Turning local libraries, pools and playgroups into sites of surveillance – ParentsNext goes too far

Turning local libraries, pools and playgroups into sites of surveillance – ParentsNext goes too far



Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock
Rebecca Williamson, Australian National University

Sydney Morning Herald reporter Jacqueline Maley evoked the spectre of the Orwellian surveillance state recently when discussing how library staff had been implicated in the ParentsNext program. Maley reported that private providers contracted to run the program phoned libraries or local pools to check on parents’ attendance.

The program aims to get parents “work-ready” after child-rearing. Single parents receiving the ParentsNext benefit are required to report their attendance at particular activities with their children to providers. Activities are based on an approved list, which includes storytime at a local library, swimming lessons, or a playgroup. Payments can be stopped for “not taking part in set activities”.

Read more:
More than unpopular. How ParentsNext intrudes on single parents’ human rights

Surveillance and policing parents

As critics have asserted, this kind of heavy-handed monitoring is problematic for many reasons. It is an example of the stigmatisation of single parents and policing of their parenting practices, despite the stated aim of the program being to help parents re-enter the workforce.

The policing of the program raises issues of privacy and devalues unpaid care work. It also shows a lack of any real understanding of the challenges of single parenting and of the additional barriers single mothers encounter (95% of those receiving the benefit are single mothers).

ParentsNext has been the subject of a Senate inquiry. It reported significant flaws in the program.

What is also deeply troubling is the enrolment of community workers and public spaces in the monitoring of parents. The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline, “The government parenting program turning librarians into snitches”, rightly captures this sense of outrage.

The CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) said: “If staff uphold library values of ‘free access’ and refuse to be complicit in the ParentsNext process, single parents can be denied essential payments. If we sign storytime attendance forms, we are supporting a system which penalises families already on the poverty line.”

In a nice twist of surveillance tactics, ALIA promises to report to the minister the names of ParentsNext providers who use storytime attendance – without prior consultation with the parents – to monitor families’ eligibility for welfare payments. While not explicitly challenging the practice of monitoring parents, it at least highlights the need for better consultation with parents.


A worrying aspect of ParentsNext is the expectation that staff working in community spaces will help monitor parents’ attendance.
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock


Protecting community spaces

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in Palaces for the People: how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarisation and the decline of civic life, argues that public libraries, schools and other community facilities are critical social infrastructure. They enhance community solidarity and protect against social isolation, particularly for new arrivals, young families and the elderly. They create resilient urban communities.

Ray Oldenburg described such spaces as “third places”: inclusive, egalitarian places outside of work and home, where people can socialise, converse and debate. Examples include churches, cafes, clubs and public libraries. Oldenburg argued that these places are important for civic engagement and democracy.

Community spaces like public libraries or playgroups are also important places of “everyday multiculturalism” where social differences are accommodated and diverse groups of people can interact. They can help shift prejudice and encourage tolerance and inclusion.

Crucially, third places are sites of voluntary attendance. The very fact that people are free to participate in these places makes them such valued sites of social support and leisure.


Third places are inclusive, egalitarian spaces where people can seek support and leisure.


Read more:
Many people feel lonely in the city, but perhaps ‘third places’ can help with that

Public libraries are spaces for social connection and support

In her short-story collection, Public Library and Other Stories (2015), Ali Smith argues that public libraries are often treasured spaces to which people feel a strong emotional connection. Libraries are places of discovery where people can “become on their own terms”. Local librarians work hard to create an atmosphere of non-judgment and inclusion.

At the same time, public libraries have always been a site for government agencies to interface with the community. Libraries promote an informed citizenry who can actively participate in democratic life. As with all public institutions, there is a fine line between informing and empowering citizens, and coercing them to conform to ideas about being a “good citizen”.

In this case, the line has been well and truly crossed. Activities that could be empowering and enjoyable become mandated, additional burdens, based on arbitrary criteria that appear to have little to do with work-readiness. Community spaces of social connection and support become sites of surveillance.

It is imperative to ask what this might mean for our city’s third places. Would this kind of monitoring lead vulnerable people to disengage from the very services they need most?

In the context of shrinking public spaces in the city and the withdrawal of social services, such third places are a bastion. We need to continue to advocate for the right of citizens to use these and other community spaces freely and according to their own needs, not those of a surveillance state.

