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Tag Archives: ACOSS

Scrap the digital workhouse. An open letter to Tony Burke.

We know you are new in your job, Tony and face not only the huge demands of your portfolio but a backlog of catastrophic ineptitude and deceit left you by a Morrison government whose criminal negligence of health and welfare was rivalled only by its pandering to corporate oligarchs and its bent for wholesale corruption, but can you, please, reconsider Pbas?

Pbas is the points-based system that the Coalition was keen to inflict on job-seekers, a jobactive revamp it promoted as “more flexible” than mandatory job application. It’s not. It’s Liberal propaganda designed to pillory job seekers for being out of work. Lazy dole-bludgers. Political point-scoring. Baked into it is unconscionable, sadistic cruelty and victim-blaming. It’s the antithesis of everything we’ve come to associate with Labor.

Above all, Pbas won’t work. It’s too complex. It’s discriminatory and opaque. Users are at the mercy of a computer that decides if they’ve earned enough points. Of course, there are numbers to ring and visits you can make but have you ever tried to visit or ring Centrelink? Now Services Australia, another brave new oxymoron, says it is cutting work to outsourced call centres by thirty per cent. It’s as if they’ve set up the new system and Labor to fail. It’s a $7 billion dollar booby trap. You don’t want to crash and burn so soon after winning office.

Clients also are set up to fail. 200,000 people every month had payments suspended in Jobactive. Who knows how they met their rent or bought their groceries? ACOSS warns that Pbas will replicate this cruelty. It takes the Jobactive debacle and makes it worse.

It’s cruel. Pbas will make it harder for the poor and needy to get support, in the same ways that Morrison’s regime restricted access to the NDIS and individuals had their funding cut. Liberals love to scare us into believing that welfare is a crippling financial liability. Yet corporate welfare is vital. Billions are blown in subsidies to wealthy corporate donors. But look after the aged, the disabled, the poor and the needy? A burden we can’t afford. Nonsense. In fact, there are huge economic benefits in being a responsible government supporting and empowering all Australians. Take the NDIS as an example.

The economic benefit of the NDIS in 2020/21 was $52.4 billion, according to Per Capita. It adds economic activity worth $29 billion to $23.3 billion in NDIS spending. $2.25 was delivered to the economy for every dollar spent, it calculates. Conversely, there are huge costs beyond every pension dollar withheld. Consider the harm Pbas does to a jobseeker’s self-esteem. Bad enough you’re between jobs – or that you can’t get enough hours. Now you’re going to incur demerits as you lose points on Pbas.

Imagine the emotional labour and frustration of having to navigate a system so absurdly arbitrary and punitive that it is dubbed “Hunger Games meets Black Mirror”.

No wonder job seekers sampled recently used the word “suicidal” in their responses to how the new scheme could make them feel. Surely Labor could heed the warnings. No-one has forgotten or forgiven Robodebt. Do you really want to go down this path?

Not only will many be set up to fail the test, which favours the more literate job-seeker with resources such as access to a digital device, internet and time, but Pbas fails us as a compassionate, civil society. It fails Labor, too. If Labor still believes in a fair go. Has Labor done any research? Monash University’s David O’Halloran has conducted an online survey. His 447 job seekers were not only worried about getting a hundred points, a key feature of the system, they were afraid they’d be penalised, another design highlight.

Best heed the early warnings. Listen, as the PM promised he would listen to all Australians. Do you really want to continue the welfare terrorism of Coalition governments?

O’Halloran reckons, “ … harm was actually being designed into the system”.

In his view it’s “still based on the assumption, if you’re unemployed, you don’t want to work”.

I know, Labor supported Pbas in the last government. It’s tricky. Small target strategy can mean you snooker yourself. But you are the government. You can scrap it tomorrow. I’ve read your press releases. You’ve “tweaked it”, you say. But you can’t polish a turd. Pbas is hurtful. It’s been designed that way.

