Tag Archives: Christian Porter

Politicians must take responsibility for their greed, wastage and negligence.

20 Jan

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If you go to the website #notmydebt you’ll find fifteen pages of stories written by people who’ve received demands from Centrelink to repay debts the department has falsely raised against them. It’s a harrowing read.

Depending on which explanation you prefer, the aggressive efforts to extract monies from people who do not owe them has been caused by faults in the department’s new automatic compliance system; a malevolent attack by the LNP government on welfare recipients, or a combination of both.

Centrelink has advised some punters that their best course of action is to begin repaying the alleged debt while the review process is underway, that is, before it has been established that they actually owe anything. This places punters in a Kafkaesque bind: repaying a debt is an acknowledgement that you accept its validity. Punters are also threatened that if they don’t agree to a repayment scheme, their alleged debt will be referred to debt collectors, and their credit rating affected.

Regardless of acknowledged systemic faults, and an own-motion investigation launched by the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office,  the robo-debt collection scheme is set to widen its net to include pensioners and disabled people in the coming months.

The latest information from Centrelink whistleblowers (who have, by the way, been threatened with prosecution and imprisonment by their overlords, as have welfare recipients accused of fraudulently obtaining benefits) indicates that there are indeed serious faults in the system AND that Centrelink authorities have ordered officers to proceed regardless of these faults. Indeed, officers have been instructed to refrain from acknowledging any errors they discover unless the citizen in their sights spots the error first, causing a crisis of conscience for some Centrelink employees who are obliged to refrain from identifying systems errors to distraught punters.

How any of this can be consistent with legal process is beyond me: it’s beginning to sound very much like the Turnbull government illegally obtaining money from citizens by deception.

Even Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has expressed his disapproval of Centrelink’s methods after a member of his extended family received a debt notice.

At the same time, a report from the Australian National Audit Office into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s payments for the management of contracts for security and welfare services on Manus Island and Nauru reveals:

…$2.3 billion in payments made between September 2012 and April 2016, which it stated were not authorised or recorded correctly.

“$1.1 billion was approved by DIBP officers who did not have the required authorisation and for the remaining $1.1 billion there was no departmental record of who authorised the payments,” it stated.

The report further stated that contract variations totalling more than $1 billion were made without a documented assessment of value for money. (emphasis mine)

Is there any venture on the planet in which $2.3 billion dollars is spent without proper authorisation and record of authorisation, other than the Australian DIBP? Why is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton still in the portfolio, given that his department has apparently gone rogue?

Add to this the ongoing politicians’ expenses scandals exposing levels of rort (travel expenses being the least of it, it’s the office expenses we ought to be worried about) that if politicians themselves hadn’t written the rules would be criminal, and you have a grim picture of rampant abuse of public money, with minimum accountability.

You also have an exceedingly grim picture of the powerful and privileged attacking the most vulnerable. There is as well the abhorrent spectacle of greedy politicians refusing to take responsibility for their own indulgence and wastage, and instead accusing those least able to defend themselves of fraudulent behaviour.

Prime Minister Turnbull has promised action on politicians “entitlements.” Perhaps if it is made more difficult for MPs to get their entire upper bodies into the trough and wallow, politics will in time become less attractive to those amongst us with the least integrity. One can only hope.

News just in: Get Up has set up a website “Fraudstop” that advises people affected by Centrelink’s false debt claims of their options. 

 

 

 

 

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How Turnbull plans to raise $4.6 billion from unemployed.

6 Jan

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The Turnbull government plans to raise a windfall of $4.6 billion over the next four years, and this is how they intend to do it.

Centrelink is averaging annual earnings over every fortnightly reporting period. This means that you are determined by them to have earned income at the same time as you received unemployment benefits. Therefore, you must pay those benefits back.

First you receive a letter advising of discrepancies between ATO and Centrelink records. You are asked to provide pay slips etc, and declare your income for the year/s in question. When you declare income, your problems can begin in earnest. Declared income is averaged out, Centrelink claims you’ve earned in every fortnightly reporting period, a debt is raised against you, you are threatened with debt collectors and ultimately jail, if you don’t comply.

In fact, you may have been unemployed for six months during which time you were entitled to benefits, then in work for six months. The government intends for you to repay the benefits to which you were absolutely entitled, by averaging out the income you received for six months work as fortnightly income over the entire twelve months.

More and more people are revealing this is exactly what has happened to them. It is the government’s intention to continue this practice for the next four years in order to achieve its $4.6 billion goal.

It beggars belief that this is a systems error.  If this is the case, those responsible for the design and implementation of the system are unbelievably, inconceivably incompetent.  Centrelink’s Hank Jongen claims the methodology hasn’t changed, but no one has explained why, if nothing has changed, the system has begun averaging annual earnings over every reporting fortnight, and raising debts as a result.

