Stigmatising rhetoric a prelude to Federal welfare reforms?

We have submitted the following letter to the editor of the Herald Sun to express our concerns about a highly stigmatising and inflammatory front page article on welfare payments to people who use methamphetamine.  It has not been published, but the paper has published this response by Mark Zirnsak, Director of the Uniting Church’s Justice and International Mission unit.  For more on the Federal Government’s rhetoric about the proposed welfare reforms, see our recent opinion piece.

Stimatising rhetoric a prelude to Federal welfare reforms?

‘Dole blown on Ice’ screams the front page headline (19/10/16) as Justice Minister Keenan reverts to simplistic rhetoric about the complex and interconnected issues driving demand for methamphetamine within our communities and its links to offending. Yes, methamphetamine use is increasing as a proportion of overall illicit drug use. Yes, methamphetamine use (as with alcohol or other drugs) does increase risk of offending. The new Australian Institute of Criminology data increases our understanding of emerging patterns, but these facts are well established. The question is: why does the Federal Government insist on linking this to welfare payments? The obvious answer appears to be the Government’s need to condition the public to accept future welfare cuts (or increased eligibility conditions relating to alcohol or other drug use) as part of its agenda for welfare reform. This sort of inflammatory rhetoric and stigmatising coverage does nothing to address the very genuine concerns about the impacts of methamphetamine use within our communities. We call on Minister Keenan (and his Government colleagues) to stop banging the law and order drum and start funding evidence based strategies to reduce drug-related harm, prevent crime and support behavioural change.

Laurence Alvis
CEO, UnitingCare ReGen

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