Doctor and activist

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Tag: Robodebt

Robodebt- an ongoing saga

25 November 2022

Robodebt involved looking at the tax records of welfare recipients over a year, and then demanding money back from them over their year’s income.  The Social Services Act specified that their income should be calculated fortnightly.  Many people, particularly unemployed and disadvantaged ones, live from week to week, and don’t keep good records for tax purposes, as mostly they do not have enough income to pay tax, or the tax is already deducted from their income before they get it.  So when a computer algorithm stated that they owned money to the Taxation Dept. and they had to prove that they did not, they were in no position to dispute this and the money was automatically taken from their already meagre welfare payments.

It seems that a number of public servants told the government that the process was neither wise nor legal, but it went ahead anyway. 

This was in sharp contrast to the JobKeeper scheme, where businesses could estimate the costs of keeping their staff and be reimbursed. The JobKeeper legislation was modelled on New Zealand legislation, which had ‘claw-back’ provisions if businesses were overpaid.  So the government did not ‘forget’ the claw-back provisions, they actively deleted them from the template.

It is difficult to see these actions as anything other than an ideological, punitive approach to people on welfare combined with a willingness to overpay those were approved of.  It is difficult to see the Morrison government except in the light of rewarding friends and punishing people that were not approved of.  The exemption of university academics and the performing arts from JobKeeper is further evidence of this proposition.

Since one of the significant public servants has now died, it may be that there will be no answer as to who is responsible for the Robodebt fiasco, but this maladministration has immense consequences for those denied income, with a number of suicides linked to the stress.

We can only hope that our arcane legal system will find a crime was committed and that someone will be charged and found guilty. What is more likely is that there will be shared responsibility, ministerial discretion, people in charge protesting their unawareness of the effect of the algorithm, a few embarrassing moments for a few people and nothing substantial happening.  I hope I am wrong.

Here is part of the legal saga so far, as told by an ex-public servant.

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A Robodebt Re-Run? Labor bound by Pre-election contracts?

22 July 2022

It seems that the Liberals are ruling beyond the election, by letting long-term private Centrelink contracts that Labor must honour.  With the public service effectively dismantled, all work is done by private contractors, and doing tasks defined in a highly ideological framework.  Even if the contracts were rescinded, with whatever penalty clauses the Libs and their contractors had agreed on, the Labor party has insufficient public administration staff capable to do the job of paying people in the short term.  So they default to the Liberal contract.

This is about managing Centrelink’s Jobseeker program and ‘debt recovery program’.  We have seen how the Liberals used Tax Office records in the Robodebt scandal, with totally unsubstantiated financial demands, then enforced by garnisheeing payments leading to suicides.  Behind this sort of activity is a philosophy that those on welfare have only themselves to blame and need to be forced back to work, even when it is obvious that there are fewer jobs than job seekers, so that all that will change is who gets what jobs there are.  Labor has to change the philosophy to a more realistic one, then have a serious plan to help those who cannot get jobs. Everyone knows that technology is replacing people in many areas, and jobs are moved offshore in manufacturing or services such as call centres because it is cheaper.

The fact that Labor was dependent on contractors chosen by the Liberals is another feature of privatisation that must be reversed. The Public Service must be rebuilt, and staff given guarantees of long-term employment- like they used to have.  They must do their job helping people without the cost constraints of false bonuses that reward them for doing the easy tasks and leaving the hard ones.

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