March 2015

I have had a strange couple of days. Apparently some loon is going to “find out exactly who” I am and why I’ve apparently been “exposing union members’ mothers’ addresses to violent criminals”.

It’s just one of a string of bizarre messages I have received since a Cooma based garbage collector and a Melbourne based neo-Nazi posted claims that I was behind the website Reclaim What.

The neo-Nazi is a bloke named Neil Luke Erikson, he calls himself “Nationalist Republican Guard” online. The Cooma based garbage collector is Shermon Burgess, a flag wrapped Islamophobe who has been promoting a series of anti-islamic rallies due to be held on April 4.Watch movie online Get Out (2017)

Reclaim Australia

On its Facebook page Reclaim Australia is described as a “grass roots movement” to “stand together to stop halal tax, sharia law & islamisation”. It is the initiative of Shermon Burgess, the self-described “Great Aussie Patriot”, a man with form on the Australian far-right.

Burgess has now tried to conceal and distance himself from his previous record of promoting crude racism and racial vilification, but the remnants of his politics remain online for all to see. Some of the classier examples of his racism are the tunes he released as the lead singer in far-right band Eureka Brigade. Perhaps you have heard hits such as “Shit on a Mosque”, “Clockwork and the Shermonator” and “ADL Killing Machine”?

This is Shermon in “Shit on a Mosque (It’s what we do)”:

“We’ll shit on a mosque, she’ll be right,
punch some muslims and have a good time,
Ralph Cerminara will show you his might”

And these are some of lyrics from “ADL killing machine”:

“No sharia or halal,
time to get the .50 cal,
We’ll fight you fuckers to the end!
We like Buddhists Sikhs and Jews,
and the Christians too,
but there’s no fucking room for you!”

The rest are similarly awful, both in their racism and in their absence of any musical talent.

As you can probably guess from the lyrics, Shermon Burgess is a member of the Australian Defence League (ADL). The ADL is an attempt by the far-right in Australia to replicate the success of the UK based street gang the English Defence League.

Shermon’s music makes multiple glowing references to the antics of Sydney based military imposter Ralph Cerminara. Cerminara was the supposed president of the Australian Defence League who came to public attention last year when he led a comic attempt to attack the Islamic community in Lakemba. Cerminara and an accomplice went to the mosque in Lakemba, taunted locals, started a brawl, and were quickly arrested. By all accounts Cerminara and his accomplice copped a beating.

On an aside, Burgess is also on the record expressing delightful opinions about indigenous Australians:

“I have met some nice aboriginal people, right, but they are few and far between. Really, so many of them are just dickheads, you see them passed out on metho and bludging cigarettes, and still blaming the modern generation for what happened two hundred years ago”

Burgess has tried to bury his politics and reinvent himself as the supposedly mainstream ‘Great Aussie Patriot’, but his ongoing association with neo-Nazis gives lie to this supposed transformation.

Neil Erikson and the NRG

I must confess I had no idea who Melbourne based neo-Nazi Neil Erikson was until he decided I was behind Reclaim What (I’m not).

Erikson made the news last year after being arrested for making threatening phone calls to a Melbourne Rabbi:

Neil Luke Erikson, 29, phoned Rabbi Dovid Gutnick of Melbourne City Synagogue on three occasions, telling him “Give me the money Jew or else I will get you” and abusing him for his faith.

He also spoke of circumcisions, blood money and Jewish sidelocks and told Rabbi Gutnick he knew his location and was coming to get him.

Neil Erikson was a key part of the Melbourne neo-Fascist grouplet Nationalist Alternative before it imploded late last year; he has since gone on to establish the oddly named Nationalist Republican Guard.

Neil Erikson (left) and members of Nationalist Alternative at a neo-Nazi rally in 2012.

Neil Erikson (left) and members of Nationalist Alternative at a neo-Nazi rally in 2012. Photo and info h/t slackbastard.

The connection between Neil Erikson and Shermon Burgess has come to the fore in recent weeks as they seek to battle the (real or perceived) enemies of Reclaim Australia.

Unsurprisingly, as a racist organising a series of racist rallies, Burgess has received a variety of attention from anti-racists of all sorts. He appears to have been particularly irritated by the website Reclaim What who posted contact details for his employers at Cooma Shire and requested supporters phone and complain about the racist politics of one of their garbage collectors.

Neil Erikson is assisting Burgess in responding to his critics; under the name NRG Prop he has produced a series of videos attacking individuals he believes are responsible for the criticism of Shermon Burgess. Burgess is in turn quick to post and promote the various theories advanced by Erikson, in some cases beating him to the punch.

And how I fit into this…

It seems Neil Erikson has decided that I publish Reclaim What. Two days ago Shermon Burgess posted some screen shots from my Facebook profile, twitter account and personal website on his Facebook page with the caption:

Everyone we have been busy with our Hacker department working flat out but we have traced the Left Wing owner of the webpage and facebook page and this is the man who gives out patriots personal addresses, writes up fake blogs. Here you can see who he is and…

(I’m working from a screen shot published by Reclaim What, the original message has since been removed).