Read more:
Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant

The Conversation

Rebecca Williamson, Research Officer, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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50 years after Australia’s historic ‘equal pay’ decision, the legacy of ‘women’s work’ remains

50 years after Australia’s historic ‘equal pay’ decision, the legacy of ‘women’s work’ remains

Leonora Risse, RMIT University

June 19, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Australia’s industrial relations system endorsing the principle of “equal pay for equal work”.

Yet, five decades on, a gender pay gap remains.

The 1969 decision was a breakthrough, but also highlighted the problem of putting principle into practice, given a legacy of past decisions being based on clear notions of “male” and “female” jobs.

While various factors contribute to the overall gender pay gap, about 30% is due to gender concentrations by industry and occupation.

Read more:
Will the real gender pay gap please stand up?

Decisions dating back a century have contributed to the unequal wage patterns we still see today, with female-dominated jobs clustered at the lower end of the pay spectrum.


ABS Census of Population and Housing 2016, and ABS Average Weekly Earnings 2018 (Cat No. 6302.0)., Author provided


It’s difficult to untangle today’s gender pay gap from the pages of history.

A living wage, but based on men

A gap between men’s and women’s pay was effectively established early in Australia’s centralised wage-fixing system.


Women working in the Sunshine Harvester factory during World War II.
Museum Victoria


In 1907, the first landmark decision of the new Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration set down the principle of the “family” or “living” wage.

In the Harvester Case (stemming from a pay dispute at Sunshine Harvester, a Victorian maker of farming equipment), the court decided 7 shillings a day was the minimum pay needed by an unskilled labourer – on the basis that the labourer was male and needed to provide for a wife and three children.

The decision laid the foundation for a national minimum wage, but also left female workers out of the picture.

Equal pay, but only for men’s work

The underlying presumption that a woman didn’t need to be paid as much as a man was confirmed by Justice Henry Bourne Higgins, the president of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, in the Fruit Pickers Case of 1912.

In this, the court’s first explicit ruling on women’s pay, Justice Higgins declared women should be paid the same as men – but only when they did jobs predominantly performed by men (such as blacksmiths) or were “in competition” with men (such as fruit-picking). This was out of concern that allowing a lower pay rate for women could put men out of work.

In jobs undertaken only or mainly by women, such as packing fruit, it was a different matter. A woman’s wage could be lower than a man’s, Justice Higgins said, under the assumption that women “have to find their own food, shelter, and clothing; not food, shelter and clothing of a family”.

It was men, he explained, who had the obligation to provide for their wife and children:

How is such a minimum applicable to the case of a woman picker? She is not, unless perhaps in very exceptional circumstances, under any such obligation.

Justice Higgins set the minimum pay for fruit-packing jobs – “in which men are hardly ever employed” – at 75% of that for fruit-picking. In the Clothing Trades Case of 1919, more concern about costs led him to decide the basic wage for women should be 54% of men’s.

This gender discrepancy in pay narrowed to 75% with World War II, when women stepped into jobs vacated by men and special regulations were enacted. This 75% rate was accepted as the standard in the 1949-50 Basic Wage Case.

Accepting equal pay, in principle

As social attitudes evolved, the 1950s and 1960s saw more women joining the paid workforce. Pressure grew to match international conventions on equal pay. Unions led by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, with a young Bob Hawke serving as their lead advocate, took up the cause.

In the 1969 Equal Pay Case, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (which had replaced the Court) finally accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work.

It tempered this acceptance, however, by acknowledging that putting the principle into practice would be complex:

While we accept the concept of “equal pay for equal work” implying as it does the elimination of discrimination based on sex alone, we realise that the concept is difficult of precise definition and even more difficult to apply with precision.


Zelda D’Aprano,a clerk at the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union, chained herself to the front doors of the building occupied Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
Museum of Australian Democracy


The “mere similarity in name of male and female classifications”, the commission said, “may not be enough to establish that males and females do work of a like nature”.

This meant the principle only immediately applied to women doing exactly the same work as men, and employed in predominantly male occupations. Fewer than one in five working women benefited from the outcome.

Three years later, the 1972 Equal Pay Case expanded on the 1969 principle to encompass “equal pay for work of equal value”, with a single rate for a job, regardless of gender.

But with women and men often finding themselves in different types of work – and the nature of that work often differing vastly – the dilemma of figuring out how to measure “work of equal value” remained. It persists to this day.

Finding a ‘comparable’ male job

Today’s Fair Work Commission has inherited the legacy of its past judgements.

To agree a low wage rate in an occupation dominated by females is an issue of gender inequality, Australia’s Fair Work Act requires identifying a “comparable” male occupation.