The same crew who brought us Robodebt. presents, Robo Task. Ta-Da. Starring a nifty computer algorithm to cut off your funds. Pbas is not a humane welfare system – but a digital workhouse set up to brutalise people in desperate economic need and push them out of the system and onto the street,” warns The Unemployed Workers Union. Bill Shorten uses the same image.

You’ll need to be computer-savvy, too. As ACOSS helpfully points out. “Your payment may be suspended if you do not complete the report for your points at the end of your reporting period. You will need to report these points to stop your payment from being suspended.” But let’s say you get your hundred points. How helpful is the site?

I just did a search on your new Jobactive 2.0 website. Guess what? As with everything else Morrison, it’s a dud. There’s not a single job in our regional town of around 9,000 people. Petrol is up to $2.20 a litre in town but there are a few jobs if you travel an hour each day. That’s just if you are lucky enough to get an interview. The bigger centres have plenty of locals on their books and an industry of job agencies. But PBAS is more than a website, of course, it’s a points system masquerading as self-help in that unctuous, patronising, condescending tone trademark of the Morrison horror-show.

Here’s a sample.

“Do you want to improve your English, reading and writing skills? Improving these skills could help you find a job or lead to other study or employment opportunities. The Skills for Education and Employment program is a free program that can provide you with training to improve your reading, writing, maths and digital skills.” Of course, it will. It will also improve the bottom line of the Pbas tutorial agencies that will pullulate, like mushrooms in the dark, all over the country, overnight.

The SEE program will help you overcome obstacles and achieve your career goals. You’ll gain new skills and confidence and learn alongside others with similar experience. The training is flexible to suit you, so you can do full or part-time, in a classroom or at home. You can even gain a certificate-level qualification through the SEE program. To see if you can join, contact your Employment Services Provider or Centrelink.”

Life’s hard enough if you’re one of the 1,360,100, the ABS reckons are unemployed, underemployed or unlucky enough to be retired but too young to go on the pension. You must make do on a pittance that is below the poverty line.

There is a full-blown crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians who face vegetable price rises of 27% annually, pro-rata over the first three months of this year. Basics such as baked beans and sausages are up 20%-30%.

The penurious amount paid to Centrelink pensioners is a national scandal that governments are able to ignore because they are marginalised and voiceless. Helping is a Murdoch-led media which is keen to scapegoat those out of work as bludgers. Yet steep rises in the cost of food, rent, power and fuel are turning crisis into catastrophe. You own five houses, Tony, You enjoy a high salary, generous allowances, a top superannuation scheme and you’ve just had a 2.75 per cent pay rise. Can you even begin to imagine what it’s like to have to get by on fifty-four dollars a day? (With rental assistance.)

We have a clear idea because our wonderful 37-year-old daughter has to do just that. Matilda’s degenerative bone disease means she’s in continuous pain. She’ll need two new hip replacements shortly. It’s seven months to see a pain specialist.

Centrelink puts hurdles in her way. Her pain can only get worse yet Matilda must continuously get certificates from a GP to be exempt from applying for jobs she’s got no show of ever getting, let alone doing and which are scarce enough in a regional town. Fifty-four dollars if you qualify for rent assistance looks pitiful against the $291 per day that you can claim for accommodation in Canberra. It’s more if you have to stay in other cities. Unlike your job, Tony, with your accommodation and your travel allowances, there’s no fringe benefits in Matilda’s job. Matilda doesn’t get enough hours at her workplace where she’s worked for seven years without sick leave or benefits because she’s a “permanent casual”, an oxymoronic term embracing up to a quarter of the workforce.

