Showing posts with label Centrelink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Centrelink. Show all posts

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Is Australian welfare reform in 2018 a step back into a dark past?

Last year saw the completion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which revealed generational abuse within the Australian education and child welfare systems. 

That year also revealed the ongoing failure of the Dept. of Human Services and Centrelink to fix its faulty national debt collection scheme, which possibly led to the deaths of up to eleven welfare recipients after they were issued debt advice letters.

The first quarter of 2018 brought a scathing United Nations report on Australia's contemporary human rights record titled Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on his mission to Australia.

Along with a report into elder abuse in Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service in South Australia and the release of a detailed Human Rights Watch investigation of 14 prisons in Western Australia and Queensland which revealed the neglect and physical/sexual abuse of prisoners with disabilities, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme represents yet another crisis. The Productivity Commission has warned there is now no carer of last resort for patients in an emergency, care provider agencies are reportedly owed up to $300 million and disabled people are often receiving inadequate care via untrained staff or sometimes no care at all, as government disability care services are being closed in favour of the new privatised service delivery scheme.

None of these instances stand in isolation and apart from either Australian society generally or government policies more specifically.

They all represent the frequently meagre nature of community compassion and the real level of care governments have been willing to organise and fund for vulnerable citizens. In reality the ideal level of support and care for the vulnerable - that politicians spout assurances about from campaign hustings every three years - is just so much political hot air unless ordinary voters insist that it be otherwise. 

As the Turnbull Coalition Government clearly intends to push forward with the full gamut of its punitive welfare reforms perhaps now it the time to consider if we have made any great strides towards a genuinely fair and egalitarian society in the last two hundred years or if we are only dressing up old cruelties in new clothes and calling this "looking after our fellow Australians”, "an exercise in practical love"an exercise in compassion and in love".

Over the last two decades, commissions and reports on institutional care across the western world have highlighted widespread physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence within caring systems, often targeted at society’s most vulnerable people, not least children, the disabled and the elderly. These have often come at significant cost not just to the individual, but the nation. As Maxwell has shown, national apologies, that require the nation to render itself shamed by such practices, and financial redress to victims, have impacted on political reputation, trust in state organisations, and finances. As each report is released and stories of suffering fill newspapers and are quantified for official redress, both scholars and the public have asked ‘how was this allowed to happen?’ At the same time, and particularly in the last few years as many countries have turned towards conservative fiscal policies, newspapers also highlight the wrongs of current systems.

In the UK, numerous reports have uncovered abuses within welfare systems, as people are sanctioned to meet targets, as welfare staff are encouraged to withhold information about services or grants to reduce demand, and through systematic rejection of first-try benefit applications to discourage service use. Often excused as ‘isolated incidents’ on investigation, such accounts are nonetheless increasingly widespread. They are accompanied by a measurable reduction in investment in welfare and health systems, that have required a significant withdrawal in services, and have been accompanied with policies of ‘making work pay’ that have required that benefits be brought in line, not with need, but with low working incomes. The impact of these policies and associated staff behaviour have been connected to increasing child and adult povertydeclining life expectancygrowing homelessness, and the rise in foodbank use.

Importantly, public commentators on this situation have described this situation as ‘cruel’. One headline saw a benefits advisor commenting ‘I get brownie points for cruelty’; another noted ‘Welfare reform is not only cruel but chaotic’. The system depicted in Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake (2016), described by reviewers as a Kafka-esque nightmare, a ‘humiliating and spirit-sapping holding pattern of enforced uselessness’, and a  ‘comprehensive [system of] neglect and indifference’, was confirmed by many as an accurate depiction. Whether or not this representation of the current welfare system is held to be true, such reporting raises significant questions about when and how systems designed to provide help and support move from care to abuse. A focus on ‘isolated incidents’ today can be compared to the blaming of ‘isolated perpetrators’ in historic cases of abuse, an account that is now held by scholars to ignore the important role of systems of welfare in enabling certain types of cruelty to happen…..