This means pointing to a job chiefly performed by men that is similar to the female job in skill requirements and job responsibility but higher paid. History shows finding such a “comparator” occupational group has been hard to achieve.

It’s a problem faced by those arguing for higher wages in occupations such as childcare.

It leads us to ask: how can we meaningfully measure and compare the value of jobs that are so different in nature?

Read more:
How skills and personality traits contribute to the gender pay gap

It’s an especially important question for jobs in areas such as
childcare, schooling and health services – which generate society-wide benefits but are not necessarily well-paid.

When the wider benefits of a job are not reflected by the market wage, this creates what economists call a market failure. It spells a role for governments to step in and correct it.

One innovative approach could be to use occupation-targeted lower income tax rates for jobs with high societal value.The Conversation

Leonora Risse, Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Can a sperm donor be a legal parent? In landmark decision, the High Court says yes

Can a sperm donor be a legal parent? In landmark decision, the High Court says yes


There are competing laws at the state and Commonwealth level that define who can be determined as a “parent,” a conflict the High Court decision did not necessarily clear up.


Cassandra Seery, Deakin University

On Wednesday, the High Court handed down a landmark decision that confirmed parentage rights to a man who donated his sperm to a woman who wanted to have a child.

The ruling could impact thousands of couples and single women whose children were conceived with known sperm donors.

It could also significantly impact the relationship between Commonwealth and state laws on parental matters in situations where children are born via artificial conception.

The facts of the case

Robert Masson and Susan Parsons (their court pseudonyms) had been friends for decades before deciding to “privately and informally” conceive a child in December 2006.

According to court documents, Masson was involved in the girl’s life from birth and developed a close relationship with her, including overnight visits and attending school performances. Masson was listed as the father on the girl’s birth certificate, and she refers to him as “Daddy.”

Read more:
Victoria’s world-first change to share sperm or egg donors’ names with children

After the girl was born, Parsons had a second child with her partner, who is not biologically related to Masson. In 2015, Parsons married her partner in New Zealand and wanted to relocate there permanently with the two children.

Masson took legal action to prevent the women from moving, a move that would have effectively separated him from his biological daughter.

Legal parentage considered in family court

In 2017, Justice Margaret Cleary of the family court prevented the mothers from relocating to New Zealand, finding that the two women were not in a de facto relationship at the time the girl was conceived.

As a result, Masson was recognised as the child’s legal parent based on a section of the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 that deals with the parentage of children born via artificial conception procedures.

In her ruling, Cleary gave weight to Masson’s intentions when the girl was conceived and his subsequent involvement in her life.

On appeal, the mothers argued that Cleary failed to consider a section of the NSW Children Act 1996 which states:

If a woman (whether married or unmarried) becomes pregnant by means of a fertilisation procedure using any sperm obtained from a man who is not her husband, that man is presumed not to be the father of any child born as a result of the pregnancy.

This section goes on to state that this presumption is irrebuttable.

The full family court agreed with this argument and found that this section of the state act must be applied when questions of parentage arise in a federal court.

Read more:
Secrets and lies: why donor-conceived children need to know their origins

As a consequence, Masson was presumed not to be the legal parent. The court also rejected the notion that a child can have more than two parents.

Masson filed an appeal to the High Court earlier this year. In an unusual step, both the Commonwealth and Victorian attorneys-general filed notices of intervention to argue which laws they believed should apply when determining parentage rights in sperm donor cases. (Victoria intervened because it had an interest in making sure state law was applied, even though the case originated in NSW.)

Can a sperm donor be a legal parent?

In this week’s ruling, a majority of the High Court found there was no reason to doubt Cleary’s conclusion that Masson was, in fact, a parent of the child.

The court concluded that the federal act’s definition of a parent was not exhaustive, and

the question of whether a person is a parent of a child born of an artificial conception procedure depends on whether the person is a parent of the child according to the ordinary, accepted English meaning of ‘parent’.

Interestingly, the court was silent on whether a child could have more than two legal parents, but did suggest that the federal act might support this assumption.

The majority pointed out that it was

unnecessary to decide whether a man who relevantly does no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure that results in the birth of a child falls within the ordinary accepted meaning of the word ‘parent’.

In this case, Masson had clearly demonstrated, in addition to being a sperm donor, that he had an ongoing involvement and relationship with the child, meeting the definition of “parent” under the federal act.

What is the impact of this decision?

