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

Monday, 7 August 2017

Centrelink Mandatory Drug Testing: Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation calls on the Australian Government to stop playing games with people's lives

In its drive to universally implement the Cashless Debit Card for all welfare recipients, the Abbott Government first targeted remote indigenous communities to ‘trial’ this income management restrict and control scheme. The Turnbull Government then selected certain low-socio economic urban areas for further trials.

Now the Liberal-Nationals federal government intends to extend the reach of this card even further and from 1 July 2018 intends to impose compulsory drug testing on 5,000 new recipients of unemployment benefits – with all who test positive for alcohol or drugs being immediately placed on restricted and controlled payments regardless of their personal circumstances.

All those government MPs and senators cushioned by generous salaries and benefits from life’s vagaries have chosen this group because of the illegality of many of the drugs it will test for, as they think that all Australians will blame those with substance abuse problems and feel comfortable with the idea that they should be punished in some way.

These MPs and senators do not appear to give a toss that in an effort to eventually control the income support payments of all welfare recipients, it will socially profile and discriminate against a specific group of people with little if any positive outcomes flowing from this discrimination.

Because it is admitted that cutting off access to cash may exacerbate mental health issues, increase homelessness and lead the desperate into crime.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 which contains this measure is currently before the federal parliament and, the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee is due to report on this bill on 4 August 2017.

So a call has gone out……….


For 30 years, I served as the head of St Vincent's Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service in Sydney.

I have treated many thousands of patients trying to rebuild their lives in the face of alcohol and drug problems. Many have been victims of sexual abuse, violence from family members, or other devastating trauma – and most are already living on the margins of society.

That's why I'm stunned by the government's plan to strip people with alcohol and drug problems of income support payments.1

Thirty years of experience, backed by research from all over the world, tells me that you can't punish people into recovery. In fact, pushing people into poverty only serves to undermine their chance of recovery – and puts lives at risk.

Over the coming weeks, Parliament will vote on whether to implement mandatory drug testing. Doctors, nurses and allied health workers – determined to protect patients – are speaking out against the changes.

Prime Minister Turnbull assures us that the proposal to strip people of income support payments is "based on love".2 That's a hard thing to swallow given his government's failure to consult with addiction medicine experts and lack of evidence to support the trials.

Mandatory drug testing has already been trialled and abandoned in multiple countries around the world. It's a failed policy that violates our professional commitment to do no harm. This government is forcing doctors to make an impossible choice – to break the law or to hurt our patients.

I've seen with my own eyes how medical treatment of people struggling with severe alcohol and drug problems must be guided by compassionate care and respect for their human rights.

Call on the government to stop playing political games with people's lives:


Dr Alex Wodak

President, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation


[1] Drug testing welfare recipients is not about love, Malcolm Turnbull, it's about punishment, The Guardian, 11 May 2017

[2] Federal budget 2017: Turnbull says welfare drug test policy 'based on love', ABC News, 12 May 2017

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Thursday, 8 June 2017

So you want to drug test welfare recipients, Mr. Porter?

A handy little DSS fact sheet informs us that drug testing at three trial sites will run for two years and that; The tests will detect use of drugs including ecstasy, marijuana and methamphetamines, including ice. However, the minister and his department remain silent as to the cost of this program.
We-ell…… I just don’t find any of these statements a convincing argument for drug testing a select number of Centrelink recipients on unemployment benefits commencing 1 January 2018, in the hope that just 8.48 per cent of them will initially test positive.

After all the workforce generally seems likely to have the same addictive issues and no-one is talking of drug testing them before distributing wages.

For example:

In 2013, just over 40% of Australians either smoked daily, drank alcohol in ways that put them at risk of harm or used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months; 3.1% engaged in all 3 of these behaviours. [National Drug Strategy Household Survey Detailed Report 2013]

Over 48,000 Australians were on a course of pharmacotherapy treatment for their opioid dependence on a snapshot day in June 2015.

Wastewater analysis conducted in the latter half of 2016 shows that alcohol and tobacco consumption was the highest of all substances tested in all states and territories.

Declines were seen in recent use of some illegal drugs in 2016 including meth/amphetamines (from 2.1% to 1.4%), hallucinogens (1.3% to 1.0%), and synthetic cannabinoids (1.2% to 0.3%).
About 1 in 20 Australians had misused pharmaceuticals in 2016 (4.8%).