In the days since Burgess put the above message on his Facebook page, Erikson has released a couple of videos poking fun at some old (and admittedly awful!) videos on my youtube account and vaguely threatening to find out who I ‘really’ am. I’ve also received a few weird text messages, and Facebook friends have contacted me in concern after receiving messages like this:

The kind of message weirdos are sending to my Facebook friends.

The kind of message weirdos are sending to my Facebook friends. If you receive anything like this, screen shot it for posterity and block the weirdo in question.

Which brings us to…

Union Member’s Mother’s Addresses!

Earlier tonight Erikson released a video claiming I had published his mother’s (???) address online. As best I can work out someone using the handle Death Sec has published a mobile phone number and a street address they claim belong to Erikson. The Facebook page Reclaim What then shared this info, and Erikson is livid. These are his remarks from that video:

Boy do we have more news on this Kieran Bennett fellow. It seems going from online he’s a supporter and organiser for NUW union. I am sorry to say mate, the person you exposed, Neil Erikson, you put his mothers address online, to incite violence against his mothers house. The funny thing is Neil Erikson is a member of the NUW union. He’s gonna find out exactly who you are Kieran Bennett and why you are exposing union members mothers addresses to violent criminals.

It’s a laugh a minute from these guys.

For the Record

Time to get a few things straight. I doubt the increasingly unhinged Shermon Burgess and his neo-Nazi friend will pay much attention to this, but for everyone else:

First: I don’t publish, write for, or contribute to Reclaim What. It’s nice to see people are sticking it to the racists though, even if I disagree with their tactical approach.

Second: Contacting Shermon’s boss to whinge about his political activity is silly at best and dangerous at worst. I am no fan of asking employers to police the political opinions of workers, primarily because the first target for such repression has long been the left. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the…” anyone?

Third: I’m not in the habit of posting political opponents’ home addresses or private phone numbers online. Not even the racist ones. Petty online harassment will not defeat the political agenda of racism and fascism. Victory over the far right requires organizing in our workplaces, communities and streets.

Post Script

If you are in one of the major cities on April 4 there are rallies opposing Reclaim Australia planned in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Canberra, Brisbane, and Adelaide.

Full Text

The dole is a poverty payment. People who rely on the Newstart allowance from Centrelink are living in poverty.

The Poverty Line

A poverty line is a tool for calculating whether a person is or is not living in poverty. Broadly, the two most common ways are to calculate a percentage of average income (a relative measure), or the amount of money required to buy a basket of goods (an absolute measure)1.

A relative measure of poverty assumes that poverty is tied to income inequality, and that having much less than everyone else is poverty. With this understanding of poverty, the amount of material resources that a person ‘in poverty’ might have access to varies according to the level of wealth in a given society. This can seem counter intuitive to people operating with a ‘common sense’ understanding of poverty, an understanding that sees poverty as a state of absolute material deprivation. The alternative is an ‘absolute’ measure, the most common of these used in Australia is the so-called Henderson poverty line.

The [Henderson] poverty lines are based on a benchmark income of $62.70 for the December quarter 1973 established by the Henderson poverty inquiry. The benchmark income was the disposable income required to support the basic needs of a family of two adults and two dependant children.

Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic Research, 2014, Poverty Lines Australia, September 2014.

There are several weaknesses with an ‘absolute’ approach such as the Henderson poverty line. First, it assumes the level of material goods required to sustain a person or family unit is unchanging and constant. In reality, our material existence under capitalism is constantly being transformed. What would Professor Ronald Henderson have made of ‘one laptop per child’ or the internet as a human right in 1973?

This points to the second major problem, an absolute measure of poverty is grounded in the values and ideas of the person or institution that decides on the associated basket of goods. Is a person ‘in poverty’ if they cannot afford healthcare, education, contraception, and so on? I suspect most Australians would say yes, but I doubt it is a view shared by our government.

I’ve gone off on a tangent.

Whether we calculate an absolute poverty line like Henderson, or a relative poverty line such as ‘less than 50% of median income’, the dole falls well short.

The most recent calculation of the Henderson poverty line estimates that a single person requires at least $342.14 a week 2, or $17,791.28 a year, to get by. Assuming they don’t need to pay for housing. It’s crazy, but most calculations of a poverty line bracket out housing3.

The most common relative measure of the poverty line is ‘50% of median income’4. The Australian Council of Social Services’ (ACOSS) regular report on Poverty in Australia calculates a poverty line as 50% of median disposable income (that is income after tax, after bracketing out housing)5. Using this methodology ACOSS’ 2014 report calculates a poverty line of $400.30 a week for a single adult.