The way workplaces are run these days means that more and more Australians are working casual shifts. It saves the boss a fortune but work itself becomes ever more precarious. And stressful. Along with many other young workers with special needs, our daughter has difficulty coping with change. I’m our daughter’s nominee in dealing with Centrelink but there’s been no warning of the change. It starts July 1st. Granted, no-one will be penalised in the first month but it will take all of that to get over the shock of having the rules changed so suddenly and without any consultation, whatsoever, with prospective users. The PM promises a government that will listen. How hard would it be to consult those vulnerable men and women who must suffer your grand design? At $7 billion dollars, Pbas is an unwarranted extravagance for any government let alone a Labor government which has its origins in looking after workers and their families. It’s just another costly way to punish the 548,100 unemployed and the 821,000 the ABS tells us are underemployed. (It’s far more than these statistics show given the way data is collected.)

You are not unemployed for example if you live on a family farm or are part of a family business and do one hour’s work a week unpaid. You do not enter unemployment statistics if you have given up looking for work. Or if you have given up on the system altogether because it’s all too hard. Is that your aim, Tony? Save the welfare spend by getting the poor job-seeker to drop out? We hope not. But if you continue with Pbas that’s what will happen. Not to mention the confusion, suffering and distress you will inflict on some of our most vulnerable by proceeding with a points-based system that is unworkable, unfair and downright cruel.

A society can be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members. So far, Labor is breaking its election promise to be a government for all Australians by proceeding with a job-seeker system that discriminates against the powerless, poor and marginalised worker who has too few hours or who, increasingly, may be unable to find work. Would the women and the young people who voted for you, have done so had they known you were simply going down the Morrison government’s road of punishing the poor and vulnerable? You say it’s too late to change. It’s not. You’re in government. You can halt Pbas immediately. Dismantle the digital workhouse. Jobseekers, the aged and the disabled don’t need more ways to make them feel they are a burden. Take the $37 billion you are going to give to the rich. Use it to help create fair and liveable pensions instead.

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Now is not the time for subsidy cuts, says ACTU

The timing of cuts to government welfare subsidy programs such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper still lacks an appropriate nature at the start of 2021 as the Australian economy still lags in times of a recession, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said in its New Year’s message.

Addressing the nation’s workforce, and speaking specifically to the plight of the unemployed, under-employed and those labouring in insecure jobs, Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant secretary, said that while unemployment rates remain high, the Morrison government going ahead with its cuts to subsidy packages takes much-needed money out of the hands of those who can best boost the nation’s flagging economy.

Initially lauded for introducing subsidies to help the suddenly-unemployed when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, the government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg has proceeded to slash JobSeeker recipients’ coronavirus subsidy from its original $550 per fortnight to complement the old NewStart base rate of $559.00 per fortnight, to $250 per fortnight as of 25 September to $150 per fortnight effective their first full fortnightly reporting interval in 2021.

Connolly cites that living on an average of $51.20 per day after the most recent cut leaves JobSeeker recipients struggling even further to spend money on life’s necessities of rent, bills, and groceries, let alone anything beyond them.

“After a year spent battling bushfires and surviving a pandemic, the last thing Australians should have to worry about now is how they will pay their bills or put food on the table,” Connolly said on Friday.

The JobKeeper subsidy is also meeting the government’s machete chops, to the tune of $100 per fortnight, taking it to $1000 per fortnight for workers that had performed part- or full-time positions, or $650 per fortnight for those working under 20 hours per week.

And Connolly stresses that the cuts add up, especially for those who had been used to the struggles of their normal everyday lives.

“For many Australians, the JobKeeper coronavirus supplement meant that for the first time, they were able to eat three meals a day, or purchase much-needed medications,” Connolly said.

“To take that away from them now as this difficult year draws to a close is both callous and heartbreaking,” he added.

As reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last month in its November figures, the national unemployment rate continues to hover at 6.8 per cent – which represents an improvement of 0.2 per cent from October as workers who were put aside by their employers at the start of the pandemic returned to their duties represented a portion of those responsible for the improved numbers.

However, as the union movement and the Australian workforce continue to struggle with the impact of the current state of unemployed and under-employed as well as those embroiled in a spate of insecure jobs, Connolly also cites the recent resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases in New South Wales and Victoria as another factor as to why Morrison and Frydenberg would have been justified to delay the current round of cuts.

