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.
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.
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.