Welfare advocacy groups are asking for the Coalition government to bring them in on major policy announcements after scrambling to get on top of the McClure report, which they were not warned would be released this week.
The report into the long awaited review of the social welfare system was dropped early on Wednesday morning, but disability and welfare groups were left trying to piece together its contents from media reports.
Maree O'Halloran, Director of the Welfare Rights Centre, said her organisation had not been given any notification about the report’s impending release.
“Clearly the report was given by the government to certain media outlets,” O’Halloran said.
“I think it’s a disrespectful way to have a relationship with community and welfare organisations.”
Pretty angry with the Govt giving the McClure Welfare report out to some media but not to community organisations asked to respond #auspol
— Maree O'Halloran (@Mareeoh) February 24, 2015
O’Halloran said community groups had been involved in consultations around the review.
“Then when the final report drops, there’s not the respectful relationship that would say to those organisations, ‘You’ve been involved, here’s the final report, don’t talk about it until we put it out there.’”
While community groups were frustrated by the lack of notice, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph both ran front-page splashes of the report on Wednesday, apparently gaining access to it before its public release. Other outlets, including Guardian Australia, filed stories before Wednesday morning.
New Matilda put questions to the Department of Social Services about media policy regarding the release of key reports and consultation with stakeholders. The questions were forwarded to Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison, but no reply was had been provided by Friday evening.
Craig Wallace, President of People With Disability Australia, said there had been a history of documents like the McClure report being dropped to certain media outlets, particularly The Daily Telegraph, resulting in stories being framed with negative portrayals of people on welfare or those living with a disability.
“This has been the pattern across the last 18 months. We get drops in the media, something on boxing day or on Easter Sunday, and there is no notice, there is no provision of advance copies for community groups,” Wallace said.
On Wednesday, The Telegraph’s headline read: “Our Federal Bludget: DSP under fire as bill to write welfare cheques hits $3bn”.
According to Wallace, this approach makes it hard for those organisations to analyse reports in detail before delivering a public response.
“If Morrison is saying he wants to upgrade the debate, then take us with you.”
Disability advocate and former Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes agreed the government managed the release of reports in a way that helped prioritise its own framing.
“It allows the media and the government to make the message. And that’s the way that these things work, not just in this space, but in many spaces, and not just with this government,” he said.
“The trend is that governments do this with reports, they’re let out to the media – and I’ve done this myself, because it’s seems to me that’s what you have to do to get media coverage. So it’s an endemic problem that certainly disadvantages already disadvantaged groups, because it just doesn’t let them have a chance to put a balanced view. So you’re always playing catch-up.”
Wallace said it would make sense to provide major reports to community groups before release, and that embargoes would be respected.
“I think the current strategy is self-defeating, it makes people angry that something has been dropped on to them,” he said.
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