The capacity of welfare systems to support individuals is shaped by cultural beliefs and political ideologies around the relationship between work, human nature, and welfare. Here late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Ireland provides a productive example. Ireland in this period was marked by significant levels of poverty amongst its lower orders, particularly those that worked in agriculture. The capacity to manage that poverty on an individual level was hindered by several economic downturns and harvest failure, that pushed people to starvation. As a nation without a poor law (welfare) system until 1838, the poor relied on charity, whether from individuals or institutions for relief. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the ‘state’ (usually local corporations) introduced more direct welfare, sometimes in the form of relief payments but more usually access to workhouses. 
After 1838 and until the crisis of the 1847 famine, relief payments were removed and all welfare recipients had to enter the workhouse. Accompanied by a growth in institutional charitable services, the success and ‘care’ of the system could vary enormously between areas and organisations. What it did not do is significantly reduce poverty levels in the population.

Indeed, it was important that the poverty levels of welfare recipients were not reduced by the workhouse system. Like current ‘make work pay’ policies, poverty relief measures were designed so that those in the workhouse or receiving charity elsewhere did not have a significantly higher standard of living than those who provided for themselves. This principle was determined based on the wage of an independent labourer, one of the poorest but also largest categories of worker. The problem for the system was that independent labourers earned so poorly that they barely managed a subsistence diet. Their living conditions were extremely poor; many slept on hay in darkened huts with little furnishings or personal property.

Those who managed the system believed that a generous welfare system would encourage people to claim benefits and so could potentially bankrupt those paying into the system. This encouraged an active policy of ‘cruelty’. Not only were benefit recipients given meagre food and poor living conditions, but families were routinely broken up, the sexes housed in different wings and prohibited from seeing each other. Welfare recipients were often ‘badged’ or given uniforms to mark their ‘shame’, and workhouse labour was designed to be particularly physically challenging.  

It was a system underpinned by several interlocking beliefs about the Irish, the value of work and the economy. Hard work was viewed as a moral characteristic, something to be encouraged from childhood and promoted as ethical behaviour. Certain groups, notably the Irish poor but also the British lower orders and non-Europeans more generally, were viewed as lacking this moral characteristic and required it to be instilled by their social betters. Welfare systems that were not carefully designed to be ‘less eligible’ (i.e. a harsher experience than ‘normal; life for the working poor), were understood to indulge an innate laziness…..

Throughout history, welfare services have required considerable economic investment. Unsurprisingly, this has required those who run institutions of care for people also to keep a careful eye on their financial bottom line. More broadly, it has also required a monitoring of services to ensure value for money for the state and its taxpayers and to protect the interests of the service users. As has been seen recently in discussions of targets placed on staff providing welfare provision in the UK, such measuring systems can come to shape the nature and ethos of the service in damaging ways.

A relevant historical example of this is from the Australian laundry system in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Young women were placed in youth homes and registered as delinquent for a wide range of reasons from petty criminal behaviour to perceived immorality (ranging from flirting with the opposite sex to premarital pregnancy), to having been neglected by parents. These homes, often run by religious organisations, were designed to ‘reform’ young (and occasionally older) women, preventing them from entering prostitution or other criminal pursuits. The main mechanism for ‘reform’ was through a moral discipline of work, which in many of these organisations revolved around a professional laundry service. Work was often unpaid or paid at very nominal sums, given to women on their release. The service, which catered to the general public, kept institutions financially afloat, and many became significant-sized businesses. They required women to work very long hours, in challenging conditions. Accidents, particularly burns, were not unusual. As businesses grew, other ‘reform’ efforts that ran alongside, such as education, became rarer.

The laundry became the driving focus of the institution. The women were cheap labour, and managing that machine became not just a means to an end, but shaped the logic and functioning of the care service. It is an example of how an economic imperative can come to adversely impact on care, by disrupting the purposes and functions of the service. It was also a process that significantly reduced the level of ‘care’ that such institutions provided, not only through a physical job that wore on the body but one reinforced with physical punishment, which came to include emotional and sexual abuse, and poor food and living conditions……

There are significant variations between the institutional care described here for the nineteenth century and a contemporary welfare state that encourages users, as much as possible, to remain outside ‘the system’. The capacity for ‘the state’ to control every dimension of a person’s life today is significantly reduced; conversely, the ability of those in need to fall into service ‘gaps’ as they cannot access services or negotiate bureaucratic systems, is in some ways increased. Nonetheless, there are parallels in the operation of both systems that should give contemporary policymakers pause. Abusive care does not just emerge from individual perpetrators, from the institutional model, or even a lack of policies on staff-client relationships, but also from the wider values and beliefs that shape the production of welfare systems; from the financial and emotional investments that we place in institutions; and from the corruption or occlusion of institutional targets and goals.

