It’s been a while since tabloid TV done a hatchet job on teh unemployed. (Well, probably not, but not that I’ve noticed, anyway.) Last night,
Frontline Today Tonight aired a segment devoted to Justin Sheridan, a 36-year-old bloke from beautiful Byron Bay, who seems to spend more of his time surfing than seeking opportunities to allow others to exploit his labour for profit looking for a job.
He’s my nomination for Australian of the Year.
Walkley Award-winning journalist former sports presenter Matthew White is TT Presenter in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
In his introduction, Tim states that “one in six Australians are now living off the dole”. Which is correct. Or would be, if the Australian population were reduced from just under 22,000,000 to approximately 2,000,000. According to the ABS: “In 2007, there were nearly half a million (478,300) unemployed people compared with 321,800 job seekers receiving labour market payments”. In other words, not ‘one in six’ but (approximately) 1.6% of the Australian population are now leading lives of luxury on the dole (in Justin’s case, $487 a fortnight, or the princely sum of $12,662 per annum).
But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story eh?
Speaking of which, the sterling piece very much in question was produced by (the bloody hard working) Tim Noonan.
Tim looks fetching in his yellow t-shirt; he’s also got form. In August 2005, Tim produced a ‘documentary’ for Today Tonight on the delicate subject of why Muslim yoof hate our freedoms, and, as
Walkley Award-winning journalist TV personality Naomi Robson stated on the evening following the broadcast “no one could predict the public outcry over a young Australian Muslim’s comment on this program last night — that Muslims will never adopt the Australian way of life”.
Of course, in that other place called by some ‘reality’, the story is a little more complicated (see : ‘Unkind cuts’, Mediawatch, ABC, August 22, 2005).
Tim claims that “Centrelink abuse costs Australian taxpayers billions of dollars every year”. This is a standard trope of tabloid reporting, but again, that pesky thing called ‘reality’ intrudes. Thus:
Review uncovers only one dole cheat
Sydney Morning Herald
June 6, 2004
Last June the Government announced a major crackdown on people who it said were wrongly claiming unemployment benefits.
A national review of 700,000 dole recipients would save taxpayers “hundreds of millions [of dollars]” and force “tens of thousands” off benefits, Employment Services Minister Mal Brough said.
“This will shake the tree like it has never been shaken before,” he warned.
A year later, and one solitary person has been found to be fraudulently claiming benefits.
The Government provided the figure to the Opposition following a written question.
Asked how many individuals since April 2003 had been found to be fraudulently claiming “the New Start Allowance, Youth Allowance or other allowance by claiming benefits when they were, for example, in paid employment”, the answer came back: one…
And so on.
In addition to surfer d00d, Tim’s segment featured two other talking heads: a private investigator (Ken(neth) Gamble) and a politician (John Williams).
When he’s not ‘working’ by sitting in his car and taking photographs of fair dinkum Aussies enjoying the natural wonders of this, The Lucky Country, Kenneth is doing other stuff. Like, what Den Hinch writes (September 18, 2002):
…the REAL story, the story that intrigues me, is what happened AFTER the rape charge was laid and before Millichamp went to trial.
A few people don’t emerge from this with much class or with reputations intact.
It ended with one of the players — NOT Millichamp — being sentenced to more than six years in jail this week.
You see Steve Millichamp’s lawyers, Kalus Kenny, instructed a Millichamp friend, private investigator Kenneth Gamble, to try (to put it crudely) to dig up some dirt on the alleged rape victim.
Like find out if she took drugs.
Flash forward to Sydney where one Simon Lowe, sometime lover of Lantana star Barbara Hershey, contrives to be in the same Bondi café as Ms Davies and some friends.
I’ll keep it brief. He sends her wine. He joins her table. He spins her a line that he is a wealthy songwriter. He borrows a friend’s sport car.
They go nightclubbing. She declines a weekend at a ritzy hotel. But more flowers, more wooing and eventually days later sex at her apartment.
Which Simon Lowe secretly videotaped. And then he threatened to put the porn tape on the Internet if she did not withdraw the rape charge.
You are entitled to ask why the defence team for an innocent man would go to these lengths? Lowe’s defence team argued that Lowe’s actions were overzealous and opportunistic. Not part of any widespread and pervasive conspiracy.
But the facts remain: One member at the lower end of this grubby food chain has been jailed for more than six years for serious crimes including attempting to intimidate a witness.
Private eye Kenneth Gamble plea-bargained his way to a good behaviour bond. Kalus Kenny solicitors appear to have gone scot free and last seen Stephen Millichamp was lunching with an attractive young woman at a trendy South Yarra bistro last weekend.
Presumably he also picked up the tab for Slimy Simon’s seductive lunches in Sydney. And his fee.
And hats off to a brave, humiliated, young woman who stared down a blackmail attempt and still went to court — even though she lost. Again.
“Shame Kenneth Gamble, shame!” (See also : Six years’ jail for callous seducer, Sydney Morning Herald, September 17, 2002 | Lucky break for actor who became the villain, Leonie Lamont, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3, 2003.)
