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Struggle Street sparks exploitation fears

Struggle Street: poverty porn or reality?

The Mayor of Blacktown labelled it ‘poverty porn’ but it has started a conversation on social media about disadvantage, inequality and unemployment.


The controversial SBS series Struggle Street – now being filmed in Melbourne – has been condemned by the state government, which will raise its concerns with Film Victoria.

Housing and Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley said he became aware that filming started in Sunshine and Broadmeadows late last week.

Bailey, left, and Erin, from the first season of <i>Struggle Street</i>.

Bailey, left, and Erin, from the first season of Struggle Street.

The first season of Struggle Street documented life in disadvantaged communities in the western Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt, with critics slamming it as “poverty porn”.


“I have great concerns that this show displays an objectification of poverty and disadvantage,” Mr Foley said.

He said he would raise his concerns with Film Victoria immediately, and work to ensure participants in the show had “adequate support”.

Martin Foley, Victoria's Housing and Creative Industries Minister, will raise his concerns about <i>Struggle Street</i> with Film Victoria.

Martin Foley, Victoria’s Housing and Creative Industries Minister, will raise his concerns about Struggle Street with Film Victoria. Photo: 3AW

Film Victoria is providing funding for the new season, but chief executive Jenni Tosi declined to reveal how much money had been allocated.

“Specific funding details are generally not announced for individual projects, as they are considered to be commercially sensitive and therefore treated as confidential,” she said.

Hume City Council has already rejected an application to film the series in Broadmeadows. But it is powerless to stop residents inviting the series producers into their homes.

Blacktown City Council garbage trucks outside the SBS headquarters in protest of <i>Struggle Street</i>, ahead of the first episode in 2015.

Blacktown City Council garbage trucks outside the SBS headquarters in protest of Struggle Street, ahead of the first episode in 2015. Photo: Ryan Pierse

Public housing tenants are also free to participate in the program in their own homes.

Film and entertainment lawyer Shaun Miller told Fairfax Media that crews must get council permits before shooting in public places.

“The council will need to organise such things as redirecting traffic, blocking off streets and reserving street parking for the heavy equipment used in making the production,” Mr Miller said.

The Kennedy family, from season one of the SBS documentary series.

The Kennedy family, from season one of the SBS documentary series.

But a “possible exception” includes documentaries involving a single camera, with one or two other crew members.

Fairfax Media understands the producers believe they do not need a permit for public places such as local roads and parks.

A spokesman for Blacktown City Council – where the first season was filmed – said: “There was no consultation with us, they just rocked up and started filming.”

Mr Miller said it is difficult for councils to monitor filming within their boundaries. Nor do they have any power to impound recorded footage, claim a copyright share, or bring an injunction to stop its distribution.

A Hume City Council spokesman insisted that permits are required to film in all public spaces. While crews of six or fewer don’t need a permit, they must get council permission.

The spokesman claimed Struggle Street‘s producers asked for “blanket approval” without specifying when or where they wanted to film.

A spokeswoman for Brimbank City Council said Struggle Street does not have approval to film within its boundaries.

“The current penalty for use or occupation of council land without a permit is $250 and the possibility of prosecution in the Magistrate’s court with penalties commencing at $1000,” she said.

SBS declined to comment on the dispute over permits. Instead, a spokeswoman said: “Struggle Street is about exploring issues of hardship that people and communities can find themselves in for a whole range of reasons … through personal stories, challenges such as industry downturn and transition, unemployment and other issues of social and economic hardship, which reflect the challenges of Australians across the country.

“The areas that we will film in are areas where challenges reflect universal socio-economic issues and where we can get first-hand stories that help Australians to engage with the broader issues.”

Earlier this month the Victorian Public Tenants Association wrote to the Maribyrnong City Council, urging it to reject an application to film the series in Braybrook.

“We agree with widespread community views that the only aim of these programmes is to exploit the poor for the purposes of cheap entertainment,” the letter said. “We fear that the series would misrepresent the Braybrook community.”

The first season was criticised for its emphasis on Mount Druitt, prompting some critics to argue it stigmatised the area. Fairfax Media understands there will be less emphasis on the identity of individual suburbs in the second season, which will also be filmed in Queensland.

It is also understood that SBS may use its other current affairs programs – including Insight, Dateline and The Feed – to explore the economic and policy issues that arise from the series.

Know more? Email: b.preiss@fairfaxmedia.com.au or mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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