Ensuring that the ‘cruel’ practices reported of current systems do not become systematic issues on the scale of previous institutional abuses therefore requires not just monitoring a few rogue individuals, but a clear goal about what our welfare systems should achieve. The needs and interests of service users should be placed at their heart, coupled with a significant social, cultural and political investment in ensuring that goal is achieved. All other goals and targets for welfare service providers, especially their frontline staff, should be secondary to that and carefully designed so as not to interfere with that end. With rising rates of poverty, homelessness and illness, welfare systems look to continue to hold a central role in society for the foreseeable future. It is imperative that the abusive practices of previous ‘caring’ regimes are left firmly in the past.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

CENTRELINK ROBO-DEBT: the nightmare continues

Given that the Turnbull Government continues to apply a faulty algorithm to Centrelink debt collection in 2018, private debt collectors remain financially incentivised to aggressively chase debts which may not actually exist, former welfare recipients may still receive debt recovery fee demands and government intends to expand collection to other groups/forms of declared income, while Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge is yet to fix the problems with ‘phone wait times, perhaps a reminder of what the title Online Compliance Intervention actually hides and what the alternative term robo-debt  describes……..

Cory Doctorow writing in Boing Boing, 1 February 2018:

In a textbook example of the use of big data to create a digital poorhouse, as described in Virginia Eubanks's excellent new book Automating Inequality, the Australian government created an algorithmic, semi-privatised system to mine the financial records of people receiving means-tested benefits and accuse them of fraud on the basis of its findings, bringing in private contractors to build and maintain the system and collect the penalties it ascribed, paying them a commission on the basis of how much money they extracted from poor Australians.

The result was a predictable kafkaesque nightmare in which an unaccountable black box accused poor people, students, pensioners, disabled people and others receiving benefits of owing huge sums, sending abusive, threatening debt collectors after them, and placing all information about the accusations of fraud at the other end of a bureaucratic nightmare system of overseas phone-bank operators with insane wait-times.

GillianTerzis writing in Logic, a magazine about technology, 2017:

Automation is dehumanizing in a literal sense: it removes human experience from the equation. In the case of the robo-debt scandal, automation also stripped humans of their narrative power. The algorithm that generated these debt notices presented welfare recipients with contrasting stories: the recipients claimed they’d followed the rules, but the computer said otherwise.

There were few official ways to explain one’s circumstances: twenty-nine million calls to Centrelink went unanswered in 2016, and Centrelink’s Twitter account seems explicitly designed to discourage conversational exchange. One source of narrative resistance is, a website run entirely by volunteers that gathers false debt stories from ordinary Australians so that the “scandal can't be plausibly minimised or denied.”

Over time it was revealed that many of these debts were miscalculated or, in some cases, non-existent. One man I’d read about was on a government pension and saddled with a $4,500 bill, which was revised down months later to $65. Another recipient, who was on disability as a result of mental illness, had a debt notice of $80,000 that was later recalled. A small proportion of recipients were exclusively in contact with private debt collectors and received no official notice from Centrelink at all.

Soon it emerged that social services were a lucrative avenue for corporate interests: this year’s Senate inquiry revealed that some private agencies tasked with recouping debts were working on a commission basis, pocketing a percentage of the debts they had recovered for the government regardless of their validity. (All debt notices issued by private agencies were eventually rescinded after government review in February 2017.)

The methodology of the algorithm itself was riddled with flaws. It calculates the average of an individual’s annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office …..and compares it with the fortnightly earnings reported to Centrelink by the welfare recipient. All welfare recipients are required to declare their gross earnings (income accrued before tax and other deductions) within this fourteen-day period. Any discrepancy between the two figures is interpreted by the algorithm as proof of undeclared or underreported income, from which a notice of debt is automatically generated.

Previously, these inconsistencies would be handled by Centrelink staff, who would call up your employer, confirm the amount you received in fortnightly payments, and cross-index that figure with the one calculated in the system. But the automation of the debt recovery process has outsourced authority from humans to the algorithm itself.

