I boil with suppressed rage when I read about this evil Liberal-National coalition government’s unlawful (i.e. illegal) Robodebt scheme. For those who don’t know Australian politics, it was a scheme hatched about four or five years ago based on their belief that there was widespread fraud occurring by people on welfare, true or not.
The government touted it as cracking down on dishonesty about reporting income to the welfare agency Centrelink, and it was said to be raising nearly a billion dollars in wrongly received welfare payments.
They did this by looking at the declared income received by clients, then, even if this was intermittent income received from part time work, or income received for only part of a year due to losing a job, or part of a year due to falling ill, then assuming that this rate of income applied for a whole year. This was called “income averaging”.
If you were targeted, the first you would know about it was when you received a letter saying you had to repay Centrelink $X – which could be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and usually was.
The people who received these demanding letters were the same people who depended on welfare for any number of reasons, especially sickness, mental illness, physical disabilities, family breakup and domestic violence and so on. The common thread is that they are, almost by definition, on the bones of their arse, with no savings, dependent on those welfare payments. Can you imagine the shock at opening that envelope telling you you owe thousands or tens of thousands of dollars? Especially as it contained implied threats that legal action would be taken, and not just that, the department would be garnisheeing your bank account or your tax refund to retrieve this money. And they did it!
The result was that several people, at the very least, were driven to suicide. Probably more.
“Pursuing robodebt was the signature policy of Taskforce Integrity. The name says it all: a taskforce created to deal with those who lack integrity. Stuart Robert launched the initiative with this claim: “You are not just cheating and stealing from the government; you are stealing from your neighbour; you are stealing from those genuinely in need.” This is the same guy who is notorious for trying to make dodgy claims himself! Who eventually repaid $38,000 in taxpayer money for “residential internet costs.” ” (The Guardian 4/6/20) If it was all above board, why did he repay it?
Yes, the Honourable Stuart Robert MHR, Minister of the Crown for Social Security. The same guy who:
- used a taxpayer funded trip to China to transact business for a company he was involved in;
- while he was assistant treasurer, joined a company whose founder-director had a rape conviction;
- drew intense criticism for an exorbitant internet bill, which he charged to taxpayers at a rate of $2,000 per month. Robert blamed “connectivity issues” at his home and has since paid back the money. He repaid more than $35,000;
- he quit the front bench in 2016, after an internal investigation found he had shares in a trust linked to the mining company of a Liberal donor;
These are just a few of the reports and allegations of dodgy dealings by this guy. Just Google “Stuart Robert wrongdoing”. Yet he was put in charge of persecuting low income, sick or disabled people on welfare.
“The messaging in official statements, echoed by staff in Centrelink offices and call centres, encourages clients to feel worthlessness, anger, embarrassment and humiliation. All of this for $282.85 a week (pre-Covid-19), while the national poverty line was $457 per week. Anyone receiving support already knew that the Department of Human Services wanted them to feel bad about it, and robodebt doubled down on the notion that we were guilty in fiscal terms as well.” (The Guardian 4/6/20)
It’s not going too far to say that the government, through Centrelink, was “putting the frighteners” on vulnerable people.
As if this were not enough, trying to contact Centrelink was a world of pain. If you tried to phone it was almost impossible to talk to anyone. You were either on hold for two hours or more, or you were passed from person to person, answering difficult questions requiring access to documents.
The effect was that Centrelink didn’t have to prove you owed a debt, you had to prove that you didn’t owe anything!
Now a class action in the courts has finally found that this method of income averaging was unlawful. The distinction between unlawful and illegal is a bit arcane but unlawful means against civil law but not amounting to criminality. Huh.
So the government has to repay around $710m to tens of thousands of welfare recipients who were effectively frightened into repaying this money. But they will not apologise, saying that because it’s before the courts, they can’t.
Who was the instigator of this savage, cruel scheme? None other than our Bible thumping Christian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who likes to think of himself as a man of the people. His henchman was the current attorney general Christian Porter, my local member. He’s a member of the hard right of the Liberal Party, an acolyte of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a hard right wing group who believe the ABC should be privatised, who advocate a flat tax of 30% on everyone, no matter what your income and other rabidly crazy ideas.
Perhaps you sense my disgust!
“Australians lead the world in panic buying in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research that has analysed Google searches, including those for toilet paper and supermarket opening hours.”
Yeah, well, we Aussies are the best in the world at a lot o’ things, so being world’s best at panic buying fits, doesn’t it?
In fact, I hear we’re sending a team of panic buyers to the Olympics next year. It will include competitors in the “Most rolls of dunny paper in a trolley event”. Gold, for sure.
I’ve done a long drive on the Mitchell Freeway today, from here to Osborne Park and back, about 50Km all up. Thank goodness the roadworks are finished around Karrinyup Rd, Hutton St and on into the city. I was so sick of negotiating cones and temporary lanes for a year or more.
Has the standard of driving improved after all the talk about how this virus has led to a “reset”. Maybe a bit, but I was still being tailgated and the hoons in their black Commodore utes were still weaving between lanes, trying to gain a few cars’ advantage. Grrrr.
I took the opportunity to do a car wash and boy, the MX6 comes up well. The paintwork is in very good condition. I’ll do a good polish and it should be ready to advertise to sell. It’s a nice car but I’ve had my fun. I’m too fat for it.
Same with the Honda – I don’t need it, it’s too big. It’s for sale.