While the number of politicians over the years who have allegedly been drunk in charge of a parliamentary vote is notable – everyone from prime ministers and cabinet ministers right down to lowly backbenches if a recent Google search is a reliable indicator.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Turnbull Government identifies a new source of revenue and there are no prizes for guessing from whom

Now that the Turnbull Government has embraced big data and begun collecting and collating information on all citizens across multiple agency platforms, there is a temptation to explore all the money-making potential of this data.

In March 2016 Treasurer Scott Morrison requested that the Productivity Commission:

Examine the benefits and costs of options for increasing availability of public sector data to other public sector agencies (including between the different levels of government), the private sector, research sector, academics and the community. Where there are clear benefits, recommend ways to increase and improve data linking and availability.

Upfront the aim to gather more information, limit ownership rights of citizens with regard to their own personal information and to sell-on data it collects on citizens is apparent, however it takes a few pages of the Commission’s report to discover that it probably also intends to make additional money out of the ordinary individuals who have been forced to supply government agencies with this same detailed data.

If the Commission recommendation (that a charge can levied by an agency when a citizen requests access to their data) is accepted then, by way of example, the door will have been opened to charge a cost to welfare recipients who request Centrelink statements of income required twice-yearly by social housing agencies, or who request their Basic Card transaction records for a specific period if there is a concern relating to a pension/benefit/allowance periodic payment or who request that data held in e-Health records be edited/corrected if it contains erroneous information.

Of course, this being a report whose terms of reference reflect the wishes of a right-wing federal government - the intention appears to be that all business or government agency charges to supply the individual with his or her own data will be set by those same businesses or agencies with little or no limit on the size these fees.

Australian Government Productivity Commission, Inquiry Report, Data Availability and Use: Overview & Recommendations, 31 March 2017:

Knowing when your data has been sold
One of the most potentially pernicious practices with data is the onward trade or disclosure of data to third parties, leaving consumers unaware of who knows what about them. The damage is often not so much in monetary terms but in the feeling of exploitation. This has great capacity to undermine social licence over time, if misused. Around half of all Australians surveyed by Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) have expressed concern about unknown organisations having obtained their personal information.
We do not propose that consumers be advised on each occasion data is traded or otherwise disclosed to a third party — the burden on businesses using contractors and outsourcing aspects of their operations could be enormous. Moreover, consumers in some areas could be inundated. But advising on which organisations data has been traded or disclosed to is a reasonable expectation of what is, after all, a joint right to data. You should surely be informed that something in which you now have a joint right is traded or disclosed to a third party.
Accordingly, entities should inform consumers about their data being traded or disclosed by including in their privacy policies, terms and conditions or on their websites, a list of parties to whom consumer data has been traded or otherwise disclosed over the past 12 months. Such lists should easily accessible to consumers and updated in a timely manner.
Consumers may also be at risk of loss of data access on the wind up of a firm. In such circumstances, consumers should always be advised of who now holds their data if it is transferred (as an asset) by the insolvency practitioner; or dataset owner if the data is separately sold.
Costs, timeliness and transition
We recognise that there may be costs to business associated with their adherence to the Right. There are a number of aspects of the recommendation that seek to ensure these are manageable.
First, as noted above, it is expected that industry sectors themselves would determine the scope of data to be transferred, subject to approval by the ACCC.
Second, businesses and government data holders would be able to charge for costs reasonably incurred in transferring consumer data. We fully expect that there may be a tiered approach to such charges, namely that some digital data that is of high quality, readily available, and clearly identifiable with a particular individual (such as transactions data), should be made available at low or no cost and at relatively short notice. Data stored on different (yet still digital) systems, or that is of lesser quality may require additional effort to provide in a usable format and therefore could attract a higher charge and take longer. This would be for data holders themselves to determine and explain.
Our intention in recommending the creation of this Right is to enhance consumer outcomes, as a contribution to sustaining community support for the role data will play in the future. Business and governments as data holders would need to adjust to this Right. Neither should have interests in creating a process that was so costly as to prohibit its take up by most if not all consumers, as this would be counter to enhancing consumer outcomes and may eventually undermine the quality of data collections.
To make the process manageable, it is surely preferable to offer the parties affected in incurring expense the chance to meet the intent of the Right, namely enabling consumers to use their data. This is likely to involve degrees of iteration and transition. But the clear expectation is that there would be transparency on the part of businesses and agencies. Over time as systems evolve, the time taken and the cost involved should fall as these processes become part of each firm growing its business or government agency keeping faith with its clients, and while volume of data transferred might reasonably be expected to grow.
Similarly, it is expected that businesses and government data holders themselves would likely reap benefits from system transformation and better data management, such that all of the costs would not reasonably fall to consumers availing themselves of the Right.
Support for consumers in exercising their new Right
The ACCC would be the primary government entity charged with ensuring consumers are able to transfer their data and exercise their new rights. Specifically, any charges levied by data holders for access, editing, copying and/or transferring of data should be monitored, with the methodology used by a data holder recorded, transparent (such as on the data holder’s web page) and reviewable on request by the ACCC.
While recourse for consumers not satisfied with the way their new Comprehensive Right can be exercised could primarily be through the ACCC, we recognise there are other bodies — industry-specific ombudsmen, State and Territory fair trading offices, and the OAIC — that may have industry-specific skills and knowledge to deal with particular complaints. There should be a ‘no wrong door’ approach to this. This means the key regulators need to implement systems that enable consumer concerns to be handled with efficacy — not leave the consumer straddling a regulator abyss.
While the changes proposed aim to enable consumers to exercise more control over the collection and use of their data, the onus remains on individuals to make responsible choices regarding to whom they provide personal information in the first instance and for what purposes.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Meet the new 'welfare bashers' on the block

