Daily Tele asylum seeker story is just rabble-rousing

Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

In a week where Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop trivialised fear and suffering, Four Corners embarrassed itself with possibly the worst beat-up yet screened on the so-called ‘Labor leadership tensions’ and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott repeatedly ascribed apparent powers of time travel to the not-yet-implemented carbon pricing scheme, it was something of a relief when Parliament rose yesterday.

But then there was this.

In what might be charitably described as the most revolting and prejudicial piece of muckraking journalism since Scott Morrison was invited to complain about the injustice of letting refugees attend funerals on Christmas Island, today’s Daily Telegraph tried to whip up its readers into a frenzy of envy and righteous indignation. Its target? Asylum seekers. Specifically, the amount of money being spent on readying homes for community detention and helping families set up a new life in Australia.

The headline was a bit of a give-away, really. The article, written by Gemma Jones, was worse – thinly-veiled racist sentiment disguised as appeals for a ‘fair go’ for our celebrated ‘working families’.

You see, these asylum seekers are getting a big ol’ hand-out. They get places to live, beds to sleep in, medical treatment, and even food. It’s … it’s … outrageous! We’re doing it hard right now, on our $180,000 a year incomes, and soon we’ll have to pay for our own health insurance! Not to mention the evil ‘carbon tax’! No wonder there’s an armada of boats on our horizon!

Mike Stuchbery took on the racism in brilliant, scathing style, exposing the truly ugly face that lies behind the fake concern for ‘fairness’. I cannot recommend his article highly enough – but maybe have a soothing cup of tea to hand. You’ll need it.

I wanted to take a closer look at the claims made in the Telegraph, though. So here’s a reality check.

First the claims, and their nasty implications.

There are 97 homes scattered around suburban Sydney (Ashfield, Bankstown, Cabramatta, etc) that the government is in the process of setting up for community detention. The rent on these homes averages $416 a week. Phone and electricity connections will be covered.

The government’s spending around $10,000 to set up these homes, buying every from fridges to coathangers to plasma televisions.

Every family moving in will get a package of goods worth around $7100 (for a family of five). That package includes a hamper containing milk, bread, butter, cleaning products and ‘essentials’ (air quotes courtesy the Tele. If they’ve got more kids, they’ll get more money. And if they have a baby, they’ll get a $750 pack of basic supplies.

Along with all that luxury, detainees may ask to have certain other items considered: bikes, rollerblades, computers, internet access, iPods, etc.

On top of everything, they get a benefit, free medical, dental and pharmaceutical treatment, and free education.

All of which is paid for by you, the working taxpayer. You’re helping these people live high on the hog so they can kick back and watch DVDs while you struggle to put food on the table.

And now, a little reality.

The median house rental price in Bankstown as of July 2011 was $440. In Cabramatta this month, it’s $400. These houses do not belong to the detainees. The government holds the leases.

Let’s get to the ‘luxuries’. The Tele helpfully furnished us with a list, so I’ve done a bit of research on the government’s apparent extravagance, looking for mid-range items without bulk or commercial discounts. White goods mentioned in the article were sourced from the Good Guys. Furniture was source from Fantastic Furniture. And then I compared these costs with my own home. For the record, we’re a family of four earning approximately 50% above the average national wage.

A mid-range, 8 kg washing machine was $807. Ours cost us $1400.

A microwave oven was $207. It’s been a while, but it was around the same price for us.

A DVD player (or in this case, a DVD/HDD player/record) was $188). We don’t have one of these anymore – we upgraded to using a computer media centre.

A reasonably sized side-by-side refrigerator/freezer was was $1874. That’s about what we paid.

The article listed an alarm clock radio. I had to go to Harvey Norman to find that one – for a whopping $27. In fact, this is exactly the same model I bought for my kids last Christmas.

As for the plasma television, I had to look high and low to find a price on a television this size. Eventually I found this one for $369. It’s worth pointing out that if you’re reading this blog on a desktop computer, your monitor is probably the same size as this ‘luxury’. Our own TV is around 42 inches, and cost us nearly $1000 when we got it on sale.

And you can’t buy an old-style, CRT television for love nor money these days.

And now for the furniture, which the Tele helpfully tells us includes mattresses, lounges, coathangers and ‘containers for biscuits. I assumed that the government didn’t actually expect detainees to sleep on the floor, and included bed frames, drawers, coffee tables, and the usual accessories.

The most expensive queen bedroom package at Fantastic Furniture costs $1499; a comparable single bedroom package is $769). By contrast, my last mattress cost nearly $2000 and the bed frame $1000. So, even before factoring in the two bedside tables ($300 each) and the tallboy ($800), that’s twice the price.

