Twist in uproar over ‘dole bludger’ couple

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A Sunshine Coast dad who sparked backlash for claiming he did not have the “energy” to work full-time and preferred getting a “top-up” from Centrelink recently claimed that “no one makes a lifestyle choice” to go on Jobseeker.

Prior to last week’s federal budget, Mark Goodrick and his wife Jennifer Searson spoke to the ABC’s 730 about their struggles to stay afloat while receiving welfare.

Mr Goodrick, reportedly a qualified chef, earns about $1300 a fortnight working at a service station but gets an additional $250 from Centrelink.

He told the program he did not “have the energy” for a 60-hour week, admitting he preferred to work casually in order to receive a “top up” from the government.

“So what do I do?” Mr Goodrick said.

“Do I do the right thing to not be a supposed dole bludger and work five days a week for $850, or do I work the hours I’m working and get that little bit of a top up? I don’t actually have the energy to say, ‘Hey I’m off to work for 60 hours a week’, so we had to make a decision but that’s not supported, you’re seen as someone who’s bludging or taking advantage of the system.”

He insisted “we are poor and we are on low income”.

Ms Searson, a lab technician who is certified in education support and business administration, receives a carer’s payment, the maximum for which is $971.50 a fortnight, for their daughter who has autism — despite the fact that the 15-year-old reportedly attends an $8375-a-year private school for much of the day.

Ms Searson told the ABC working for Big W would “not be mentally stimulating”.

“There has been a proliferation of calling people on income support payments, particularly Jobseeker, dole bludgers,” she said. “Anyone can end up in this situation.”

Jennifer Searson receives a carer’s payment. Picture: ABCJennifer Searson receives a carer’s payment. Picture: ABC

Neither of them have worked full-time since moving to the Sunshine Coast from Sydney in 2018 in search of a more affordable life.

The segment sparked a flood of angry commentary online and on talkback radio.

Many viewers took issue with the fact that the couple appeared to be living reasonably well at taxpayers’ expense as they have two cars, pay for private school for their daughter and spend about $350 a week on groceries.

2GB host Ray Hadley exploded at the couple, saying he found it “offensive” they were complaining about spending $350 a week on groceries when families with even more children wouldn’t spend as much.

“Here they are claiming they live in poverty,” he said on his radio program last week.

“There’d be plenty of people listening to this program who do live in poverty, who would be living in their cars, not using two cars to drop their daughter to school then going home and sitting on their arses all day.”

Hadley continued, “You don’t have the energy to work 60 hours a week, so instead, we pay for it. We pay for your laziness. If that’s the typical person on Jobseeker, I want my money back. I want some of my tax back. If I’m supporting those people and you’re out there working your rings off, we need a reduction. We need our money back. I don’t want to help that couple.”

The Australian noted on Monday that since September last year, Mr Goodrick and Ms Searson have been featured numerous times in the media to advocate for the Jobseeker rate to be increased, appearing on the ABC’s The World Today, Nine’s Today, Seven’s Sunrise and writing an opinion piece in The Guardian.

Mark Goodrick and Jennifer Searson on 730. Picture: ABCMark Goodrick and Jennifer Searson on 730. Picture: ABC

In his Guardian column, Mr Goodrick described survival as “a daily challenge” and said the couple “despair that the poverty that we have already lived in and a poverty mentality will scar our child”.

“Every waking moment is filled with thoughts of, ‘Are we going to have enough money to make it through today?’ The luxury of being able to make planning decisions for the future is alien to us,” he wrote.

“Despite the rhetoric, no one deliberately makes a ‘lifestyle choice’ to live on Jobseeker. It only takes one unexpected circumstance to end up in my shoes. It’s hard to know what started the spiral — was it the 2008 global financial crisis? Becoming a parent? Relocating interstate? Becoming mature-aged? Covid?”

He noted that “for 40 years in the workforce, I was always considered a valuable asset to any workplace I was employed in” and blamed employers for ageism.

“Employers are crying that they can’t find workers,” he wrote. “It seems what they can’t find are ‘younger’, cheaper workers.”

Mr Goodrick said the family had “learned to survive on an income well below the poverty line but forcing our child to do so as well is not creating a positive future outlook for them”.

Speaking to Sunrise last month, he said it was “hard when you’re a taxpaying Australian citizen for 40 years and suddenly find yourself with not really enough money to put food on the table”.

Ms Searson told the program the overall situation is “stressful and not a good way to live” and that it is difficult to “set a good example” for her daughter and say there is a “good future” ahead of her.

“She can probably see now as she’s getting older that it is a struggle for her, and I would like to be setting a better example that there is a good future for her,” she said.

On Friday, The Daily Mail published paparazzi photos of the couple going about their “leisurely daily routine”.

The couple have made numerous media appearances since last year. Picture: SunriseThe couple have made numerous media appearances since last year. Picture: Sunrise

Mr Goodrick “looked relaxed on Thursday as he surfaced at 10.15am at his family’s luxury apartment block”, the publication wrote, before heading to a local cafe where he “spent a leisurely hour-and-a-half reading at a corner table before returning home”.

Ms Searson earlier that morning drove their daughter “to her $8375-a-year private school and was home again by 8.40am”.

On Thursday, opposition leader Peter Dutton called on Centrelink to crack down on welfare recipients who were not willing to work.

“It’s not for people in a situation where they can get a job but refuse to take a job, that’s not what the system is about,” he told 2GB.

“If that’s the case then Centrelink should be taking action against people in that circumstance and suspending their payment and making sure they take the job instead of leading a leisurely lifestyle on someone else’s tax dollars.”

The government had been under pressure to increase the Jobseeker payment from $49.50 a day to around $1000 a fortnight, or about $68 a day — 90 per cent of the Age Pension — as recommended by the Department of Social Services’ Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.

Labor said the $24 billion cost to the budget was something it couldn’t afford, but agreed to a much smaller across-the-board increase of $2.85 a day, or about $20 a week.

In his budget speech on Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the Jobseeker increase was all about “helping to deliver a much-needed $4.9 billion boost in support to around 1.1 million Australians looking for work, studying or doing apprenticeships”.

“The pressures on the budget are acute — but as a Labor government we will always strive to help those who need it the most,” he said.

More Coverage

Massive $1k increase to Centrelink payments‘Get a job!’: Furious ‘dole bludgers’ row erupts

The Australian Council of Social Service lobby group, which facilitated the couple’s earlier media appearances, declined to make them available for comment.

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