North Coast Voices readers who follow Twitter may have noticed the account @creatingparity which is pushing the idea of a national Cashless Debit Card (CDC) for welfare recipients which will severely restrict an individual's choice in how they bank and spend any fortnightly/periodic payment or lump sum – only allowing access to an inadequate amount of cash in hand for bus, rail, taxi  fares and purchases from stores/businesses which don't accept debit cards outright or only accept cards if their own minimum purchase price is reached.

Creating Parity

On 4 May 2017 Whois listed Neil Pope as the registrant contact person of Mr. Pope is Technology Manager at the Minderoo Foundation.

Minderoo Foundation Pty Ltd (formerly known as the Australian Children's Trust Pty Ltd) is a 15 year-old WA-based corporation purporting to benefit "The general Australian public" which is run by The Trustee for The Minderoo Foundation Trust (service address with the following people at the helm:

Nicola Forrest BA Chief Executive Officer
Grace Forrest BA Director
Herbert Elliott AC MBE Director
Tony Grist BCOM, FINSIA, AICD Director
The Honourable Malcolm McCusker AC CVO QC (millionaire former Governor of Western Australia)
Tonya McCusker Alternate Director
Allan Myers AO QC Director

In 2016 financial year it declared Total Comprehensive Income of $15.353 million and spent a total of $19,356,519 on projects and partnerships with Arts, Culture & Community, Forrest Research Foundation, GenerationOne, Thrive by Five and Walk Free.

Minderoo is Forrest's go to name when forming corporations and at last count he had at least fourteen active corporations and business names registered with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission which included that word. 

So why is this self-styled philanthropic organisation on Twitter indulging in the favourite far-right pastime of 'welfare bashing':

Creating Parity‏ @creatingparity  11:52 AM 4 May 2017
The CDC tackles the problem that current welfare policies are a systemic enabler of illicit drug use, alcohol abuse and free-range gambling.

@creatingparity also promotes - a website created by the Minderoo Foundation as a propaganda vehicle for introduction of the cashless debit card.

So who is silvertail grazier and mining billionaire John Andrew Henry Forrest and why is he insisting that his grand plan to control the banking options and spending practices of literally millions of Australian citizens is one that the nation needs to have imposed on it by the federal government – and why is it this aim needs to be helped along by a privately funded, misleading advertising campaign?

Well, Wikipedia has a highly sanitized version of his life at and the unauthorised biography Twiggy: The High-Stakes Life of Andrew Forrest apparently expands on his exploits – including allegedly using complex dealings with a charity he founded and controlled to reduce his tax liabilities.

However, the bottom line is that Non-Executive Chair of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd and principal shareholder Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest is an extremely rich, privately educated, professed Christian with pronounced paternalistic tendencies and a strong sense of entitlement, who apparently believes the poor and vulnerable are a class of moral degenerates incapable of functioning without lifelong, punitive governmental control.

And his bully boy mission in life is to make sure that control is imposed.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Ceduna, South Australia and the Turnbull Government's cashless debit card trial

On 15 March and 26 April 2016 the Turnbull Government began a twelve month long trial of the Cashless Debit Card aka Healthy Welfare Card in Ceduna and surrounds, South Australia and the East Kimberly region in Western Australia.