This means that the federal act, which recognises a broad range of people who may qualify as parents, will apply in future cases seeking to determine parentage rights. This can now include sperm donors who demonstrate they meet the definition of a parent under the act in cases where the biological mother did not have a spouse at the time of conception.

Read more:
Your questions answered on donor conception and IVF

While the extension of the definition of “legal parent” to a sperm donor may initially appear to be far-reaching, the implications of this decision are limited.

A fundamental principle in family law is that the best interests of the child be a paramount consideration. As a consequence, there is a presumption that shared parental responsibility is also in a child’s best interests.

It is these underlying principles that have been applied in this case.

The High Court has arguably taken a common sense approach by recognising that any person – including a sperm donor – who is found to be taking on a parental role should share in the responsibilities of raising a child, under certain circumstances.

This decision does not open the door to custody battles from anonymous sperm donors who have never seen or had a relationship with their biological child. However, the ruling does point out that sperm donors who develop a relationship with their biological children may find themselves taking on the role of a “legal parent”, whether they intend to or not.

This could also serve as a deterrent for sperm donors who may have been open to some level of contact or connection with a child in the past. Now, many may refuse such contact in fear they could be found to have legal responsibilities – including possibly financial obligations – to their biological children.

The threshold at which a person transitions from “sperm donor” to “legal parent” remains somewhat unclear.

Ultimately, prospective parents, including those involved in arrangements that deal with artificial conception, have been put on notice that a child’s right to both parents is paramount – even where this might infringe on a parent’s individual rights.The Conversation

Cassandra Seery, Associate Lecturer in Law, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Businesses ‘ripped off’ by fake food truck supplier in $70,000 scam

Businesses ‘ripped off’ by fake food truck supplier in $70,000 scam

DOMINIC POWELL / Tuesday, May 7, 2019

food truck scam

Western Australia’s Consumer Protection Department has warned small-business owners in the state about a food truck and van seller who has allegedly scammed SMEs out of more than $70,000 after failing to supply them with trucks they had purchased.

The department claims the seller had taken on deposits and some full payments from business owners for trucks but had provided them nothing in return. In one case, a business owner replied to the man’s Gumtree advertisement and paid a $15,000 deposit, but was left empty-handed.

The seller is the sole director of CLC Group Pty Ltd, which trades as CLC Fabrications, and has a “dubious track record” according to WA Consumer Protection commissioner Lanie Chopping.

“[The seller] has history with our Department, previously operating as a painter without being registered, and now ripping off hard-working small businesspeople who can least afford to lose such large amounts of money,” Chopping said in a statement.

“The purchase of the vans or trailers was part of a desire by people to expand their existing business or to start a mobile business, but now their dreams have been shattered by trusting the wrong person.”

The seller had been prosecuted by Consumer Protection in the past after carrying out unregistered painting work and demanding excessive deposits for the work, with a $20,000 fine issued for the offences in 2016. The department has issued three warnings relating to the seller in the past.

“We strongly recommend that, considering [the seller’s] behaviour over many years, people should not do business with him and they should contact Consumer Protection if they encounter him. In the past, he has operated under various business names and has used many aliases.”

The department also warns SME owners away from making significant purchases on platforms such as Gumtree or Facebook, saying there should be extensive and “essential” due diligence, such as checking if the supplier has an ABN and doing a Google search for their name.

Public statements such as these from the country’s fair trading and consumer protection bodies serve as a warning to dodgy or disreputable business owners who are found to be doing the wrong thing, with departments such as New South Wales’ Office of Fair Trading issuing regular warnings about suspicious operators.

The department also maintains a monthly up-to-date list of the most complained about businesses in the state, which can lead to action from the office or from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Currently, online technology and white goods retailer Kogan is topping the list, with 56 complaints in March, followed by car rental business Atlas with 42 complaints.

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Phishing emails and human error: Almost 1,000 data breaches reported in 12 months

Phishing emails and human error: Almost 1,000 data breaches reported in 12 months

STEPHEN EASTON / Thursday, May 23, 2019

data breaches

There were 964 data breaches reported to the federal regulator in the first year of mandatory reporting rules, and “malicious or criminal attacks” were behind 60% of cases, with most of the remainder caused by human error and only 5% blamed on malfunctions.

In 17% of incidents, information about more than 1000 people was nicked, and contact details were exposed 86% of the time. Dodgy emails were the most common method of attack. Successful attempts at phishing or spear-phishing (the more targeted kind) were the cause of 153 data breaches.

In 28% of incidents, the target had no idea how access credentials were obtained (possibly from a past mass data breach). While human error was blamed for 35% of reported breaches overall, it was the cause of 55% in the health sector, and 41% in the finance sector.

