I must be a prophet. Of doom, unfortunately.
I began writing this article on January 11, with the title ‘Are we prepared for a pandemic?’ I wrote:
The cost of doing nothing is immeasurable, but that is another story.
Not all governments have been as ignorant and as ill-prepared to impending danger.
I have worked with governments – both Labor and the Coalition – who would have been prepared for when disaster strikes.
In the dying days of the Howard government they were very mindful of a couple of viruses, H5N1 (avian influenza), or bird flu as it was better known as, and H1N1, which was known as swine flu, that in a worse-case scenario could bring the world to its knees. That is, a global pandemic. Which includes us.
We had to be prepared for it.
Today, now two and a half months later, such a pandemic has arrived. And our government was not prepared.
But we were once prepared for this.
Battle plans for such an event hit the drawing-board in 2007; an initiative of the Howard government – readying the country for the worst – and some time later the program was given life again by the Rudd government, with a significant increase in funding.
My area of expertise was in social security legislation. (No doubt we were just a small cog of a big wheel. A pandemic, obviously, effects more than just those on income support, but I can’t speak for those who focused on health, employment, education, immigration etc).
We had to consider what the worst-case scenario of the pandemic might be. To put it bluntly: we had to expect massive loss of life or illness in the Australian community and how to work with that.
What we needed to prepare for – in the event of a pandemic and its expected disruption – were issues that would be faced by income support recipients.
Above all else, the health and safety of income support recipients – including those who needed to apply for income support – was the number one priority. We needed to provide them with an environment where their dealings with Centrelink was one that was devoid of the carriers of disease: humans. The social security legislation of the day didn’t provide that environment. We needed to change it.
At the time, Newstart recipients were required to report to Centrelink each fortnight. What would be the requirements during a pandemic? How would we cope with the expected increase in applications for income support?
Without going into too much detail (of which there was plenty), the answer was clear: all dealings between Centrelink and the recipient/applicant would be over the internet. There was no other choice. (With an NBN that was FTTP this could be handled). Centrelink doors would be closed.
That was over ten years ago.
Where are we now?
— Hannah Sinclair (@hansinclair9) March 22, 2020
Where else are we?
Newstart recipients are still required to fulfil their mutual obligations – of which there are calls to suspend.
The MyGov website – the ‘link’ between Centrelink at the income support recipient/applicant – crashed. I cannot say if this was the blame of our inferior NBN. Neither can I say if this would or would not have happened with a better NBN.
We once had a plan. It appears that now we don’t. But it begs the question: What happened to it?
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