Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s decision to release a list of suburbs later dubbed “dole bludger hotspots” has been described as “worse than poverty porn”.
On Tuesday, News Corp reported the top “bludger” hotspots in Australia – described as a “list of shame” – based on data provided by the Turnbull government.
This led to accusations Mr Tudge had chosen to “shame” suburbs as he made the case for a planned welfare crackdown.
“You can’t really see many other purposes other than to name and shame them,” Dr Kay Cook, a welfare expert from Swinburne University, told The New Daily. “And to suggest laziness is concentrated in particular pockets.”
Dr Cook said the result was worse than the controversial TV series Struggle Street, which was criticised by Western Sydney residents and labelled “poverty porn” by experts.
“It’s worse. It doesn’t provide any of the human detail behind it,” she said.
At a media conference to discuss “welfare non-compliance hotspots” on Tuesday, Mr Tudge repeatedly rejected suggestions he was trying to “name and shame” those suburbs.
He also dodged questions on whether he should apologise.
“The data lies where it lies. Unfortunately we believe that in some locations a culture might develop where people deliberately flout the welfare system,” he said.
Asked by The New Daily if he was claiming these suburbs had a “culture problem”, Mr Tudge responded: “No. What I’m suggesting is the data lies where it lies.”
“That there are pockets unfortunately where some people unfortunately just aren’t doing the right thing.”
According to the ‘top 10’ list, Caboolture, north of Brisbane, had the highest rate of welfare non-compliance in Australia, followed by Blacktown in western Sydney, Mildura and Frankston in Victoria, and Deception Bay in Queensland.
Mr Tudge said that of the 100,000 people who “consistently and repeatedly” flouted their obligations, the government believed only half had a legitimate excuse.
The government unveiled demerit-point-style penalties in the May budget that would dock payments if recipients failed to meet their welfare obligations.
— Ed Husic (@edhusicMP) June 13, 2017
Labor MP Ed Husic, whose electorate includes Blacktown, angrily interrupted Mr Tudge’s media conference to defend the suburb.
“Instead of bagging out Blacktown, why don’t you actually get jobs for us and fix up your failing jobs programs,” he told Mr Tudge. “And don’t make Blacktown and western Sydney a target. Do your job.”
The western Sydney suburb had the worst welfare compliance level in New South Wales, the Daily Telegraph reported, with 333 recipients consistently missing appointments.
The area had an unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent according to Department of Employment data from April.
Blacktown mayor Stephen Bali described the list as “heartless vilification”.
“I am angry because an important issue such as ensuring people get a suitable job has been overshadowed by the vilification of the hard working people of Blacktown,” he said.
Dr Cook also rejected Mr Tudge’s suggestion that a culture might develop for people to “flout the welfare system”.
“I think that would be a myth. It’s about the opportunities available to people and the provision of services in those areas,” she said.
“By just releasing those statistics it leaves all of that out deliberately so it’s cast in terms of individual laziness.”
Asked by The New Daily about Mr Tudge’s move, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the government had a “track record” of “beating up on some of the most vulnerable people”.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the government had engaged in “mean-spirited headline grabbing”.