The government is killing us and the media is their weapon

Kristin O'Connell
5 min readFeb 9, 2021


Unemployed workers have been relentlessly attacked, used as fodder for the political machine, and weaponised against waged workers, for decades.

And in turn we have relentlessly resisted, fighting back against barbaric changes to the ‘welfare’ system designed by our own governments to dehumanise and destroy us.

Too many lives have been lost. But millions of us have somehow found just enough to eat, a place safe enough to sleep. We have simply refused to stop existing in the face of years or decades of grinding poverty and the lash of unemployment cops. And it makes the powerful angry.

Unemployment is arguably the biggest story of 2021. While the government paints a rosy economic picture, the numbers don’t lie: there are more than 1.4 million people living on unemployment payments.

As the economic crisis continues to unfold we have only become louder, more strident and more brazen in our demand to have our most basic needs met.

Our confidence only makes them hate us more. Those who wield the power to harm us want us put back in our place, and they need the media on their side to grind us back down into the dirt.

Over the past week, heralding the return of parliament, we’ve faced what feels like an unprecedented media onslaught peddling sickening takes about unemployed people.

But an opinion piece to be published in the Australian Financial Review tomorrow is by far the most gruesome yet. It followed two hideously offensive stories and an editorial published earlier in the day by AFR.

I don’t often feel completely powerless, yet this opinion piece was too much, even for me. I am sickened and desolate. I have nothing left but a primal scream.

I am confronted with a lot of horrific shit in my unwaged job at the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union. Parents ask me how they will feed their children. People desperately explain their complex health problems in the false hope that I can help them make the system see reason. Regularly I hear from people on the brink of homelessness or suicide, some who’ve already lost their home or self-harmed due to their exposure to the “welfare” system.

We live, every day, in varying degrees of crushing poverty.

Every person’s story takes an enormous emotional toll, but I have to pick up and move straight on to the next room in the house of horrors. And I’m just one in a team of people who do this every single day.

The average time on unemployment payments has skyrocketed over the past 5 years. At the beginning of the pandemic it was more than 3 yrs, and we know that’s only going to get worse.

That’s why it pushed me past breaking point when I read Steven Hamilton’s “opinion” that us demanding we not be starved is ‘zero-sum thinking’.

Steven is, apparently, a big ideas guy. And his big idea is unemployment insurance.

Right in keeping with the Morrison government’s penchant for a terrible portmanteau, his “JobMatcher” proposal is to provide recently unemployed people with 80 per cent of their former wage for up to six months. He’s happy to condemn those who don’t survive the gladiator battle required to gain a new job to a lifetime of penury, while ‘smoothing the income shock’ for those he deems more worthy.

I cannot put myself in the shoes of someone so callous that they could suggest the modest improvements we fight for — basic rights and dignity for all unemployed people — are too generous.

Steven, do you believe cutting people off will somehow magically disappear us, so neither you nor the grifters in parliament have to think about the “problem” anymore?

You call this advanced — I call it the dark ages.

This kind of thinking couldn’t exist without the groundwork laid through violent dehumanisation of unemployed people by both our government and their corporate masters. Groundwork that can’t be laid in the first place without faithful mouthpieces like the AFR itself and the cosy relationships they have with our parliamentary overlords. And so on it goes.

Reading Steven’s “opinion” I found myself, as usual, debunking tired myths reproduced ad nauseam without question — apparently fact checkers have a blind spot when it comes to unemployment and the welfare system.

The stomach-churning rate of the unemployment payment in this country, set to go back to half the poverty line on 1 April, does not discourage long term unemployment. It perpetuates it.

This isn’t the only factor — those who support NAIRU can shove a stick up their ass — but it is a major reason why it’s harder and harder to get into work the longer you’ve been out of it. Living in poverty makes it hard to remain employable, whatever that means.

Spending on unemployment payments above the poverty line is not unsustainable. If the government wants 5 per cent of the labour force to be out of work, then it’s the government’s duty to make sure we don’t starve and have our basic needs met.

Dividing us further into the undeserving and even-less-deserving serves no one but powerful and wealthy people who don’t even acknowledge our humanity, let alone care about us. Which, of course, is entirely the point.

I am sick — literally, physically sickened — of people who think they have “common sense” solutions to the most complex problems we face as a society. Sick of people who have no real experience of or exposure to the ruthless system we call “welfare” in this country weighing in with their opinions about us and our lives and our needs.

We do not need yet another ill-conceived “insurance” scheme that places the greatest burden on those who can least afford it, and delivers the least to those most in need.

We need — and have a right — to be able to afford to eat regular meals, have a safe place to live, access medical and dental care and pay the bills. Anything less than this is immoral.

Steven, a uniform increase in income support rates is not problematic. It is not a disincentive. We are not economic units to be fit into your faulty economic model. You are a monster.

Only a monster could think that a better way is to funnel unemployment payments disproportionately to those who have most recently been in waged work and are best equipped to survive on a poverty payment, at least for a short time.

And only a snivelling government handmaiden like the AFR would print these views uncontested.

I wish this article was a lone example. I wish it were an extreme outlier. But what made me snap is that I know it’s the new archetype.

The government is ratcheting up its attacks on unemployed people. They now brazenly confect and repeat easily disproven lies that splash across the headlines. All signs point to even more extreme welfare policy, when so many subjected to the system are already at breaking point.

And as this week has proved, the media is by its side, ready for duty as bludgeoners-in-chief.