I don’t really need to go into detail about my kids’ loft beds and mattresses, do I?

Moving into the living areas, the most expensive ‘home starter’ package costs $4999).

Now, we just bought a new lounge suite. It was an exciting moment in our house, since we haven’t had a new one since … well, ever. It cost us $2500. Add to that an entertainment unit, coffee table, side tables, dining table and chairs … you see where this is going, right?

Moving on to the heights of absurdity … we buy our coat hangers from Coles, and it usually costs us $12-15 for a box of 20 wooden ones. A biscuit container can cost anything from $10.00 for Decor plastic ware, to over $100 for specialist earthenware from a big-name brand. I’m guessing the government isn’t springing for Waterford Crystal.

Then there’s the welfare. As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen points out, asylum seekers are not permitted to work while their claims are processed. Some support is necessary, and this is on a par with pensions. Asylum seekers often arrive with untreated medical conditions, some quite serious. Is the Tele really suggesting they not receive care?

And let’s not forget the ‘welcome hamper’, which the Tele seems to think contains the rough equivalent of a magnum of Moet, pate de foie gras and caviar. The hamper actually contains the very basics of setting up a home, for goodness’ sake. We give more to our kids when they move out for the first time! I did visit Coles Online to source some prices – but honestly, it’s not worth it. The claim that giving people these items is in some way a terrible thing is just not worth dignifying with that much work. Ditto the baby supplies.

But hold up a second: none of that matters, because here’s the real kicker.

Almost all of the costs cited by the Tele are for the initial establishment of rental homes that will be used by multiple families. These people will be in community detention. They will have to move out when their claims are processed. Quoting Bowen, again: ‘People do not keep the goods, they remain in a house when a family moves out and are used by the next people who move in.’

And the rest of the costs? Are the least we can do. Is the Tele honestly suggesting that we shouldn’t pay for basic set-up supplies for people who arrive on our shores with nothing more than the clothes on their backs? That we shouldn’t buy nappies for babies?

The article is beyond misleading. It is vicious rabble-rousing guaranteed to stir up fear and resentment against some of the most vulnerable people in the country. A little basic fact-checking shows that this is not a case of wasteful government spending, pork-barrelling or any other type of mismanagement or corruption. Did no one think to do this? Or did they just decide that the sensation value outweighed any petty concerns like facts?

What sickens me is the creeping suspicion that this is exactly what the Daily Telegraph did. That they made the cynical, reprehensible decision to publish this article because they knew it would appeal to the most mean-spirited impulses in Australian people. And therefore make them money from sales and advertising.

And if the cries to ‘stop the boats’ get louder? If the already inhumane treatment of the majority of detainees becomes worse as a result of politicians grabbing for votes? If a few more asylum seekers are spat on in the streets, subjected to racist bullying and outright violence from those who feel they’re ‘getting it easy’?

That’s not the Tele’s problem, is it? They just print the news. And if something bad comes of anything they produce? That’ll be a good story. Of course, it won’t be their fault.

Well, here’s some breaking news for you, News Limited. You are not printing news. You’re making it up. You are not producing good journalism. You’re pandering to the lowest impulses in human nature. You are not informing the public. You’re taking advantage of people’s trust in news services (and yes, people do still trust the mainstream media, goodness knows why) to lie to them and encourage them to adopt a xenophobic mob mentality.

You’re a disgrace to news production. Gemma Jones is a disgrace to her profession. And every sub-editor, fact-checker or proof-reader who let that article go through is complicit.

And you won’t get away with it for much longer, if there’s any justice left in the world.


25 Responses to Daily Tele asylum seeker story is just rabble-rousing

  1. These are actually wonderful ideas in on the topic of blogging.

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  3. Let’s correct some misinformation (unintentional I’m sure). This fact sheet from DIAC is a good start:



    1. People in community detention (CD) are generally considered vulnerable, so that’s kids (with parents, sometimes single parent only), unaccompanied minors, full families.
    2. People in CD are not allowed to work. Their needs (food, medical appointments attendance etc,) are covered by the department through its contracting of service providers, namely the Australian Red Cross (which has itself brought in several additional partners with case management experience), Salvation Army and one or two others.
    3. There are asylum seekers (who arrived by boat, as opposed to those who arrived by air) now on bridging visas (BVs) who do have work rights, but they must provide their own accommodation (those on BVs generally have pre-existing networks such as relatives, friends etc in the community). There is the possibility of some financial support (89% of Newstart allowance) if there is demonstrated hardship.
    4. All of the furnishing purchases are managed by the service providers (and not by the department) as part of the contracted services, for which they are paid.
    5. This program, originally called Residence Determination (in essence, community detention) was first rolled out in 2005 when Senator Amanda Vanstone was the then-minister. It catered for about 200 immigration detainees at its height, and they were often vulnerable clients for whom a formal detention environment was considered no longer appropriate while a resolution to their visa status was pursued.