More participants said the CDCT [Cashless Debit Card Trial] had made their lives worse than made it better (49% compared to 22%). Family members of trial participants gave a similar pattern of answers (37% and 27%).

The evaluation report also contained a wealth of unsupported anecdotal information bolstering implementation of the cashless debit card – a few instances of which read like pure fairy tales. None of which could be fact checked by readers of the interim report.

However, Turnbull Government claims in the media of reduced crime statistics due to introduction of the cashless debit card can at least be broadly checked.

This is an excerpt from the South Australian Police Annual Report June 2015- June 2016 covering the Eyre and Western Service Local Area which includes Ceduna:

From 2014-15 to 2015-16, Homicide and Related Offences decreased by -25% (18 offences), with Other Homicide and Related Offences decreasing by -39.6% (21 offences). Sexual Assault and Related Offences decreased by -7.2%(150 offences) overall. There were decreases in the three groups within the Sexual Assault and Related Offences subdivision, with Non Assaultive Sexual Offences decreasing by -14.1% (63 offences).

Robbery and Related Offences decreased by -12.9% (90 offences), with Aggravated Robbery Offences decreasing by -16.8% (84 offences).

Serious Criminal Trespass increased by 4.6% (600 offences) over the previous year. The main driver for this was Serious Criminal Trespass – Residence which increased by 5.8% (476 offences), where offenders are breaking into homes, flats, units and apartments. Serious Criminal Trespass – Non Residence increased by 2.6% (124 offences), where offenders are breaking into domestic sheds and garages.

Theft and Related Offences have increased by 8.4% (3383 offences) over the previous year. The main drivers are Theft from Shop which increased by 16.7% (1118 offences) and Other Theft which increased by 11.4% (2209 offences). Theft from Service/Petrol Station was one of the causes for the increase in the Other Theft category. Theft/Illegal use of Motor Vehicle has increased to 4.6% (149 offences). The 2015-16 result of 3364 stolen vehicles represents a decrease of -60.8% from a high of 8574 offences in 2006-07.

Fraud, Deception and Related Offences have seen an increase of 5.5% (152 offences). The main driver for this was Obtain Benefit by Deception which increased by 4.6% (105 offences).

Property Damage and Environmental has seen a slight increase of 10 offences. Environmental relates to the natural world and the impact of human activity on its condition, also relating to or arising from a person’s surroundings e.g. environmental noise. Property Damage by Fire or Explosion increased by 3.4% (59 offences). Graffiti offences decreased by -12.4% (315 offences).

Illicit Drug Offences have increased by 24.2% (768 offences). One of the main drivers is the 72.8% (437 offences) increase in Possess/Use Drugs. Other Drug Offences refers to the possession, use, sale or furnishing of any drug or intoxicating substance or drug paraphernalia, that is prohibited by law. This group has seen an increase of 51.1% (324 offences). Weapons/explosives Offences have increased by 12.0% (329 offences). The main driver of this increase is Prohibited weapons/explosives of 23.4% (150 offences). Justice Procedure Offences have increased 15.3% (2367 offences). This category includes Breach of bail which increased by 17.6% (1486 offences) and Breach of violence and non-violence restraining orders which has increased by 17.8% (629 offences). This is largely due to an increased emphasis on encouraging and supporting reporting of those offences associated with family and domestic violence.

Other Theft GENS have increased by 63.2% (2199 offences). This is due to the Public Transport Safety Branch focusing on high visibility policing and passenger safety throughout the metropolitan public transport system.

Total General Expiations have increased by 9.8% (2867 offences). One of the main drivers is the 28.9% (1615) increase in Drug Diversions with police emphasising the educational aspect of engaging with adult offenders using diversionary options.

South Australian State monthly crime statistics from March 2016 to February 2017 and Eyre and Western Service Local Area monthly crime statistics for the same period also do not appear to support the lower incidence of crime claims by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

Uniting Communities, formerly UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide and the Adelaide Central Mission, observed on 14 March 2017:

The Report states a decrease in overall crime in the Ceduna trial site. However, the statistics for a range of crimes, as provided by SAPOL for the Eyre Western LSA over the past 12 months when compared to the previous year, indicate an increase in offences against property and against the person. Most notably, there was a 111% increase in robbery and related offences, and a 400% increase in non-aggravated robbery.

Schrapel says, ‘It’s alarming to note that the Minister for Human Services has indicated in an interview today with ABC News that the crime figures in the Report were “preliminary and not conclusive” and yet this very same crime data has been used to validate the extension of the Cashless Card. Surely we need a more rigorous assessment of such evidence before it is used to justify a major policy announcement’.

