For decades Ricci Bartels, 66, helped other people find a home and get a job.
For over 30 years, she worked with refugee and migrant communities in Fairfield, Liverpool and Blacktown in NSW, as a case manager and TAFE worker.
But when she was retrenched from her job in her early 60s, she quickly discovered that finding a job was a depressing and demoralising experience.
“Your confidence goes zip. When everything you cherished goes, I loved the work that I did. I took jobs, still in the sector but not managerial. I was quite prepared to make adjustments,” she said.
On Monday night, Ms Bartels detailed her bleak experience of spending three years on Newstart on the ABC’s Q&A program, only to be swiftly targeted by trolls because she has since qualified for the aged pension.
“How would you suggest people like me ‘have a go to get a go’?” Ms Bartels asked the Q&A panel, referring to PM Scott Morrison’s catchphrase.
“I wanted to shine the light on the misery of Newstart. They are not bludgers they are people,” she told The New Daily on Tuesday.
“The reason I did Q&A. I didn’t really do it for me … you need personal stories.
“I did it because I yell at the television screen. I am so sick of politicians.”
Indeed. I had a go tonight. Thank you QandA people for your wonderful support. I am now a pensioner and I will never stop advocating for a really fairer society. I shared a snippet of my 67 years to #Raise the Rate https://t.co/SgkQcM6QbL
— Ricci Bartels (@ricci_bartels) August 5, 2019
On Q&A, Ms Bartels used the past tense to describe her experience on the dole but did not disclose she had qualified for the pension.
“The pressure has ended, really. And fortune struck and a friend offered me her spare bedroom,” she said.
Since her appearance, Ms Bartels has been targeted online by those questioning her links to the peak welfare group ACOSS and whether she had super or savings.
Blogger and former broadcaster Michael Smith said neither Ms Bartels nor panellist ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie “told us that until recently, Ms Bartels was a director of ACOSS, that she features in ACOSS press release material”.
Ms Bartels said she had resigned those roles when she was retrenched years ago.
“There’s no collusion. It is a simple fact I worked in the community services for 26 years. I worked largely with refugees and asylum seekers,” she said.
“I was on the ACOSS board for two years and when I was retrenched, I resigned all my board positions. I am deeply passionate about poverty.
“Have I asked anyone for questions? No. Did ACOSS ask me to go on Q&A? Absolutely not.”
ACOSS said Ms Bartels was a “respected” community advocate who volunteered as an ACOSS director from 2011-2013. It did not collude with her on questions.
Liberal MP Jason Falinski said while some viewers and media organisations were left with the impression Ms Bartels was still on Newstart, he had worked out from her age that she had qualified for the pension.
Mr Falinski told Ms Bartels the government absolutely did not believe she was a “handout”, rather than a person to be offered a hand-up.
“This sort of expectation, ‘all I am being told is while I am on unemployment benefits I will be a bludger’. That’s not what the government is saying, and I said that last night,” he said.
The Liberal MP said he had seen age discrimination in the workplace.
“It’s the hardest discrimination to deal with because no one will actually say it. It’s a bit like racism,” he said.
“Before I came into Parliament, you would be looking at people for a sales job and sales manager would say something ‘oh, we’re looking for someone who is hungry’.”
Another time, he knew of a HR manager who said she was looking for someone to “train up” for a job.
“Which was her way of saying, ‘I don’t want someone who knows what they are doing and might question me’,” he said.
Ms Goldie said on Monday night that it was important for people to speak up,
“For too long, people have felt really silenced. There’s a lot of shaming that goes on when this happens to you,” she said.
Ms Bartels said she was still applying for work.
“I would love to work until I am 70,” she said