Former Labor MP suggesting Aboriginal women are kept pregnant as welfare “cash cows” is utterly degrading, and does nothing to benefit the mature debate we should have around welfare reliance and Indigenous recognition, writes Patricia Karvelas.
When former Labor MP Gary Johns said poor women – particular Aboriginal women – were being kept pregnant as “cash cows” for welfare money, it was not just a “clumsy” use of language. Johns has form when it comes to talking about the nation’s poorest people.
Late last year he wrote an op-ed saying if a person’s sole source of income was welfare, they should only receive that welfare if they are on contraception. The notion that women would be deprived of reproductive control and forced onto birth control drugs by the state is so deeply out of step with the values we’ve built in this nation he was roundly dismissed and ridiculed at the time.
So when Johns made the new statements during Channel Ten’s Bolt Report program on Sunday, where he was discussing constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians with Andrew Bolt – it was unsurprisingly but equally disappointing. The fact that Johns thinks both his language and his argument can be defended is the most tragic part.
“A lot of poor women in this country, a large proportion of whom are Aboriginal, are used as cash cows,” he said. “They are kept pregnant and producing children for the cash. Now, that has to stop.”
The trouble is, there is no evidence of a pregnancy industry where women are kept "pregnant" for "cash". There are complex reasons why many poorer women have more children, including lack of education and lack of employment. The complexity is important.
Those factors are real, and courageous Indigenous leaders have been advocating for big changes to transform this.
But the argument that these women are having child after child singularly for welfare largesse is inaccurate and mischievous. There is no evidence that it's happening exclusively for the "cash".
Comparing poor and Aboriginal women to "cash cows" is beyond comprehension. It is so utterly degrading to the Indigenous women in this country and deserves widespread rebuke.