There are many different angles one can come at the Jenny Macklin/Newstart/Adam Bandt/political stunt/$35-a-day/single mothers brouhaha that has fairly dominated a day and half’s worth of empty news cycles. So naturally I’m going to try all of them.

$35 a day for all! For those who are blessedly unaware, the story is vaguely thus: during late 2012, the government decided that, in its then-fetishistic pursuit of a surplus (a pursuit since abandoned, incidentally), it would save a cheeky $728 million over four years by moving about 100,000 single parents from their existing payment to the Newstart allowance. Of course, this received little to no coverage as it happened the day of the Prime Minister’s ‘misogyny speech’. Colour and movement and all that.

Then, on Tuesday, Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, was asked whether she felt if she could survive on $35 a day (presently she survives on about $900 a day). A question which, in my mind seems quite legitimate. Her answer:

“I could, and of course we understand that what’s important for people who are unemployed is that we do everything possible to help people get work.”

A bold claim, suggesting in a couple of words that a 96% pay cut was something fairly manageable. But obviously, such a claim would not go unchallenged. Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt – or perhaps his media adviser – smelled an opportunity, immediately challenging the Minister to join him in living on $35 a day for one week.

This set off the usual round of discussion on Twitter about, well, everything. Preston Towers felt that the original question in the presser was ridiculous. Liam Hogan saw it as the latest in a never-ending round of stunts, as did Megan Clement. All of Twitter started talking about what it’s like to live on $35 a day.

And they were right. It’s a stunt. A stunt performed, incidentally, by Greens senator Rachael Siewert last year – something she blogged about.

The Herald Sun got in the action with this 'one-egg family'I’ve never lived on $35 a day, at least not in any situation that compares even remotely to that of someone with dependents and everyday cost of living, but I know it’s sweet fuck all, an amount so pitiful as to actively inhibit the search for work, rather than support it. If the choice is public transport to job interviews for a month, or $200 for your kids dentist, I reckon the young ‘uns molars win every time. Everyone knows that this is a dud move by the government that will win nary a vote.

But what about the ‘stunt’? The act of challenging the Minister to go without for a week. It was met resoundingly with scorn across most media I consume, yet it’s hard to avoid the feeling that there is a chicken/egg blame game at work.

Most of the criticisms of Bandt’s challenge are around two things: its efficacy, and the slippery slope towards a dumber media environment that it embodies/encourages.

Anyone who feels that, if she takes this challenge up, Macklin would change her mind is, frankly, deluded. If you go for seven short days on not much money, it’s not too much of a hassle, particularly if you have this kind of motivation to manage it. There will be no emergency dental work, or a job interview to get to. She’ll make it, then give a press conference saying that she understands that it’s tough, and that’s why she’s so focused on helping people find work.

Bandt, likewise, will find it similarly easy to fail. I imagine that his daily rent in inner Melbourne probably exceeds $35, so there you go. Everyone continues to hold the position they held before.

But what this stunt has achieved is to get a great many people talking about the government’s policy shift, and in that sense, it’s worked tremendously well. So the stunt has been effective, yes. But also, it does embody the slide into ephemera and triviality that our media increasingly embraces. As David Paris said on Twitter:

The meedja ignored all of the inquiries, reports, experts. This seems to be all they pay attention to.

But whose fault is that? Adam Bandt, as far as I can tell, has close to zero responsibility for making the media grow up. His job is to bring issues that he is politically strong on to the front of the debate. Mission accomplished.

The media report on stunts, scandals, outrages and heartfelt underdog stories. And lists (oh, how they love a good list). If one of these can be harnessed to someone’s ends, go nuts.

And the media does it because we (you, me and everyone we know) read about stunts, scandals, outrages and heartfelt underdog stories. Unless you’re primed to get riled up about impoverished single parents, a headline like ‘100,000 single parents $100/week worse off: report’ isn’t about to get your pageview.

So, while my last post unambiguously lay the blame for bad reporting at the feet of the media for shoddy reporting of the AWU ‘scandal’ (there’s that word again), this time it’s back to the capitalist response. We get the media we deserve. Even more so now that they can see, in real time, what we click on. You want change? Read the worthy, if tiresome, articles quoting experts. Convince friends and family to do the same. It’s not Macklin’s fault. It’s not Bandt’s. It’s not even the journo who asked the question’s fault.

It’s ours.


So the other day, Nick D’arcy, convicted assaulter, and Kenrick Monk, he of the false police reports, posed for a photo in a gun store in the US looking like tools trying to be cool in the presence of lethal weapons.

Since then, there has been a fair flurry of media discussion about the photo and what it means, and yesterday, it was announced that the athletes would be removed from the athletes’ village at the Olympics immediately upon completing their events – perhaps the greatest punishment one could suffer short of expulsion from the team.

Today, they have faced the media, ‘deeply sorry’, suggesting that they have learned a lesson and will ‘refrain from using social media until after the Olympics’. If nothing else, it’s good news for the swimming team just how fast D’Arcy decamped from the press conference this afternoon.

But here’s the thing, despite the knee-jerk reaction by the AOC, the spluttering headlines across both tabloid and broadsheet media, and the po-faced mea culpas of the culprits, it’s hard to find anyone who is actually outraged by the whole thing. Even tonight on 730, the best they could manage was ‘people were outraged, not least the AOC’. Nup, no actual people.

The behaviour of the AOC and the swimmers are, to a fair degree, understandable. Faced with a ‘backlash’ to the photo (whose only real crime is the lamewad gangsta-posing of the photo), the AOC acted in what it thought was a pre-emptive manner, while the swimmers showed the appropriate contrition in order to make sure they still get to go to London.

So the problem? The media, also deciding pre-emptively that there would be outrage, wheeling out a series of clichéd headlines, riding the back of an admittedly attention-grabbing photo. It seemed not to matter that the journalists responsible couldn’t find anyone of merit to speak out against the pair. Rather, they decided that the outrage would come eventually, and the articles might even help that along.

It barely requires mentioning why this event raised precisely zero eyebrows outside the AOC. Guns are everywhere. Like it or not, we find them sexy, illicit and cool. In America, they are entirely ubiquitous, and the swimmers posing with these legal, unloaded weapons,while perhaps distasteful, is something that I would wager the vast majority of Australians would do. Even I – avowed advocate of banning guns for citizens globally – would probably have done it. I certainly have been clay shooting on a friend’s farm, and posed for several photos while I sent those slabs of ceramic to the next world. It was ace fun.

But there are bigger questions that are being suppressed in light of this. Nick D’arcy, you’ll recall, beat the living shit out of ‘team mate’ Simon Cowell, “recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm, the victim suffered fractures to his jaw, eye socket, hard palate, cheek bone and nose.” Years later, Cowell had still not recovered from the injuries.

Kenrick Monk went out skateboarding, fell off, fracturing his elbow in two places. Rather than own up to behaving in a manner that his employers would discipline him for, he instead blamed a hit-and-run.

So it’s clear that Monk is an idiot, and D’arcy is a violent thug. The fact that D’arcy is on the team is, frankly, ludicrous. Not because he has no right to, but any employer who re-employs a violent offender is asking for trouble.

Still, the idea that D’arcy and Monk made a ‘stupid mistake’ is only legitimate because the media love taking innocent actions by athletes, promoting it as scandal, then labelling it, in the aftermath where the media becomes the focus, as a ‘stupid mistake’.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the mistake is made by editors, rather than athletes.