Because DSS frequently relied on broader SLA statistics perhaps local media can be useful in fleshing the situation on the ground out a little more.

Ceduna Local Government Area has an estimated resident population of 3,716 people and The West Coast Sentinel  covers local news in the region.

Here are some of the crime reports in this newspaper during the cashless debit card trial period as of 22 April 2017:

18 April 2017:
Two Ceduna businesses were broken into early last Thursday morning. Items were stolen from Spry's Newsagency and Mitre 10, while the Ceduna Sailing Club was also damaged. Police are investigating the incidents, with electrical items and cigarettes stolen from the newsagency. Eleven mobile phones, including Samsung, ZTE and HTC brands and a Telstra Essentials black tablet were stolen along with a number of packets of ciagrettes.

3 April 2017:
A man was arrested after being caught drink driving at Koonibba on Sunday morning. Police stopped the vehicle just after 1am and requested the driver submit to a breath test.
He was directed to attend the Ceduna Police Station for further testing but became agitated and attempted to walk away.
He was arrested for refusing to obey reasonable police direction, driving under the influence with an alleged reading of 0.162 and resisting police. He was issued a 12-month loss of licence.

30 March 2017:
Four drink drivers were caught at Ceduna and Streaky Bay late last week including a driver detected during a school drop-off.

2 March 2017:
Police stopped the car and found three women and three children aged 9, 8 and 4 all not wearing seatbelts.
The 32-year-old driver was breath tested and returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.120 per cent.
Further checks revealed she only held a learner's permit.
The Ceduna woman was reported for a number of traffic offences including drink driving, breaching learner's permit conditions, failing to ensure passengers were wearing seatbelts and driving with unrestrained children in the car.
The car was also defected and impounded for 28 days and the woman was issued with a six-month instant loss of licence.
The adult passengers were also fined with failing to wear a seatbelt.

2 February 2017:
A MAN had his licence suspended for a year after he was caught drink driving in Ceduna last Thursday.
Police stopped a Ford station wagon on Denial Bay Road at about 4.30pm and breath tested the male driver who returned a positive reading of 0.165 per cent.

Just before 8pm, police stopped the woman as she was driving a Holden sedan along Poynton Street for a mobile screening test.
The 31-year-old Ceduna woman provided a positive preliminary breath test and later returned a breath test result of 0.134 per cent.
She lost her licence for six months and will be summoned to appear in court at a later date.

12 January 2017:
TWO youths were arrested following a police pursuit with a stolen van at Ceduna last week.

8 December 2016:
POLICE reported a man for speeding and drink driving in Ceduna last Thursday.
Police were conducting speed detection duties along the Eyre Highway west of Ceduna when they detected a car travelling at 124 kilometres an hour in a 110km/h speed zone.
Police breath tested the driver who allegedly produced a blood alcohol reading of 0.114 per cent.
The 46-year-old was issued with a six-month instant loss of licence and had his car impounded.

27 October 2016:
A WEST Coast man was arrested following a domestic disturbance in Ceduna last Tuesday night.
Police were called to Goode Road following reports that a woman had been stabbed. She was found adjacent to the Eyre Highway with a stab wound to the leg and taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital in a serious condition.
A 54-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault causing serious harm. He was refused police bail and appeared at Ceduna Magistrates' Court the following day.

28 August 2016:
A DRIVER was reported for traffic offences after rolling his car near Penong on Saturday… It seems the driver had taken evasive action to avoid an echidna that was crossing the road.
The 59-year-old Yalata man was reported for drink driving and failing to immediately report the crash to police. He recorded a blood alcohol reading of 0.261 - more than five times the legal limit.

10 July 2016:
POLICE have arrested a woman following a domestic disturbance near Ceduna on Friday night.
Police were called to a house west of Ceduna just after 11pm, July 8, following reports that a man had been stabbed.
When patrols arrived, they located a 25-year-old man with stab wounds to his leg. He was taken to the Ceduna Hospital in a serious condition and will be airlifted to the Flinders Medical Centre on Saturday morning.
A woman was arrested at the scene and was also treated for minor injuries at the hospital.
Police advise that both parties were known to each other and this was not a random incident.                                                                                                                                                                                          
16 May 2016:
A 27-year-old man was arrested after leaving his ID at the scene of a break-in at Ceduna on Saturday, May 14.
Just after 5am, neighbours of an elderly resident in Collins Street, Ceduna, woke to the sound of smashing glass.
The neighbours, including an off-duty police officer, investigated the scene and startled the two offenders, who ran off.
One of the suspects left his bank card at the scene and was subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated serious criminal trespass, two counts of illegal interference, property damage and theft.
It will also be alleged the 27-year-old Koonibba man stole a number of items from a shed.

