POLITICS

'Benefits Street' TV Show Could Be Copied In Australia, Warns Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

30/01/2014 17:12 GMT | Updated 30/01/2014 17:59 GMT
ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this photo provided by Channel 4 on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2013, 'White Dee' featured in the show Benefits Street, poses for a promotional still. The stars of Britain?s most talked-about television show have a dubious claim to fame: They don?t work. A shoplifter running away from police, a recovering drug addict and a ragtag band of jobless people are the unlikely stars of ?Benefits Street,? a hit documentary-style program about welfare receipients that has drawn millions of viewers and stirred up a furious storm of complaints and controversy in Britain. Critics say the show _ which zooms in on the residents of a Birmingham street where 9 out of 10 people are said to live off state payouts _ is designed to fan hatred by showing people on the dole in the worst possible light. Scores of viewers took to Twitter to vent abuse at the residents as soon as the first episode aired earlier this month, and some even made death threats. (AP Photo/Channel 4, Richard Ansett)

Benefits Street, the controversial Channel 4 programme accused of demonising the poor and misleading those who took part, is likely to be copied in Australia in an "unhealthy development", opposition leader Bill Shorten warned.

The Labor party leader made his prediction as he spoke at a conference organised by the IPPR and Policy Network think tanks about the welfare system in Australia.

"I understand you've got a television show here called Benefits Street," he told the audience. "Unfortunately, I suspect that'll be copied in Australia but I think that's an unhealthy development."

Benefits Street, a documentary about the residents of James Archer Street in Birmingham, has been described by Independent columnist Owen Jones as a "medieval stocks updated for a modern format".

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently cited the programme to justify his welfare cuts in a warning of "ghettoised communities" that are like a "different country".

Shorten hit out at the "lie" that "there's someone getting a better deal somehow because they're not working and getting a government cheque."

"I think we're going to see a sort of divide in our society where the government is going to say that people on welfare are somehow less legitimate citizens," he warned.

Shorten also warned that "certain elements of the media" think that "the stick and punishment is going to work well" with benefit claimants.

The Australian Labor leader said that the party was aiming to have a message that talks about growth and to create “high-level jobs".

"We'll have to try and keep the employment debate focused on growth and creating jobs as opposed to punishing those who can't find work", he added.

Shorten is perhaps infamously known for a YouTube clip in which he displays a remarkable loyalty as employment minister to support the views of then prime minister Julia Gillard "whatever he said".