According to Tim, Ken has “spent years undercover as a Centrelink surveillance agent”; PR agent Lauren Lewis reckons: “Gamble has emerged a leader in foreign intelligence and surveillance. Working with a team of strategic alliances that form a global network that spans across 15 countries, Gamble is one of the few of a new breed of international private investigators able to meet the increased challenges of a world that is in the midst of history-making change.” Further: “RENOWNED INTERNATIONAL PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR AND CYBERCRIME EXPERT KEN GAMBLE OFFERS AMERICAN MEDIA A FRESH, IMMENSELY QUALIFIED AND GLOBALLY INFORMED VOICE THAT SPEAKS FROM A WORLD OF EXPERIENCE.”
To which all I can say is: WOW.
In November 1999, the HoWARd Government announced that it had awarded contracts to 21 private companies to spy on individuals suspected of the horrible crimes of “working for cash in hand payments” who had “not declare[d] their payments to Centrelink”; receiving “disability pensions [while also] claiming they are unfit for work”; and “fraudulently claiming more than one benefit at a time”. In February 2007, ‘Centrelink videos 800 people in fraud probe’ (ABC): “A Senate estimates committee has heard that Centrelink employed private investigators to secretly video more than 800 people suspected of welfare fraud in the first six months of this financial year…” In July 2009, the CPSU announced that it was undertaking a survey on Workplace Bullying.
Further disco on Centrelink surveillance is provided in ‘Mutual Obligation? Regulating by Supervision and Surveillance in Australian Income Support Policy’, Stephen Parker and Rodney Fopp, Surveillance & Society, Vol.3. No.1, 2005 [PDF].
Through an analysis of speeches by government ministers, documents and regulations, this article examines the Australian national government’s surveillance of unemployed people through what is known as Activity Testing, and more specifically as Mutual Obligation. It seeks to merge the social policy analysis of Mutual Obligation with a surveillance perspective in order to delve deeper into the underlying nature of the policy and its implications for people who are unemployed. It does this by:
1. Outlining the neo-liberal political theory underlying these policies;
2. Illustrating the nature and extent of surveillance of people in receipt of income support, and
3. Employing Foucault’s concepts of the technologies of domination and the self to highlight the controlling and coercive aspects of Mutual Obligation in achieving certain of the Government’s political and policy objectives.
In doing so, the analysis will make visible something of the power exerted over the disadvantaged while subject to such surveillance.
John Williams is a National Party politician, The Nationals Whip in the Senate and Senator for New South Wales. He made his maiden speech in the Federal Parliament on September 15, 2008, from which the following facts are drawn.
A failed student (John confesses that, despite being granted the privilege of attending University, the lure of the
surf farm was too great, and so after three months he became a drop-out) and pig farmer (John couldn’t compete with the more ‘efficient’ Canadians on the labour pork market), John is from South Australia, and considers himself to be the ‘salt of the earth’. In addition to failing as a pig farmer, John also failed as an investor. Thus, like countless other ordinary Australians (presumably), in 1985 he and his family “decided to take a foreign currency loan in Swiss francs”. Unfortunately, “I soon found out that I was in more trouble than the early settlers”. Happily, John was eventually able to secure a financial victory in the courts.
In terms of his political philosophy, John states “I have always had the opinion that you should run the nation the same way as a farmer runs the family farm… The family farm must be protected from foreign invasion and takeover. We have an obligation to protect Australia and to see that it remains a free and democratic nation. I congratulate the former coalition government for a real increase in excess of 40 per cent on defence spending during their time in government.”
The family farm cannot afford to pay wages when the person never shows up for work. So too with our nation. I believe that if you are in good health and are capable of working then you should work. I have seen many who are determined not to work. They are simply getting a free ride from the taxpayers of Australia. It is about time that they received a touch on the backside from a cattle prod to get them off their butts and doing some work.
I see workers at Inverell abattoirs who come from the Philippines, Korea and Brazil. All the employees in an abattoir work really hard. Yet just a few hours drive away I see areas on the coast where unemployment is up to eight per cent and nine per cent. In my opinion, if you are in good health and youth is on your side, you should not receive a dole cheque unless you contribute something to our nation. However, I believe that the genuine unemployed should have a safety net and should be helped through their tough times until they find employment.
Of course, it should be noted that (as of February 2008) just 3% of the Australian workforce is employed on farms. Further, that agricultural labour is very dangerous.
Detailed studies show a high rate of fatalities in the industry and a corresponding high rate of serious injury. Between 300 and 350 traumatic deaths of male farm workers and farm workers from all causes (non-intentional and intentional) occur each year across Australia. In 2003-4, amongst other industries, the agricultural industry recorded the highest number of work-related deaths. There are approximately 5500 – 6000 workers compensation claims in the agriculture and services to Agriculture sectors per annum… Australian Bureau of Statistics data for work-related injuries in Australia 2005-6 indicated that agriculture had the highest work-related injury or illness rate (109 per 1,000 employees) ahead of manufacturing (87 per 1,000 employees) and construction and mining (86 per 1,000 employees).
