This morning, the journalist Paul Malone who the Canberra Times decided to use to undermine recipients of Centrelink payments released yet another uninformed piece of rubbish. In it, Malone tries to defend the fact he knows so little about Centrelink that he thinks there is ‘another side’ to the robodebt fiasco. He tries to hang this ‘right of reply’ for the government on the shoulders of a single story published by Andie Fox. Malone claims he is contributing some kind of hard-to-find ‘truth’ that has gone unspoken in the midst of ‘populist’, (presumably exaggerated), criticism against government departments.
Malone defends his role in doxing a former Family Tax Benefit recipient by trying to undermine her personal credibility as though there are not thousands of stories to justify criticism of Centrelink. Malone claims he is defending government agencies who he claims are the target of unjustified criticism.
Many stories have now been written criticising Malone’s doxing of Andie Fox. Many incorrectly describe Andie Fox as a ‘welfare recipient’. Andie Fox does not appear to be a welfare recipient and the debt she describes is not a ‘robodebt’. According to Ms Fox’s published story, she was in receipt of Family Tax Benefit and a debt arose in relation to a tax year when she was in a de-facto relationship. Most families in Australia with dependent children receive Family Tax Benefit. “As a single parent, I raise my children entirely out of my own earnings.” writes Ms Fox who now does not receive FTB due to the ‘debt’.
According to documentation supplied by the government:
Most families with at least one dependent child aged 15 and under are eligible to receive FTB. Receipt of FTB should be viewed differently to receipt of income support payments.
Given that many middle class Australian families receive this payment, it is interesting that the case that has been used to justify robodebt has been painted as an attack on welfare recipients. Such subtleties seem to escape our mainstream journalists and I would suggest that in future, publications provide commentary from people who actually understand the topics at hand rather than run with stories written by people like Malone who clearly do not know enough about a topic to know whether they are being lied to by government or a member of the public.
This topic came up between myself and a journalist the other night. The journalist felt some empathy with the difficulty of figuring out when people were misinforming him or simply just not in possession of enough facts to know if their ‘side’ of the story was valid or not. Apparently it is difficult in this fast paced media world to establish where the truth lies. This is apparent from Malone’s clumsy attempts to justify being led up the garden path by the government.
There is however, an answer to such dilemmas. Journalists should not write about things they are not sufficiently experienced in to know who is telling them a lie or the truth. If you are across a topic then it is not hard to know who is lying and who is telling the truth.
We found out this week through Senate Estimates how little integrity government agencies can have and how careful we need to be in taking what they say on face value. Many of us had been scratching our heads, trying to figure out how an agency could get away with telling what appeared to be bald faced lies about their wait times. Not even Malone believed the agency figures.
On Monday 20 February I watched the ABC Q&A and heardAttorney General George Brandis say that people with Centrelink problems could simply contact the agency and sort them out.
I thought this statement was fantasyland.
The government’s figures, it turns out are ‘fantasyland’ but we are not going to find that out how and why from the writing of Paul Malone, who’s article today does nothing to illuminate how the government has maintained the fiction of Centrelink wait-times. Other publications are not so uninformed:
— DoctorWho MindRobber (@VivienFleming) March 3, 2017
It took the elevation of the robodebt fiasco to reach Senate Estimates and a Senate Inquiry in order for the truth about wait-times to come out. Malone did not even attempt to correct the record that Centrelink has been misleading the public and the regulator on their call wait times. Yet a journalist who can’t even cop to this documented case of the public & regulator being mislead by a government department is someone we are supposed to trust to tell us the ‘other side’. Anyone who thinks Malone has any kind of interest in the truth, including the Canberra Times really needs to wake up and smell the putrid stench of bullshit emanating from his copy.
“Do you want journalists to dig for the truth? Or do you simply want social media that panders to your prejudice and ignores many sides of an argument? ” asks Malone as though the rubbish he has published is some kind of reversal of the claims made by victims of robodebt too numerous to mention.
If Malone was interested in de-bunking robodebt why did he not pick a story about robodebt? Andie Fox’s story is not a robodebt story. Notmydebt.com.au contains numerous examples of robodebt stories yet Malone picks a story that is not. What Fox’s story had is her personal information. She published it under her name, which allowed the government to provide information to the journalist.
Despite this information in no way undermining her criticisms, it has been branded as some kind of vindication. It is nothing of the sort. It is not about robodebt. It does nothing to defend the government on any accusation. Malone’s claim in his original article that he got through on the 1800 number is no defence at all. The 1800 number has only recently been added to the letters as a result of the hard push back against robodebt and whether that number can be used to dispute a debt is another topic altogether.
If Malone doesn’t know such basic facts why is he being published on the topic? Why are people paying to read his uninformed nonsense?
Fairfax Media has a lot to answer for in setting Andie Fox up in the manner that they have. It was their choice to publish her piece and it was their choice to publish the nonsense written by Paul Malone. In doing so, the publication has allowed itself to be used to oppress any person who speaks up against government agency for any reason. We are now all on notice that should we speak publicly about our experiences with the government a media agency will be there to receive information (however innocent) to give the impression that there is some ‘other side’ that needs defending.
The government and media knows most people will just assume where there is smoke there is fire. Few people do the actual reading to establish it one way or the other and unfortunately, too often, the media is guilty of that same ignorance.