Historically speaking, breakfast television has never been the place to go for thoughtful reporting and commentary on welfare, but this morning’s entry from Sunrise was a particularly bad example.
Coming with the subtle headline DOLE BLUDGERS SHAMED, the piece posited that a huge proportion of people on welfare are deliberately “taking advantage” of the system. The basis for this claim is that 78% of Newstart recipients have had their payments suspended, and 61,747 people have had their payments suspended more than ten times.
New figures have been released, showing just how many dole bludgers are trying to take advantage of the welfare system. pic.twitter.com/8WG2sLNTHz
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) July 30, 2019
You can click through to the replies on that bad boy if you’re keen to gauge the general response.
To their credit, Sunrise political reporter Olivia Leeming was very open about the fact they received these figures from the government as part of a deliberate effort to “kill off some of the momentum that’s been building to lift the Newstart allowance.” When propaganda is that plain, you’ve got no choice but to respect it!
Of course, as anyone who has been on Newstart or any other kind of conditional Centrelink payment will tell you, having your payment suspended is basically a rite of passage when using the creaky compliance system which is engineered to kick people off for minor infractions. Or even when no actual infraction has actually taken place. To be honest, given the immiserating and unfair conditions created by Centrelink’s auditing procedures, it’s surprising that percentage figure isn’t measurably higher.
To hammer this point home further: as of the beginning of this month, private job agencies involved in the ‘mutual obligation’ program have had the capability to impose payment suspensions for a variety of reasons without actually having to run that decision through Centrelink at all. There’s an incredible lack of accountability applied to decisions which literally take the food out of Newstart recipients’ mouths – and, according to Sunrise, it’s proof of ‘dole bludgers’ taking advantage of the system.
After backlash, Sunrise host Nat Barr issued an apology on Twitter, conceding that the language used in the report was “badly phrased”.
You’re right. This was badly phrased and later corrected. I apologise. Nat https://t.co/6vvr4T8645
— nat barr (@natalie_barr) July 31, 2019
There’s absolutely no question that the government wants to turn the heat down on the increasing demands – including from its own backbench – to increase the Newstart payment. It’s well below poverty rate and hasn’t seen an increase in real terms in 25 years, ostensibly to encourage recipients into paid work – despite the fact there are at least five unemployed workers for every available job in Australia.
But that doesn’t mean we have to swallow their bullshit, or the media falling back on garbage tropes about bludgers to get the punters riled up.Image: Sunrise