It’s certainly efficient: it takes the algorithm one week to generate 20,000 debt notices, a process that would take up to a year if done manually. But it’s not a reliable method of fraud detection. It’s blunt, unwieldy, and error-prone. It assumes that variations in the data sets are deliberate, and that recipients have received more than what they are entitled to. What’s more, the onus is on the welfare recipient to prove their income has been reported correctly and that the entitlements they have received are commensurate within twenty-one days.

Yet, as many critics have noted, this income-averaging method is porous. It fails to accurately account for the fluctuating fortunes of casual or contract workers, which often results in variations between the two figures. There’s also no way for the algorithm to correct for basic errors in the system’s database. It cannot yet discern whether an employer’s legal name has been used instead of its various business names—it treats them as separate entities, and therefore separate sources of income—or whether conflicting reports are caused by basic mistakes, such as spelling errors or typos. These seemingly small distinctions are ones that only a human could make. It’s no wonder, then, that conservative estimates of its error rate hover at 20 percent……

Yet the irony of stigmatizing welfare recipients is that better-off Australians are major beneficiaries of social spending. The Australian writer Tim Winton notes that the country’s middle class has “an increasing sense of entitlement to welfare,” which is “duly disbursed largely at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the unemployed.” These include tax concessions on contributions to “superannuation,” which are funds designed to help Australians save for their retirement. Such concessions are distortionary: they’re levied at a flat rate of 15 percent, rather than at a progressive rate according to one’s income, which means their benefits are reaped overwhelmingly by the rich.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates that nearly one third of these concessions are claimed by the top 10 percent of income earners in Australia. Then there are policies like negative gearing, a tax concession that allows you to claim a deduction against your wage income for losses generated by any rental properties you own. (Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world to hold such a policy.) In addition, Australian homeowners are entitled to a capital gains tax discount of 50 percent once the property is sold.

Critics have argued that the combination of these two policies only serves to fuel investor speculation, entrench housing unaffordability, and lock first-time home buyers out of the market. But it’s easier to attack the poor than to tax the rich.


In July 2016 the Department of Human Services (DHS) - Centrelink launched a new online compliance intervention (OCI) system for raising and recovering debts. The OCI matches the earnings recorded on a customer’s Centrelink record with historical employer-reported income data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Parts of the debt raising process previously done manually by compliance officers within DHS are now done using this automated process. Customers are asked to confirm or update their income using the online system. If the customer does not engage with DHS either online or in person, or if there are gaps in the information provided by the customer, the system will fill the gaps with a fortnightly income figure derived from the ATO income data for the relevant employment period (‘averaged’ data). 

Since the initial rollout of the OCI, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office has received many complaints from people who have incurred debts under the OCI. This report examines our concerns with the implementation of the OCI, using complaints we investigated as case study examples. 

We acknowledge the changes DHS has made to the OCI since its initial rollout. The changes have been positive and have improved the usability and accessibility of the system. However, we consider there are several areas where further improvements could be made, particularly before use of the OCI is expanded. We have made several recommendations to address these areas......

Planning and risk management

In our view, many of the OCI’s implementation problems could have been mitigated through better project planning and risk management at the outset. This includes more rigorous user testing with customers and service delivery staff, a more incremental rollout, and better communication to staff and stakeholders. DHS’ project planning did not ensure all relevant external stakeholders were consulted during key planning stages and after the full rollout of the OCI. This is evidenced by the extent of confusion and inaccuracy in public statements made by key non-government stakeholders, journalists and individuals.

A key lesson for agencies and policy makers when proposing to rollout large scale measures which require people to engage in a new way with new digital channels, is for agencies to engage with stakeholders and provide resources for adequate manual support during transition periods. We have recommended DHS undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the OCI in its current form before it is implemented further and any future rollout should be done incrementally.

Centrelink website, 5 February 2018:

If you don’t pay your debt by the due date, we may ask the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to send us your tax refund. If we do we’ll send you a Recovery of your Centrelink debt letter.

If you aren’t repaying your debt over time or if we haven’t agreed to extend the payment time, we may also:

* add an interest charge to your debt

* refer your debt to an external collection agency

* reduce your income support payments to help pay the amount owing

* recover the amount from your wages, other income and assets, including money you may hold in a bank account

* refer your case to our solicitors for legal action

* issue a Departure Prohibition Order to stop you from travelling overseas....

The rate of interest we apply to your debt is consistent with the current rate applied by the ATO to tax debts. 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Preying on the vulnerable the Centrelink way

The Guardian, 17 January 2018:

Centrelink has given companies accused of exploitation and misconduct direct access to welfare recipients’ money through its automated debit system.

The companies were granted access to the Centrepay system, which allows Centrelink to deduct money from welfare payments to pay approved businesses early.

The system is designed to ensure rent and power bills are paid by giving government-approved real estate agents and electricity retailers the first bite of social security payments.

But the federal government has long faced criticism for opening up Centrepay to household appliance rental companies, which rent out white goods, mobile phones, laptops and furniture.

A 2015 report from the corporate regulator found the sector was targeting Centrelink recipients and charging exorbitant prices, often more than five times the retail price of the leased goods – the equivalent of a 248% interest rate.

An independent review of Centrepay in 2013 warned the government that lax oversight was giving unscrupulous operators access to the system, raising the risk of exploitation.

More than four years on, those risks appear to still be materialising.

Guardian Australia has found at least four appliance rental companies were granted approval to use Centrepay, despite previously being punished by the corporate regulator or placed on binding agreements to rectify potential legal breaches.

One of the businesses, Amazing Rentals, continued to hold Centrepay approval for more than two years after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) raised concerns it had failed to comply with responsible lending obligations. Most of the customers of its Darwin store, including many Indigenous Australians, received government benefits as their only source of income.

The company was renting white goods to people who could not read the contracts and did not understand what they were signing up to.

The corporate regulator accepted an enforceable undertaking from the company in June 2015, which forced it to shut down the store for 12 months, refund customers,

“We had examples of consumers who were on disability pensions or Newstart allowance where they were literally running out of money at the end of the month because of the impact of the repayments that were being made for those consumer lease products,” Asic senior executive Michael Saadat told the ABC at the time.

Amazing Rentals was eventually stripped of Centrepay approval in September last year, about the same time it became embroiled in a massive data breach, which exposed 26,000 documents with the personal details of 4,000 people in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Other companies still approved for Centrepay include franchise Rent the Roo, which was fined $27,500 by Asic for breaching responsible lending laws in 2013; and Mr Rental Australia, which was found to have imposed a potentially unlawful early termination fee, and was forced by the regulator to refund about 1,560 consumers more than $300,000 in total.

Centrepay approval is also still active for The Rental Guys, a company found to have failed to meet responsible lending obligations to customers mainly from regional Indigenous communities, and not verifying their ability to make the rental payments. The company also placed vulnerable customers on new contracts that imposed higher fees and removed the right to own goods once the rental period was finished.

Rent-to-buy companies approved for the Centrepay system sign contracts with customers knowing they are living on welfare payments.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Domestic Violence and the Turnbull Government's Cashless Welfare Card

The Guardian, 11 January 2018:

Domestic violence has increased significantly in the East Kimberley since the introduction of the cashless welfare card, casting doubt on the government’s claims of its success.

Police data obtained under freedom of information law shows domestic-related assaults and police-attended domestic violence reports increased in the Kimberley communities of Wyndham and Kununurra since trials began in April 2016.

Melbourne University researcher Elise Klein, who has studied the card’s impact in the Kimberley, said the data showed there was no clear evidence to support making the card permanent.

Klein lodged the freedom of information request for the police data. She said the information had taken too long to be made public.

She believes there is a link between the card, financial hardship, and family violence…..

The card is designed to prevent the spending of welfare money on alcohol, drugs, and gambling, reducing violence and harmful behaviour as a result.

Nawoola Newry has lived in Kununurra much of her life. She believes the card, which some of her family use, has done nothing to address the community’s problems.

Instead, it’s restricted the rights of community members, without increasing jobs, training, or employment opportunities, she said. 

“I don’t believe that it’s reduced alcoholism, I don’t believe it’s reduced crime, I don’t believe it’s reduced domestic violence,” she told Guardian Australia.

“There’s a lack of services, there was all these wrap-around services that were promised … we don’t see any of them on the ground.”

Late last year, the government seized on an independent evaluation of the cards, which found they were successful in addressing substance abuse, violence, and other harmful behaviour.

Then human services minister, Alan Tudge, used the report to announce new trial sites in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder region of Western Australia and Bundaberg in Queensland.

The cards were also to be made permanent in the Kimberley and the second trial site in Ceduna, South Australia......

Orima Research, which conducted the evaluation, had access to the police data on the Kimberley but did not include it in its report on the cards.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Turnbull Government's gift to welfare recipients this Christmas? More pain....

Nothing like receiving bad news in the lead up to the festive season......, 6 December 2017:

CONTROVERSIAL plans to drug test unemployed welfare recipients will be suspended indefinitely after the Senate refused to endorse the idea.

The Turnbull government had hoped to drug test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across three trial sites in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia from January.
But Social Services Minister Christian Porter indicated this morning provisions for the pilot will be stripped from an omnibus welfare bill and dealt with separately, so other measures can be signed off by Christmas.

“There are some difficulties that are going to be presented in getting that part of the bill through the Senate, but that does not mean that we are abandoning drug testing,” Mr Porter told Sky News.

“No one can be perfectly certain with these things but my best assessment is the rest of it, everything other than drug testing, will likely succeed through the Senate.”

Minister Porter stood by the trial last month but indicated it might be split from other reforms that were crucial to overhaul the “near to dysfunctional” welfare system.

“The bulk of that bill, which reforms the compliance system, is so critical to what we are trying to achieve that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the bulk of that in terms of timeliness while we are still negotiating around drug testing,” Mr Porter said at a National Press Club speech in November.

One reform the government wants to pass as a priority is the new “three strike” demerit point system for welfare recipients that would mean those who continually skipped appointments or job interviews would eventually lose their payments.

Another will fold seven welfare payments into one to become the main payment for people of working age.

That is slated to begin in March 2020.

According to the Australian Council Of Social Services (ACOSS) this bill:

* Sets a dangerous precedent that allows governments to determine who is covered by social security rights and protections and who is not, without legislation;

* Would make it more difficult for people to access payments;

* Will make applicants wait much longer for first payments and, in certain cases this could be as long as 26 weeks;

* Cuts payments to people seeking work by removing back-pay provisions;

* Cuts $478m from social security payments over the forward estimates, with most losses incurred by people who are unemployed and single parents;

* Rolls Wife and Widow B pensions & allowances (including the Bereavement Allowance) into the Jobseeker Payment which will leave pension recipients worse off unless they are transferred to another pension;

* Ensures that the Jobseeker Payment keeps recipients living well below the poverty line so that they will be unable to meet essential costs; and

* The new mutual obligation requirements and breach schedule indicates that annually an est. 80,000 people will lose at least one week’s payment and an unknown number up to four week’s payment.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

And now for some good news.....

Via @simonahac, 24 November 2017

Facebook, Senator Rachael Siewert, 22 November 2017:

Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has welcomed the Town of Port Hedland officially opposing the cashless welfare card.
“Despite the Mayor’s strong support of the card, I am glad other councillors have stood up to the card and now officially oppose it in Port Hedland.

“They have listened to Aboriginal organisations and others in the community that have explained how the card is a step backwards and will remove autonomy for those forced on to it.
“Time and time again we have seen evidence that involuntary income management does not help people struggling to get by, during the NT Intervention the long –term objectives were not met.

“Top-down income management policies that attempt to reduce disadvantage often has the opposite effect. It is time to ditch this ideological approach to addressing gambling and alcohol and drug addiction once and for all.

“We need investment in preventative measures and wrap-around services for those struggling with addiction”.

Friday, 3 November 2017

So how much Centrelink client debt was not debt at all in 2015-16 & 2016-17?

Australian Minister for Social Services Christian Porter is quick to point the finger but often very slow with concrete answers, so it is always a boon when annual departmental reports are published.

In September 2017 the latest DSS annual report was published.

Although carefully disguised in the wording "waived or written off"; by adding the 2016-17 annual report's financial statements together with the previous year’s annual report, one finds that the admitted amount of false client debt generated by Centrelink’s disastrous attempt to match Australian Taxation Office data with its own client records could possibly be as high as $264.645 million over a two financial year period.

As challenging a Centrelink debt letter was a distressing and often extremely difficult obstacle course for many welfare recipients, these hundreds of millions of dollars represent the determination of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians to fight back against false claims made on their wallets by government and the besmirching of their reputations.

