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Tag Archives: Centrelink

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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An Open Letter to Stuart Robert

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Mr Robert,

My name is Elliot Dolan-Evans and I am a voter in Footscray, Melbourne. I am currently completing a PhD at Monash University in political economy and feminist studies, I am a registered medical practitioner, and a law graduate awaiting admittance to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

I write this open letter to condemn the Robodebt Centrelink Scheme unequivocally and urge you to stop enforcing the unsubstantiated debts of vulnerable Australians. If this scheme is to continue at all, which it should not, then any Australian being contacted by Centrelink must be provided with all documents (including the Debt Schedule) that demonstrates the alleged debt, along with calculations and notes determining the alleged debt made by Centrelink, and free legal advice to effectively and fairly challenge it.

As a legal graduate, I am greatly concerned that the hundreds of thousands of Australians who have been contacted by Centrelink have not been given due process under the law. There is a lack of information provided by Centrelink in the first instance to their Robodebt, and even on subsequent requests for proof, Centrelink do not provide the required documents. I have been assisting several friends, colleagues and vulnerable members of the community, and not once has the Debt Schedule of the person alleged to have a debt ever voluntarily sent by Centrelink. Only through FOI requests does this occur, which is a process most Australians do not know how to initiate. Then, when the Debt Schedule is provided, there are no notes, no workings, and no indication as to how the Robodebt has been calculated. A vast majority of Australians do not understand their rights concerning Robodebt claims, do not know the correct process in obtaining documentation, and community legal clinics are so under-funded in this country, by the Australian government, there is no capacity to assist.

As a medical doctor, I am severely concerned that the harassment of vulnerable Australians with Robodebt claims is having a deleterious outcome on mental, and subsequently, physical health. The number of people that I have assisted, who are all predominantly university graduates and young, have been devastated mentally by the ordeal of Centrelink harassment and the quick referral to aggressive debt collectors. This is undeniably translating to poor physical health, and I have serious concerns for those more vulnerable. This is without mentioning the incredibly burdensome financial costs of unproven and unsubstantiated Robodebts. I assert, again, that these debts are unproven and unsubstantiated until Centrelink properly provides all documentation and explanation to those it is trying to extract money from. Otherwise, it is a complete abuse of government power and intimidation, towards people who generally do not have the tools and knowledge to challenge these Robodebts.

Again, I demand that the Centrelink Robodebt Scheme is immediately halted. The physical, financial, and mental impacts that it is having on Australians is absolutely and unequivocally damaging and is fundamentally unjust. For all of those who have been accused of having a debt, whether paid or not, Centrelink must provide all documentation relating to their debt immediately and provide free legal advice to help navigate these damaging accusations.

Kind Regards,

Elliot Dolan-Evans MBBS, LLB (Hons), BAppSci (Hons)

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This government is now officially obscene

One of my more mundane, but at times more amusing jobs as a federal public servant was for a short time reviewing letters to and from the Prime Minister and happy or unhappy campers. The Prime Minister, of course, laid his or her eyes on none of these letters.

I recall one letter to Kevin Rudd from a fanatically furious and foul-mouthed lady demanding that the government do more for her. She had been unemployed for eight years and it was, by the tone and content of the letter, Kevin Rudd’s fault plain and simple. In that eight years she had applied for a whopping 30 jobs and was exasperated that she was still unemployed. The announcement of her desperate plight concluded with these exact words: “What more do I have to do?”

Thirty job applications in eight years; well, I guess she could have done a bit more.

I hope she finally has a job. I also hope she’s over 30. If the answer is ‘no’ to either then she’s about to get real busy.

Young job seekers forced to wait six months for unemployment benefits will be required to apply for 40 jobs a month . . . despite not receiving any money, job seekers will be required to meet the activity requirements for unemployment benefits throughout this period.

If they fail to do so, their waiting period will be extended by four weeks.

A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews defended the requirements.

“These expectations are reasonable… “

Surely they can’t be serious?

Expecting a person to apply for ten jobs a week is as ridiculous as applying for 30 in eight years.

Many would argue that there are probably thousands of unemployed people who do actually apply for 10 jobs a week, and there no doubt are. I admire their tenacity and resolve. But to expect everyone under the net to apply for 10 jobs a week is raising the bar of expectation far too high.

Apart from the incredible expense this saddles upon the job seeker (as noted by Rossleigh), there are plenty of others who will feel the strain. Can you imagine how unproductive for an employer it would be if he or she were to receive truck loads of applications for a job he or she placed in the local paper? Every employer who advertised a position will in all likelihood need a good two weeks just wading through the applications.

Can you imagine the pitfalls of offering yourself as a referee for a job seeker who applies for ten jobs a week? Unless you enjoy writing referee reports or constantly taking calls from hopeful employers then it’s highly likely you’d happily rescind your offer.

