Politics

#NotADoleBludger: People Are Slamming ‘Sunrise’ For Spreading Awful Myths About Newstart

People on Newstart deserve better than this.

Sunrise dole bludgers

This morning, Sunrise went ahead and parroted a dangerous lie, suggesting that the majority of people on Newstart are in fact “dole bludgers” trying to take advantage of the payment. The show is getting absolutely slammed for the segment, and rightly so — we’ve had this discussion far too many times in this country, and it should be clear by now that the myth of widespread “dole bludgers” is exactly that: a myth.

What’s more, it’s a myth that’s currently being pushed by the government, which is doing everything it can to avoid raising the incredibly low Newstart payment to a liveable wage. In this morning’s segment, Sunrise referred to “new figures” that supposedly show “just how many dole bludgers are trying to take advantage of the welfare system”. Those figures were released today by the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Michaelia Cash, and they don’t actually tell us anything about “dole bludgers”.

What the figures actually show is that 78 percent of Newstart recipients have had their payments suspended at least once. Payments are suspended when Newstart recipients don’t meet obligations for receiving Newstart such as searching for jobs or showing up for interviews.

On the basis of that information alone — that 78 percent of Newstart recipients have had their payments suspended at some point — Sunrise concluded that there are “dole bludgers” taking advantage of the system. It doesn’t take much research to poke holes in this theory, because there has been widespread evidence for many years of Newstart recipients having their payments suspended unfairly.

In 2018, leading economist Chris Richardson summed things up pretty well when he said that “we here in Australia don’t have a dole-bludger problem — what we have is a society that is unnecessarily cruel.”

Don’t take his word for it, though — take the word of the masses of actual Newstart recipients who are taking to social media, once again, to describe the reasons their payments (which, FYI, amount to just $17 a day after housing costs) were cut off.

People have described having their payments suspended after travelling to see dying relatives, even after informing employment agencies that this was the reason they were missing meetings. People have been suspended after running five minutes late to a job interview due to public transport faults. People have been suspended due to administrative errors that were no fault of their own.

When you consider the stress of trying to survive on just $17 a day, let alone attend all meetings and appointments on time, it’s little wonder that the majority of Newstart recipients have received at least one suspension. That’s not evidence of laziness, dole-bludging or people exploiting the system. If anything, the revelation that the majority of welfare recipients cannot actually abide by the program’s requirements is evidence that that program’s requirements are unfair.

All of this should be pretty obvious by this stage, seeing as we’ve been having debates about the myth of widespread “dole bludgers” in this country for years now. The fact that the government conveniently released these statistics in the middle of a debate about raising Newstart should have been a big old red flag. But Sunrise ran this story anyway.

Sunrise isn’t even alone in propping up the government’s propaganda on this issue. All of this week, the government has insisted that there is no money available to raise the Newstart payment — two days ago, Scott Morrison referred to a Newstart raise as “unfunded empathy”.

This is despite the fact that the very same government delivered substantial tax cuts to wealthy Australians just a few weeks ago. And yet instead of pressing the government on that point, ABC News Breakfast this morning asked viewers “would you be prepared to give back part of your tax cut in order to raise #Newstart”, adopting the government’s rhetoric about a Newstart raise somehow “taking” from other Australians.

It’s disappointing to see media playing into the government’s strategy instead of questioning it. It’s especially disappointing to see Sunrise trotting out the tired old “dole bludger” myth once again, because we know it’s not true, and we know it hurts efforts to see the Newstart payment lifted.

For what it’s worth, Sunrise has both apologised and released an updated segment clarifying that payment suspensions aren’t an indication of “dole-bludging”. We should be past making this kind of mistake, though. Simply viewing Newstart recipients as actual human beings should be enough to prevent it.

If you have a spare moment today, take a look at the #NotADoleBludger hashtag, and listen to what people receiving Newstart have to say.