action has the same political impact as people marching on parliament.
Follow Tim: @TimsVice