A man who wishes to be known only as The Graduate reminds us there is life on the other side.
Here’s how it works. When you finish your degree, Centrelink terminates your Youth Allowance or Austudy payment in the manner that, according to Tony Abbott, women terminate pregnancies: eagerly and with relish. If you’re not employed, your best option is to sign up for the dole, or Newstart, as Centrelink optimistically calls it. However before they approve your application you’re required to have an initial meeting with an employment agency, whose job it is to help you find work. This brings me to my point; last week I met with the one I was assigned to. Oops, sorry – I know it’s grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. Let me try again.
Last week I met with the agency I was assigned to, which was totally fucked.
I knew I was in trouble when, among the wad of forms I had to complete, I found a page that required me to select my job preferences from a list of about 70 options. I got to choose from things like Bottle Shop Attendant, Shearer, Boner (1), Don’t Know, and Food Preparation. Oh, and Editor/Poof Reader. Offended? I was too. It’s not that I sneer at so-called menial jobs or the people who do them; such jobs must be done, and indeed before I went to university I was the one what done ’em – dish pig, cook, waiter, retail assistant, etc. But I had hoped that a bachelor degree with an HD average and two years of casual employment experience in the field of communications might have at least earned me a melamine work station in the open-plan office of some dull government agency. Things were not, however, so straightforward.
Like Katie Holmes on Tom’s annual Insemination Night, I found myself with no choice but to acquiesce. So once I’d checked the box next to Poof Reader and completed the rest of the forms, I had my sit-down meeting with my amiable case manager. Graham was his name, and he asked me all the same questions you ask when you’re speed dating (2)– do you have any criminal convictions, do you have any children, what is the total value of your personal assets, do you have a medical condition that may prevent you from finding employment, etc.
When there was finally a break in the question-and-answer, I said, “I think there’s a mistake on one of those forms.”
Graham kept typing. Some seconds later, with his vacant stare fixed on the monitor and his head hanging to one side, limp with ennui, he sighed and said, “What did you do wrong?”
“No, there’s a typo. It’s meant to say Proof Reader, but it’s missing the r.”
He laughed once, jerking as if receiving a shock of defibrillation. Then smirking, he said, “Are you sure? Maybe it’s right and the second word’s meant to be ‘leader’?” I couldn’t believe they’d seen fit to entrust my employment prospects to this doltish lump.
As he resumed typing I sat clenching my teeth amid the crab-like scuttle of his touch-typing, the insufferable timbre of his heavy breathing, and the groan of his office chair straining beneath his bovine mass. Finally, Graham looked up and said, “Okay, we’re done.” He stood up and leaned over his desk to shake my hand. His grip was limper than a Skill Tester and as I recoiled from his stale breath, I glimpsed an image that’ll stay with me forever; his belt was tightened like a tourniquet, cutting in deep beneath the precipice of his mighty paunch. Poor Graham. But at the same time, fuck Graham and his homophobic joke.
Six days have passed since then and I am now the grateful recipient of the Newstart Allowance, which pays $492.60 per fortnight. It’s wonderful that we have it, but it’s tough to live off in this town. I have to walk everywhere, I’m fucking pov and all I can afford to eat is bread and instant noodles.
So let this be a lesson, my pretties. Be sure to secure employment before you complete your studies, lest you should find yourself in my threadbare shoes: just one more jobless, lefty, pinko wanker with an arts degree and a bowel obstruction.
And pray you never find yourself beholden to the likes of Graham.
1. Insert dick joke here.