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Is Tony Abbott Exploiting Young Workers With Unpaid Internships?

Is Tony Abbott exploiting young workers with unpaid internships?

Former prime minster Tony Abbott has been accused of exploiting young workers after advertising unpaid internships in his local electorate office for the upcoming election campaign.

The ad was posted on Mr Abbott’s ‘Battlelines’ website, and calls for 20 “dedicated and energetic people” to assist with his campaign over the next eight weeks.

Called the “Battlelines Bootcamp”, the internships promise to combine “best-practice campaign techniques with on the ground practical training”.

The only problem – the internships are not paid, and the “campaign tactics” and “practical training” that are supposedly on offer, are not specified.

Internships are ‘dodgy’

Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Industrial Relations Claims, described the internships as “dodgy”, and warned keen young volunteers that they could be signing up to be exploited.

“Look, it’s pretty clear what’s really going on here – Mr Abbott is in trouble in his local electorate, and he desperately needs volunteers to man phones and run his social media – so instead of calling for volunteers, he’s using that fancy word that means working for nothing – ‘internship’,” he said.

“Mr Abbott is no doubt hoping that the ad will attract tech savvy young people who are looking for their first job, rather than the over-55 brigade, who might not be so good on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and email.”

Mr Heffernan said legitimate internships involve the participant observing and learning, and benefiting from the experience, but he has found that they are mostly used by businesses (and desperate politicians) as a source of free labour.

“I’ll bet Tony’s interns will be getting the lunches, knocking on doors, cold calling voters, answering phones, sending emails and taking pics and videos of the candidate to post on social media – I mean, what does ‘best campaign techniques’ actually mean? – What is he actually offering?  Abbott’s people can’t even answer that.”

Abbott under pressure from opponent

Mr Abbott, who holds the seat of Warringah on a 61.6 per cent two party preferred margin, is facing a a tough challenge from independent opponent Zali Steggall, a former Olympic skier turned lawyer.

Some polls have Mr Abbott trailing Ms Steggall, and set to lose the seat he has held since 1994.

Mr Abbott has recently launched a social media blitzkrieg, appearing to all of a sudden care about local issues, like public transport, roads and tunnels and surf club toilet blocks.

Tony Abbott with some of his volunteers.

Details of internships still being finalised

According to a spokesperson for Mr Abbott, the successful intern applicants will “spend their time embedded in the campaign, learning from best-practice political campaign techniques while complementing the efforts of volunteers from the local area” – 

“While details are still being finalised, the Liberal Party is founded on volunteerism and the program will operate in a manner similar to other campaign exchanges run by all political parties.”

Mr Heffernan questioned how the experience of the interns would differ from other workers and volunteers on the campaign, and warned that they shouldn’t be doing work that is normally done by paid staff.

“The law says that if people on work experience or are undertaking an internship are doing the work that would normally be done by a paid employee, then an employment relationship has been established, and they must be paid,” Mr Heffernan said.

Internships are ‘a con’

In a previous opinion piece published by Fairfax, ABC Radio presenter Wendy Harmer described internships as ‘a con’ – and advised parents not to let their children work for free:

“More companies are structuring their business models around you and I handing over our offspring rent-free.

“It’s time all Australian parents stood up and said an emphatic ”no” to the growing trend here for US-style internships.  Too often it’s a fancy word for working for nothing.”

ABC Radio presenter Wendy Harmer says unpaid internships are ‘a con’.

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If you have not been paid your proper wages and entitlements, or have been exploited through an unpaid internship, you may be entitled to compensation.

Please call our specialist team at Industrial Relations Claims today on

1300 045 466

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