How Malcolm Turnbull’s Men Keep The Dole Bludger Boogeyman Alive

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This year The Daily Telegraph published more articles bashing “Dole Bludgers” than ever before. But it is not just Rupert Murdoch that is responsible, writes Owen Bennett.

“Turn Back the Bludgers”. “Booze Drugs Dole Rort”. “Bludgers Score a Free Ride”. “Dole Bludgers Find Loophole to Rort”.

These are just a few of the 15 articles The Daily Telegraph published in 2016 bashing “dole bludgers”.

It is easy to criticise The Daily Telegraph for being, well, The Daily Telegraph. Ever since Murdoch incorporated the paper into his media empire in 1972, it has been something anyone left of the Liberals love to hate.

However, blaming Murdoch for this unprecedented barrage of heartless and dishonest attacks directed at the unemployed lets the Coalition off the hook.

Almost three quarters of the bludger-bashing articles published this year by The Daily Telegraph included exclusive government statistics and interviews with prominent Ministers. The Coalition’s fingerprints are everywhere.

Take the example of Simon Benson’s “Medical Bludge Makes Us Sick”, published in the Telegraph on the 25th of April, 2016.

The article begins by stating “70,000 dole bludgers are exploiting a medical loophole to avoid having to get a job by claiming they are too sick to work”.

The evidence?

“An investigation by the Department of Human Services” which uncovered what the “Turnbull government believes is widespread rorting of the medical loophole by some dole bludgers, as well as some unscrupulous GPs”.

That was it.

No mention of any actual proof backing up the claim.

No mention of the Coalition’s crackdown on the Disability Support Pension and the subsequent increase of Newstart recipients with a “significant disability” (currently around 200,000).

And, of course, no mention of any other opinion except that of Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

Employment Minister Christian Porter, pictured on ABC's Q&A program.
Employment Minister Christian Porter, pictured on ABC’s Q&A program.

An even more shocking example is Lauren Wilson’s “A Quarter of All Dole Recipients Shirking Jobs and Appointments” (originally titled “Dole Shirkers Shun Work”), published in the Daily Telegraph on 7 April.

“Around a quarter of all dole recipients are skipping job interviews or failing to accept decent work”, it claimed.

The 276,000 payment suspensions job agencies imposed on unemployed workers between 1 July and 30 September 2015 was put forward as evidence.

However, the article did not mention that this type of payment suspension has nothing to do with unemployed workers failing to attend job interviews or accepting suitable work.

An altogether different penalty – an eight-week suspension – is applied in this instance.

How many of these penalties were imposed you ask?

During the 2015/2016 financial year, 1046 eight-week suspensions were applied to unemployed workers for failing to accept or attend suitable work.

It is hard to think how The Daily Telegraph could have got it more wrong. Its claim that 276,000 unemployed workers were penalised for failing to accept jobs or attend interviews over a three-month period – or over one million if you extrapolate this data over the entire year – was off the mark by a staggering 1,102,954.

There are innumerable other Daily Telegraph articles like this.

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The technique is unmistakable. First, lead with an outrageous headline bashing the unemployed; second, provide a misleading statistic (no doubt provided by a government source); and finally, quote a senior Coalition Minister to hammer home the point. The poor reader is left defenceless.

Television news programs, morning chat shows and radio shock jocks unquestioningly parrot these ‘dole bludger’ stories, each an important cog in the Coalition’s bludger-bashing propaganda machine.

The result is the perpetuation of the Turnbull Government’s ongoing punitive approach toward the unemployed and social security recipients as a whole. That’s been the game all along.

Of course, there is nothing new about this strategy. It has been part and parcel the Australian media establishment ever since Labor Minister Clyde Cameron first used the term “dole bludger” in 1974. What is new, however, is the sheer number of dole bludger articles being published.

New Matilda has discovered that since the Coalition came to office in 2013, The Daily Telegraph has published at least 36 articles bashing the unemployed.

Shockingly, this is more than the number published under the Howard (23), Gillard/Rudd (6) and Hawke/Keating (6) Governments put together.

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On the issue of unemployment The Daily Telegraph has effectively become a propaganda arm of the Coalition. The bludger-bashing is so frequent that it has become self-perpetuating.

Try not to conjure up a mental image of a Daily Telegraph-inspired dole bludger when you think of unemployment. It’s harder than you think.

Ordinary working Australians have been unwittingly recruited as Coalition ideologues. No wonder the myth of the dole bludger is so resilient.

This ongoing dehumanisation of unemployed workers has not just increased the public indignation toward the unemployed – it has also made it much harder for unemployed workers themselves, many of whom who have absorbed the dole-bludger myth, to fight back. This is no accident.

Faced with their own feelings of inadequacy, the last thing most unemployed workers want to do is publically identify as unemployed and stand up for themselves. Without the direct involvement of the people on the receiving end of the Coalition’s punitive approach, the problem will never change.

In light of the silent complicity of other major political parties, the Australian Press Council, and the absence of a strong grassroots political movement, this systematic deception will continue. The Coalition’s propaganda team are no doubt preparing how its impressive feats of 2016 can be replicated. After all, its project of dismantling Australia’s social security system has only just begun.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union is calling for immediate regulation of News Corp. Sign the petition here.

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Owen Bennett

Owen Bennett is the president of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, an organisation dedicated to fighting for the rights and dignity of the unemployed. He is currently writing his PhD thesis on the employment services industry.

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