The AFR Compared Poor People To “Weasels” In A Completely Cooked Op-Ed

"The poor are still a force that Australia needs to properly harness."

pru goward welfare

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

In news that is shockingly not a joke, former Liberal MP and Minister for Social Housing Pru Goward has penned a lengthy opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review on how we need to “harness” the poor.

“They are damaged, lacking in trust and discipline, and highly self-interested. But the poor are still a force that Australia needs to properly harness,” Goward writes in the AFR.

For those unfamiliar, Goward was a member of the New South Wales Liberal Party between 2007 and 2019, holding various positions including Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Minister for Mental Health, and perhaps most ironically, Minister for Social Housing.

In a lengthy opinion piece titled ‘We Underestimate The Underclass Pru references classic literature like The Wind in the Willows and George Orwell’s 1984 as she describes her “lifelong fascination with the underclass” in a scathing attack on the poor, specifically welfare recipients.

“As a shopkeeper’s daughter, I understood poor people; they obeyed the law, worked hard, sent their kids to the same primary schools I attended and were equally ambitious for their children. But the underclass, small as it then was, behaved differently,” Goward writes. “Like the stoats and weasels of the Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows, yet another English children’s book on the topic of class, they rejected the rules and lived by their own. They were to be feared and were, to use my mother’s words, not very nice. It took Orwell to turn the noble Marxist proletariat into the proles.

“Government agencies view them with alarm as huge cost centres; they are over-represented in their huge use of government crisis services and are always the last to give up smoking, get their shots and eat two servings of vegetables a day,” she continues, citing precisely zero evidence to back these claims.

She then doubles down by asserting that welfare recipients display “appalling housework, neglect of their children and, notably, [a] sharp and unrepentant manner when told to lift their game by the patronising do-gooder.”

She also asserts that they were “a significant part of the anti-vax protests”, with no mention of the fact that the largest voices in this conversation in Australia have been media figures, influencers, and even politicians, not welfare recipients. Interestingly, Goward’s spiel also mentions how kids on welfare grow up with fewer job prospects but neglects to mention the immense amount of privilege that comes from the sheer luck of being born into any sort of wealth, and how Australia does very little to close this major inequality issue.

Thankfully, Goward is solutions-oriented in the AFR piece, suggesting that we “can do better to harness the force that the people of the underclass represent.”

“So as long as we keep looking at the billions of dollars they cost us, we will continue to dislike them, reject them and write them off,” she says, speaking for herself and not those of us who manage to make it through our days without taking a giant shit on the poor. “Yet, in an age when cultural hegemony is now as strong as it was 70 years ago, only different, never have we needed them more to challenge modern meekism.”

Unfortunately, Goward Is Not Alone Here

But while it’s all well and good to point the finger at Goward, it’s also important to remember that she is far from the only Australian who shares this view. Not only did the Australian Financial Review publish it, but thousands of — presumably upper-middle class — Australians will read it and continue to hold this belief that the “proles” are villains that are tearing down our great country, rather than our neighbours and friends who deserve support.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Goward — and anyone who shares this same us vs them, ‘dole-bludger’ view about welfare recipients — is the fact that these comments come after a year in which more Australians were pushed closer to the poverty line than perhaps ever before. Active members of the workforce were unable to do their jobs, business owners who worked hard to make a life for themselves were forced to close their doors, and unless you had a nice trust fund to fall back on — or were lucky enough to be in the few industries still working — more than 3.5 million of us the “stoats and weasels” Goward is attacking.

Not to mention, most of us experienced welfare at a much more desirable rate than it had been previously. Prior to the pandemic, the maximum Newstart rate (as it was called before JobSeeker) was a measly $277.85 per week. But even as it currently stands post-COVID, JobSeeker recipients only receive a maximum payment of $44.96 per day as a single person without children.

That $45 per day needs to cover all living expenses including food, rent, bills, clothing and everything else you need to live. So if you think welfare recipients are somehow living a carefree life drinking beers and smoking cigarettes all day at the taxpayer’s expense, I invite you to do the maths for yourself.

Junkee has reached out to the Editor-In-Chief of the Australian Financial Review for comment.