On 26 October 2017 The Canberra Times reported that; Human Services official Jason McNamara told a Senate estimates hearing that in 202,000 cases where the department finalised the debt amount, 49,000 welfare recipients who received letters since the 'robo-debt' program started in July 2016 were found to owe nothing.

That means that 25.25% of these 202,000 debt notices were false claims as the Centrelink client was found to owe nothing.

In July and August this year Centrelink sent out a total of 114,000 debt letters.

At least est. 28,785 of these letters will probably represent a false claim of debt.

I hope all Centrelink clients who received one of these letters are querying each and every one.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

News Corp joins Turnbull Government in bashing welfare recipients yet again

A report released by the Federal Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW] on 19 October 2017 states that welfare spending in 2016 reached 9.5 per cent of Australia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) having been increasing on average by 0.09 per cent or est. $4 billion annually over the last ten financial years.

Some of this increase is inevitably due to population growth over the same period - between 2006 and 2016 the national population grew by 3.18 million people to reach a population total of 24.20 million.

However, the media suitably primed began to discuss welfare costs principally in terms of cash transfers to Centrelink clients.

But does such discussion take in the whole picture of welfare costs in this country? 

According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) there are a large number of concessions, offsets and rebates available to working and retired individuals, active businesses, family trusts and superannuation funds.

These can reduce the annual tax payable by an individual, business, trust or fund – sometimes as low as zero dollars.

Along with universal education and health services, Centrelink and Veterans’ Affairs pensions, benefits, and concessions; these ATO concessions, offsets and rebates are a form of government welfare.

So when the Murdoch media trumpet statistics like Last year, more than 733,000 people received unemployment benefits, costing $10 billionwith est. 68 per cent of recipients moving off this payment within a year - remember that Australian Government tariff, budgetary assistance and tax concessions to primary, mining, manufacturing and services industries totalled $15.1 billion in 2015-16 and, based on past performance, an estimated 33 per cent of all businesses would probably have paid zero tax in that year.

Put simply, Australian Government welfare directed at industry cost taxpayers est. $41.3 million per day in 2015-16.

And when these same News Corp megaphones go on to state that “more than 100,000 jobseekers who were on the dole for at least five years had cost taxpayers $15 billion over the past decade” – readers might like to recall that the Australian Government spent in the vicinity of est. $96 billion on industry assistance in the six years commencing 2010-11 and ending 2015-16.

[Australian Government, Productivity Commission Annual Report Series, Trade & Assistance Review 2015-16]

If a similar level of government assistance were to continue for another four financial years then government welfare received by industry would reach est. $156 billion over ten years.

That's over ten times the quoted amount in welfare payments outlaid on the long term unemployed in a decade.

However, when the likes of Liberal Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, Liberal Minister for Social Services Christian Porter, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz or One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson talk about the cost of government welfare programs they rather strangely neglect to look at the full range of federal government financial assistance across all sectors of the economy – preferring instead to target vulnerable groups of people with little ability to fight back against their distorted, punitive and highly politicised world views.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

So troubled multinational Serco's staff are going to answer phone calls made to Centrelink in a Turnbull Government pilot program?

Multinational Serco Group plc registered in England and Wales, with revenue in 2016 of an est. $5 billion and an underlying trading profit of est. $139 million, has made the news again.

One of its subsidiaries, SERCO CITIZEN SERVICES PTY LTD1 ABN:89 062 943 640, won this $53.75 million federal government contract commencing 7 September 2017:

CN ID: CN3460117
Agency: Department of Human Services
Publish Date: 11-Oct-2017
Category: Temporary personnel services
Contract Period:
7-Sep-2017 to 29-Oct-2019
Contract Value (AUD): $53,752,454.80
Description: Centrelink Call Centre Enhancements Initiative

On 11 October 2017 it was reported that the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge stated this contract was for a pilot commencing in late October 2017 would help reduce Centrelink call wait times.

An est. 250 Melbourne-based Serco staff will take calls about welfare payments in the three-year pilot program.

Of course Serco will comply, Minister.

Just as it has on every single contract in the past......

