Media Analysis

Mainstream media fails to address the Robodebt elephant in the room

By | | comments |
(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The mainstream media has failed to hold the Liberal Party to account for inciting the Robodebt scheme that ruined the lives of thousands. Dr Victoria Fielding reports.

THE ROBODEBT ROYAL COMMISSION hearings are now finished. The public awaits what should be an explosive report by Commissioner Catherine Holmes. People want to see consequences. They want the powerful people who were responsible for the scheme to be held to account for the damage they caused.

As well as wanting consequences, what concerns me is what story about the Robodebt debacle will be left in Australian political consciousness.

In her closing remarks, Commissioner Holmes made the point that mainstream media has produced patchy coverage of the scandal and the public has received more consistent coverage by non-journalists on Twitter. Even amongst the small number of media outlets who are giving adequate attention to this national disgrace, the true Robodebt narrative will never properly be told to the masses.

The reason for that is that to tell the story correctly, the media would have to name the Robodebt elephant in the room. It would have to explain that Robodebt wasn’t some outlier policy mistake by an otherwise responsible Liberal government that accidentally tripped and fell into an illegal extortion scheme.

It would have to tell the real story of Robodebt. The facts of that story are that the scheme represents the heart and soul of the Liberal Party. It was conceived by the values that are the core beliefs of Liberal politicians.

Those beliefs characterise anyone who is on welfare as morally repugnant and a drain on hard-working taxpayers. Liberal Party politicians are open about the fact that if they had their way, there would be no social safety net. Liberals believe that anyone who receives Centrelink benefits is underserving, unworthy and a bludger.

That’s why the Liberals conceived Robodebt. Their aim was to punish people on welfare. They wanted to aggressively take back money they believed Centrelink recipients were undeserving of having in the first place — by any measure possible, even an illegal one.

The scheme also reflects the character of many of the major news outlets who not only failed to scrutinise Robodebt, but colluded with the Liberals to defend it when it was scrutinised by others.

The reason why many of the most powerful journalists in mainstream media outlets did not call out this scandal as it unfolded in front of their eyes is that they share the same ideological disdain for the unemployed as the Liberal Party does. They’re cut from the same cloth.

Waleed Aly recently scrutinised the role society played in enabling Robodebt by asking whether it would be a bigger scandal if its victims weren’t on welfare. He posited that the Liberals got away with it for longer than they should have because ‘it felt like such a natural, frictionless thing for the Government to do’. In this commentary, Aly aims to hold all of Australian society accountable by suggesting that in the ‘public imagination’, ‘victims of this scheme don’t really count’, that they’re alien to us all and therefore not worth fighting for.

But, in classic wishy-washy Aly fashion, in doing so, he’s giving the former Liberal Government a total free pass. These are the people who designed Robodebt, rolled it out, defended and boasted about it – even after they knew income averaging wasn’t right – and fought to continue it, years after a chorus of concerns were raised about its legality. In Aly’s eyes, this was all the public’s fault for not caring! Don’t dare look at that elephant!

Aly is also ignoring the reason why some people in society don’t much care if a government is terrorising vulnerable unemployed people and people on disability pensions. (Speak for yourself Aly — I care deeply about these people). He is conveniently forgetting that major news outlets in Australia, for decades, have been smearing welfare recipients as cheats, as unworthy of government assistance, as fraudsters and rorters, as a stain on society, and as not worthy of anyone’s sympathy.

The public’s imagination about the worthiness of welfare recipients didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It has been planted and emboldened by a joint effort of Liberal smears and anti-welfare media narratives for decades.

Members of the media who champion Liberal ideology can hardly turn around now and finally admit the elephant is there when that would require them to describe its revolting Liberal origins in all their gory details. They are also not likely to admit they scooped up the elephant’s dung and smeared it all over their news outlets to create the toxic environment where Liberal welfare bashing thrives.

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

Related Articles

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Victoria Fielding
ABC gutless for not backing Laura Tingle over 'racist country' remarks

ABC's ambiguous response to the News Corp firestorm targeted at Laura Tingle shows ...  
News Corp calls for tech giants to adhere by 'social licence' utterly hypocritical

News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller's push for Meta, X and TikTok to adhere ...  
How meaningful reform by Labor is killed by the mainstream media

As seen with negative gearing and carbon pricing, the mainstream media in Australia ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support Fearless Journalism

If you got something from this article, please consider making a one-off donation to support fearless journalism.

Single Donation


Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate