Publication Details

S. Wilcock, 'Official Discourses of the Australian 'Welfare Cheat'' (2014) 26 (2) Current Issues in Criminal Justice 177-194.

Link to publisher version (URL)

Current Issues in Criminal Justice


Using critical discourse analysis, this article argues that contemporary discourses of the 'welfare cheat' promulgated by Centrelink and Australian Government officials since 1997 are highly gendered, and serve to legitimise the prosecution of women for welfare fraud offences. Across this timeframe, 'welfare cheats' have been disproportionately identified as female, and are frequently inscribed with the characteristics of selfishness, greed and deceit. This discursive construction of the 'welfare cheat' accords with both neoliberal individualist understandings of crime, in which the 'rational' perpetrator is wholly responsible for his or her wrongdoing, along with deep-seated sexist characterisations of 'bad women' as deceitful, calculated and sexually deviant. This mesh of old and new discourses embodied in the 'welfare cheat' identity effectively qualifies women for this crime in the public imagination, and presents the prosecution and imprisonment of women for this offence as a just and appropriate response.