21 March 2016:
THREE Ceduna men were taken into police custody and were charged with aggravated counts of robbery and serious criminal trespass after cars were stolen and a service station broken into last Wednesday night.
At about 8.45pm, a Ceduna man was allegedly assaulted by three men and had his Holden sedan stolen. Police will allege the trio then drove to Streaky Bay and broke into a service station before continuing to Port Kenny. Once there it is alleged they stole another vehicle which was later located by police near Streaky Bay. The three men were found walking along the highway the following morning and were arrested by Ceduna detectives. They were charged with aggravated robbery, serious criminal trespass and illegal use, and appeared at the Ceduna Magistrates' Court on Thursday.

To an outsider looking in it doesn’t seem like much has changed for the better in relation to criminal activity since Indue's cashless debit card has been in use.

Perhaps ministers Tudge and Porter might like to comment further?


Indue is owned by mutual lenders such as credit unions. It issues payment cards, including pre-paid cards for the likes of Coles and on behalf of the federal government to welfare recipients…….
Indue had $27.4 million in total (tier I and tier II) capital as of June 2015.
It only uses the licence to take deposits on its pre-paid cards for corporations and government clients such as the Department of Human Services.
Mr Garcia has won a government contract to issue cards to welfare recipients in the Northern Territory and Western Australia that limits what they can buy to essential goods, and hopes it will be rolled out nationally.
This could significantly boost profits on its own but it would still need additional capital, he said.
The company made a $3.5 million profit in 2015 on revenue of almost $70 million. It paid its owners a dividend of $12 a share.

The following is information based on the ASIC Current & Historical Company Extract for Indue Ltd, ACN 087 822 464, 3, May 2017.

Indue Ltd is an unlisted public company formerly known as: Credit Union Settlement Services Ltd from 01/12/1992 to 27/03/2001 and Creditlink Services Ltd from 28/03/2001 to 30/11/2005.

Registered address: Level 3, 601 Coronation Drive, Toowong QLD 4066
Appointed Auditor: KPMG

Share Structure: 111,431 fully paid A CLASS VOTING SHARES with total worth declared as $15,521,960 and 14,751 fully paid B CLASS NON VOTING SHARES with total worth declared as $1,743,100. Shareholding not broken down by named shareholders.

Current company directors recorded by ASIC:

SCOTT RODNEY KING, 116 Bathurst Street, PITT TOWN NSW 2756
FRANK GULLONE, 8 Bernarra Court, DONVALE VIC 3111
GEORGE FINLAY BELL, Unit 26, 9 Jardine Street, KINGSTON ACT 2604

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Quotes of the Week

Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it. 
[David Brooks writing in The New York Times on 8 April 2017]

The algorithm purportedly used by the Department to match business names between the ATO dataset and Centrelink data was leaked to the media, and I undertook an analysis of it. This algorithm is breathtakingly naïve and will result in incorrect matches for common situations such as typographical errors, misplaced punctuation, and the legal entity name being different from the business trading name. The potential for mismatches is significant. Various more sophisticated fuzzy matching algorithms are readily available. [Senate Standing Committees On Community Affairs, Inquiry Into Design, Scope, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Contracts Awarded And Implementation Associated With The Better Management Of The Social Welfare System Initiative, Submission 38]

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Australian Dept. of Human Services and Centrelink sink to a new low

An automated Dept. of Human Services-Centrelink debt recovery system that launched an est. 230,000 investigations into client welfare paymentsin 2016-17, then used an error-prone “income averaging” method to decide that more than 133,000 clients had incurred a debt owed to Centrelink and sent them a bill which included a recovery fee.

During this entire debacle spokespersons for the Turnbull Government, the Department and Centrelink have attempted to mislead and misinform welfare clients, mainstream media and the general public.

Now we have been told that for months, perhaps years, the software program being used by Centrelink to run its access to online services portal left users vulnerable to phishing attacks which can steal their credentials including names, addresses, bank account details.

If this is yet another example of the innovative and agile government information technology Liberal and National Party MPs boast about - then gawd help us all!

Comment  on office of the Minister for Human Services, Mr Alan Tudge

By an IT consultant.......