Stolen Laptop Exposes Personal Data on 207,000 Army Reservists. Serco held the data on reservists as part of its contract with the U.S. Army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division. As a result, Dahms said, some of the data on the missing laptop may belong to dependents and spouses of U.S. Army reservists, 13 May 2010

Serco's paper trailer raises accountability questions. Crikey has taken a closer look at the extent that Serco contracts outsources to other companies and can reveal that millions of dollars from the detention contract has ended up in some startling places, 1 November 2010

Serco employee suspected of Victoria Police breach. Man accused of adjusting 67,541 traffic infringement records, 15 April 2011

Serco operates and maintains a surprisingly large and diverse range of services in both the UK and Australia, as well as in several other countries. Its website lists some examples of the scale of its operations including: traffic management systems covering more than 17,500kms of roads worldwide, managing 192,000 square miles of airspace in five countries, managing education authorities on behalf of local governments, and providing defence support services worldwide.[2] Serco also manages a number of hospitals, prisons and detention centres, and is involved in a host of other services.[3]…..Focussing on the company Serco, there have been numerous reports of instances where its service provision has been sub-standard, high-cost, has eliminated diversity, or has lacked accountability. Putting this focus on Serco’s faults is not to say that it is any more prone to failures than other corporations in this area, or that it is always unsuccessful in its service provision. Rather, the point is to show clearly the dangers of privatisation, and why it must not be accepted as a universal good, 7 March 2012

Sources in the justice system blamed the foul-up on staffing issues at Serco. One said: "This sort of thing happens every week." The seven-year PECS deal has turned into a horror show for Serco. It faces allegations that it doctored transfer records to flatter its performance, with five Serco staff under investigation by the City of London police. That is not its only problem contract. There are separate claims that, along with rival outsourcer G4S, it overcharged taxpayers on a deal to put electronic tags on criminals, 17 October 2013

Private contractors Serco has agreed to repay £68.5million to the taxpayer after over-charging for tagging criminals. The firm was investigated by the Ministry of Justice over claims that together with rival company G4S it over-charged for tens of thousands of criminals, including those who had left the country, been returned to prison or even died, 19 December 2013

Outsourcing giant Serco is embroiled in a fresh misuse of public funds scandal after a company it set up overcharged NHS hospitals millions of pounds, 27 August 2014

Serco is failing, but is kept afloat thanks to Australia's refugee policy. It’s a sign of the times that a company like Serco, with murky financial statements masking its true economic shape, is continually rewarded for failure by new and larger contracts, 11 November 2014

Serco turned 'blind eye' to corruption in UK immigration jail, court hears, 26 February 2015

Serco has brought a culture of profiteering, bullying, intimidation and corruption to Mt Eden prison, a Whangarei barrister says.The comments come as controversy surrounds the private company that operates the prison, and with Corrections boss Ray Smith revealing a third incident at the facility has left him no choice but to seek legal advice in regards to the contract, 24 July 2015

On Monday, Serco was fined $NZ500,000 ($A328,750) and was prohibited from overseeing operations at the correctional facility while an internal investigation took place. The fine came after six disturbing videos — shot on a smartphone and smuggled inside the prison — surfaced on YouTube earlier this month. The videos showed prisoners participating in organised ‘fight clubs’ as large groups of fellow inmates watch on. Inmates were also seen blatantly smoking and drinking alcohol in the videos, which were captured without the knowledge of staff. However, the NZ prison officers union said bosses knew about the fight club for up to 18 months, but did nothing about it, 29 July 2015

A GUARD at the Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin has been fired after it was found he was trying to coerce female detainees into having sex with him. Serco, the company contracted to run Australia’s immigration facilities, said in a statement to the NT News that a detainee services officer from Wickham Point was dismissed in late May following two separate complaints from female detainees, 6 August 2015

Serco targets further cost cutting as it seeks to keep its profits on track. Serco boss Rupert Soames has said the company still has costs to cut before it is trading at full strength, as the firm enters the middle stage of its five-year turnaround plan. He said that there were plans to further reduce overheads and make Serco’s processes more efficient, as well as bringing down some of its IT costs. “We’ve still got a lot of costs that we have to get out of the business,” he said, 3 August 2017.


1. Serco provides care and welfare services, on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, to people living in Australian onshore immigration centres whilst their visa status is resolved. Since 2009, more than 61,000 individuals have been in our care, representing more than 20 different cultural and linguistically diverse communities. Within the Australian justice system, Serco operates three prisons: the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (Queensland) with 400 beds, Acacia Prison (Western Australia) with 1400 beds and the Wandoo Reintegration Facility (Western Australia) with 80 beds.