Most data breaches happened in the health sector, where accidents like sending information to the wrong address were more common than attacks. Next in line was finance, followed by professional services, both of which saw slightly more malicious activity than human error. System errors rarely led to data breaches anywhere.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) received a total of 1,132 notifications in the year to March 31, 2019 — a massive 712% increase on 2017, under the previous voluntary reporting system. But not all counted as “eligible data breaches” under the law; 168 either came from entities that are exempt from the Privacy Act or did not meet the legislative criteria to be reported to the regulator.

Regulator leaves naming and shaming to the media

In the first year since the Notifiable Data Breach legislation took effect, information and privacy commissioner Angelene Falk has focused on encouraging better security practices and helping organisations comply with the regulations, which cover the private and public sectors.

She says the OAIC has “examined security practices and conducted inquiries to ensure containment, rectification and future mitigation of security risks” in some cases. “There have also been times when further regulatory action has been necessary, including issuing a direction to notify under s 26WR of the Privacy Act.”

Falk notes the scheme is expected to raise consumer confidence in the security of data people have already handed over to various organisations, and help them decide whether to trust “particular entities” with their personal information in the future. But the OAIC rarely names the organisations that report data breaches.

The legislation doesn’t allow her to do much naming and shaming but the commissioner hopefully suggests journalists can contribute towards these consumer-awareness outcomes.

“While the NDB scheme does not generally permit the OAIC to publish details about which entities have reported eligible data breaches, there has been a sustained interest from the media in reporting data breaches over the year, which has meant that in many cases, entities that have experienced a data breach have been in the public eye.

“This has led to growing awareness of privacy rights and issues amongst consumers and the risks inherent in putting information online, as well as proactive measures that every person can take to protect themselves,” she says.

Falk’s office has observed some organisations improving privacy and security standards in response to the new regulations, and minimising the data they collect to reduce risk. She says the OAIC has been able to “work constructively” with organisations when they have proactively come forward to discuss data breaches, or ask whether an incident meets the reporting threshold.

The commissioner reports “some maturation has been evident” in how organisations respond to data breaches over the year.

In the second year of the mandatory data breach reporting scheme, the OAIC will have higher expectations of organisations covered by the rules, in terms of their efforts to prevent breaches.

“This means taking reasonable steps to ensure that the necessary people, processes and technology are in place to prevent and respond to breaches. We also encourage entities to move beyond compliance to effectively support consumers.

“While the law obliges entities regulated under the Privacy Act to provide transparent and useful information to consumers, it is those entities who focus on the consumer and navigate beyond compliance to support affected individuals to take steps to minimise or prevent harm in a meaningful way who will differentiate themselves and maintain trust over time.”

The commissioner reports the OAIC will take “a proportionate and evidence-based regulatory approach” going forward and use its enforcement powers if necessary.

Few consumers trust government with data

Government organisations barely rate a mention in Angelene Falk’s report on data breaches, but even so, few consumers trust government organisations with their data, according to the latest Deloitte Privacy Index.

The “big brands” in the government sector ranked eighth out of 10 sectors, based on a survey of 1000 people about how much they trust 100 well-known organisations with their privacy, conducted for the consulting firm by Roy Morgan Research.

This year’s questions focused on consumer attitudes about smartphone apps, and found trust in the brands behind them was the main factor in the decision to hand over personal information for 65% of people.

Almost half of respondents (46%) said they gave false information in apps due to privacy concerns and privacy policies were not accessible in 22% of apps produced by the “top 100 brands” surveyed. “This means that the basic transparency requirements of privacy law in Australia are not being fully met,” comments the author of the report, David Batch.

Users could partially opt out of giving personal information to 59% of the apps, but only 21% of the organisations indicated the user could delete their personal data or ask for it to be deleted.

Deloitte makes much of the fact that 89% of respondents said they had denied permissions requested by apps to access their location, photos, contacts, camera or microphone, due to privacy concerns, and 63% have chosen to delete an app rather than grant the permissions.

When there’s no good alternative, however, most people just take the plunge despite their qualms.

“This year’s findings do indicate both a growing consumer awareness of, and ability to discern, good privacy practice,” Batch said.

“Nevertheless, some brands have such great market share because they effectively monopolise the goods or services in high consumer demand in their sector. In this instance, consumers will still interact with that brand’s app regardless of their level of trust in that brand.”

Article found HERE at SmartCompany.com.au

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