That Victorian Legal Aid saw it necessary to update its advice to clients to warn them that their personal information is no longer safe with the Department is an extraordinary situation. This is not advice from tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists. This is sober advice from legal professionals that a major part of the Australian Government cannot be trusted. I cannot stress enough how bad this is.

This behaviour from the Department has had a chilling effect, as I believe it was intended to. This chilling effect is not theoretical. I have personally spoken to individuals who have been reluctant to speak out against the Department, either to the media or to this Inquiry, because they fear repercussions from the Department as they are dependant in some way on income support.

At one point I discussed these matters with the office of the Minister for Human Services, Mr Alan Tudge, and was alarmed to discover that his office did not share my view that the Department has an asymmetric power advantage over individuals. They were of the view that if an individual is critical of the Department in the media, they become fair game.

The attitude from Mr Tudge’s office appeared to be one of a siege mentality where they were at a substantial disadvantage despite the vast array of resources at their disposal, particularly when compared to an individual reliant on income support. They felt that there had been a lot of false information being reported in the media and that it was time for them to “start fighting back.” This adversarial attitude, coupled with the astounding levels of secrecy from the Department, indicates major cultural issues in the Department and in the responsible Minister’s office.

The Department of Human Services exists to serve the humans in our society. The clue is in the name of the department. If individuals within the Department are unhappy with their role, then they should be encouraged to seek employment elsewhere.

By a Queen's Counsel.......

ABC News, 3 April 2017:

One of Australia's leading criminal barristers believes Human Services Minister Alan Tudge — or one of his staff — may have broken the law by supplying a journalist with a Centrelink client's personal information.

Robert Richter, a Queen's Counsel and former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, believes the disclosure could lead to a prison sentence if it is tested beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court.

Mr Tudge has dismissed the legal advice, saying the disclosure was approved by his department's lawyers and was necessary to correct misleading public statements.

"I received clearance to release the information from the Chief Legal Counsel of the Department of Human Services, who is intimately across the details of the case and the relevant laws."

Mr Richter's advice was commissioned by Labor MP Linda Burney and his findings were based on public information, rather than inquiries with Mr Tudge's office.

In his opinion, it is "reasonably clear that either the Minister or one of his office's staff had committed an offence".

"We cannot presently put it higher without knowing precisely the content of the information that was disclosed and by whom it was disclosed," Mr Richter said……

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Shorter Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman Richard Glenn: yes, it was a #CentrelinkFAIL

Commonwealth Ombudsman, media release, 10 April 2017:

Ombudsman publishes report on Centrelink’s automated debt system

Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman Richard Glenn today released a report into the Department of Human Services – Centrelink’s (DHS) implementation of the automated debt system known as the Online Compliance Intervention (OCI).

‘We found there were issues with the usability and transparency of the system. There were deficiencies in DHS’ service delivery and communication to customers and staff when implementing the system. These issues affected the quality of decisions made by the OCI. Many of these problems could have been reduced through better project planning, system testing and risk management,’ Mr Glenn said.

Since the Ombudsman’s office began its investigation in January 2017, DHS has made positive changes to the system, in response to the office’s feedback.

‘However more improvements are needed to ensure the system reflects good public administration,’ Mr Glenn said.

The Ombudsman’s office made recommendations in the report about clearer letters and system messaging to customers, more help for customers when gathering income information, improving service delivery and communication, more assistance and support for vulnerable customers and reviewing automated recovery fee decisions.

DHS and the Department of Social Services (DSS), which is responsible for the relevant legislation and policy, responded positively to the Ombudsman’s investigation, agreeing to all recommendations.

Mr Glenn said the Ombudsman’s office would continue to work closely with DHS and DSS to monitor the implementation of the recommendations in this report. He also acknowledged DHS’ assistance during the investigation.

The Ombudsman will make no further comment on the report.

Excerpts from the 110 page report illustrating just some of the shortcomings in Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program:

We asked DHS whether it had done modelling on how many debts were likely to be over-calculated as opposed to undercalculated. DHS advised no such modelling was done.16 In our view the absence of modelling means DHS cannot say how many debts may be under-calculated or overcalculated and by what margin.

