University researcher wins Human Rights Award for Literature

January 12 / 78

Dr John Murphy accepting the Human Rights Award for Literature given by the Australian Human Rights Commission
Dr John Murphy accepting the Human Rights Award for Literature given by the Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission has awarded University researcher Associate Professor John Murphy and his colleagues from RMIT, UNSW and University of Queensland  the 2011 Human Rights Award for Literature (Non-Fiction) for their book, Half a Citizen: Life on Welfare in Australia.

Nominated entries addressed compelling human rights issues in Australia.

The book is based on a large Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant the team received and includes research based on interviews with 150 Australians living on income support.

Dr Murphy led the project and co-authored the book with Suellen Murray (RMIT), Jenny Chalmers (UNSW), Sonia Martin (RMIT) and Greg Marston (University of Queensland). He said the team was very pleased to have received this recognition and thanked all those who participated in interviews for the research which led to the book. 

“We asked recipients of support how they got by on a low income, how they saw welfare rights and what they thought welfare support was for, and how they felt they were regarded and treated by governments, Centrelink and the wider community,” he said.
Dr Murphy said many participants felt they were treated without respect and were subject to ritual humiliations because they needed support.

“The book shows the widespread assumptions on which welfare to work policies are based, including the passivity and social exclusion of welfare recipients, are often false,” he said.

“Many of our participants were actively engaged and contributing in social and community networks as well as caring for children or others.”

The researchers showed while poverty was obviously a relative term, it was clear the unemployed living on Newstart were well below the poverty line, and for all participants, the costs and stability of their housing were critical factors.
“Recognition by the Human Rights Commission of the importance of these issues illustrates how much, when seen from below, our welfare policies are increasingly harsh in how they treat those who need assistance. That reflects on the fabric of our society in general and the quality of its public discussion of welfare and human needs,” Dr Murphy said.

Half a Citizen: Life on Welfare in Australia was published by Allen and Unwin, 2011. For further information, visit

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