At the same time, Centrelink and the AFP announced the implementation of “Taskforce Integrity” to pursue fraudulent claims. As well, the government declared on the Tuesday before the election that they’d discovered  a brand new, unspecified way, to raise $4.6 billion.

The government is falsely  accusing people of fraud, by falsely declaring legitimate welfare benefits to be illegitimate. They are threatening people with debt collectors and jail, if the legitimately claimed welfare benefits are not repaid.  In other words, unemployment benefits have become repayable loans. I don’t recall that new legislation, or that amendment. Does anyone?

They are doing all this in partnership with the Australian Federal Police.

This is a situation out of a dystopian novel. Kafka comes to mind.

This is no systems error. This is deliberate policy. I hope there are lawyers out there all over this. Because we have to establish exactly who is obtaining financial advantage by deception. Increasingly, it sounds very much as if it is our government, by exploiting people at their most vulnerable.

If this mess is indeed an error and not deliberate policy, Centrelink and the relevant ministers have now been made thoroughly aware of it as such. So why do they continue to insist that nothing is amiss, and why do they not halt the distribution of letters until the error is fixed?

Of course, fixing the error may affect their $4.6 billion dollar goal.

Centrelink has now begun using its Twitter account to refer people to Life Line if they are experiencing distress. Life Line is a voluntary organisation given little or no support by the federal government. The government has also ripped millions from frontline services for domestic violence victims, community legal aid centres, and over a billion from aged services. You can bet that these outrageously underfunded services will be stretched to their limits by Turnbull’s latest attack on vulnerable citizens.

I cannot remember anytime in this country when a government department has referred citizens to an emergency service because they are experiencing suicidal levels of distress as a consequence of that government’s policies.

Does anyone?

The LNP war on welfare recipients

5 Jan

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Yesterday I watched, incredulous (I know, only a fool with no sense of the immediate past could continue to be startled by any action performed by this government) as Minister for Social Services Christian Porter claimed across the media that the Centrelink debt recovery process was working just fine, and the fact that a “few” citizens are being unfairly targeted was of no great consequence. If they’re upset, too bad, get over it, there’s nothing wrong with our process, was Porter’s basic message.

Here are some of the things that are wrong with the Centrelink process.

Porter seemed oblivious to the astounding news that the situation is of such concern A Current Affair, not renowned for warm feelings towards welfare recipients to whom they usually refer in stale Murdochian/conservative speak as dole bludgers, felt compelled to devote airtime to advising those on the receiving end of unpleasant notifications from Centrelink and the Australian Federal Police, apparently threatening jail terms for non compliance, how to cope.

Porter stated that one in five people who receive these letters do not owe a debt. However, the onus is on the recipient to prove to this to Centrelink. In what universe is a government department, assisted by the AFP, empowered to force citizens into the position of guilt until you prove innocence?

Here is how Centrelink is legally obliged to deal with investigating debts.

Quite how the AFP became co-opted as debt collectors for a government department I have yet to fathom. I believe it was a “joint task force” action, Centrelink having morphed from a public service into a “force” in the conservative war on welfare, and the AFP, well, ever since failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott took up lodging in their barracks nobody’s known where they’re at.

This is the first time the AFP logo has been used on Centrelink material. Obviously, the intention is to intimidate.

Porter continued to stare defiantly into the cameras and insist that any problems were the fault of Centrelink “customers”, past and present, not the system. Nor were they inspired by the contempt, ingrained like decades of neglected playground grime, the government has for any welfare recipients, other than the Gina Rinehart demographic.

At one point Porter went so far as to blame Labor for the situation, on the grounds that in his opinion the ALP hadn’t done a satisfactory job chasing up false welfare claims when they were in government. This might be amusing, considering the LNP refusal to address the matter of corporate taxes, were it not so destructive to lives undeserving of government persecution.

Here is how you will only be protected by the Turnbull government if you’re a millionaire.

No part of this latest debacle bears even a remote resemblance to the practice of good governance. Yes, systems develop glitches, we  saw evidence of that very recently with the Census train wreck. In an alternative reality, Porter might have acknowledged the imperfections and failures of the system, and put threatening the populace on hold until the glitches were resolved, thus salvaging some good will and damping down the massive backlash.

He didn’t even have the nous to take that path.

The LNP is enslaved by ideology, to the extent that it will eat itself rather than look outside the narrow confines of its ideological box. Which is fine by me: get on with the cannibalism until you’re a midden of shining white bones, is my position.

Criminalising people is what this government excels at. Unfortunately, the very people deserving of criminalisation generally go free: far easier to target the already vulnerable. There’s nothing wrong with prosecuting people who make false welfare claims. However, as in  so much else, this government has no sense of proportion in these matters and that, combined with its need to create scapegoats in a despicable effort to shore up its increasing unpopularity, has led to a savaging of Centrelink “customers” that has already dramatically backfired, as well it should.

 

 

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