    Trust this provides a little more help understanding this program.

  4. Joths says:

    465 asylum boat people this week x $80000 to process each = over 37 million dollars.What a joke .Muslim middle eastern tribes have been fighting for years so now they can come here build there mosks and start trouble here its only a matter of time .Look at Europes muslim problems.Cane toads were meant to be a good idea . it wasnt ,once there in its to late .Only 9 out of a hundred refugees could find a job after 4 years .Not good for an economy that is already shredding jobs rapidly.In the Uk only 48% of Pakistany men could find a job after 14 years and you wonder why there in a recession.Third world immigration and refugees will turn your country into a third world country.The lucky country is being diminished.This is what I will tell my children .THANKS LABOUR.

    • Phil says:

      If you would like to be taken seriously then you might want to consider both learning to spell and the correct use of grammar in the English language.
      “Mosks”. I mean seriously, if you’re going to hate something at least take the time to find out how to spell the thing you hate.

  5. FelineCyclist says:

    So will you be filing a complaint with the Press Council or ACMA? How else will it stop?

  6. RockstarPhilosopher says:

    Why the need to say *plasma* television? Why not just television? Can you even buy CRT TVs anymore? If you can they wouldn’t work on the digital network.

    Oh… Yeah… *dogwhistles*

  7. Pirra says:

    Also, I thought Asylum seekers weren’t given any government payments as permanent residential status is required to receive welfare, and obviously, asylum seekers don’t yet have permanent residential status. Or do I have my wires really crossed?

  8. Pirra says:

    Am I reading the (original) article wrong? I thought the welcome packages were provided by Red Cross, which would make it charity not welfare? (And the bits about government funding were relating to the grant money the government gives to Red Cross who then use that money for immigration/humanitarian programs like this one?)

    • The Red Cross used to provide a great deal of assistance, but with the slated increase in community detention, the government needs to make additional purchases.

      This is money specifically earmarked for use in establishing community detention homes.

      • Pirra says:

        Thank you. I had read it that Red Cross handled the packages but that they were ‘commissioned’ to do so. (I had assumed using Government grant money. ) It was starting to read to me a bit like the whole Susan G Komen/Planned Parenthood type thing, to me, so thank you for the clarification.

        As soon as you prescribe a monetary value to anything the conservative far right get their knickers in a twist, and you know, when dealing with alarmists who like to be outraged over using “tax payers” money to fund anyone they deem not worthy enough…well, I didn’t want to be as ignorant in my answers as they were.

        I’m still trying to find and easy to understand info graphic of some kind that shows money spent on this new development as opposed to how much it costs to fund detention centres. (Cold hard cash is the only language most of these objectionists understand. The moral and ethical points are completely lost on most of them.)

  9. Rachel says:

    Well argued.

    I’m not sure how reliable it is, but a column at the Punch said many (most?) of the people in community detention are unaccompanied minors. I cannot believe the outrage over *children* being provided with furnished accomodation.

    • The idea is to move unaccompanied minors and families into community detention, so that would leave only adults (mostly men, at that).

      And yes, the idea of objecting to children being provided with a bed is dreadful.

  10. Medusa Knows says:

    $180K per year? What planet are you on? Seriously.

    • I chose the figure deliberately, based on the Coalition’s questions in the House of Representatives this week. According to Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, that figure represents a ‘typical’ couple’s income, based on a hypothetical miner and police officer pair. In his words, that is ‘not rich’.

  11. Terry says:

    I thought this asylim seeker debate was about lives put at risk, not hatred against asylim seekers.

  12. lilacsigil says:

    The “free dental treatment”, BTW, is a Medicare card and a chance to join the public waiting list (or get emergency treatment for emergency conditions) like any Australian. They don’t get free medication, they get concession rate medication like any other person relying on benefits. The education and medical care is the same as all Australians are entitled to receive. It’s not a special luxury that refugees are receiving. And yes, I do support the Greens push for Denticare! Free basic dental care for all, including refugees!

  13. (and they wonder why they get called the Hate Media)

  14. Unfirtunately the rousing of rabble was also done through the Courier-Mail in Brisbane and the Herald Sun in Melbourne

  15. Kushiel says:

    Thats the problem, I’m scared there is no justice left in the world!!!

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