Seven's breakfast program Sunrise has apologised for describing those on Newstart as 'dole bludgers', while Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce says media reports will hamper his ability to continue advocating for raising the unemployment payment rate.
The Seven Network's breakfast show Sunrise has issued an on-air apology about a segment labelling some Australians on unemployment benefits as “dole bludgers”, saying it had been a “poor choice of words”.
The segment aired on Sunrise on Wednesday featuring newsreader Natalie Barr reading a line about “how many dole bludgers are trying to take advantage of the welfare system”.
The segment was related to government-released data which showed 78 per cent of Newstart recipients had payments suspended at least once over the past year.
The data was released amid increasing pressure for a hike to the $40-a day Newstart allowance.
People on Newstart can have their payments suspended if they miss an appointment or are late to a job interview.
But a fierce online backlash against the “dole bludger” language led to waves of people sharing their stories of being docked by Centrelink for apparently minor mistakes or situations out of their control.
On Thursday morning, Barr apologised to viewers.
“There are many welfare recipients whose payments are suspended for reasons other than doing the wrong thing,” she said.
“It was a poor choice of words and we are sorry for that.”
The Australian Council of Social Services said Sunrise’s apology should be a lesson for everyone.
“It’s important that commentators, media outlets and everyone in the public eye reflect on how their language affects those in our community who are doing it the toughest," ACOSS Director of Policy Jacqui Phillips told SBS News in a statement.
“People on Newstart are in deep financial stress. Half of people on Newstart are over the age of 45, a quarter have an illness or disability and about 100,000 are single parents. They face real challenges and discrimination in finding paid work.
“We should support people on Newstart to get through tough times, not degrade them. The community will continue to call out demeaning remarks – they are unacceptable and out of touch.”
It comes as former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said it would be much more difficult for him to continue to be an advocate for raising the Newstart payment after he was pilloried over a newspaper headline that claimed he was “skint” on a parliamentary salary of more than $200,000.
Mr Joyce was forced to clarify remarks made to The Courier-Mail newspaper about how his personal experience of struggling to support two families on his $211,000 salary – for example turning off the heater at night and butchering his own meat - had given him a greater insight into the difficulties faced by the unemployed.
Later that day he fronted media to explain he was “not skint”, as the paper’s headline suggested.
On Wednesday night the Nationals MP went further saying he was “incredibly well paid”.
“I think I'm incredibly fortunate, but I have a real empathy for those who are not.”
But the public backlash to his remark means he will struggle to continue to be an advocate for raising the Newstart rate, he added.
“I hope there's another talking head that takes the spot and does the job, because it's vastly more difficult for me now to do it,” Mr Joyce told parliament’s federation chamber.