~ ‘Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety in the Australian Agricultural Industry’, Robert Guthrie, Lisa Goldacre and Jennifer Westaway, The Agricultural Industry, Vol.9, 2007 [PDF].
The agricultural workforce has a number of distinctive features. Compared with other sectors of the economy agriculture has:
• a high proportion of self-employed, family and casual workers;
• long job tenure;
• a relatively old workforce;
• a low incidence of post-school qualifications; and
• low employee wages…
Agriculture has a high proportion of relatively low paid employees compared with other sectors of the economy. In 2003, 68 per cent of all full-time agriculture employees earned less than $700 per week. This compares with 40 per cent of full-time workers across all sectors of the economy. Fourteen per cent of agriculture workers earned in excess of $1000 per week, compared with almost 30 per cent of workers in all sectors of the economy (figure 5.14). The median weekly earnings for full-time paid employees in agriculture in 2003 was $575. This was around one third lower than the median weekly income for all full-time employees ($769), making agriculture workers the lowest paid workers in the economy. The next lowest paid, on average, were employees in the retail trades ($600) and accommodation, cafes and restaurants ($610).
~ Trends in Australian Agriculture, Productivity Commission Research Paper, 2005 [PDF].
All of which tends to suggest that surfing is more funs than working for a farmer. That said, Justin has probably committed Centrelink suicide, so I hope he got paid for the privilege.
See also : Jobs Not Justice? (September 20, 2008) | Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs… (March 16, 2009).
Media Release : February 5, 2002 : Gutter Journalism Hoax Exposed
Last night the big guns of Tabloid TV fell victim to their own sleazy set-up tactics.
Both Channel 9’s A Current Affair and 7’s Today Tonight ran competing stories on the fictional group the “Dole Army”. They claimed to expose gangs of jobless militants inhabiting Melbourne’s drains, surfacing only to scavenge food from bins — and organising through the internet.
Today Tonight reporter Norm Beaman’s introductory voiceover began: “if it wasn’t true, it would almost be comical”. It wasn’t true and the joke’s on you, Norm.
These ridiculous stories of sewer-dwellers would have more accurately described the journalists themselves.
“We approached them with exactly the kind of story they love and they lapped it up like dogs,” said the Dole Army’s Emma Goldman. “They enjoy nothing more than victimising the poor and unemployed. We did it to avenge the Paxtons.”
“We also wanted to publicise our website, www.dolearmy.org” added Kool Keith. “And it’s worked — the website has received literally thousands of hits since the stories went to air last night. That’s thousands of unemployed people now better equipped to deal with the inhuman Centrelink bureaucracy — and we’d like to thank these TV shows for helping us get the message out. Not to mention the $1000 Today Tonight paid us which will help keep the Dole Army website alive.”
The shamelessly ratings-driven bully tactics of these two programs are well known — A Current Affair were publicly embarrassed by their hatchet job on the Paxton kids, the Robert Bogucki ‘banana chunder blunder’ and, most tragically, by Benny Mendoza, a repairman who committed suicide after ACA accused him of poor workmanship.
Mike Munro is not known for his honesty but the following closing comment surprised even us: “let me assure you that we did not pay anyone from that charming and courageous pack back in the Dole Army.” We’ll give Mike the benefit of the doubt and assume the producers neglected to mention the 30 blank digital videotapes (worth $360) they gave us in exchange for a video of masked figures pretending to play Cluedo in a tunnel, and the $2000 they offered us to deny Today Tonight a chance at a follow-up story.
Today Tonight is also no stranger to the invented story paraded as fact — the infamous ‘Majorca Skase Chase’ report was mocked up in the theatrical district of Barcelona. True to form while shooting the Dole Army expose, the TT crew happily colluded in setting up a fake drain dwelling in an above-ground brick factory.
“There are bludgers who are in work and there are bludgers who make millions of dollars. There are people who don’t want to work. The reality is we can’t put everyone in work. There wouldn’t be a percentage point difference in the unemployment figures if every person desperately wanted to work, unless you’re going to get down to sub-third-world wages. Why do journalists dish out this crap? It’s pathetic.” (Former MP Phil Cleary, in reference to the ACA/Paxton saga).
Also! Demonising youth of today tonight, Jason Sternberg, The Age, April 13, 2005:
Young Australians don’t watch TV current affairs. It’s easy to see why.
…Following the Macquarie Fields riots, A Current Affair asked viewers to believe generational jihad was imminent with a report on attempts by the international terror group Class War to recruit the area’s young people.
That some of Australia’s most influential media regularly portray young people as threats to the nation impacts significantly on youth culture, youth policy and law-making. It also has real consequences for democracy…
NB. The September 2009 edition of Film Ink includes a ‘retrospective’ on the film Idiot Box (1996), from which the footage to the above video (a cover by The Mark of Cain of the song ‘Degenerate Boy’, originally performed by X) is taken. The film *ed Ben Mendelsohn (among others), who you may remember from such films as Beautiful Kate (2009).