And what if you scored an interview but could not attend because it was in a town or city hundreds of kilometres from where you live? You only applied for the job because there were none in your home town. You knew that you couldn’t attend the interview and by applying for the job you’ve basically wasted the employer’s time, but you applied because of your obligations.

Dozens of examples could be put forward that highlight where this policy is an absolute farce. It’s just another farcical policy from what is nothing more than a farcical government. For the Minister’s office to suggest that these expectations on the job seekers are reasonable show that he has no idea what young people outside of his circle of acquaintances have to endure. Where they live. How they live. Their family circumstances.

Doesn’t he realise that most unemployed people are trying to find work? Does he too not realise that there aren’t enough jobs to go around? Does he not understand the depression many of these young people have to deal with even without this added responsibility.

I’m appalled that this government has decided for themselves that all young unemployed people aren’t doing enough to find work. The mere fact that they are hopeful of introducing a policy that will deny people under the age of 30 any income support is surely enough motivation for those young people to find work. They don’t need to be made to apply for 40 jobs a month. They don’t need to be set up for failure.

This is obscene.

Has the Minister even bothered to look at the vacancies in any rural area to see if there are even 40 jobs a month on offer? Has anyone? And now we read that there are forecasts that the job market is going to dry up even further for young people.

It’s a pity that Ministers never get (or bother) to read the correspondence from disgruntled voters such as the lady who wrote to Kevin Rudd. If they did, maybe they’d come to the realisation of what life is like in the real world.

More articles by Michael Taylor:

Hockey’s lazy, lying helpers

Can ‘The Australian’ stoop any lower?

Just a quick question; has the line been crossed?

 

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Hockey’s lazy, lying helpers

It disturbs me that this email is hitting the in-box. Disturbing in that there appear to be a high number of Australians who are satisfied with the cruelty this government is dishing out to the nation’s underprivileged.

The email:

Subject: Written by a 21 year old female… Make her PM

“The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are outnumbered by those who vote for a living”.

This was written by a 21 yr old female who gets it. It’s her future she’s worried about and this is how she feels about the social welfare system that she’s being forced to live in! These solutions are just common sense in her opinion.

Put me in charge…

Put me in charge of Centrelink payments. I’d get rid of cash payments and provide vouchers for 50kg bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese, basic sanitary items and all the powdered milk you can use. If you want steak, burgers, takeaway and junk food, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicare. The first thing I’d do is to get women to have birth control implants. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce, use drugs, drink alcohol or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your “home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

Put me in charge of compulsory job search. You will either search for employment each week no matter what the job or you will report for community work. This may be clearing the roadways and open spaces of rubbish, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your dooff dooff stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good”.

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realise that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our hard earned cash and housing assistance, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin someone’s “self-esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self-esteem.

If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards those for continuing to make bad choices.

AND While you are on Centrelink income you no longer have the right to VOTE! For you to vote would be a conflict of interest… If you want to vote, then get a job.

Now, if you have the guts – PASS IT ON.

You may wonder why I’m giving publicity to this disgraceful email when the best option would have been to send it straight to the trash bin. Well, there’s a message in it. Not to the recipient, but to those low-life individuals who have it in their small minds that it should be, according to their wish, passed on. Instead, you can pass it back. I’m hoping that if you too receive the email you might have the urge to let the sender know about this:

Has anyone else seen this ??? It was sent to me today by an old friend. I call it “PUT ME IN CHARGE” and its message can be summarized by the final quote:

“The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are outnumbered by those who vote for a living.”

For me, this message beautifully addresses the ‘entitlement attitude’ that seems so common today amongst the electorate and it does so in a very interesting and forthright manner – somewhat blunt, maybe, but still an appropriate message just the same.

This was written by a British 21 yr old female who “gets it”.

Yes, a British girl. Note too the date: July 2012.

How she ended up being British I will never know. She used to be American. Well she was in 2011.

And how about “The problems we face today… “? Well they certainly weren’t written by a 21 year old girl from America, Britain, Australia or wherever the right-wingers wish to dig one up from. They can be credited to a fellow called Dan Cofall and I can assure you he definitely wasn’t referring to those damn Aussie welfare bludgers when he penned it.

The email itself isn’t as important as the knowledge that there are people in Australia who not only hold this opinion, but actually want to believe it. And if ‘believing’ it means they have to resort to perpetuating what is clearly a fabricated piece, then either they’ve bought the government’s line that the age of entitlement is over, or they have an inherently morbid attitude towards disadvantaged Australians that I am unable to comprehend.

And they resort to lies to promote it.

Let’s expose them.

More articles by Michael Taylor:

This government is now officially obscene

Can ‘The Australian’ stoop any lower?

Just a quick question; has the line been crossed?

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

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