Is that the truth, or was your News Ltd?

There are no “foreign fighters” claiming Australian welfare payments. But if you read the Herald Sun or the Daily Telegraph you may well think otherwise. Readers of these papers have been led to believe that there are armies of Aussie Jihadists roaming around the Middle East, funded directly by Australia-loving taxpayer dollars.

“JIHAD BLUDGERS”, screamed the front page of the Herald Sun on 14 August last year. “Compo Caliphate” was Tim Blair’s witty alliteration in the Daily Telegraph on 23 June. These are exactly the kind of headlines that help sell papers. They also help the government whip up racist hysteria and sell potentially controversial new laws that take away basic human rights.

In this case, the lies were used to justify the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, which is now law. The Act provides new “security grounds” to cancel welfare payments as well as a blanket “exemption from the requirement to provide reasons for decisions to cancel welfare payments”.

Presumably pretty chuffed with the headlines, Abbott continued to go around spreading the same fiction in parliament and in the same News Ltd media. According to the Daily Telegraph, Abbott was “appalled” that “the majority of those Australians joining terror groups had benefited from the welfare system”.

Yet, none of this is true. The attorney general’s department reported to a Senate committee on 24 February that no individuals have been receiving any welfare benefit payments and therefore it has not been necessary to use the welfare cancellation on security grounds provisions.