Degree Name

Master of Arts


University of Wollongong. Faculty of Creative Arts


Over the past two decades there has been an increasing policy focus on the obligations of unemployed Australians to seek work in return for unemployment benefits. Simultaneously, government has emphasised that the integrity of the national welfare system depends on vigorous pursuit of those who abuse taxpayer-funded support. In 2002 the Australian government announced what it said were unprecedented research findings that identified the prevalence of unemployed people who exploited welfare support and avoided their obligations to seek work. Through use of social marketing techniques, researchers produced an attitudinal segmentation of job seekers and thus provided government with the means, in effect, to conduct the first head count of dole bludgers. In line with the novel nature of this development, the government applied a new nomenclature to the research population; the dole bludgers were renamed as dole cruisers and it was in these terms that their existence was brought to public attention via the media.

Although the media has played a significant role in presenting stories about aspects of the welfare system, there has been little detailed scrutiny of media participation in welfare discourses in Australia, particularly those relating to welfare fraud. For this reason, analysis of media presentations of the government’s dole cruiser story provides additional information about media contributions to the development of welfare discourse in the public sphere.

Through discourse analysis of media texts and related analysis of research reports and internal government documents obtained through a freedom of information process, this thesis demonstrates previously unreported findings. In particular, the thesis finds that media reports that more than 100,000 Australians were dole bludgers in 2002 were incorrect and based on invalid official data and misleading government statements. Further, no journalists identified the central error in the government claims or raised questions about the policy implications indicated by the alleged prevalence of a significant number of rorters in a welfare system that featured stringent administrative controls based on the policy known as mutual obligation. With several significant exceptions, media reporting of the dole cruiser case lacked scepticism and endorsed a government agenda that linked unemployment to moral deficiencies in individual people.