In fact, Connolly and the ACTU claim that the failure to even consider this action revealed a lack of proper initiative on the part of the government.

“With COVID-19 resurging in NSW and the national economic crisis far from over, cutting economic support to millions of struggling Australians is also an extremely irresponsible act,” Connolly said.

Bill Shorten, the former leader of the Labor party now serving Anthony Albanese’s shadow government as its minister for government services, concurs that the timing is poor to go ahead with the scheduled cuts.

“The government should reconsider it,” Shorten told Nine’s Today program on December 29.

“We are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic and the economic effects. They are reverberating around the economy, especially in regional towns and suburbs where there are a lot of casual workers who have bourne the biggest brunt.

“For the less well off, we shouldn’t be cutting their circumstances at this point in time,” Shorten added.

Youth unemployment remains another factor which the unions and government figures alike are grappling with, as the recent round of cuts will likely hit workers aged 16-to-24 years of age even worse.

According to the ABS in its November statistics on employment, youth unemployment currently sits at 15.6 per cent – and noting a 12-month increase of 4.1 per cent over the year before – and while that figure calculates to more than double of the national general rate of unemployment, fears abound of what impact that may have on the economy.

Especially when disabling demographics of people who are otherwise motivated to spend money to inspire a struggling economy.

“Cutting the rates of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is only going to worsen the impact of the coronavirus crisis on young workers and our community. We need jobs, not cuts,” Young Workers Centre manager Arian McVeigh said back in September, when the first cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper were on the eve of occurring.

 

Arian McVeigh, manager of the Young Workers Centre, who warned about the impact of JobSeeker and JobKeeper cuts back in September (Photo from abc.net.au)

 

Moreover, when the initial JobSeeker and JobKeeper cuts took effect, it was forecast to stifle the Australian economy by $31.2 billion according to a joint report from economics analysis firm Deloitte and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) – and while real figures to confirm the degree of impact have yet to be released, agreements range widely outside of government figures which confirm that consumers lack the confidence to spend money.

Advocates for the “Raise The Rate For Good” hashtag trending across social media would claim that a move to raising the old NewStart rate permanently – which has not occurred since 1994 – would help restore that confidence.

And while the ACTU has pushed for that payment to resemble the original JobSeeker amount, Labor ministers such as Shorten and Linda Burney, the ALP’s shadow minister for families and social services, have vowed to attack the issue when Parliament sits for the first time in 2021 next month before the current rate of JobSeeker and JobKeeper subsidies are set to expire at the end of March.

“Around two million Australians will be impacted by the government’s scheduled cut to the coronavirus supplement next March,” Burney said last month when announcing a similar bill to the upper house.

“Returning unemployment support to the old base rate places millions of Australians at risk of hardship and jeopardises local jobs,” added Burney.

 

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Conspiracy of silence

Image by thethingswesay.com

Image by thethingswesay.com

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”
― Harry S Truman

If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers. Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.

There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection. Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.

If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:

“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.

On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.

The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”

We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet. No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!

Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.

“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,” Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.

And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.

Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.

Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.

The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.

A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government. Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.

Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”

However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.

The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.

In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:

An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”

The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence. As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.

Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”. He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014. This was referred to a Senate Committee.

In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”. The vast majority of the sector disagrees.

In June we read that

The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.

Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.

“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year. The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.

By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005. In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.

Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.

In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.

It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”

Since the 2013 election

AXED

Social Inclusion Board

National Housing Supply Council

Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness

National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing

National Children and Family Roundtable

Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing

Immigration Health Advisory Group

DEFUNDED

Refugee Council of Australia

Australian Youth Affairs Council

Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

ADDED

Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council

Australian Treasury Advisory Council

Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO

Innovation and Technology Working Group

Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership

Indigenous Advisory Council

Aged Care Sector Committee

 

Note: Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA. The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months. Happy days for tax cheats.

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