The risk of over-recovering debts from social security recipients and the potential impact this may have on this relatively vulnerable group of people, warrants further consideration by DHS. We suggest DHS test a sizeable sample of debts raised by the OCI. The samples should include people who did not respond to the initial letter, as well as people who went online and people who contacted DHS via other channels. We also suggest DHS re-evaluate where the risk for debts calculated on incomplete information should properly lie and investigate whether there are ways to mitigate this risk……

In the OCI, the automatic application of the ten per cent recovery fee occurs when there is no contact from the customer, or the customer specifically indicates they did not have personal factors which affected their ability to accurately declare their income. 3.8 This raised concerns for customers who may not have had an adequate opportunity to provide a reasonable excuse, for example if they did not receive the initial letter, or did not understand the connection between reasonable excuse and the recovery fee.

In the initial letters used from July 2016, customers were warned a recovery fee may be applied, however there was no information in the letter about the ‘reasonable excuse’ exception. DHS advises that an explanation of ‘reasonable excuse’ was added from August 2016. However, reminder letters and debt notification letters did not include this information. A copy of these letters can be found at Appendix D.

In response to concerns raised by our office, DHS will no longer apply the fee automatically where there is no contact from the customer, or the customer responds that they had personal factors which affected their ability to accurately declare their income. DHS has taken steps to ensure that customers receive the initial letter, including the use of registered post……

Our investigation revealed the letters DHS sent to customers before 20 January 2017 to alert them about the income discrepancy were unclear and deficient in many respects. The letter did not include the 1800 telephone number for the compliance helpline. It did not explain that a person could ask for an extension of time or be assisted by a compliance officer if they had problems. It asked the person to ‘confirm’ their income information, possibly giving the impression that, if the figure was the correct annual figure, merely confirming the information would suffice. The letter did not provide a clear explanation that applying ATO income to the person’s record may negatively affect the amount of any debt. Copies of these letters are at Appendix D……

We received other complaints where people were told by DHS staff that payslips were the only acceptable form of evidence and bank statements would not be accepted. In our view, DHS should have more clearly communicated to customers the evidence they needed to provide, and what they could do if they had problems obtaining this evidence. In particular, DHS should have given customers a clearer and more consistent message that it would accept alternative forms of evidence, such as bank statements, where a customer was having difficulty gathering payslips or other evidence directly from the employer. As illustrated by Ms H’s complaint, in some cases, DHS can consult its own records for employment information it may have previously verified.

DHS has always accepted bank statements as reasonable evidence of historical income where other evidence is unavailable. As customers do not have the same information gathering powers as DHS, it is critical for DHS to give some customers additional support and assistance to obtain this evidence when they have made genuine and reasonable attempts and other available information is not sufficient. The accuracy of debts relies on the customer’s ability to obtain and input historical income information into the OCI. DHS should take into account the potential cost to customers to obtain bank statements. We suggest that where a customer cannot obtain the information despite genuine and reasonable attempts, DHS should use its information gathering powers to request the information directly from the employer or the financial institution. We suggest the Department of Social Services should include guidelines about the process for obtaining employment income evidence in the Guide to Social Security Law…..

Poor service delivery was a recurring theme in many of the complaints made to our office about the OCI system. Key problems customers experienced were:

* the compliance helpline number was excluded from letters and hard to find within the OCI system itself, meaning customers called the general customer service lines resulting in longer wait times than the compliance line

* not getting a clear explanation about the debt decision and the reasoning behind it

* being required to go online to resolve their situation when they had already indicated they were having difficulties

* instances where there should have been a more thorough manual intervention by a compliance officer but the customer was still referred back online

* difficulties getting information and assistance from service centre staff, either on the phone or in person, or when they tried to go online to use the system

* staff not having sufficient knowledge about how the OCI system works.

The far-right Turnbull Government's response to the Commonwealth Ombudman's report reeks of a defensive inability to face the consequences of its ongoing ideological class war.

The Guardian, 10 April 2017:

In a statement, Tudge repeatedly noted the parts of the report that defended the automated system and said the government was already making improvements that, in some cases, went further than what was suggested by the ombudsman.

“The unfortunate reality is that while most welfare recipients do the right thing, some deliberately defraud the system while others inadvertently fail to accurately declare their income and consequently receive an overpayment,” he said.

“We want to be fair and reasonable to welfare recipient but also fair to the taxpayer who pays for the welfare payments.”

The shadow human services minister, Linda Burney, said the report raised “serious questions about Alan Tudge’s oversight of his department”.

“While some changes have been made to Tudge’s robo-debt system, the ombudsman is clear they don’t go far enough,” she said. “The minister has no one to blame but himself. According to the ombudsman, all of these issues could have been avoided with proper planning and consultation.”

The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, said Labor maintained the system should be suspended for a review.