To get an idea of how conservative these measures of poverty are, it’s worth comparing the various poverty line figures to crude average earnings. In November 2014 the average adult weekly full time wage was $1,476.30 a week (before tax), or $76,767.60 a year6. Half this amount would be $738.15 a week.

So how does the dole stack up? The current full rate of the Newstart Allowance pays unemployed workers a miserly $257.30 a week, or $13,40.60 a year.

The dole is $84.84 a week below the Henderson poverty line, $143.00 a week below the ACOSS relative measure of poverty and $477.85 a week below 50% average wage. No matter which way you slice the numbers, the dole is well below the poverty line.

The extent to which the dole in Australia is below the poverty line has been progressively increasing in Australia. Superficial increases in the dole are tied to the Consumer Price Index:

“Unemployment payments fell from 46 per cent of median household income in 1996 – a little below a conventional relative poverty line – to 36 per cent in 2009-10, a long way below such a poverty line,”

Whereas Newstart and the age, disability and carers pensions were once roughly similar, different methods of indexation adopted in 1997 mean the gap is now more than $200 a fortnight

Newstart increases in line with the consumer price index while pension payments increase with average male wages. The Centrelink website says this means Newstart grows “in line with increases to the cost of living” but the cost of living for beneficiaries has been climbing faster than the CPI.

“Since 1998, the special analytical price index for beneficiaries has risen by about 5 per cent more than the CPI, meaning using this measure their real incomes have fallen,” Professor Whiteford says in the report.

The dole is configured to continue sliding deeper and deeper into poverty territory.


The dominant ideas around the dole and unemployment justify welfare poverty on the basis that those on poverty payments have only themselves to blame. The unemployed worker is being punished for failing to “get a job”, something we’re told they could readily achieve if only they tried hard enough.

It is of course, bullshit.

There are at least 11 people seeking every advertised job vacancy in Australia. 782,000 people are officially recognized as unemployed, but the real rate of unemployment is much higher. A further 875,000 people are underemployed, they work at least one hour a week but need more. At least 1.8 million people are applying for the estimated 150,000 job vacancies in Australia at present.

This unemployment and under-employment is no accident. It is created by capitalism, and serves it’s ends:

It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same. … a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus population becomes … a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital … it creates, for the changing needs of the self-expansion of capital, a mass of human material always ready for exploitation …

The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active labour-army; during the periods of over-production and paroxysm, it holds its pretensions in check.

Marx, 1867, ‘Progressive Production of a Relative surplus population or Industrial Reserve Army‘, Capital Vol 1.

Capitalism makes use of unemployment to drive down wages and discipline employed workers. You better not play up because there are eleven more where you came from… The dole is necessary in this situation to maintain unemployment, the crude fact is that the ‘reserve army of labour’ would quickly starve to death if there were no form of social support available.

By keeping levels of social support at miserably low levels, capital and the state maintain the coercive power of unemployment. By keeping the unemployed in poverty, unemployed workers can be forced back into whatever work is offered, whenever capital needs it, at whatever wages are on offer.

Even the most ambitious plans to end welfare poverty that are discussed publicly in Australia do not undermine this basic logic. The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young is arguing for a $50 per week increase in the dole, a figure that would still leave the dole below the Henderson poverty line, and which would do nothing to solve the indexation trap. To give The Greens some credit, their position is at least significantly better than the government’s plans to drive pensioners into the same CPI trap as dole claimants.

Why I say ‘Double the Dole!’

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union has adopted a demand to increase all welfare payments to the Henderson poverty line, that is to $400 per week. It is one thing to make an argument that no one should live below the poverty line, but there are real reasons we should argue and fight for welfare payments well above poverty levels.

Earlier this month the union movement called a national day of action against the government’s attacks on “our living standards”. I and some friends went along around a banner that read “Double the Dole”, unfortunately many at that rally did not see defending the welfare system as defending “our living standards”. It is unfortunate, because doubling the dole (and indexing welfare payments to wages) would benefit every worker in Australia.

At it’s present poverty levels, the dole systematically undermines the pay and conditions of all workers. When a person can’t make ends meet on a poverty payment, they are left with little option but to take whatever is on offer, even if that is a dangerous cash-in-hand job for $3 an hour. A liveable dole, a dole payment that did not result in a precarious miserable existence, would act as a floor on wages and would limit the ability of bosses to engage in this kind of hyper-exploitation.

A liveable dole would rob bosses of one of their key forms of power. The power to hire and fire is terrifying to workers because unemployment can mean homelessness, hunger, relationship breakdown, and all manner of humiliation and misery. If we fight to remove the misery and humiliation associated with the dole the threat of being fired would be less potent and we would improve the position of every worker.

Demanding an end to poverty level welfare payments should not simply be a moral argument about children in poverty or “the unfortunate”, it should be a passionate argument for justice and solidarity. Unemployment is created by capitalism and benefits the bosses. We can and should demand that capitalism pay, and pay reasonably, for the labour it has caused to stand idle.

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