Note to a former Minister: Children are not a privilege of the rich.



Today a former Labor Minister suggested that Australia would be a much nicer place if poor people just wouldn’t breed so much.

Gary Johns, who served as a Minister in the Keating Government, said that people claiming government assistance – specifically the dole – should be forced to show that they were taking contraception to receive the money they need to live on.

Oh sorry, did I say people? I meant to say, “women”. Because that is who Johns was really talking about in his column for The Australian today.

Gary Johns, a former Keating Government Minister.

Johns’ column opens:

“If a person’s sole source of income is the taxpayer, the person, as a condition of benefit, must have contraception. No contraception, no benefit.”

Under his proposal, which he insists should be seriously considered and attract bipartisan support, women would not receive any government assistance unless they can show their pill prescription to Centrelink.

“So when a person applies for a benefit you have to bring along a note from the doctor, that I have now taken the following drug, and will remain on it while I am on the dole,” Johns suggests, helpfully.

People drawing government assistance should be forced to prove they’re taking contraception, says Mr Johns. 

And it gets worse.

Just to ram home exactly who he’s talking about in his opinion piece, Johns draws an exceptionally ugly link between parents drawing government assistance and the mother accused of murdering her eight children in Cairns earlier this month.


“A single mother with nine children from five fathers … better this woman had fewer children,'” he wrote in his column.

Johns eluded to the death of eight children in Cairns as part of his argument

It’s difficult to know where to start with how ridiculously offensive this proposal is.

Even if we’ve don’t talk about the fact that people who are on income support are not there by choice.

Even if we discount the fact that Johns is targeting people with a disability, people who are injured or unwell, people who are in work but on perilously low wages – all through no fault of their own.

Even if we can overlook that his proposal consciously and offensively discriminates against people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and young people. Even if we discount how invasive and unethical it is to ask someone to be medicated to receive a benefit.

Even then, this idea is still unbelievably outrageous because of this:

Children are not a privilege of the rich.

They are not a luxury to which a fortunate few are entitled.

If Mr Johns and others begin to legislate around who can and can’t reproduce, where do we set the bar? How much money should you have to earn in order to be allowed to breed?

If you to receive the child-care rebate, or a family tax benefit, are you allowed to have children?


It’s a ridiculous rabbit hole. And entirely unnecessary to explore, because all that matters are these basic, decent ideas:

People who already have few options do not need even less control over their lives.

People who are already struggling do not need their dignity further eroded. They do not need the humiliation of being chemically castrated because of misfortune, of having to prove to a stranger that no, they are not worthy of reproducing.

People who have lost their jobs, or their ability to earn a living, do not also deserve to also lose one of the most basic human rights.

Babies –  a privilege of the rich?

If Mr Johns is talking about making safe, reliable contraception free or cheap and easily accessible to all, then he’s very welcome to give that his best shot.

Women would welcome that.

But this is what women do not welcome – having their life’s decisions judged and dictated by someone with no understanding of their circumstance.

Women will never welcome that.

Do you agree? Or do you think Johns’ proposal has merit?