Sunrise’s grovelling on-air apology
SUNRISE has issued an on-air apology over its characterisation yesterday of the majority of Newstart recipients being "dole-bludgers".
The Channel 7 breakfast show sparked outrage with its commentary before a news segment about government-released data on Newstart payment suspensions.
"New figures have been released showing just how many dole bludgers are trying to take advantage of the welfare system," newsreader Natalie Barr said introducing the story on Wednesday morning.
"An alarming number of people on Newstart are being penalised."
Those comments led to anger online and the creation of the hashtag #NotADoleBludger, where people shared personal stories of falling victim to Centrelink's problematic bureaucracy.
Among the stories are those of recipients trying to call to reschedule case meetings but being left on hold for several hours, or those with illness not making appointments due to hospitalisation.
In those cases, the people say their payments were suspended - in some cases for several days, causing financial hardship.
The controversial statistic cited by Sunrise, which the government dropped to media outlets late on Tuesday, claims 78 per cent of recipients have had a payment suspension at least once in the past two years.
But as critics of the figure have pointed out, suspensions can occur for a range of reasons from incorrect paperwork to missing an appointment due to illness or, ironically, needing to attend a job interview.
Sunrise's characterisation of three-quarters of Newstart recipients being "dole bludgers" prompted a severe backlash and this morning's televised mea culpa.
"Now, a word on a story we brought you in yesterday's news," Barr began today.
"We used the term 'dole bludgers' early in the show when referring to those who've had their Newstart payments suspended. That may have misled some viewers.
"There are many welfare recipients whose payments are suspended for reasons other than doing the wrong thing. It was a poor choice of words and we are sorry about that."
Although, the apology aired at 5.43am so it's not sure how many viewers would've seen it at that early hour.
It followed Barr tweeting apologies yesterday in response to criticism from journalists, including the ABC's Juanita Phillips.
"This was badly phrased and later corrected," Barr said. "I apologise."
The timing of the government's data dump has been roundly attacked as a deliberate ploy to push back against Coalition forces who are advocating for a Newstart payment increase.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash defended the release yesterday, saying the government was "presenting factual information to the Australian people".
Payments cut off for missing a call. Tbh it was my fault for being in the middle of an MRI... 😑#NotaDoleBludger— A.Dngr. (@amydngr) July 31, 2019
Hubs and I were made homeless while fighting to get help from Centrelink.— Kiera Lawley Ⓥ (@KieraLawley) July 31, 2019
Eventually won our fight.
We both have job interviews next week.
I can't afford a haircut, or make up, or pantyhose to wear to the interview.
Hubs will walk 6km to his interview!#NotaDoleBludger
Had to try & reschedule another appointment due to an interview and it took 4 hours and 5 phone calls to do so. An hour before my job interview I was panicking about whether to go to a job interview or attend a JSP appointment. We are being set up to fail.#NotaDoleBludger pic.twitter.com/1cyZLJgIP0— Caitlin (@BloodyCaitlin) July 31, 2019
My experience with the job agency was TERRIBLE. I wanted to chase up a job opportunity urgently and asked to miss one of their pointless appointments and was threatened with suspension! The want you to tick pointless boxes and don’t care if you get a job or not. #NotADoleBludger— Catherine Nuttall (@CathyNutts) July 31, 2019
I’m grateful that I have a job, but I am still underemployed, which is another problem in Australia’s workforce. I have been on Newstart since 2014(?) to supplement my income but I cannot wait for the day where I don’t have to rely on Centrelink anymore. #NotaDoleBludger— T (@pokemaniac193) July 31, 2019
I have three Master's Degrees, am a qualified teacher, lawyer and French translator. Can barely get an interview let alone a job and I was a straight-A student. I hate not working and having nothing to do all day! Have stopped making plans for the future #NotaDoleBludger— piajurin (@piajurin) July 31, 2019
When I was on Newstart I got suspended for not attending an appointment in Canberra that I didn't know I had (I live in Melbourne), they also cut me off once for not returning forms that they had sent to an address that I hadn't lived at in over 5 years #NotaDoleBludger— Simo Soo ✨ (@simo_soo) August 1, 2019
Nationals MP and former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce was one prominent figure calling for the welfare payment to be lifted, citing his own budgetary challenges as one reason for his empathy.
And community advocates point to the government's own error-plagued and controversial robo-debt system as cause for alarm.
When tens of thousands of Newstart recipients are receiving erroneous debt notices, the robustness of the data released should be questions, critics say.
Labor has attacked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his description of the Newstart increase campaign as "unfunded empathy", saying it shows the government "is not on the side of the most vulnerable Australians".
This morning, Deputy Opposition leader Richard Marles continued the criticism and said the government "has no idea what it is doing here".
"There is no compassion or concern there for people who are making the most difficult decisions as to what they need to go without in order to survive," Mr Marles said.
"When we heard the Treasurer say that Australians have never been better off, that people are much better off now than they were back in 2013, that is a Treasurer who is not on the side of every working Australian."
Adding fuel to the fire yesterday, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert insisted that the controversial robo-debt system had not targeted Townsville residents recovering from February's deadly flood disaster.
But a short time later, Bill Shorten, Labor's spokesman for human services, released a robo-debt demand sent to a Townsville resident, contradicting Mr Robert's claim.