CheckMate is a weekly newsletter from RMIT FactLab that draws on the work of its sister organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check, to recap the latest in the world of fact checking and misinformation.
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CheckMate February 3, 2023
In this first edition of CheckMate for 2023, we investigate a claim that Labor’s decision to end the cashless debit card has contributed to surging crime in Alice Springs.
Also, we debunk suggestions that activists sought to ban the Aretha Franklin hit A Natural Woman, and bring you the latest on new legislation to combat online misinformation and disinformation.
Peter Dutton linked the end of the cashless debit card to crime in Alice Springs. What are the facts?
On the day of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s whirlwind trip to Alice Springs last week, opposition leader Peter Dutton sought to blame Labor for soaring crime in the Central Australian town.
Appearing on the Today Show, Mr Dutton was asked by host Karl Stefanovic about the former government’s apparent inability to curb rising crime in Alice Springs while at the helm.
“We implemented a grog ban and implemented the cashless debit card, or the BasicsCard, to stop people spending money on alcohol and drugs, instead spending money on kids and their family, and the Labor government’s unwound all of that,” he responded.
“So, that’s contributed significantly to the deterioration that we’ve seen across the Northern Territory over the course of the last six months or so.”
But what evidence is there that Labor’s decision to abolish the card has played a role in rising crime in Alice Springs?
Not much, given the card remains in use in the Northern Territory.
The cashless debit card quarantines up to 80 per cent of welfare recipients’ payments so the money cannot be spent on alcohol or gambling or be withdrawn as cash.
Legislation was indeed passed in September last year in order to roll back the program, as Labor sought to fulfil a major election promise.
However, while the program is being wound up in some parts of the country, participants in the Northern Territory, of which there are around 4,200, have so far been exempted from the change and will remain using the card until March 6.
After that date, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Social Services (DSS), “all eligible cashless debit card participants in the Northern Territory will transition to enhanced income management”.
“When the transition to enhanced income management occurs … there will be additional restrictions on card spending, better user experience and a connection to Services Australia,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“All eligible income management participants in the Northern Territory remain on income management.”
Likewise, the BasicsCard — which operates in a similar way to the cashless debit card but can only be used in government-approved stores and businesses — is still in effect across the region.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in October that the future of the BasicsCard would be determined by an 18-month consultation process, although the paper also noted that government sources had confirmed the card would be phased out.
Official crime data compiled by the Northern Territory government, meanwhile, shows that almost all types of criminal offences were on the rise before Labor’s cashless debit card changes.
In the year to July 2022, domestic violence-related assaults were up 22 per cent, alcohol-related assaults rose by 20 per cent and home break-ins, commercial break-ins and vehicle thefts had also shown “significant increases”.
The latest data, for the year to November 2022, reveals the extent of the escalating violence in Alice Springs, with assaults overall up 43 per cent and alcohol-related assaults rising 54 per cent.
No, trans activists did not try to ban Aretha Franklin’s A Natural Woman
A suggestion that transgender activists had called for the removal of Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman from streaming platforms has been shared by Australian news outlets, despite the demand originating from a parody Twitter account.
A Sky News Australia headline, for instance, declared: “Aretha Franklin song ‘Natural Woman’ deemed offensive”.
An accompanying video features a clip from the Sky News program Outsiders, in which host Rowan Dean suggests the tweet — which he acknowledges “maybe is parody” — was evidence that the hit song was being “demonised by the ‘woke’ as offensive to trans people”.
The tweet in question, which is shown on screen while Dean talks, was posted in January by an account called “TCMA: Trans Cultural Mindfulness Alliance”.
“Aretha Franklin’s 1968 song ‘Natural Woman’ perpetuates multiple harmful anti-trans stereotypes,” the tweet reads. “There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ woman.
“This song has helped inspire acts of harm against transgender women. TCMA is requesting it is removed from Spotify & Apple Music.”
But as alluded to by Dean and his co-host, Rita Panahi, the TCMA Twitter account is indeed a parody account, a fact clearly missed by Sky News followers commenting on social media.
The owner of the account confirmed in a message to radio streaming platform iHeartRadio that the tweet was intended as parody and that he “never imagined anyone would take it seriously”.
According to iHeartRadio: “The individual said it was intended as a commentary on ‘woke’ culture and ‘media stupidity’.” The prankster apparently added: “Not ONE media outlet contacted me prior to reporting this s**t lol.”
Fact checkers at PolitiFact, meanwhile, pointed out the account had published numerous other posts — “putting pineapple on pizza is transphobic”, for example — that suggested its tweets were intended in jest.
ACMA to get more powers to fight online misinformation and disinformation
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will be given new powers to fight online misinformation and disinformation under new legislation set to be introduced by the federal government later this year.
Under the plan, which was announced by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, ACMA will be given “new information-gathering and record-keeping powers” in a bid to increase transparency around how digital platforms respond to harmful information.
The authority would also be given the power to register an enforceable industry code and create a standard should self-regulation measures prove insufficient in addressing the threat of online misinformation.
“Misinformation and disinformation poses a threat to the safety and wellbeing of Australians, as well as to our democracy, society and economy,” the minister said.
“A new and graduated set of powers will enable the ACMA to monitor efforts and compel digital platforms to do more, placing Australia at the forefront in tackling harmful online misinformation and disinformation.”
Anne Kruger, associate director of RMIT FactLab, said the announcement had been well received by industry and stakeholders but still required “much consultation”.
“Misinformation and disinformation is at the intersection … of constant hacking, cybersecurity and national security concerns, and requires a multi-pronged approach with support from government, platforms, business and stakeholders,” Dr Kruger said.
“This includes better educating the public so that it becomes natural for audiences to feel empowered and arming organisations with a better awareness of how to slow down and avoid misinformation and disinformation.”
She added that the new powers would extend to media platforms not already voluntarily signed up to the existing Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) Code.
“[This] is worth highlighting as we currently have a regulatory code that has been signed by the mainstream, open tech companies and platforms,” she explained.
“But when misinformation and disinformation accounts are banned or downgraded in these spaces, the account operators often jump to more closed or alternate spaces, such as Telegram, that have not signed up to the code and are therefore much less moderated.”
Edited by Ellen McCutchan and David Campbell