I am the 'bludger' the politicians warn you about


Thirty-one year old Tara Schultz has grown up in poverty, survived sexual abuse and has cared for family members. Despite facing life’s greatest challenges - all when she was young - Tara has survived, has completed a university degree and is a passionate voice for her community. One thing she has learned from this election: the poor help politicians, but politicians don’t help the poor.

Video above: Could you live on forty dollars a day?

My brother, my father, my mother and my step-mother all receive welfare payments. I am on Newstart. We are the "derros", the "druggies" – the outsiders – the ones without the willingness to pull on our bootstraps.

There was nothing in this election cycle that would give us much hope of mobility from welfare to a working income. No real, tangible policy that would help me and others like me actually flourish, get jobs, or live stable, healthy lives.

There has been nothing any of us could understand.

The politicians might as well speak another language: negative gearing, capital gains tax, franking credits.

I have never had a full-time job. Looking at the election policies, I don't know what it's like to be concerned about what tax bracket will get what refund from which party. I don't know what it's like to be worried about negative gearing, capital gains tax or private health insurance.

I know what it's like to struggle on welfare and try to keep those you love alive and healthy.

I know what it's like to deal with poverty, being needed to care for severely sick family members, mental illness, drug disorders, having to navigate the justice system, domestic violence, homelessness, public housing wait lists, and a punitive welfare system.

When you are just trying to survive, it doesn't leave you much time to muse over the finer details of policies.

I was suspended from school over twelve times, mostly for skipping class, sometimes for stealing food. After being expelled and becoming homeless at fourteen, I was exploited by a predatory sex offender who kept me docile with a steady stream of drugs. There was little, if any, intervention.

I was on benefits by sixteen.

I have fines from trains I took when I was homeless. I have debts exceeding several thousand from when I fled my abuser. A first home owner grant is not something that is at the forefront of my mind with my credit history.

My father, in his hope to provide for us kids and our step-mother, signed on to a predatory rent-to-buy scheme for low income earners. The house was decrepit. The mold impacted their breathing, the roof was falling apart, and water came through the light fixtures. The repayments barely covered the interest, ensuring an endless cycle of debt.

Ethan Robson Photographer
Tara Schultz was on benefits by sixteen.
Ethan Robson Photographer

This was how he navigated the housing market. Our inheritance to get ahead.

I have cared for my family my whole life – a family who finds voting utterly laughable.

Who represents us? None of my family, bar myself, is even enrolled to vote.

I keep fighting for a better life. I started university, but had to drop out during my second year to look after dad before he passed. There was no one who could adequately care for him, and so that burden fell to me. Lung cancer got him at fifty-nine.

After he passed, his widow, a cancer survivor, who suffers from agoraphobia and PTSD had no way of caring for herself, so I stayed to care for her.

She couldn't afford to replace the heater in this dilapidated house, and wound up with a five thousand dollar electricity bill after she was forced to buy something cheap to keep her warm and ward of pneumonia. In the end, she had to abandon the property, unable to keep up with the payments.

Anthony Albanese at a Balmain pub the day after the election.
Anthony Albanese at a Balmain pub the day after the election.

I had to move away to care for my mother who has schizophrenia, so I contacted a community service which sent a worker to visit my step-mother weekly, to help her with all the things that were previously my job.

The government cut these services, so the worker no longer comes. Like many she is suffering from continued cuts to mental health services and is unable to access the NDIS. There is no one to even get her to an appointment for the NDIS anyway.

With Labor in damage control, Anthony Albanese's language of "blue collar workers" and "ordinary mums and dads" shows a party continuing to compromise, still trying to avoid "class" 'issues that impact the most marginalised in the community.

"We need to be able to explain how government can ensure change is in the interest of working people," he said.

I see politicians at pubs drinking with the working class, I see them rubbing shoulders with the elite. I have never seen them set foot in a day program, a drop-in center, or a community health organization.

There isn't much my family and I can expect from the political world when this is how the world sees us.

We are expected to operate in their world – submit to drug testing for your payments, face demerits if you can't get to your appointments – but these so-called representatives don't come into our world to connect with us.

The undeserving poor are not part of the democratic institutions played with by the wealthy. We are the punching bag.

There is no representation for us, and voting is not at the forefront of your mind when you are staring ominously at your roof when it rains and listening for signs of it falling in.

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